Monday, 15 June 2009

The Ark


(3/26/04 8:07 am)

The Ark 1:

After the slow, thought provoking drama of the last four episodes, an epic downbeat adventure and a witty romp, we're back on slightly childish territory here. The Ark is enjoyable enough, but, for this episode at least, it doesn't really seem as intelligent as the last two historicals, or as dramatic as DMP. Which after a solid run is quite disappointing. It tries to be both, but doesn't quite gell.

It's alright, though, for a family drama. Yes, you have to ignore possibly the worst guest performance to date from the Ark Commander (looking for all the world like an untalented Wilfred Bramble). But there's not much to actually dislike here. The general set up is intriguing, and the idea of the common cold being the main threat is rather a nice idea. Not much actually happens, with this episode mainly being concerned with explaining the world we are in.

Dodo - well, she remains immensely irritating at the start, but she's beginning to get better. I think the main problem is the fact she didn't have a proper intro story, so all her 'endearing' mannerisms are shoved in your face in too short a period. And I think that's a problem as well - they work far too hard to make her 'likeable', permanently unfazed and upbeat and toe-curlingly modern, to the degree that she just seems like an annoying loon who doesn't deserve to be in the TARDIS. The companions we've had before haven't wanted us to like them quite as much. As soon as she settles down in the background and doesn't try so hard she's seems to veer towards bearable. Hopefully she'll get better.

The whole episode also looks like they've had a bit of cash spent on it. The 'zoo' is wonderful, with the opening shot (and the rather sweetly off-centre captions) is particularly nice, seeming to add a reality to the show that I can't really recall. The elephant too is fab, even if it's ruined by an 'ooh, look at him' comment from Dodo. The special effects inlay of the Doctor and crew on a screen and the shrinking man are quite jarring as well, seeming to be much nicer effects than we've seen before.

Shame less money's been spent on the costumes and sets though. The Monoids look half impressive, half cack. The opening shot is rather creepy, but it's hard not to notice that it looks like a man with an eye in his mouth. The make up and mask is quite unnerving and creepy however, at least until you see them full length, when they walk as if they've got their trousers around their ankles. Likewise, there's the uncomfortable design of the human's clothing - those strange swimsuit and string combos, similar to Thal outfits. Always looks nice on the girls in the cast, so whilst they're rubbish I ain't complaining.

Nicely evocative end of episode too. Ending not on the direct threat to the regulars but a shot of the dying Earth. There are a few dodgy bits of direction in there - there's a sequence where the Doctor is explaining his voyages to the Commander, and we pan away to another discussion. But it doesn't feel far enough away. We feel we should still be able to hear the Doctor in the background, and it's painfully obvious that he hasn't been talking all the time when the camera comes back to him.

There's some interesting ideas in the story - slightly worn down by the pulp sci-fi cliched utopia feel. But the introduction of some natural conflict suggests that the next episode might smarten up and have some proper drama.


(3/27/04 5:39 am)

Re: Day by Day
The Ark 2:

After having found part one a little simplistic and 'Flash Gordon' Sci-fi for kids yesterday, I'm quite pleased to say that, with the plot actually turning up this episode the story's shaping up rather nicely.

And it's certainly smarter than I gave it credit for. I wrote a review of this story for a fanzine years ago, and by chance I have it to hand. The main contention this piece has is that the Ark is about time and its effects, not just using the concept of time travel as a plot device. It's about the possible implications of travelling through time in a way the series hasn't really done (it's explored the concept of changing history, but it hasn't really dealt with how it could affect things outside of the past). And to be honest, ten years later, I still think that's very much the case. It reminds me to some degree of the first season scripts, which were more about ideas and intellectualism rather than the adventure series of the season 2 onwards. The Ark can seem dull because it isn't about action, at least for the first half. But it's got some interesting ideas going on. Dodo's cold and it's implications are the most obvious, but the double story obviously adds to this - I'm sure I'll cover this in more detail over the next couple of days. It's certainly good too to have a story without any villains. Whilst the judge bloke is against the travellers, he's never even close to being taken as the villain. Contrast with Tavannes in The Massacre - a complex character, not wholly evil, acting for what he perceives to be the general good, but still manifestly the villain. Everyone here has understandable points of view, which goes some way towards demonstrating the brains of the script.

