Instead of the good doctor, it’s the viewer who does the time travelling with this early adventure, back to the simpler, black and white days of 1966, where the Time Lord’s young companion Dodo (the elfin Jackie Lane) says things like “Fab!” and “That’s gear!”, and wears (as Jim Smith’s wonderfully informative production info subtitles point out) the first miniskirt ever seen in a TV drama.
The story is set in the far-flung future though, as William Hartnell’s crotchety First Doctor arrives with Dodo and Steven (a pre-Blue Peter Purves) on the titular spaceship, which is carrying the remains of the human race from a dying Earth to a new home, hundreds of years away. Also on the Ark is a race of one-eyed aliens, the Monoids, who have become the humans’ servants. Meanwhile Dodo has a cold, which will have serious consequences for those not immune to such an ancient disease.
This is the stuff of good, ‘hard’ sci-fi, and there’s a great midpoint twist which sees the TARDIS crew leaving the Ark, only to materialise back in exactly the same spot, 700 years later as the Ark’s journey is nearly over... As director Michael Imison is the first to admit on the commentary, though the “I think you’ve pulled, my dear,” said the Doctor. story was good, the execution lets it down somewhat.
It was Imison who had the simple but creepy idea of creating a monocular alien by painting an eye onto a ping pong ball and putting it in the actor’s mouth, but the rest of the Monoids’ costume, from waddling flipper feet to the incongruous Beatles-style wigs, means the overall effect is, as Purves sums up, “rather silly”. “They were the least menacing villains you could possibly have.
You just want to pat them on the head,” Imison ruefully agrees. It was their first and last appearance on the show, though critic Kim Newman points out in the ‘One Hit Wonder’ featurette that some recent Who aliens, the subservient Ood, can perhaps be traced back to the Monoids.
A brief documentary outlines the story’s debt to the work of HG Wells (especially The Time Machine and The War Of The Worlds) but the standout extra sees Purves, who evidently has the memory of an elephant, return to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith to relive the making of The Ark.This, along with the commentary and info subtitles, builds a remarkably detailed history of the production, which is both fascinating and worthwhile – even if the show itself, sadly, is a bit of an unintentional sniggerfest.
Maybe not top-drawer Doctor Who, but as a piece of ’60s TV history, this disc is a real eye-opener.