Doctor Who – The Ark
Tony mucks out the Monoids.
Doctor Who has always been a show driven by imagination and stories, rather than practical deliverables and budgets. That means there have always been stories that, while working brilliantly as stories, have been let down by wobbly sets and naff monsters.
The Ark, from First Doctor William Hartnell’s third season, is one of those stories. At its core, The Ark is a brilliant tale - humans fleeing the destruction of the Earth by the Sun, taking all the animals with them, along with micro-dotted human beings and a friendly bunch of mute creatures called the Monoids. It takes in themes of privilege and revolution and also, deals with the consequences of the Doctor’s interference in time and space as the Doctor’s companion Dodo bring a cold on board the spaceship. Having no resistance, the super-evolved crew start dropping like flies. There’s a trial, there’s the Doctor in scientific mode trying to find an antidote, and then, job done, the Tardis crew bog off into time and space – only to return immediately to the Ark 700 years later, to find the Monoids no longer mute, no longer docile and frankly ruling the roost. It’s not quite Planet of the Apes, but it is rather Spaceship of the Monoids.
Sadly, the Monoids on-screen reduced The Ark to ‘that one with the stupid one-eyed Beatle-haired things.’ They were badly realised on what felt like an aggressive level, and they robbed the story of any real ability to shock or provoke.
Good news! The audiobook version means you can invent your own Monoids, albeit they’re described in the text. Your mind has a bigger budget than the BBC in the Sixties, and so the Monoids, while still being front and centre of the action here, stop being so much of a focus-drag.
The audiobook by Paul Erickson manages to take a four-part story that always on screen felt like two two-parters knitted together (two episodes with the humans in charge, followed by two on a Monoid-run Ark), and expand it to feel like a valuable six-parter, with a long trial as the Doctor and Co are sentenced to death for bringing a fatal disease on board the Ark, and some exploring in different environments and biospheres to find vaccine ingredients. There’s more texture to the novelization than ever made it on screen too – we learn how Monoid One came to power, which gives a rewarding reality to the revolution of the Monoids, and we also get a bit of backstory for Jackie Lane’s Dodo.
The Ark then feels like a more substantial story in the novelization than it did on screen, and its themes are given more time to expand and bed in.
Peter Purves, on reading duties, is perfect here. His Steven, the companion he played in the story, is of course perfect, but he also delivers a Dodo that makes you want to dig out more Dodo stories and watch them, and over the last decade, at Big Finish and BBC Audio, he’s been honing his version of the First Doctor to the point where it’s utterly believable and consistent, meaning he strongly anchors Doctor Who stories that need a nuanced characterisation of the First Doctor to hold them together. Even his Monoids sounds less distracting than the on-screen versions, helping you to get away from the visual of them, and making the run-time of this audio novelization fly by.
Pick up The Ark on audiobook today – it’s probably the best version of this story you’ll ever own.