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Doctor Who story number 22

With this story we finally get back to some decent science fiction - apart from a rather unbelievable alien race at the end and the idea that miniaturizing something puts it into suspended animation because it's small the rest of the science and social issues are interesting enough, though could have done with more time.

The producer of the series had come up with the idea that a story could be set on a ship "too big to walk across" which is interesting, but blatantly awkward to write a story for - either everyone uses a transport system to get around (basically making the story set in a city) or everyone spends a lot of time talking on intercoms. Instead the story primarily takes place in a small area in the ship, much of the space taken up by the jungle area that makes up the biosphere (the jungle is largely a recreation area for the crew as well). Of course this ship is the generic "generation ship" which people envisage for travelling to other planets, but there's obviously a massive, gigantic error in the writing of the story - we've already established that humans have faster than light travel in the Doctor Who universe two stories ago in The Daleks' Master Plan.

The Monoids are a brilliant creation (much more easy to accept than the Refusians), with a mop of hair, single eye and skin joining their legs so they shuffle around. The single eye is actually a ping pong ball held in the mouth of the actor playing the alien, and is moved around by the actors tongue. The effect is quite striking, and even if you already know how it was done you still find it fascinating to watch when you do see it. They have holes in their necks for eating, chewing might not be required. The fact they are mute when we first see them raises the interesting question of how they communicate.

Criticism for the story includes the pacing - it's really fast because it's only four episodes. Another problem for today's audience is that the big surprise in the middle is lost to us because we know how long the story is (assuming you don't know the plot already). You have to remember that for it's orignal transmission the episode titles were all different, and so at the end of episode two you didn't know that next week would be episode three.

One problem is the change in the social stucture that happens from the first two episodes to the last two - it's implied it happens because of a resurgence of the cold, but that's like saying it could not have happened otherwise, which makes the change less of a social point and more of an excuse, making us less thoughtful about the exploitation - human treatment of the aliens must go downhill in the intervening years or it makes less sense. It's mentioned at the end but up to there it feels like a case of "If we get slack the sub-classes rebel!" which I don't think was the intention, but the poor writing makes it seem that way.

Why does Steven mention time travel? People either don't believe this story or try to nick the TARDIS, what was he thinking?

Paul Erickson had help from his ex-wife writing the story, and asked for her to get co-credit on it before transmission, but has since said he didn't have help from her. Hrm, I know the BBC has to pay everyone involved in the story if they re-run it, so I'd say this is rubbish.

Thankfully the story still exists in entirety, but it hasn't been released on video or DVD recently. Your only option is to keep an eye on whatever channel shows Doctor Who where you live.

Paul Erickson, Lesley Scott

This story has 4 episodes with individual titles:

  • The Steel Sky
  • The Plague
  • The Return
  • The Bomb

Plot Overview
The TARDIS materialises in a jungle, and the travellers explore. Dodo is for some reason wearing a ridiculous pageboy outfit, she obviously has no fashion sense, and gets told off by the Doctor for saying "fab". She also has a cold, and sneezes all over the place. They meet various forms of wildlife, and Dodo is certain they're in Whipsnade Zoo,while Steven is exasperated that she doesn't seem to understand they could be anywhere (her first clue should have been the fact that the TARDIS is bigger on the.... you know). the Doctor is certain they are on Earth though, and they explore, watched by a one-eyed alien....

Meanwhile a trial takes place, the human defendant is found guilty of negligence and sentenced by the Commander to miniaturization for 700 years. The trial is conducted by humans with a Monoid prosecutor, and the sentence is considered quite lenient. The defendant is found guilty and stored in a tray along with a happy meal (okay, maybe not the happy meal). Back in the jungle the Doctor notes upon finding an elephant that the animals in the jungle are from all over the world, the sky is a steel roof, and the ground vibrates. The humans have spotted the travellers and their ship and set off an alarm, and the way to the TARDIS is blocked by Monoids. They hide in a cave and then sneak off, and run right into the edge of the jungle. The Doctor realises they're on a spaceship, and then they are captured.

