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22 May 2015 @ 08:39 pm
The Randomiser: The Ark  
Way back when, near the beginning of this Randomiser lark, we watched The Savages and I was struck by how strong Dodo was when I had mentally classed her with a lot of the sixties girly screamers*. The Ark is her first proper story and she's really good here too - robust, cheerful, and a lot less clingy than a lot of sixties teenage companions end up being.

The Tardis crew consisting of the Doctor, Steven and the newly acquired Dodo arrive in a jungle on a vast spaceship that is transporting the human race from the remains of the Earth (about to be destroyed by solar flares) to their new home on Refusis. With the human race comes the mute monocular monoids who are treated like servants. Most of the people are miniaturised leaving only a skeleton crew piloting the ship for the 700 years it will take to reach Refusis. Dodo arrives with a cold, which rapidly spreads among the humans and monoids on the ship, none of whom have any resistance to it. The first two episodes deal therefore with the crew's reaction to this - putting the Tardis crew on trial until the captain intervenes from his sick bed and the Doctor comes up with a cure. The second two episodes jump ahead 700 years to the Ark's arrival on Refusis. By this point the monoids have rebelled against the humans are are keeping them as slaves, however with a little help from the Tardis crew and the incorporeal Refusians, all is eventually put to rights.

The makes The Ark an interesting story from a number of perspectives. I think this is the only occasion when the show has depicted the Tardis crew bringing an infection into a culture, though its a fairly standard SF trope, and one would have thought it was good for more than a single story. The setting jump halfway through, turning the story into two linked two-parters is also an interesting device. The first half is, I think, the better of the two even if the crew's decision to put the Tardis crew on trial immediately rather than letting them try to cure the illness seems somewhat rash. The second half is less interesting. It's a bit messy, featuring humans escaping from their "security kitchen" up on the Ark, the monoids having a rather sudden and very convenient civil war down on the planet, a frantic search for a hidden bomb, and the incorporeal Refusians acting benign and godlike, but randomly blowing up spacecraft from time to time. I think its fair to say that while the big ideas - Dodo's cold, the Ark itself, the two part structure, the master-servant/slave inversion - are novel and interesting for Doctor Who, the nuts and bolts of the plot and characters are fairly hackneyed and two-dimensional (even by Who's standards).

The story is similarly schizophrenic at the production level. The sets are very impressive, particularly the jungle, which appears to have an actual real life elephant in it!!! In a BBC studio in 1966!!! (I wonder if its the same elephant that famously appeared on Blue Peter around the same time?).

Look! Elephant!

On the other hand the costumes are poor, particularly the monoid costumes which I think are among the worst I've seen on the show. I wasn't prepared for that since the photos I'd seen of them in DWM and similar places made them look pretty good:

Good looking monoids

while in reality they have a very visible zip up the back, and sort of long pencil-skirt-like costumes that force them to shuffle around. The speech devices around their necks in the later episodes are rather obviously made from card and the direction seems unable to decide whether or not they need to be holding onto them in order to be heard. I'm not convinced the Beatle haircuts were a great idea either. The human costumes are a less risible, but also suffer from classic Who's tendency to assume that all cultures (apart from present day and historical Earth) wear uniforms and the 1960s unfortunate tendency to think tunics and sandals look futuristic.

Less good looking monoids

As 1960s Doctor Who goes, this is pretty good. It moves at a nice pace, the ideas are interesting, and the Tardis crew have a good fun dynamic (and is a crew that are fairly under-appreciated in fandom). On the downside some of it is pretty by-the-numbers and the costumes really let the production down.

*and yes I know they all have saving graces (though I sometimes wonder about Victoria, whose written incarnation in the Target novels I was very fond of as a child, but who has always underwhelmed me on the screen), but Dodo, like Zoe Herriot, seems to have a bit more going for her than most of them.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/157468.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on May 26th, 2015 09:01 pm (UTC)
I like the Hartnell era a lot, but this always underwhelms me a bit. Like you say, good ideas, but flawed execution. Nowadays the first and second halves of the story would probably be separated, but that wasn't really practical in the sixties (see The Long Game and Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways which has certain similarities to The Ark).

I don't share the dislike fandom seems to have for Dodo, but I'm not tremendously fond of her either; I shall have to bear your analysis in mind next time I watch a story of hers!
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 27th, 2015 02:58 pm (UTC)
When I was little definitely thought less of Dodo because I didn't perceive her as being as pretty as the other companions. I do wonder if the fact she seems a bit more robust in the face of the Doctor's adventures is some side effect of the production teams rather ill-executed idea that she was working class.
metanewsmodsmetanewsmods on May 28th, 2015 05:19 am (UTC)
Hello! Do you mind if we link this on metanews?
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on May 28th, 2015 07:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, sure link away.

Incidentally, at one point it was vaguely encouraged in Dr Who circles to include potential link text and markup at the end of things like this to help out the Who Daily compilers. Would that help you guys? It would be comparatively little extra effort.
metanewsmodsmetanewsmods on May 30th, 2015 04:03 am (UTC)
Sure, that would be awesome!