Saturday, 12 March 2016

108 The Ark Episode 2: The Plague

EPISODE: The Ark Episode 2: The Plague
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 12 March 1966
WRITER: Paul Erickson & Lesley Scott
DIRECTOR: Michael Imison
PRODUCER: John Wiles
RATINGS: 6.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - The Ark`

"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."

The Tardis crew are imprisoned while Steven represents them at their trial where he pleads for the Doctor to be allowed to investigate before Steven succumbs to it as well. The Guardians are ready to execute them before their ailing commander intervenes. The Doctor comes up with a treatment and synthesises a vaccine. The Tardis crew watch the Earth destroyed and then leave, re materialising on exactly the same spot to find the Guardians gone and the statue completed but sporting the head of a Monoid.

Most of this episode is a little pedestrian with the trial and treatment scenes confined to the main body of the Ark, but we get the Jungle back in the closing minutes.

ZENTOS: That's another victim. Another death. And more human Guardians have also been taken ill. Thank heaven none of them has died yet.
MANYAK: What will happen if one does?
ZENTOS: It'll be disaster. Each man has his allotted task. No one had reckoned on this eventuality.
Is there no redundancy in roles on the ark? What happens if someone is killed? And if the voyage does take 700 people will die and need replacing. They've got the idea that this is a generational mission illustrated to us by having Children present in many of the crowd scenes so there's got to be some forward planning and training for the voyage going on.

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Mind you Zentos is quick to step into the breach left by the ailing commander and obviously wants the job!

The main thrust of this episode is xenophobic attitudes on display by most of the Ark's inhabitants and command staff.

BACCU: My contention is that it was no accident that this disaster has happened. I say that you came here intentionally to spread the disease.
STEVEN: But that's utter nonsense. I mean how can you possibly
BACCU: And that you are agents of the planet towards which this spaceship is proceeding. That you came here to destroy us.
STEVEN: Why? We're human beings like you are. Why should we?
ZENTOS: There is the crux of the matter. Do you expect us to believe that nonsense, that you manage in that ridiculous machine called the Tardis, have managed to travel through time? Guardians, Monoids, these beings, whatever they are, place a heavy strain on our credulity.
STEVEN: Well that's not very difficult! If your medical records are anything to go by, this segment of time, far from being one of the most advanced in knowledge, is one of the worst!
ZENTOS: We can cope with all things known to the fifty seventh segment of Earth life, but not with strange diseases brought by you as agents of the intelligences that inhabit Refusis!
STEVEN: Are you still on about that? I've told you before. We know nothing of that planet.
ZENTOS: My instinct, every fibre of my being, tells me differently.
STEVEN: And that, unfortunately, tells me only one thing.
ZENTOS: What's that?
STEVEN: That 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.
This attitude even seems to extend to the being they share a ship with:
MANYAK: Steven, prove to us your good faith. Would your friend, the Doctor, have any knowledge how to deal with this fever?
STEVEN: Yes, he probably would if you'd let him out of that cell so that he had a chance to experiment.
ZENTOS: Yes, of course he would. He would love that and by such means spread the fever even further and faster. Perhaps even kill one of the Guardians.
So it's bad if the Monoids are dying but much worse if one of the Guardians does. which of course they do shortly after
BACCU: Guardians, listen to me! I've just had news of another disaster. One of our kind, one of the Guardians has died from the fever.
It's only the commander rising from his sick bed to order the Doctor be allowed to find a cure that save the situation. But to his credit Zentos does apologise to the Doctor as they prepare to depart:
ZENTOS: Doctor, for the fact that I mistrusted you, misjudged you, I'm sorry.
DOCTOR: Remember your journey is very important, young man, therefore you must travel with understanding as well as hope. Goodbye, Zentos.
ZENTOS: Goodbye Doctor.
One of the more striking images inside the Ark is that of the Monoid funeral party, hinting at spiritual beliefs for the mute creatures. Even though they have no voice they can sign to communicate, are seen operating machinery, driving the little car, tending to the animals and even assisting the Doctor in his experiments which leads the Doctor to conclude there's more to them than initially meets the eye
DOCTOR: Ah, thank you, thank you. You know, you're far more knowledgeable than most people realise, aren't you?

DOCTOR: Oh, thank you, thank you, yes. You know, I don't know what I would do without you.

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And in the middle of all the action we get to see the Earth die, burnt up and trailing smoke in it's orbit, a theme the new series returns to in it's second episode, End of the World, where various dignitaries gather to watch the Earth's demise.

The very end of the episode is superb, subverting form by having the Tardis return to where it's left when you think the story is over. We saw the statue's feet, and plans, briefly in the last episode where it appeared as background details m("Hang the gun on the wall") Here' it serves to tell us that some amount of time has passed and that something has happened on voyage for it to acquire the head of a Monoid in place of the planned human head.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, on Doctor Who debut in this episode: Mr Michael Sheard. Famous to people of my age as teacher Mr Bronson in Grange Hill he's a frequent Doctor Who guest artist appearing here as Rhos, one of the Ark's medics, and then in The Mind of Evil (as Dr. Roland Summers), Pyramids of Mars (as Laurence Scarman), The Invisible Enemy (as Lowe), Castrovalva (as Mergrave) and finally, with more than a little bit of an in-joke, in Remembrance of the Daleks as the Headmaster. If you don't know who from any of these then you'll have seen him as Admiral Ozzel in the Empire Strikes Back and Hitler in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, one of five times that he plays the Nazi dictator.

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The only other new speaking role this episode is Ian Frost as the prosecutor Baccu, a character who displays very similar traits to his superior Zentos. Frost returns for Frontier in Space Episode Five as the Draconian Messenger and can be seen in the partially surviving Out of the Unknown third season episode The Little Black Bag as Johnny which you can find on the Out of the Unknown

Both director Michael Imison and writer Paul Erickson are also making their Doctor Who debuts here. Erickson requested that the episode be jointly credited to his then wife Lesley Scott but I believe that there's little evidence to suggest she actually wrote any of it which is a shame because she's the first credited female writer on the show.

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