Doctor Who: The Ark (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros eye-up the unlovable mop-tops in this Hartnell story...
Before we start, we should point out to readers who have yet to see this story that there are some fairly large spoilers in this review, so proceed with caution.
The year was 1966 and during the middle of its third season, Doctor Who was beginning to undergo a series of changes that would establish the robust nature of the show, but these alterations would be seen as fairly radical to many viewers of the popular show.
Innes Lloyd had quietly come onboard as the producer, Jackie Lane was now onboard as a full-time (if somewhat short-lived) companion and William Hartnell's increasing ill-health meant that efforts were underway for him to leave the show.
The TARDIS materialises onboard an interplanetary craft that is transporting the last members of the human race to a distant planet, Refusis, that is suitable for habitation. Most of the remaining humans have been reduced to micro-size and put in suspended animation for easy storage until the vessel reaches its destination. The remaining humans who oversee the general running of the ship are assisted by the seemingly docile and subservient Monoids, a race of hirsute beings who will eventually turn out to be the greatest threat to the survival of the human race...
Let’s establish this from the outset - The Ark is fun; a hell of a lot of fun; in our opinion, it’s one of the most enjoyable romps of the Hartnell era, with an intriguing premise, engaging performances and one of the greatest plot-twists/cliffhangers in Doctor Who history.
The Ark starts as it means to go on, opening with a tight close-up of a creature, which is then swooped over by a bird and then the camera pans to reveal the size and scope of the interior of the spaceship and eventually showing the TARDIS materialising; it’s an incredibly ambitious shot that was captured on film, allowing for more complex moves than would have been possible if it had been shot with conventional bulky studio cameras. Throughout the opening few minutes where our protagonists wander around the indoor jungle trying to establish their whereabouts, things switch between film and videotape - the reasons were purely technical, of course, but it makes for almost a surreal experience; most Who fans accept that location work in the sixties, seventies and early-to-mid eighties was shot on film and the studio work was on video, but switching between film and video during scenes is a little bizarre.
William Hartnell is on good form here, showing both The Doctor's (and his own) crotchety side when he criticises Dodo for using contemporary slang, and his sense of impishness when he begins to implement the downfall of the Monoids' reign of terror on the surface of the planet Refusis. Hartnell only stumbles on his lines a couple of times and this is a pretty good example of just how great he often was in the role.
This was Jackie Lane’s first proper story as Dodo Chaplet, having appeared in the TARDIS at the very end of the last story, The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve. Lane is bright and engaging as Dodo, but sadly the BBC’s Dalek-like policy of regional ethnic cleansing was very much in force and the cockney accent that could be heard when she first joined the TARDIS crew had been squashed, replaced with the bog-standard BBC Received-Pronunciation accent - however, in the first episode if you listen carefully, you can hear occasional lapses into other accents, particularly Lane’s original northern one, which would have been nice if she could have used that - still you know how it is when a Doctor Who actor has to have some silly attempt at a cockney accent, rather than use their real one. There is a certain irony at work when one of Lane's immediate replacements had exactly the same sort of Cockney accent that Lane had been told to tone down...
It has been a few years since we last watched The Ark - we loved it then and we adore it just as much now. Dodo has grown on us recently - until lately, the character had always been a fixture on the lower end of the great Companion League Table - and the more that we see of what remains of her time on the show, the more we have come to like her. Dodo Chaplet was a spunky character who was more grown-up in nature than he predecessor, but still retained that same child-like zest for adventure; Dodo was an obvious attempt to introduce a "hip" young character into Doctor Who, a reflection of the fact that London had earned the "Swinging" prefix. Jackie Lane's unceremonious exit from the series mid-way through The War Machines was pretty unforgivable and it certainly the reason why Lane herself has not participated in any of the extras for the DVD releases of her stories.
Peter Purvis is always good as Steven, though it feels as though the writers moved away from (or simply forgot about) the premise of him being an astronaut, preferring to just have Mr Taylor being a regular guy from Earth. Purvis clearly does the leg-work for the ailing Hartnell and he’s damn good at it, making a good fist of being another rock-jawed good guy in the Ian Chesterton mould. It might be uncharitable to say that Purvis was propping up Hartnell, but he certainly ended up supporting him toward the end of his time on the show.