Steven gets interrogated by Zentos, the Deupy Commander. He can't tell them much of course, but learns that time travel experiments in the 27th "segment of time" were unsuccessful (which is why they are skeptical about his story). They show Steven the read outs giving the size of the ship and tell him about the Monoids. They came to Earth from their own dying planet for refuge, and offered to serve mankind. They aided the human race and so have been brought along on the migration to the new world (they must have been treated more like servants over time. Hey, they're also one of the few races to not try and take over the world). The journey to the planet Refusis II is being undertaken not out of desire to colonize, but because the sun is about to swallow the Earth.

Steven realises they have travelled forward millions of years. Zentos thinks the travellers are agents from Refusis sent to sabotage the ship - since they only know Refusians are intelligent they could be shapeshifters. The Commander doesn't swallow that, and the Doctor is brought in and confirms that they are human, by pointing out that Dodo has the cold. This is met with good humoured smiles - the cold was wiped out long ago. The Doctor and his friends learn they are from the first segement of time and it is now the 57th segment of time. The trip will take about 700 years, and Refusis is the closest planet with Earthlike features (these people have forgotten a lot of the basic knowledge from our times - Refusis' star could be Alpha Centauri or any other. Presumably they wanted a planet with equivalent water content). The Guardians (humans) are building a huge statue of a human for something to do on the long trip, it is a process that is supposed to take the whole trip. Dodo compares the ship to Noah's Ark and so the ship gets called "The Ark."

Well all this nice optimistic talk is interesting, but this has to go for four episodes, so lets see.... Oh, I know: Suddenly an alarm sounds and we find that a Monoid is deathly sick with some sort of disease. Oh dear, so is the Commander. The Doctor knows what's going on - no common cold for millions of years means no resistance to the cold, and so the population of the Ark are all going to die. Well done Dodo, you've managed to accomplish with one sneeze what every other alien race couldn't do before - you've wiped out the human race. The travellers are locked up while the inhabitants of the Ark face the fact that their mission will be in vain.

In the cell Dodo blames herself, and all the viewers agree. The Doctor blames himself too. Steven wonders if they've ever done anything like this before while galavanting around time and space, and this really upsets the Doctor. Dodo's cold is clearing up and the Doctor wants to get out and find a cure (I know he's smart and all, but the cold?). Meanwhile we learn that there's outbreaks everywhere, but it's not too bad as no humans have died yet, only some Monoids. What wankers some of these humans are. The ship's microvirologist (works with small viruses. As opposed to a macrovirologist) is working on a cure now.

Unfortunately the microvirologist doesn't know how to cure the cold, the cure was lost in the 10th segment of time, so they're screwed. The travellers are put on trial by Zentos, with Steven representing them, and he gets righteous on their sorry complacent asses on how slack they have been in losing valuable knowledge down the years and how close minded they are. The Commander agrees with this but he is too weakened to help the travellers. Our heroes are going to be ejected into space, where with a good lungfull of air they can survive for about thirty seconds, but what with space being so mind-bogglingly big the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and sixty-seven thousand seven hundred and nine to one against.

Er.... Wrong story, sorry. What really happens is that the Commander manages to get enough strength to give an order to free them and give the Doctor a laboratory. Roll your eyes now. The Doctor manages to completely remember the formula of the cold vaccine, which is bollocks, and it comes from animal membranes, so they go and collect samples from all the animals in the massive jungle (environmental message for today's society, but probably not noticed in the 60's). The Doctor finalises the cure with the help of a Monoid and they make a medicated patch and everyone is cured, yay! Oh and the Earth is burned up by the sun - oh dear, I hope no one was left behind.

The travellers leave in the TARDIS but rematerialise on the same spot - in a more overgrown jungle. They explore, and find the statue completed - with the head of a Monoid.

They explore, and find the ship now has automatic guidance and no one has cleaned up in 700 years. They find a bunch of humans trapped in the kitchens - and the Monoids are in control. Captured, they are taken to see Monoid One. The Monoids gained power for two reasons: A second outbreak of the cold; and also the Guardians allowed the Monoids to research anything they liked, leading to the voice boxes which they speak with, and the heat prod weapons they used to take control. The travellers are kept in the Kitchen Of Eternal Torment with the humans who will not obey the Monoids.

The Ark is soon to arrive at Refusis, and One envisages a new Monoid world where there will be no memory of being secondary beings, and he has an Evil Plan (they always do). The Doctor and his companions urge rebellion, and Dodo notes that though they are not well armed they can move faster than the Monoids, so they need to try and take a heat prod. A failed attempt ends with Dodo and the Doctor being taken to be decoy emissaries to Refusis.

