“The Ark” is an adventure of the third season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1965. It’s a four parts adventure written by Paul Erickson e Lesley Scott and directed by Michael Imison.
The Tardis materializes in what looks like a jungle and Dodo (Jackie Lane) thinks she’s at the zoo outside London thinking that some trick was used to transport her from where she left. The First Doctor (William Hartnell) tries to convince her that they and Steven (Peter Purves) have traveled in space and time arriving who knows where and when but Dodo starts believing him only with the arrival of strange one-eyed aliens.
When the travelers are brought into the presence of the Guardians, who are human, they are told that this is an ark that is traveling to another planet in order to save humanity and other Earth’s species. The human passengers and the Monoid aliens are peaceful but when Dodo starts infecting them with her cold the consequences could be catastrophic with patients who have no immune defense against that disease.
This DVD contains a fair amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Billings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track by the members of its protagonist Peter Purves and directed Michael Imison moderated by Toby Hadoke.
All’s Wells That Ends Wells. A documentary that examines how “Doctor Who” got inspired by the works of H.G. Wells, including “The Ark”.
One Hit Wonder. Some opinions about the Monoids and why they didn’t become among the favorite “Doctor Who” monsters.
Riverside Story. A 20-minute documentary in which Peter Purves and Michael Imison remember their work in the studio used to shoot “Doctor Who” adventures. It’s the kind of extra interesting because it’s based on the point of view of people who worked in the show.
The idea of an adventure set in a huge spaceship came to producer John Wiles, who discussed it with writer Paul Erickson. According to the “Doctor Who” guides, he was the one who wrote the script but asked that in the credits his wife, Lesley Scott, would be listed as a co-author even if it’s not clear if she provided any contributions.
Dodo was introduced at the end of the previous serial so “The Ark” is her first complete adventure. Her original accent is Cockney but actress Jackie Lane was asked to tone it down. Basically, from the beginning there’s the impression that at the production level they didn’t have very clear ideas of how to characterize Dodo and her accent changes are the most obvious clue to that problem.
In this adventure Dodo’s contribution is above all in infecting the ark’s passengers, both human and Monoid. That’s the central theme of the first two parts’ plot, where the tension exists only in the risk that someone dies because of their lack of any form of resistance to what for Dodo is a common cold and that it’s considered a form of attack by the travelers, quickly turned from guests to prisoners on trial.
The status of the Monoids in the first two parts is ambiguous: in some cases they seem to be considered equal to humans but during the epidemic certain phrases suggest that on the ark they’re considered second-class passengers. It’s not a small matter because the situation in the two final parts of “The Ark” are a consequence of the previous one but from this viewpoint the story doesn’t seem entirely consistent.
This problem could be due to the fact that the story is ambitious, especially for the possibilities of “Doctor Who” production of the time. A number of interesting concepts is developed up to the limits for the means available with results that from the visual point of view are at least in some cases really excellent for an adventure of the 1960s.
The plot is complex but unfortunately it’s structured in a way that penalized the characters created for this serial, above all because they are many of them, humans and Monoids. In some cases the acting leaves some perplexities but it’s possible that this is due to the limited time available for the rehearsals of an adventure of that kind.
The cliffhanger between the second and third part is clever and probably quite a surprise in an era when there was little information on the TV programs that were about to be broadcast. The problem is that it’s the first of a number of twists that sometimes seem forced and the development of the plot relies heavily on them.
The idea of the ark traveling to the planet Refusis II to save the human species is intriguing and was reused with some variations in the following years in both the classic series and in the new one of “Doctor Who”. The Monoids were instead forgotten because in the end they’re really dull characters.
Personally I think that “The Ark” has more merits than flaws and in some cases the production’s limit were a burden. The DVD edition contains some extras that make it particularly interesting for fans of the First Doctor’s era.