What is there to say about The Moniods that hasn’t been said numerous times before by fans and critics alike? Well, they were an interesting concept; fairly bold and interesting from a design point of view, even if they are somewhat flawed in one critical aesthetic manner; where the Daleks could usually be thwarted by running up a flight of stairs, you could avoid falling into the clutches of the Monoids by merely running, as their ungainly fishtail-like garments would exclude them from pursuing a renegade human at any great speed. It has to be no coincidence that they look like caricatures of a particular Liverpudlian beat combo, as they were arguably at the height of their popularity when this story was shot.
As characters, all of the Monoids' careful scheming about the plans that they have for the human race go down the toilet because of careless talk being overheard through a security monitor. The Monoids also happen to be one of the most arrogant races in the history of Doctor Who, having a degree of such delusional self-confidence that is rarely seen outside of bi-polar disorder sufferers. It is most satisfying to see them get their comeuppance toward the end of the story.
The grand scope of the production (which apparently overspent so much that the following story, The Celestial Toymaker suffered by having it's budget reduced) is also seen outside of the verdant safari-park like environment - there are enormous backdrops employed that present an almost infinite expanse within the ark.
In another example of the scope and ambition of this story, the idea of having it seemingly wrapped-up near the end of episode two, only to present another scenario in the same environment was inspired. The results of the actions of the TARDIS crew are seen in the latter episodes, with Dodo's touch of the sniffles having a devastating affect on not only the Monoids, but also having a long-lasting impact upon the remnants of the human race. The concept of a minor ailment having devastating ramifications for a species unable to deal with it was one that had been dealt with before (most notably by HG Wells in War of the Worlds), but The Ark manages to put a slightly different spin on things. The cliffhanger of episode two (which drops a HUGE hint that something is seriously amiss with the social order aboard the ark) is startling and still very impressive more than four decades after it was originally aired.
As mention earlier, the grand, ambitious opening sequence features numerous animals, giving a real feeling of being onboard a self-contained world within the confines of an intergalactic ark; there is even an elephant onboard, which could be seen as an ominous foreshadowing of an event that would go down in televisual history a few years later for Peter Purves on Blue Peter; all that would have been needed here was to have the elephant trample on Jackie Lane and to have her say in her native northern accent "Ooh! Get off me foot!"
As mentioned earlier, we first watched The Ark about three or four years ago, when we saw the BBC video release - it looked fairly good then, but fans of this story are going to be pretty impressed with how this story looks on DVD. The videotape-recorded segments look wonderful, with a very clean transfer that almost makes you feel as though you are watching the original broadcast. The film sequences, as is almost always the case, don't fare as well but still look much better than the video release. All-in-all, it's yet another masterful job from the guys at the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
No complaints here - it sounds as good as it can possibly sound given the limitations of film recordings; it's still perfectly easy on the ear and the guys at the Restoration Team have obviously worked their magic upon the sonic aspects of this story.
Audio Commentary: Peter Purvis & director Michael Imison are joined by moderator Toby Hadoke, and the whole track is a very relaxed, fun listen. From the outset, there is an affection for the story, in spite of a number of elements which suffered through the usual lack of funding and facilities. The three work well together, and makes for an enjoyable listen, which if you have heard as many commentary tracks as we have, it’s something to be treasured. A strong aversion to the imperfectly executed Monoids is typified when Purvis exclaims: “Now look at that. I’m sorry. Who can accept that? That‘s just ridiculous…” upon exposure to the malevolent mop-tops. Speaking of Purvis hitting the nail on the head, he pans Doctor Who gold when giving the most concise look at the geographical economics of the filming the show as he chuckles: “You’d be amazed how often we ran up and down the same corridor…with a different lens on the camera, different angles…and, wow!” This is largely Purvis’ show, and now that he is more affectionate and reflective about the show, he’s welcome to be the star of the show. Although he goes on record as preferring the historical episodes, he expresses that The Celestial Toymaker is one of the very best, perfectly blending all the elements in a way which appeals to those whom actively dislike fantasy. Who are we to disagree with such an angry guy as Steven!
All’s Wells that Ends Wells: Mathew Sweet is your genial guide through the ways in which Doctor Who and the Victorian futurist have intersected over the years. Also flipping their two cents (or approximate value) into the science fiction stew are Kim Newman, Graham Sleight, Dominic Sandbrook and Dr A Keen. With a group as diverse and distinguished as this, there can only be good things to come…
Even though it might be a pile of old pony, not to mention being consistently voted one of the worst stories ever to get the green light, Timelash features prominently, but is wisely used as merely a visual nexus between the famed writer and the show. While we are questioning inclusions, the documentary seems to have suffered some tampering, namely that a few interviews have been hastily edited to keep the pro- Who tone of the piece, suggesting that the makers were trying to stop people bad-mouthing the guest of honour in the kitchen at his own party.
