DOCTOR WHO: Revisiting THE ARK - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresel revists The Ark.

If anything separates the William Hartnell era from the rest of Doctor Who, it's the ambitiousness of it. From stories like The Dalek Invasion of Earth to The Web Planet, and even in historical tales like Marco Polo and The Aztecs, there's a genuine effort to go for the grandest scale possible. Always, though, with a foot firmly planted among the roots of the program. There may be no better example of ambition with an eye to the past than in The Ark, a four-part story aired across March 1966.

Throughout its history, Doctor Who has often pastiched notable authors or works. With this serial, the series pays homage and tribute to one of the founders of the genre: H.G. Wells. In particular, writers Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott draw on the work that the series most own its lineage to, namely Wells' 1895 novella The Time Machine.

The parallels are many. The relationship between the human Guardians and the Monoids, that of an upper and lower class, contains echoes of the Eloi and Morlocks from Wells' book. That relationship eventually turned on its head in the later parts of the story, the fall of humanity to these creatures further cements the connection. True, the Monoids don't eat the humans the way the Morlocks do the Eloi, but the basic analogy is much the same.

There are other connections to Wells' Time Machine as well. The TARDIS crew, much like Wells' Time Traveller, journey further into the future only to discover things have progressed and not for the better. There's the statue introduced early in the story in which something becomes hidden later in the story, something which becomes important for the resolution. And though it appears earlier in The Ark than in the novella, the future destruction of Earth is something that Wells also touched upon with the unnamed Time Traveller's journey into the far future. All of these ideas, if not their execution, can be found in Wells' foundational tale published some seven decades earlier.

The Time Machine isn't the only Wells work influencing the story, though. The idea of the Guardians, the select group overseeing the future of humanity, draws upon many of Wells utopian works such as The Shape of Things to Come. The Refusians, with their invisibility appearing in a house that looks vaguely Edwardian, calls to mind The Invisible Man. Dodo's cold, which provokes consternation among humans and monoids alike due to their lack of immunity, brings to mind Wells' archetypal alien invasion story The War of the Worlds. In a single-story, Doctor Who pays tribute to many of the works which made British science fiction, and then eventually the show itself, possible.

Unfortunately, The Ark also suffers from some of the same problems that lofty stories before it did as well. In keeping with the Wellsian influence, the costumes for the human characters echo those from the futuristic segment of the film version of Things To Come, something which only serves to date the story. And as was the case with Web Planet before it, the ability to create the incredible sci-fi vistas the script calls for prove a tough match for BBC budgets of the time. The use of matte paintings and photo blow-ups only serve to hinder rather than help tell the story. Add on some shaky dialogue (what is a "security kitchen" and "galaxy accident" anyway?) and the result is a story that sometimes sells it ideas short.

That isn't to write off the production. The Monoids themselves, though perhaps as well executed as they could have been, remain a fascinating idea for a Doctor Who alien. Indeed, one can see echoes of them with the Ood of 21st century Who. Director Michael Imison, while sometimes struggling against the limits of the multi-camera studio, nevertheless manages some admirable stylistic flourishes at times such as the shots inside the jungle-like area of the ark early in the serial. There are also moments for the entire main cast to shine including Dodo in her proper debut story, with Jackie Lane showing off Dodo's naivete and excitement. All of which help to elevate the story somewhat despite other issues it has.

Though it has its weaknesses production-wise, it's in the ideas that The Ark most shines. For four episodes, the series pays tribute to one of the founders of the genre while also telling an ambitious story. It might not live up to those ambitions but as an exploration and updating of ideas foundational to British science fiction, The Ark succeeds and does so more often than it fails.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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