Doctor Who
The Ark

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN 1 846 07045 7
Available 07 August 2006

The TARDIS materialises in a tropical forest, and the Doctor, Steven and Dodo are surprised to find that it is situated inside a vast spaceship. This is the distant future, and the last survivors of Earth are on a 700-year voyage to the planet Refusis II. Accompanying them are their one-eyed servants, the Monoids. When Dodo unwittingly spreads her cold among the spaceship's inhabitants, it proves deadly to them, and the travellers are accused of sabotage...

As the BBC is now releasing audio presentations of Who stories that exist in full in its film and videotape archive, one wonders why the company doesn't turn its attention to Doctors other than Hartnell and Troughton. Several colour serials would lend themselves well to such treatment. I'm thinking of the rich dialogue in the Tom Baker story City of Death and Peter Davison's Kinda. Perhaps the Beeb is striving to fill the few remaining gaps in its CD releases from Seasons 3, 4 and 5: there are only The Gunfighters and The War Machines left to go before we will have a straight run of audios from Galaxy 4 to The Wheel in Space.

As it happens, The Ark works rather well on audio. We are, of course, denied visual elements such as the impressive Monoid costumes and the invisible Refusians (yes, invisibility counts as a visual element), but at least we are spared the sight of the future fashions, which will apparently involve flip-flops.

Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott's script is a high-concept drama representative of producer John Wiles' intention to give the series a harder scientific edge. Thus we travel farther into the future than the show had ever taken us before and witness the destruction of Earth. For the first and only time, the TARDIS crew carry infection from one place and time to another. For the first time, the travellers' wanderings are shown to have consequences - and not very pleasant consequences at that.

The serial's format is also rather ahead of its time. Effectively two two-parters bolted together, the second half of the story takes place 700 years after the first, when the TARDIS crew discover that the balance of power on the Ark has shifted. Two 50-minute stories, the latter of which deals with the consequences of the former - it sounds like something Russell T Davies might have commissioned for the new series. And does anyone else think that the double act of the hostile Zentos (Inigo Jackson) and genial Commander (Eric Elliot) uncannily predicts that of the B Ark's Number Two ("Can't I just interrogate them a little bit?") and Captain from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

The Earth's obliteration need not necessarily contradict the Christopher Eccleston episode The End of the World, which depicts a similar event but several billion years later. I would suggest that the First Doctor's guess of "We must have jumped at least ten million years" is inaccurate. Remember that this Doctor is not as savvy about galactic history as he would become in later incarnations. The planet's destruction in the two stories is visually similar (not that you get to see it on these CDs, of course).

The downside of Erickson and Scott's script is some rather clunky dialogue, particularly from the Monoids (Roy Skelton and John Halstead) as they order people to the "Security Kitchen" and repeatedly explain to one another where they have hidden their bomb. Matters aren't helped by the elderly Elliot, who fluffs several of his lines as the Commander, giving Hartnell a run for his money. I think Hartnell wins, though, for managing to mangle the line, "I-I'm going to teach you to speak English."

The narrator, Peter Purves (Steven), discusses his work on the show in a 20-minute interview at the end of the second disc. Here we learn that he would have liked to return to the series, but with Steven having become a corrupt dictator - something for Russell T Davies to consider for future episodes. Unfortunately, the actor doesn't rate the new series too highly, because of its frequently Earthbound setting, which he sees as a "trick missed".

However, this particular story arc is not one to be missed. You can't refuse this - Refusis, geddit?

Richard McGinlay

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