With it being included on this particular disc, it is only right that parallels are drawn between The Time Machine and The Ark, even if only on a superficial level. But further investigation reveals that there are stronger ties to Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes, where the lower classes stage a revolution over their ignorant masters. If anyone doubts the ties that bind the two literary camps, then how about the innocuous cold Dodo manages to turn into a lethal virus purely through exposure to an unprepared immune system? Given how London was subjected to some form of menacing creature almost every other week, how can you watch Invasion of the Dinosaurs and not have the work of HG Wells rattling around in your brain?!?
This whole featurette is a love-letter to Wells, and we would never dispute the place he holds in the literary world, let alone to say nothing of the pigeon-holed category of “science fiction”. He shares many of the same qualities which Stephen King is a master of, primarily that of creating compelling characters which are perfectly rounded to the point of bring believability to the most fantastic scenarios they are dropped into. Wells’ stories to compelling, with enough mundane elements from the era to prevent alienation of the casual reader, long enough to get them hooked by the tale lurking beneath the cover.
The general consensus is that Wells would not have been a fan of Doctor Who, probably viewing it as too frivolous in its writing, which is hardly surprising, as he turned in a miserable old git towards to the end of his life, even disliking the classic books which propelled him to status of literary icon. At least one of the interviewed party states that the show draws people into the world of science fiction, serving as a way-station on route to the “serious” end of the genre. This attitude has always rankled us, with the whole premise of Sci-Fi being built on speculation/fantasy, there is little to be won in declaring war on what is considered “less worthy”, as both can be equally countered with the words: “it isn’t real”. Just enjoy either as a piece of entertainment, and embrace the ideas of each regardless of any form of “status”.
One Hit Wonder: We have an affection for the Monoids, with it extending beyond their loveable goofiness. OK, they look like a cycloptic Ice Warrior with a Beatles fixation, but we’re impressed that these guys were able to overthrow their complacent masters down the centuries. Admit it: who didn’t have a big smile on their face when the giant statue was revealed to be changed to that of a Monoid once they had installed themselves as the dominant species? We certainly did, and with such admiration, we’re pleased to find others who share our love of them - much like a pervert discovers a chatroom geared towards all those who like defecating on glass tables.
We’ve always found their cycloptic, big-haired design to be a quite appealing one, and even Kim Newman agrees with us on that one. The crying shame about the awkward costuming of the race from the waist down is examined by Mathew Sweet, and we won’t argue that it compromises the final result, but there is a powerful element of charm to them which vanquishes any such issues. Newman theorises that The Ood are a modern take on The Moniods, further speculating that in spite of Nu-Who’s penchant for bringing back old adversaries again and again, the creation of The Ood precludes any need to have the Monoids making a return appearance.
Most surprising is the inclusion of a “wo-man” into the mix. Not just a regular Doctor Who fan, but one who can make babies AND likes the Monoids! Yes, the rather cute Jacqueline Rayner has it all, being a woman whom appreciates their comedy stylings, which sharply contrasts with the iron fist which lurks in the silken glove. With her excellent assertion that one-off baddies usually come from one-off writers, I think we have found the perfect “Wo-man“. Seriously. Evolution can stop now. It’s finished.
We’d be very interested to see this featurette made into a continuing series, as there are many baddies out there which deserve a spot all to their own, with those damned Daleks and Cybermen hogging the spotlight all the time. With the perfect combination of insight and humour, this really hits the spot, and will appeal to fans and muggles alike. If - in the very unlikely event - Steven Moffat is reading this, we throw down the gauntlet to see if The Monoids might make at least a cameo in a coming episode of Nu-Who, if just to see if CGI can give this race of underdogs their dignity in the modern world.
Riverside Story: With hopes of Doctor Who being shot at the brand new Television Centre facility, the show was relegated to the cramped confines of Lime Grove, where the size of The TARDIS was dictated by the ability to get it in the lift there. After over a year of begging, it materialised at Riverside Studios, where there was a little more room to breathe. Peter Purves revisits the old place with with Mathew Sweet, where he reveals the almost chaotic system under which everything operated. The Ark director Michael Imison offers his thoughts on filming jungles in the building, including how to put an elephant up for the night when it arrives a day early, not to mention the creation and problem with The Monoids. Essentially this is the “making of” on The Ark, using the Riverside premise as a framework for it, and Purves as entertaining and knowledgeable as ever. The thorny subject of Jackie Lane comes under discussion, and Mr P suggests that it was a viewing of the rushes that sealed the fate of her northern accent, which dematerialised faster than The Masters’ TARDIS upon news of a moustache-wax sale.
