Never afraid to stretch themselves beyond their means, the Doctor Who production team took viewers ten million years into the future for 1966’s The Ark, as the Doctor, Steven and Dodo witness the remnants of humanity fight for survival.
Escaping an Earth which is soon to be destroyed, the humans, calling themselves the Guardians, are living in less-than-harmony with their alien servants, the Monoids. When the Tardis arrives and the Doctor (William Hartnell) begins to investigate his surroundings, Dodo (Jackie Lane) inadvertently spreads her common cold to the ship’s inhabitants, exposing them to a virus they’ve managed to overcome.
Determined to create a cure which will prevent the wiping out of the Guardians and the Monoids, the Doctor’s success is thrown into doubt when the Tardis crew return to the ship 700 years later, only to find that the course of history has been altered and the Monoids sights set firmly on domination of their one-time captors.
From the confines of London’s Riverside Studios, director Michael Imison and his crew whisked fans across the universe for four episodes, the epic nature of the story only hampered by the budget.
Attempting to give a sense of scale, Imison’s decision to film inserts at Ealing is a well judged one, episode one’s appearance of wild animals and vegetation helping to set the scene.
Splitting the story into two distinct halves, with two episodes allocated to each, is both a benefit and a problem for the story.
Though it does result in a relatively pacy adventure, neither segment has much room for development, with the change in fortune for both the Guardians and the Monoids lacking the drama that might have aided younger viewers’ understanding of the moral issues of slave and master scenarios.
Peter Purves is given a chance to shine in the interrogation scenes, while Jackie Lane struggles to nail Dodo’s accent, which veers between Mancunian and London from episode to episode. Hartnell may struggle with his lines at times, but he has a definite presence about him at all times, while the supporting cast are impressive.
Backing up the main feature are a handful of new extras, the best being Matthew Sweet’s Riverside Story. Here, the broadcaster is accompanied by Peter Purves as the take a tour of the studios and Purves recalls his time on The Ark. The actor is honest and open about his feelings, his memories of Hartnell’s trouble recalling his lines particularly touching.
One Hit Wonder looks at the reasons why the Monoids failed to become a recurring Who monster, while All’s Wells that Ends Wells asks what influence the work of HG Wells had on Doctor Who over the years.
Purves and Imison team up for the commentary, moderated by comedian Toby Hadoke, and the pair offer more interesting insights into the successes and failures of the serial.