Chapter 113. Doctor Who – The Ark (1987)

Synopsis: The TARDIS delivers the Doctor and Steven, with their new friend Dodo, to a huge space ark carrying the survivors of Earth to a new home. As most of humanity sleeps in miniaturised form, the ark is maintained by a small community of humans with the assistance of the alien Monoids, knowing that their journey will outlast them all. Then the humans and Monoids succumb to a terrible disease – the common cold, brought aboard by Dodo. The Doctor manages to find a cure and the trio leave – only to return to the space vessel almost immediately, but hundreds of years into the future for humanity, which is now enslaved by the Monoids…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Steel Sky
  • 2. Capture
  • 3. The Plague
  • 4. The Fight Back
  • 5. The Return
  • 6. Refusis
  • 7. Search
  • 8. The Final Conflict

Background: Adapted by Paul Erickson from the 1966 scripts he officially co-wrote with Lesley Scott.

Notes: We begin with a single word: ‘Jungle’. The opening scene provides us with a description of the Monoid that includes details not visible on telly:

But this creature was different from the snakes and lizards that were normally found in this jungle. In the first place it walked upright on two legs, two arms hanging at its sides. It made no sound, not even the hissing that other reptiles might make. And while its body was covered in scales, the head boasted a mop-like thatch of ginger hair.

Facially, it displayed three shrunken nostrils and a small, thin mouth from which a tongue occasionally flicked out.

But its most prominent feature was a large single eye that constantly swivelled as it looked around.

Later, we’re told that the Monoids have no vocal cords, but that they can ‘lip-read’ and understand sign language – which suggests that they are also deaf (or, more likely, that the author doesn’t understand the difference). 

The Doctor mentions a previous adventure that took place on the planet Venessia – or possibly Enlandia – where there was no landmasses, only water and a ‘peculiar form of crystal ice’. He also mentions events on the planet Sava, which he tells Steven he visited ‘some time ago,’:

Some time ago was right. No sense in telling the young man that it must have been three centuries in his terms, although in the Doctor’s own knowledge such a time span had little meaning. Places were places, creatures were creatures… and time was time. All in the now period. That was the only way he ever experienced it, the only way he knew it.

The Doctor has never been to Refusis, but he did pass by it with previous companions (presumably this is Ian and Barbara with either Susan or Vicki); on that occasion, the TARDIS was attacked by rockets and the Doctor had to steer his ship to make the missiles collide and destroy each other. The Doctor criticises Dodo’s use of the word ‘fab’, calling her English ‘Most… elastic’. The Guardian Commander has a similar reaction when Dodo claims she might have ‘an attack of the willies’ and uses the adjective ‘flipping’. The Doctor name-drops Houdini and tells his friends about the events that led to the escapologist’s death. Later, while teaching Rhos about vaccines, he compares their work to that of Marie and Pierre Curie. ‘a husband and wife team of scientists of the nineteenth century’. Dodo tells her new friends that it’s Friday the 13th, still failing to grasp that they’ve travelled in time.

The prisoner on trial at the beginning is called Niash and he is offered a choice of either death or miniaturisaton (on TV, he’s simply told he’ll be miniaturised). The Guardians measure their ship’s dimensions in leagues – it’s two thousand leagues long – but Mellium doesn’t know if a league is three miles or three kilometres (it’s three nautical miles). The ship has no name – although the Guardians adopt Dodo’s use of the term ‘ark’ – and it contains many different types of environment; in addition to the jungle, there are lakes, deserts and polar regions. 

The trial of the travellers is much more involved and fleshed out (the Doctor is concerned by Steven’s blunt defence, noting that ‘advocacy [is] a special art – one that often calls for delicacy rather than the heavy hammer’. The hunt for a vaccine involves an operation to take blood and saliva samples from all living things aboard the ark, including a goat. Dodo takes Manyak inside the TARDIS to fetch equipment for the Doctor’s experiments; Dodo compares some of the items to the kind used by dentists and Manyak reveals that they don’t have dentistry in their time. The perplexing size of the TARDIS interior to its external shell convinces Manyak of the truth at last. Dodo tells him that ‘Lots of people have been fooled by that’ and that the Doctor told her it’s all ‘an optical illusion’. [On TV, this is her first journey, but this does lend credence to the theory that she’s had a few offscreen adventures prior to this – or that Dodo feels confident in pretending to Manyak that she knows more than she really does, which – considering she takes a long time to accept that they’ve travelled in time – seems more credible].

