Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Ark - "Oh, I don't want to think about it ..."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Ark - Details

Season 3, Story 6 (Overall Series Story #23) | Previous - Next | Index

MONOID 2: I will challenge them like this! [The Monoid smashes a vase, from which it has removed the flowers, on the floor.] 
DODO: Oh, no!
[The Monoid, as if to say, "Oh yes!" throws the flowers, previously removed from the vase, to the ground.]
And that tells you all you almost all you need to know about "The Ark." It has moments of charm and a premise that's nothing to sneeze at. (I can only get away with that if you haven't seen it. If you have, you're groaning and I'm sorry.) For crying out loud though, if Dodo had a handkerchief like she said she did, why was she sniveling and sneezing into her bare hands the whole time! To quote the Doctor, "Well then, use it, my child!"

It may be tempting to be forgiving of the clunkiness of this story, making allowances like, 'It's just how TV was made back then.' But, remember that in 1966 the five seasons of The Twilight Zone had ended two years earlier. The Outer Limits had ended the prior year. Star Trek debuted the same year. There was really no excuse at that late date for a science fiction show to have lines like: "Once we had a shape and form something like you. Then there was a galaxy accident. A giant solar flare."  If not the writer, then the script editor certainly needed to recognize that the phrase "galaxy accident" was just not cutting it.

This story, despite its faceplants, had just enough goofy charm -- rather like a shambling, moptopped monoid with an eyeball where you'd expect a mouth hole to be -- to keep me watching amicably until this happened:
DOCTOR [to Dodo, whose snivelling that nobody cares her cold symptoms are subsiding while the last of humanity and their monoid servants are dropping dead from the virus they've introduced to a population with no resistance to it]: But of course they care, my dear. Now don't worry. It's not your fault at all. If it's anybody's, it's mine.
STEVEN: Look, do you think this has happened before? That we've carried an infection from one age to another, or even one planet to another?
DOCTOR: Oh, I don't want to think it about it, dear boy. It's too horrifying. Though I must say that we're usually very healthy. 
Well, that's fine then, I mean, you're usually very healthy, so don't let a little thing like infectious disease trouble you. Like a ship full of poxy Spaniards tossing blankets around the New World, you lot are. Hartnell's Doctor does his best -- well, sort of -- to cure the common cold but there's no getting around his head-in-the-sand approach to considering the consequence of his actions is practically sinister.

But he's not done! Check out how our man does science. Cobbles together a treatment he thinks might work, while admitting he's a bit of a quack, he gives it to the infected Steven who apparently gets worse as a result of it. Then, the instant the Doctor thinks he's detected the fever is broken (hand to forehead measurement), he rushes out and starts giving the medicine to every one. His work done, he rushes off assuming everything is going to be just fine. Except it wasn't. The sickness goes on to sap the vitality of the human population of the ship resulting in the Monoids becoming the overlords of humanity, putting us to work in their "security kitchen"? (Huh?)

Despite his incompetence, the Doctor manages to help resolve the conflict between the species and everybody decides they can live together on Refusis. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

Best part of this whole story: when Dodo says the ship is like "The Ark", nobody gets the biblical reference. We may have to flee Earth to avoid being destroyed by our Sun, nearly get wiped out by the common cold because we've forgotten the cure, then enslaved by one-eyed aliens ... but at least we end up doing away with that load of superstitious nonsense. Better days ahead.

Just don't try to reconcile this story in a continuity that includes "Frontios""The Mysterious Planet", & "The End of the World". But, if you do, and want to say it's problematic in that regard, then why not really take the gloves off and go after it Sandifer-style. At the top, I told you the silly Monoid taunting of the invisible Refusins was almost all you need to know. Sandifer lays bare the devastating criticism, taking it to task for being a bit of thinly-veiled neo-colonialist, racist claptrap where the moronic, dark-skinned refugee aliens seize upon their chance to get over on the white man only to be outdone in the end because they were basically inferior beings all along. Embarrassed to say that didn't click for me while I was watching it, but once I read that take on it, it was impossible to unsee. At least the Doctor tells the humans at the end they had it coming from the Monoids for they way they'd treated them. Too bad it's now assumed the humans are back in the superior position as, the implication goes, they should be.

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