The punishing schedule of filming the series is reiterated once again, with footage from Riverside to illustrate it really helps to hammer home that it was amazing that the black and white era ended up with as few fluffs as they did, but with Hartnell’s fading faculties being what they were, they probably used their quota of “four tape edits per show” purely on him, which for this show, was double the usual two cuts. This is echoed by the ever-genial Purves, who has very fond memories of The Ark, being very enthusiastic of the end result, except for The Moniods, which he really didn’t think worked at all. He proves his candid nature by revealing how little he was paid whilst on the show - thirty quid an episode - and has no qualms in talking about how Hartnell’s declining abilities compelled the actor to take his frustration out on everyone but himself.
But of course, the time at Riverside Studios was not to be forever, as the show was moved back to Lime Grove for the Troughton era. Sweet speculates that this fuelled the trend towards the numerous “Alamo” structure favoured at the time, where a group of protagonists are besieged by invaders whilst in the confines of a finite facility. This was no bad thing, as some iconic stories came out of such restrictions in scale, but there is nothing like a larger studio for creating alien worlds, and they were rarely done better than in Riverside Studios.
Photo Gallery: Once again, we have a lovely set of stills set to music from the show, and is just as fascinating as ever. This time around, it’s interesting that a lot of the pictures seem of focus on Jackie Lane, which cements that the producers were trying to gear publicity towards the hip “kids”, as Dodo was a lightning rod for the cultural revolution in the 60s by gearing the shots towards her. The music selected sounds rather like that of Night of the Living Dead, which not only gives it an unnerving vibe, but a definite “thumbs up” from us. Having read numerous issues of Doctor Who monthly in the 80s (courtesy of our brother) it is always a jolt to not only see a picture which we encountered all those years ago, but to come across variations of it and so many more achingly rare shots one after the other, is an experience which never fails to raise a smile. Sometimes the warmest pleasures in life can be mistaken for the most trivial.
PDF Materials: Insert disc, access with Windows Explorer and let the nostalgia sweep you up once again. See above.
Coming Soon: Kinda. “Yobo shakey. Me unscrabbly”. Oh, sorry… wrong Kinda. Yes, it’s coming to DVD, the story loved by many and curiously left alone by others. Honestly - there are some who perceive it as possibly the most perfect slice of Doctor Who ever produced. When it went out, we always lumped it with Snakedance, and maybe this coloured our perception of the show, so a revisit is probably in order.
Info Track: Not much to report here, as we get another exhaustive, informative track to part the clouds on this undervalued story. With a sly wit, we get exhaustive details on the commissioning, revisions and completion of the script, shout-outs to the numerous slips which occurred during the recording - a favourite being Hartnell hitting his head on a tree branch - and the curious way in which Hartnell always liked to keep his hands in frame. Never before have so many microphone booms intruded into shot, and we are prepped and ready for each appearance of that omnipresent scene-stealer. It’s a good as ever, and we can’t think of a heartier recommendation than that.
As mentioned earlier, Jackie Lane's exit from Doctor Who was abrupt and unceremonious to say the least; though Lane went on to become a successful theatrical agent (and having at least of couple of Doctors on her books), she has shunned the opportunity to talk about her time on the show. She has not paricipated in any extras thus far, and seeing as there is only one more complete story to go, The Gunfighters, which is due out later this year, and extras are usually compiled well over a year before the title is released, it means that it is quite unlikely that Ms Lane will take her thoughts about her time on Doctor Who to the grave with her.
The Ark is one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who stories of the Hartnell era; it opens with a fascinating premise and features a knockout cliffhanger at the climax of episode two. Hartnell, Purves and newcomer Lane are all great and the whole thing culminates in a rousing climax that makes for a deliriously enjoyable story which papers over the fact that the Monoids are quite possibly the most ridiculously stupid adversaries in Doctor Who history...
Review by Wilson Bros
Suitable for all
Release Date: 28th February 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, All's Wells That Ends Wells, Riverside Story, One-Hit Wonder, Photo Gallery, Info Track, PDF Materials, Coming Soon Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Imison
Cast: William "Fluff" Hartnell, Peter Purvis, Jackie Lane, Michael Sheard, Zippy & George
Length: 98 minutes
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