After two serials and approximately 4 months of gloominess, a bit of cheer returns to Dr. Who. And not just because this is the first of only 3 stories to survive the purge of the 1970s. The story moves along at a decent clip, Dodo isn’t too terrible, and there’s a nice healthy moral at the end.
For at least the second time, the TARDIS lands inside another spacecraft. And once again this has made me wonder if it could materialize randomly in space with nothing around it, and sometimes it just happens to get lucky and appear inside a spaceship. The travelers depart, thinking they are in a jungle, but really it’s just a zoo-type area of The Ark, a ship carrying what’s left of the human race to a new planet. The trip is expected to take 700 years and many generations of humans, some of whom have been shrunk and stored in trays for the trip. We are somewhere around the year 10 million, according to the Doctor’s calculations. This is apparently a time that is so far in the future even he has never visited it.
During this serial I noticed that the budget for the show must have skyrocketed for this season. The special effects are much improved throughout, and they were demonstrated well in this story. Granted, they are still pitifully primitive. But airlock doors opening and things flying through space definitely were not options in the first two seasons. Additionally, the number and complexity of sets has grown. While the jungle is the old standby, we had the control room, the kitchen, the holding cell, the laboratory, the landing craft, the house, and the forest. The costumes haven’t improved as zippers are still visible, but I definitely saw an improvement in overall production.
On the ship (which Dodo names The Ark, after Noah), the remaining humans think of themselves as Guardians. Not just of themselves, but of an innocent race of creatures called Monoids. The monoids are quite possibly the strangest and most visually frightening alien creatures we’ve met so far. They have a single eyeball where their mouth should be. And no mouth. In the first half of the story they are acting as servants as a way of saying thank you to the guardians for protecting them. They cannot speak and use hand signals.
Dodo, dressed in what I think is Vicki’s outfit from The Crusade, is very excited about their trip and skeptical that they’ve left Earth. She’s energetic and seems to get on well with Steven. She speaks in a lot of slang with a country accent (sorry I can’t be more specific with the kind of accent she has). Shortly after landing the Doctor tells her that if she’s going to be with them for any length of time she’s going to have to learn to speak properly. I kind of liked Dodo in her first story. She seems to be a decent mix of Susan and Vicki, although this has the potential to become rather grating. She definitely seems to be a better companion than Katarina, Sarah, or Anne would have been. And her curious attitude and smirky interactions with the Docor signal a shift in mood – one that I might add was quite welcome.
Dodo, apparently has a cold. She has brought it onto The Ark, where it had been eradicated. Having no defense against it, both Guardians and Monoids begin dropping like flies. After accusing the Travelers of bringing the illness on purpose, they allow the Doctor to develop a cure. He does so in short order (how does he do these things so quickly? He did the same thing with the water in The Sensorites.) and the travelers leave.
Now, at this point the TARDIS does something strange. It sets them right back down in the same place, only 700 years in the future. The Doctor indicates that something might be broken, but I have a different theory. I’ll get to that shortly…
Upon arriving back on the Ark in 700 years, we learn that the Monoids have developed guns, talking devices, and have rebelled and taken over the Guardians. The Guardians are now the servants, the statue the guardians were building has been completed as a Monoid and the ship has arrived at Refusis, their destination. We are told that the Guardians, while cured of the cold, were weakened by it. Their will became weak. And the Monoids were therefore able to take over. For all of the Doctor’s attempts to preserve history (as we learned in The Massacre), it seems that he actually altered the future. This, of course, raises all sorts of questions of what other kinds of impact has he had that he or we just don’t know about? The Monoids, taking advantage of a series of event started by the Doctor have decided to go to Refusis on their own and blow the Guardians up with their ship.
I really liked this turn of events. The Monoids seemed to be such simple creatures. Rolling along, aiming to please. But they turned very sinister and controlling. And, as the Doctor points out, the Guardians were also to blame for enslaving them in the first place. It was a nice do-unto-others moral. The second moral comes at the end of the story: you have to be able to work and live together. After destroying the bomb (hidden in the statue’s head), the Guardians and Monoids are invited to live on Refusis along with the invisible but very powerful Refusians. But only if they can get along. While I liked it, it was all very after-school special in nature. Which is fine, considering that’s what the show was.
While Dodo is enjoyable, the rest of the supporting cast is, as usual, flat. The Monoids as a race were interesting, but the fact that they had names rather than numbers says it all for their individuality. The Doctor is great, engaging in some good-natured ribbing of the Guardians and the Monoids. But he seems to take the Refusians, clearly a superior race, very seriously. We see him in the Refusis house sitting at the table having a conversation with the Refusian like they had just finished dinner and were discussing politics It was a very man-to-man kind of conversation. I thought this depiction of the Doctor’s respect for the race was interesting. I don’t think we’ve seen this in any other story, with maybe the exception of the walruses in Galaxy 4.
Lastly, my TARIS theory. I don’t think the TARDIS was broken. I think perhaps the TARDIS has a bit of sentient-ness to it. And it took this opportunity to demonstrate to the Doctor that no matter how hard he tries, he does affect the course of events. As we learned at the end of The Massacre, the Doctor believes he is always making the right decision. What the TARDIS has done, by sending them back to see the consequences of their visit, is demonstrate that there are no right or wrong decisions – they all have an impact. Making ethics the more appropriate basis for decision making rather than preservation.
Overall, this was another good story. The mood lightened successfully and gave us (and the Doctor) something else to think about. Good stuff.