Refusis is a sort of scrubland, with no life present. Well, no life we can see. It seems the Refusians are invisible, but the humans on the planet along with Monoid Two don't realise yet. Dodo realises that the Monoids are going to leave the humans on the Ark, and then they find an empty house. Two starts mashing stuff to draw out the Refusians, but they stop him and he can't do much about it. Back on the Ark One is quite pleased with his plan - to blow up the humans with a nuclear device hidden somewhere on the ship. One of the humans in service to him hears and tries to warn the others, but only Steven believes him. Meanwhile the Doctor has befriended The Invisible Refusian, and learned they are all invisible due to solar flare activity and are happy to share their planet with peaceful inhabitants. Two heads to the lander and contacts the Ark but is destroyed when it explodes. Monoid One heard a report that started well enough so he plans to move all the Monoids to Refusis - other Monoids are getting worried about him though. On Refusis the Doctor learns that the Refusian blew up the lander (with INVISO-POWERS I guess) and is going to waste the whole damn Ark if the two races can't resolve their differences.

The Monoids are already loading trays of Monoids into landers, while Monoid Four plans to get rid of Monoid One on the surface with time to spare to return to the Ark. Steven and the humans escape and starts searching for the bomb while the landers set off (note that there's now 12 hours before the bomb detonates). On the planet Monoid One claims Refusis for his race, but Monoid Four wants to return to the Ark, and has to deal with their leader. The Doctor sneaks into a lander and tells the humans on the Ark there's a bomb, then sends the lander back with the Refusian piloting it and gets captured by the Monoids. Cue the Doctor getting kicks out of being obtuse: when asked where the Refusians are he says he hasn't seen any. Monoid Four insists on returning to the Ark, but is told there's no point - the bomb is in the head of the statue and cannot be reached. Like Hernando Cortez, Monoid One is going to burn his ships so the others cannot turn back on his plans.

Monoid Four's party try return to the Ark anyway, and One plans to ambush them before they leave in the landers. Steven sends a group of humans to help the Doctor and Dodo, and some are killed in the fighting. The Doctor manages to get news to the Ark about the location of the bomb, but the statue is too heavy to lift! Oh but wait not only are the Refusians invisible and able to blow up spacecraft via thought they can also lug around heavy statues, so it carries it to the cargo bay to be ejected into space. Awfully convenient and the tension from having a time frame to find the bomb in is wasted. The humans prepare to move the rest of their population to Refusis, and the Doctor reminds them for the second time to treat the Monoids as equals (though they didn't bloody listen in episode two).

The travellers then return to the TARDIS, which dematerialises. As they land the Doctor sneezes, and dissapears. Though Dodo thinks it's something to do with the Refusians, the Doctor knows better - they are under some kind of attack....

Main Cast

  • Eric Elliott - Commander
  • Inigo Jackson - Zentos
  • Kate Newman - Mellium
  • Michael Sheard - Rhos
  • Ian Frost - Baccu
  • Edmund Coulter, Frank George - Monoids (mute)
  • Ralph Carrigan - Monoid Two
  • Terrence Bayler - Yendom
  • Edmund Coulter - Monoid One
  • Frank George - Monoid Three
  • John Caesar - Monoid Four
  • John Halstead, Roy Skelton - Moniod Voices
  • Stephanie Heesom, Paul Greenhalgh - Guardians (random humans)
  • Terence Woodfield - Maharis
  • Brian Wright - Dassuk
  • Eileen Helsby - Venussa
  • Richard Beale - Refusian Voice
  • Notes

    • The Ark was recorded out of sequence, and this was the first time a Doctor Who story had not been filmed in scene order. The final TARDIS scene was in fact the first scene filmed
    • "Audio Space Research" told the humans all about Refusis. Someone should have explained what "Radio Telescope" really means to the writers.
    • After the two groups of Monoids fight on Refusis there's a scene where one survivor, disgusted with the killing, throws down it's weapon and walks off into the jungle, which is the last we see of them on screen, though others still survive.
    • "The Ark" is the second shortest story title

    The nature of Man even in this day and age hasn't altered at all. You still fear the unknown like everyone else before you. - Steven

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