Doctor Who #109: The Plague

"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."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 of The Ark. First aired Mar.12 1966.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor cures the flu epidemic aboard the Ark under threat of ejection into space.

REVIEW: This episode of The Ark has really only three things going for it. One is the destruction of Earth (see Theories), another is the cliffhanger (spoiled above), and then there are the production values. Otherwise, it's a cliché-riddled piece of science fiction with over-the-top performances from the guest actors and an incoherent plot. The two guest-stars with the most to say and do are the most problematic. Eric Elliott as the old Commander, speaks lines that wouldn't sound natural from anyone's mouth, and sounds like a panto ghost modulating a spooky "ooooooh". Inigo Jackson's Zentos is just as unnatural, but for other reasons, barking out lines with motions worthy of a muppet, and his stiffness giving way to smiles when the Doctor fixes everything. The attitudinal about-face is done without transition or emotional justification. He's just what the script requires him to be in any given scene. I wish we'd had more of the Commander's daughter Mellium, frankly, as Kate Newman seemed much more natural.

None of the characters are written with any depth, nor does the writer, Paul Erickson (his wife was co-credited as writer as a mysterious "arrangement" between them, but did not actually work on the script), apply logic to the decisions they make. Some characters trust the Doctor, others don't. The Doctor sends Steven to be spokesman for the group at their trial despite the fact that the younger man is motivated by claustrophobia, is obviously sick and takes an immediate antagonistic stance. The Doctor is allowed to work on the cure on the condition that Steven be the guinea pig, and yet he's allowed to administer the experimental medication to other citizens of the Ark before Steven's results are in. Dodo, still a cipher going by the idea that the Doctor trusts her to find all his scientific materials in the TARDIS after a single trip, is allowed to run around the Ark to shout out good news even though she was Patient Zero. It's not very well thought out.

But that cliffhanger almost makes things right, and was prepared for. Though the Monoids seem to be treated with respect despite their lower-status jobs aboard ship, Zentos shows his hand when a human finally dies from the plague and suddenly, "it's on". The Guardians as they call themselves obviously place more value on human life than Monoid life. The Doctor notices the Monoids are likely smarter than they're given credit for. And by using the TARDIS to skip ahead 700 years, we get to see the end of the greater story of this branch of humanity, and that's where the twist comes into play. The statue is well done and a nice reveal, adding to other shots of note, like the large Ark set being filled with crowds, the ejection of a Monoid corpse from the ship (though the funeral's solemnity is nearly ruined by the noisy engine of the airport car), and Earth's destruction, falling comet-like into the sun.

THEORIES: The Doctor saves Earth many times over the course of the show, but it is destroyed a couple times as well. How? In the new series' The End of the World, it is finally destroyed in the year 5 billion, so obviously, it was rescued and restored to its "first segment" continents by the National Trust after these events. Tracking Earth's final fate is made even more difficult because of its displacement and rebranding as Ravolox by the Time Lords by the year 2 billion. We'll have to keep an eye out.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - Because we jump ahead after two episodes, the story seems slight and doesn't offer much that's original except for its ending. It looks good, but the writing is clichéed and the acting mannered.

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