Dodo has stopped trying to force us to like her, and as a result is much more pleasant here. The gag, repeated from part one, confusing crying and snivelling, is quite nice too. Steven gets a fab moment in this episode, railing away at the trial. The character has been slightly blanded out, sadly, becoming more a sort of one-note Star Trek heroic stereotype than the individual, brash figure of the earlier stories. Hartnell is dependable as ever, but none of the other cast members make much of an impression - the Bramble-esque commander has little to do this episode, fortunately, so we're spared too much more of his appalling performance (there's a lovely bit in part one where he seems to out fluff Hartnell, walking one way, then suddenly realising he's gone to the wrong monoid, turns back and approaches another one. Get him off my screen now!) Of course, we have the first appearance of the great Sheard, saying about one line. It's fairly traditional to rejoice about this, but he has so little to do it's a wonder why they bothered to hire another speaking actor.

Another fab moment is the cliffhanger, which is one of my favourites. There's something rather nice about the way the 'next episode' caption flashes up before we actually see what the cliffhanger is - it adds a real menace in a way, as we know we're going to see something shocking and episode concluding before we do, because we can tell that this part is at an end. It's a real grabber of an ending, helped by some wonderfully menacing music.

Lot's of great, expensive looking stuff here still - the cameras in the cells, the zoo montage, and particularly the destruction of the earth, which is original and impressive.

Not quite sure about dumping the bodies in space - after 700 years, there's going to be a lot of corpses floating about, surely?

It's a strange little story, but that hardly feels out of place in the slightly schizophrenic nature of season 3 so far - if ever a season showed how many different type of story and place the series could go, this is the one. Interesting and intelligent.

Llama Roddy

Scrutationary Archivist
(3/27/04 9:16 am)

Re: Day by Day

It's a real grabber of an ending, helped by some wonderfully menacing music.

Absolutely. It stuck in my head for a long time. I was delighted to find that particular piece on the Devil's Planets CD.


(3/29/04 2:36 pm)

Re: Day by Day
The Ark 3:

I have to say this episode contains one of the all time great lines in Who: 'Take them off to the security kitchen.' I can't stop myself laughing when I hear that. It's almost topped by the incredibly stupid subordinate Monoid who gives Dodo way too much information, feeling all smugly pleased with himself. 'Are you up to something fishy?' Dodo asks. 'Er... no,' is the wonderful reply. God, what a supervillain he turned out to be! Again, I laughed so hard I could barely hear any of the dialogue. And 'How in space'? What are you blathering about? I almost hope the dialogue here is supposed to be comic...

It's an odd little episode, and after the quiet intelligence of the last episode, it's got a little silly again. Suddenly it's all Flash Gordon evil monsters - in deed, considering the amount of fuss made in Galaxy 4 concerning appearances it's more than a little disappointing that the Monoids turn out to be evil. However, I do have to say that, with them moving less, they are almost effective - the one eye is quite creepy.

But the morality and scripting has gone all silly. The chief Monoid calls a huddle of his entire team in a sort of Scooby Doo plan style moment - of course, considering there's no-one who can listen in this is utterly pointless. And considering that the revolution has only taken place recently - what's Dodo's cold been up to for 700 years? If it revived sooner, why is the revolt only recent?

And then there's the problems of direction and design. The slave who can't tell where the chief monoid points (it's clear from the angle of the screen he sees that he'd have to tell it's the statue). The ludicrous sequence when the 2nd monoid kills his guardian companion a few feet away from the rocket pod. But when Dodo and the Doctor find the body, the pod is much further away. Nice of the Monoid to give his report a long preamble so that he can be killed without giving too much away... And the fact that the fashions on the Ark haven't changed in 700 years.

Plotwise it's just not that interesting. 1-2 had an interesting, thoughtful premise and this is just dumbing it down. It's entertaining enough, but it's fairly standard stuff - nasty aliens, good but bland humans, boring plots. The first few minutes are quite tense, with quite an interesting mystery - why is the Ark empty, why is the statue a Monoid - but ultimately this feels tacked on. There's no good reason for the areas the crew visit to be empty. The moment the mystery is solved they're full of Monoids. It's contrived to add tension, but makes no sense in the longer sense.

The regulars all make no impression here either. Steven and Dodo seem to be given no personality at all, and even the Doctor takes some time to be interesting. None of the guest human's make any impression, or seem to have any personalities at all. No wonder the Monoids took over. At least they have character.

The Refusians - well, so soon after the Visians another invisible monster smacks of laziness. The slow reveal of the concept is incredibly similar. The Refusians are as 1-dimensionally good as the Monoids are 1-dimensionally bad. You can tell from the voices, it's that simplistically drawn. The Monoids plan to attract the inhabitants by smashing vases is quite fun, and does portray them as thoughtless thugs. But I'm not sure this really squares with what we see of them in the first half.

