Reviewed By: X-alt
Review Date: 2/5/16 7:44 pm
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When I first watched season 3, The Ark was one of my personal highlights, "The Dalek's Master Plan" taken aside (of course), because I found the story most compelling and was also really curious about Dodo Chaplet, "The Ark" being her first trip. It is also quite funny, though the precise term is "ironic", to see her compare what she sees to Earth, the fauna being obviously Earth-like (the chameleon, the monitor lizard -- the varan -- the pachyderm). The overall effect is quite destabilizing at first since the first alien thing you see is a Monoid, an alien race that is probably the saddest element about this episode, not only because of its poor haircut, but also because of its evolution and story. But there are other topics in this episode that are interesting: miniturization as a form of punishment. Dodo's chill is also a plot-triggering element, in episode 1 it is used to foster suspense, and is later used, in episode 2, as a plot twist (it becomes a "Plague"), though a very previsible one (at least for modern audiences). Steven also emerges as a thorough time and space travaler: not only does he lecture Dodo at the beginning of the story, before the Doctor appears in fact, he is also the first to directly communicate with the humans in the Ark and to establish basic contextual facts of the story, such as the time and place: the Earth is "dying" and about to be "swallowed" by the Sun.
At the end of episode 2, you even have images recorded by the long-time scanner showing the final moments of our dear blue planet. Steven accordingly deduces that the TARDIS crew has traveled "a million years" into the future (the Doctor confirms a few scene later and establishes that they have traveled "ten million years"). Interestingly, one of the characters establishes that they "left Earth one last time", which surprises Steven. These very words would open a wide field of possibilities for future episodes. Still about Steven, he is also the first medium used to introduce the Monoids, the extraterrestrial race whose story is in many respects identical -- or at least -- close to the Oods in the new series, although (unlike them) their condition as slaves is made less obvious, since they are first introduced as "friends" during the expeditive trial in episode 1 (trial which by the way foreshadows that of the TARDIS crew in episode 2), and eventually evidenced throughout the first two episodes. Moreover, Steven is put to the front of the show during the trial in episode 2. It is he who speaks of the Ark inhabitants' fears "of the unknwon". Aboard the Ark, after Steven's debriefing with one of the Guardian, the Doctor appears in a very dramatic way to ease the fears of the Ark humans. In a manner reminiscing of casual science fiction issues, the crew is confronted to a very divided society, with a group of skeptics who think they have to spread the plague on purpose, and the enthusiasts, embodied by the Commander (interestingly the first to catch Dodo's cold).
While in the first two episodes, the Ark inhabitants knew about the Daleks but had never heard (at least as suggested by the character of the Commander in the first episode) of Noah's Ark, which Dodo first mentioned when the Guardians explained what the purpose of the ship was, that is, to reach Refusis in 700 years, in episodes 3 and 4, the ship is called "the Ark". In the last two episodes, indeed, the story is continued in a very surprising and enjoyable manner: we actually see what happens 700 years later in the last two episodes and a cooler thing is that a Monoid (r)evolution: evolution because they can talk now, and revolution because they seized power. It is also revealed by the Monoid leader that the virus mutated eventually and that the Doctor did not really succeed in curing the fever, that is, undo his own misdeeds. Our first meeting with the Refusians is even more interesting: they are invisible and the Monoid known as "2" becomes even worse than the humans 700 years before for he suggests quite explicitely that the Monoids are determined to get rid of everything that is unlike them.
The line of thought here, as stated by one in the last episode, is that human beings are too blind in their faith to realize that the Monoids will not tolerate their coming on Refusis. Part of the irony here is that the audience knows they are not, except for a few devoted servants. Interesting elements in this respect include the use of invisible aliens, the Refusians, who become the victims of an alien race that used to be silent, and are used a couple of time by the First Doctor as objects of irony ("I haven't seen any") and nuclear diplomacy. All these are at the center of action during episode 4. I thought it was a shame to reveal where the bomb was as early as the first minutes of the episode, knowing that it was precisely at the center of the action. This kind of dramatic irony killed the plot... a little. Perhaps it was seen as a good means to justify how easily Steven came to discover where the bomb was.
A necessary, though unsurprising, addition in order to thicken the plot accordingly, was to shed light on the internal dissent among the Monoids over the colonization of Refusis. The overall effect, however, is that the Monoids appear as stupid strategists as conveyed by their haircut -- it becomes even more so obvious when they start killing each other. The end, however, insists on compromise and avoids the killing of all Monoids ("Unless you learn to live together, there is no future for you on Refusi says one of the natives"), which is, in other words, a proper and decent ending, though not so unusual in Doctor Who. Dodo's clothes, nonetheless, as for Steven's stripped jumper, are probably not the most surprising thing either since the end of episode 4 introduces the "Celestial Toymaker" in a very intriguing manner.