The Doctor and his friends encounter a very tame tiger, which surprises them by licking Dodo’s hand with affection. They later learn that the humans removed aggression from their character to create their harmonious society – and then extended this gift to the predators among their livestock. Later though, a Guardian is attacked by a boa constrictor (observed by a curious Monoid) and in the polar region, the Doctor sees a polar bear and is told that not all animals were successfully converted away from aggression.

On inspecting a Guardian’s physical scan, the Doctor discovers that humans now have two hearts (though makes no reference to having two himself), two livers and a ‘greatly reduced intestinal system’, but have lost their vermiform appendix and tonsils, all the results of genetic manipulation many generations ago; the humans also have reduced musculature that makes them incapable of heavy lifting; in contrast, the Monoids have no heart, just a series of pulses, but they do have a nervous system. The Doctor applies the vaccine via pads, rather than needles (as on TV) and as he explains that the future humans are a ‘changed species’ from Steven and Dodo, he adds cryptically that he himself has ‘had more experience of adapting’ [this is the ‘first’ Doctor, but see some similarly confusing statements in Galaxy Four]. 

The Doctor’s quest to administer the vaccine takes him, Rhos and a Monoid via conveyor transport into the desert area, where they encounter a caravan of nomads, and to the ‘cultivated zone’ inhabited by farmers. An elderly woman tells the Doctor that not everyone on Earth came aboard the ship; some remained to live out their lives on the doomed Earth. The people of Earth abandoned country names ‘a long time ago’. Burial had been banned, replaced by mandatory cremation. Again, it’s noted that Guardians don’t do manual work, while Monoids accept it.

When the travellers first return to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Dodo grab some sleep while Steven is left ‘on duty’, but Steven falls asleep too and accidentally knocks a switch, which is why they return to the Ark in its future. They emerge aboard the Ark to discover that the previously placid predators have now reverted to type, as they see a tiger hunting gazelle. Monoid One is actually the 17th One, a descendant of the Monoid who assumed power after the war that resulted in the subjugation of the humans. Monoid Four comes from a long line of individuals who question decisions – and he feels that the treatment of the humans is wrong.

Dodo meets a second Refusian, a female who tells her they don’t have individual names, but decides that they should adopt some and chooses ‘Mary’ for herself and ‘Charles’ for her brother. Dodo tells Mary that the Refusis castle reminds her of a similar building she once visited in Wales, then the two new friends play a game of tennis. After the launcher is destroyed, Dodo panics that she might be stranded and suddenly realises that she’s millions of miles and years away from home. She speculates that back home she’d be shopping and preparing for a night out – but is quick to appease Mary when she inadvertently causes offense at being ungrateful for the Refusian hospitality. The time travellers stay to witness the arrival of the Ark’s population and revival of the miniaturised beings on the surface of Refusis, which is ‘a model of efficient organisation’ thanks to the cooperation of Monoids and humans alike. Among the revived people is Niash, the prisoner from the trial at the start of the story. As usual, the tag scene leading into the next story [The Celestial Toymaker] is not included here; instead, the Doctor attempts to give Dodo elocution lessons (‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the Plain’, made famous by My Fair Lady). The old man promises his young friends a journey – but ‘no guaranteed destination!’

Cover: For the first edition, David McAllister shows the Doctor and a Monoid in a triangular motif as animals break the frame and run into space. For the 1993 reprint, Alister Pearson uses a border that’s reminiscent of the one he used on The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen, with Dodo and the Doctor either side of an attacking Monoid.

Final Analysis: This is a pretty solid adaptation, telling the story as seen on TV but with the kind of nuances and subtle enhancements that make these books all the more worthwhile. Paul Erickson provides a more rational explanation for how the Monoids managed to overthrow the human rulers (humanity having slowly removed aggression and physical strength from its genetic makeup, making them vulnerable to revolt) and really adds to the scale of the Ark and its many geographical simulations. Something he really excels with is Dodo, perfectly capturing her carefree and cheeky attitude. She’s an absolute hoot, annoying the Doctor with her never-ending supply of 60s slang. The book still contains two of the less credible elements too – the security kitchen (!) and the ‘galactic accident’ that led to the Refusians becoming invisible – which would have been a shame to lose.

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