Doctor Who #108: The Steel Sky

"He knows no more than you. He simply has faith." "So have I... in my own eyes and ears, and machines tell fewer lies than men."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 1 of The Ark, available on DVD. First aired Mar.5 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands aboard a generational ship, where Dodo soon gives a lethal cold to the population.

REVIEW: It is perhaps fitting that Dodo's first role in a Doctor Who story is to make people sick... Ok, you twisted my arm, let's talk about the new companion. Is she anything other than annoying in this first full appearance? She has a silly nickname, takes everything in her stride as if bigger-on-the-inside spacetime ships are common enough where she comes from, she's selected a strange medieval outfit from the wardrobe, and her repetitive dialog manages to irritate the Doctor. He's quickly finding out she's no Susan or Vicki, which may be part of the point, but neither is she particularly endearing to the audience either. Just a troublesome girl the Doctor has to chastise and Steven has to keep out of trouble. At least she shows an interest in nature.

The generational ship is a common enough SF trope, and well realized here, with children and animals (actual animals interacting with the TARDIS crew, not stock footage!), a set large enough to have airport cars slowly racing about, and the massive feet of a statue paying tribute to homo sapiens. The greenhouse looks huge as well, even as a matte painting. The inhabitants do leave something to desire, and I don't just mean the Monoids (but let's start with them). Usually found in lists of Doctor Who's worst alien designs, I do like the eyeball in the mouth idea, but the rest is a veritable patchwork of design elements. The Beatles hairdo is what they're usually ridiculed about, but their flippers and Black Lagoon body suits aren't much better. At some point in the far future, these mute aliens came to Earth and seem to have volunteered themselves to be humans' servants. More on this later, surely.

The humans too are an odd mix of ideas. They are from the far, far future (at least 10 million years away) and have abandoned a dying Earth for what is apparently the ONLY planet with the right conditions for human life, even though they've only seen it from afar and don't know the intentions of its inhabitants (so either knowledge has been lost from the days when humanity spread across the stars, or humans have become less adaptable in their old age). The trip is due to take 700 (more) years, so if the Refusians have an agenda (other than refusing them, cough cough), it may change by then. Humans in this time are incredibly advanced, with the ability to shrink people and animals to microscopic size and carry them aboard a massive ship for centuries, but they're also either wildly superstitious, their reaction to catching a cold akin to that of Salem's to witches (Zentos), or entirely too trusting (the Commander with the distractingly pronounced lisp). Despite their advances, they were the equivalent of grass skirts (I do like the vegetable detailing on their collars). It's the first time the TARDIS brings a disease with it, something that would happen all the time in real life. Maybe Dodo jumped in so quickly, it didn't have time to properly cleanse her of infection. But it's happened, and like the generation ship, it's a common enough science fiction trope. Acceptable at this point in the series, since it's the first time it's attempted.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - At this point, we're more than willing to give this serial a chance. There are some nice production values and worthy subject matter. It's in the design (including Dodo's) that it's got problems.

2 comments:

Toby'c said...

I lost all hope for this one around the time we were expected to believe that it took more than ten minutes or so for anyone to notice that there was no sky.

Siskoid said...

Dense foliage overhead?

 

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