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Doctor Who: The Ark

Yup, they're awful, let's move on!
Nothing to sneeze at...

Not to be confused with the Tom Baker-era adventure "The Ark In Space"

Season Three, Story X

Starring William Hartnell as the Doctor
With Peter Purves (Steven) and Jackie Lane (Dodo)
Written by Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott*
Directed by Michael Imison
Produced by John Wiles
Story Editor: Gerry Davis

* – Lesley Scott, wife of Paul Erickson at the time, was co-credited as author – the first woman to receive a writing credit on Doctor Who – though she is believed to have made no direct contribution to the story.

Episode Titles and Broadcast Dates
  • The Steel Sky – 5 Mar 1966
  • The Plague – 12 Mar 1966
  • The Return – 19 Mar 1966
  • The Bomb – 26 Mar 1966

How To Watch
  • Available for streaming on-demand (with subscription) via BritBox
  • Not currently part of Pluto.tv's rotation on their Classic Doctor Who channel (as of Feb 2023)
  • Released on DVD in 2011


The TARDIS lands on an enormous spaceship carrying the last survivors of the human race, fleeing a dying Earth in the far future, on a seven hundred year voyage to the planet Refusis II. Serving the humans are a mute one-eyed alien race known as the Monoids. Dodo has a cold, and neither the humans nor Monoids have any defense against the common cold virus, and it spreads rapidly through the ship. After a race against the clock, the Doctor comes up with an antidote for both species, but not before a few of each succumb to the virus. They part amicably.

The TARDIS brings them right back to the Ark again, but 700 years in the future as they near the end of its voyage. But in the intervening time the long-term effects of the cold have weakened the humans, allowing the Monoids to take over, utilizing communication devices to give them voice, and have made the surviving humans their slaves. Their leader, One, rules with an iron grip, and he has a vision of Refusis as the new Monoid homeworld, and humans will not be a part of it. His schemes fail, thanks to the invisible Refusian natives, internal dissent among the Monoids, and the Doctor and friends foiling One's plan to blow up the Ark and thereby destroy the remaining humans. The Refusians permit the human and Monoid survivors to resettle only if they agree to live together in peace.

While the TARDIS is en route to their next destination, the Doctor sneezes, then disappears...

Notes and Observations and Stuff

This is visually one of the most ambitious Hartnell-era episodes, and credit goes to director Michael Imison, though apparently it was so over-budget that Imison was effectively fired from the BBC roster of directors for it – his expenses were approved by John Wiles, who apparently wanted to spite his successors as this was his last story as producer. Nonetheless, the results are impressive: live monitor playback on the screens, a live elephant in the studio, a host of extras, a lot of forced-perspective and high angle shots that make it look as if they were filming in a huge film studio instead of their usual cramped digs... they really went all-in, and on the whole, for its day, it looks pretty magnificent. Even the way the shuttle capsules' doors open and the seat swings down to make steps is clever, even when it doesn't quite always open or close smoothly. I love the detail in this story, the humans and Monoids have their own sign language, the way the food reconstitutes itself in the bowl when water is added, etc.

They must have BritBox!

This is also a uniquely constructed story in that it's effectively two separate two-episode mini-stories back to back, one about the cold virus, and one about the Monoids in charge. They could've treated them as stand-alone stories and moved the second half to later in the season, that would've been so cool.

The first half of the story is also unique in that it deals head-on with an issue that almost never pops up in sci-fi, or at least not again in Doctor Who, something that would definitely impact an actual first-contact between alien races. It's the same thing that happened when European explorers and settlers first met the indigenous peoples of the new world. The natives had no antibodies for the viruses the Europeans carried and were nearly wiped out by smallpox. In theory, every time the TARDIS lands, whatever germs our heroes had in their bodies could wipe out whoever they contacted. It does, in effect, call out the limitations of science fiction, as far as contact with other species is concerned. Basically any contact between alien species would end up like The Andromeda Strain or War of the Worlds. We'd all die from their germs, they'd all die from ours, or both. Then of course there's the communication barrier, which future Who writers would tackle later.

