Episodes 108, 109, 110 & 111: The Steel Sky, The Plague, The Return & The Bomb

Written by Paul Erickson and  Lesley Scott

Directed by Michael Imison

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the 80s. I only turned up for the last three years or so. Even so, I was vaguely aware that half the world was run by borderline psychopaths with a shit load of world burning nuclear ‘deterrent’ at their fingertips. I got the feeling that a fair proportion of the country woke up every morning with a mild sense of surprise that we hadn’t actually blown ourselves up yet. By that time, of course, everyone was pretty used to the threat of imminent destruction by way of thermonuclear detonation. The pretty scary bombs that were used against Japan had been around since the 40s, and the really scary ones, that have thankfully not been used to date, had been around almost as long, first appearing in the early 50s. There was, therefore, a whole generation of young adults who had grown up with the threat hanging over them their whole lives. In 1966 though, the story was quite different. Nuclear war was, quite rightly, still really fucking terrifying. This comes across in early Doctor Who in a number of subtle ways, and in The Ark, is a number of very unsubtle ways.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of The Ark. It’s been the only story so far that’s been a struggle to get through, mostly because its so fucking dull, but there are problems that go deeper than just uninterestingness. The monoids, for example, start of as a group of aliens who live in relative peace with humanity. It is mentioned later on that they are a subservient race, but there is no real hint of that in the way that other characters interact with them: they are treated with respect equal to any human character. Cut to 700 years later, and they have thrown off the non-shackles that they never really had and enslaved what’s left of humanity and plan of making them all go BOOMSPLAT with a great big destructo-bomb. Who has done great stories about humanity oppressing alien races and getting justifiably put back in their place (see Planet of the Ood or The Mutants) but this is not handled well at all. With the Monoids, Erickson and Scott fell into the ol’ bug eyed monster as the unysmpathetic villain routine in a most un-Who like fashion. Boo! Plus, they look like some sort of furry tree dildo things. They are, literally, one-eyed monsters. And it would not be going too far to say that they get a spanking. Actually, I lied: it would be going too far, but I don’t like this story, so I’m going to reduce my write up to smutty innuendo.

monoids

The Doctor’s most fearsome of foes, the One Eyed Monsters

A further issue is Dodo being a bit shit. I’m pretty sure that this is not the fault of Jackie Lane , who does actually bring some warmth and likeability to an inherently irritating totally fucking radical character. Come on, she spends the first half of the story wearing a medieval costume that she found on the TARDIS because its so fucking ‘hip’. The producers clearly wanted to relate to a young audience, but apparently hadn’t spoken to anyone in that age range in about 20 million years. Get a grip, guys.

And the good points? Guess. Yup, as always, Hartnell comes through with a wonderful performance full of warmth and understanding. The Refusians are interesting too, and much more the sort of thing that would soon appear regularly on a similarly peace oriented sci fi show across the pond a few months when Star Trek boldly appeared on our screens, so its nice to see brush up against the Doctor.

Another thing Star Trek had a lot of was seemingly infinitely powerful aliens who would play with the crew for fun. Thankfully, Who didn’t dick around with that sort of thing too often, but what would happen if it did? Find out next time, in The Celestial Toymaker.

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