A so so episode that seems all the more disappointing for wasting a really thoughtful premise (how does time affect people? A real illustration of how much can change over time by limiting it to the same location), some great special effects for the time (most of the wipes and inlays, and particularly the instant food seem much better and more expensive than anything we've seen in the show to date) and for the fact it is so average after stuff that's far more interesting. Sort of like the Space Museum. The script is ok, and it's all entertaining enough. It just could have been so much more interesting.

Edited by: Dorney at: 3/30/04 12:57 am


(3/30/04 8:25 am)

Re: Day by Day
The Ark 4:

How did the Monoids ever managed to conquer the humans? In this episode and the last they can't wait to blab their plans out loud for everyone to hear.

And whilst we're on the subject, does Dodo have no taste in clothes at all? Does she seriously walk into the TARDIS wardrobe and just look for the worst outfit possible? And for that matter why does the Doctor have these atrocious clothes in his collection? Susan was quite sedate in her tastes...

Maybe I should get on to the episode proper. There's a lot of the proverbial sound and fury signifying nothing in this episode. There's some clear contrivance in trying to make it seem as if Steven has something to do - there's a huge amount of weight and emphasis placed on his leading the breakout of the... er... security kitchen. However, the moment they escape they meet the slave guardian who is now distraught that the Monoids have gone. If Steven didn't organise the escape, then this guy would almost certainly just have released them anyway. The crew do nothing with the time they've gained, so to all intents and purposes this little subplot fails to impact on the main storyline in any way.

The Doctor and Dodo get more to do (though they never leave each others side, so it's increasingly clear there's only a role for one of the regular's in this episode). Hartnell gets some lovely wordplay with the Monoids, alluding to the Refusians ability in order to lie without lying. They also find the bomb's location, through the stupidity of Monoid 1. But again, that's pretty much it (Dodo in particular gets lost).

Monoid 1 is rather fun. His Zippyesque voice, combined with his ott and melodramatic behaviour and hammy hand gestures make him come across an engagingly camp figure, a daft if rather rubbish villain who never really seems to be up to the required level of competence for his job. In fact, the end with the suggestion of the humans and Monoids looking for peace is quite sweet - and especially, the rather regretful and distraugh Monoid (looks like number 4) who kills 1 and drops his gun, seemingly horrified by the sheer waste of it all. Considering the cartoon silliness of the episode, this is a surprisingly nice moment. It suggests that possibly the reason the Monoid revolt was so late was because it was entirely instigated by Monoid 1 as a charismatic dictator figure, and that the Monoids aren't an inherently bad people. Something in the sweeping, cutting gestures of Monoid 1 remind me of Adolf Hitler in a way.

I may be reading too much into this.

The humans don't come over too well. The Slave Monoid is a nice step towards characterisation, seeming to have gone all Stockholm Syndrome and fallen in love with his captors - but it isn't done terribly well. The other humans again make no impression - apart from the girl one, who looks a bit shiny. For no reason I can fathom, I thought this made her look quite attractive. But that's probably more information than you want.

The Refusians - they can fit into the pod, and yet they can lift the entire statue (and considering the shot if it being lifted, they must have extendable arms or something, or can fly... otherwise it's physically impossible for them to lift it that much.)

There's a bizarre moment when we cut to no 1 putting down a chicken leg. Where's his mouth, hmm?

There's a couple of nice bits of direction and special effect here. The moment when the shiny attractive female starts to look for the bomb and steps out of shot to reveal the statue (where we know the Bomb is) is a great piece of dramatic irony. And the foreshortening of the landing/launch of the pods with a Monoid moving around in the background is superb. This really is the most impressively made story for a while, and these are great effects in the context. OK, when the three pods launch we can see the wires, but this is a minor gripe when the rest of it seems, well, revolutionary.

An nice enough little tale, with some good ideas, and some hilariously daft bits of stupidity. A story that, when it's good is very good, and when it's bad it's hysterical. So you're either entranced by its intelligence or laughing at its daftness. So permanently happy. Shame that the central premise - seeing how the Doctor's actions affect and change the world he lands in - is slightly ignored with the cause of all the pain and suffering being entirely down to Dodo is slightly glossed over (it's a shock she even wants to get back in the TARDIS at the end - she's caused several deaths and nearly destroyed the entire human race, as well as potentially been stranded on an isolated planet with just an old alien and several invisible people. It's not the best first trip you could have had, is it, dear?)

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