I'll just come right out and say it. The second half of this story is rooted in European (specifically British) subconscious cultural fear of having the tables turned on them by the peoples they've oppressed over the past several centuries; having the Monoids turn into ruthless captors ruled by a power-hungry dictator, and their rapid descent into civil war, is straight from that playbook – "See what happens when we let them rule? We have to be in control for their own good!"

The Guardians had it coming, and it's interesting to compare how this story deals with the Monoids versus the way the New Series handles the Ood. Even though the power structure is clearly Master and Servant, the Guardians – even the title is rife with self-importance – keep referring to the Monoids as "our guests." And even though we don't see any overt indication that the Monoids are being treated poorly – who knows what goes on in private – such an inherent power imbalance, over time, will inevitably build resentment over time as the Guardian class continues to enjoy power and privilege at their expense.

The other thing that I find cringeworthy is how, especially in a story that is so visually ambitious, there are moments that advertise the limitations of the budget, like when One bellows: "Take them to the security kitchen!" Or when the dialogue is obviously dumbed down for the kiddies, as when the Refusian explains "Once we had a shape and form something like you. Then there was a galaxy accident." Yes, this show is made for children. I get that. I am four decades older than the show's target demographic, and I've never watched it from the safety of behind the sofa. But what arguably gives this show its enduring appeal are the moments that transcend the budgetary and demographic limitations, the universal appeals. These moments are jarring and painful. Almost as painful as Dodo's costume.

There's enough good stuff in this story to make it worth your time; there's so little of season three that I'm grateful for what we do have. Especially the episode two cliffhanger, it's a brilliant twist.

(See, I didn't even mention the Monoids' design until now. Sure, it's laughable, it's probably the most cringeworthy element of everything already discussed, but yeah, that topic's been done to death.)

Haven't I Seen You...
  • Michael Sheard (Rhos) would return several times, Dr Summers in "Mind of Evil," Laurence Scarman in "Pyramids of Mars," Lowe in "The Invisible Enemy," Mergrave in "Castrovalva," and the Coal Hill Headmaster in "Remembrance of the Daleks."
  • Roy Spencer (Manyak) would return as Frank Harris in "Fury from the Deep"
  • Terence Woodfield (Maharis) was Celation in "The Daleks' Master Plan"
  • Terence Bayler (Yendom) would return as Major Barrington in "The War Games"
  • This is Roy Skelton's first work on Doctor Who; he would provide voice work for Daleks, Cybermen, and other aliens, and also appear onscreen in "Colony in Space," "The Green Death," and "The Android Invasion."

Sausage Factor: 84.2% (16 male actors out of 19 credited roles)

Rating: Two and a Half out of Four Security Kitchens
John Geoffrion is a semi-retired semi-professional thespian, a professional data guy, and a Dad. He usually falls asleep to the Classic Doctor Who channel on Pluto.tv


  1. I've always held tremendous affection for the Monoids. I'm not afraid to admit it.

    Is this the right forum for us to theorize about Monoid gender structures? I was really hoping that would be addressed in the sausage factor :)

    I'm continuing to adore these missing episode reviews! Great stuff!

  2. I'm mostly neutral to this one, it's somewhere around the lower middle of the pack for me; it's not bad, but it's not good enough to rise above the blob in the middle either. It's more engaging then Hartnell's less interesting stories, and moves along at a better pace than say The Crusaders (which while missing is watchable on the lost years DVD pack), so it's worth watching for that.

    The Monoids are a bit daft looking, but the way they are treated and how they reciprocate does hit on such real world analogs as you point out John. This was my first exposure to Dodo too as the Massacre is one where I haven't seen anything, and with the Celestial Toymaker mostly missing as well, we're missing almost 50% of her stories right now, so hard to really say much about the character. I'm not a fan over how the BBC treated Jackie Lane though, that's for sure.

  3. Oh, and Terrence Baylor also appears as Leggy Mountbatten in the famous Rutles mockumentary "All You Need Is Cash." How could I forget that!

    1. Been years since I saw that one! I really got to watch that again. The pre-fab four indeed!


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