Throughout the history of Doctor Who, there have been good stories, let down by some seriously dodgy monsters, effects, sets or performances. The Ark, originally starring William Hartnell as the First Doctor, is one of a handful where some solid and serious science-fiction is made laughable, in this case by the appearance of the Monoids, one-eyed walking lizard/tree trunks with unfortunate Beatles mop-tops, who really detract from a story about optimism, embedded privilege and societal blindness.
This classic Target novelisation by Paul Erickson, read by original cast member Peter Purves, gives you the chance to re-envisage the Monoids, and there’s also some solid work done to give them character and history, which succeeds in divorcing the story from the ghastly physical effect of them.
The Ark tells of what happens when the Doctor, Steven and ‘Dodo’ Chaplet arrive in the far future on the biggest spaceship in human history, as the human race flees from a dying Earth, taking all the animals of home in their different environments, along with a strange mute slave-class race known as Monoids. The set up allows for plenty of different problems to arise; particularly as Dodo has a cold, and the hyper-evolved humans have no antibodies to such a primitive disease any more, leading to a deadly epidemic. Later, the time travellers get in the TARDIS and disappear, only to reappear in the same spot some seven centuries later, only to discover the impact of their interference: The Monoids have found a way to speak, and established themselves as the dominant force in the Ark, and are about to make planetfall on the destination-world…
The Ark provides a gripping look at the world seen through the eyes of the privileged and the underclass, and although on TV it was only a four-part story, it’s expanded here to feel bigger and broader than it was, with scenes in different biodomes – Arctic conditions, jungle landscapes and so on – which the BBC in the Sixties couldn’t deliver on its budget.
There’s more textural depth to this version too, with some history as to how the Monoid revolution came about, and Dodo – one of the least characterised companions in Doctor Who history – gains a strand of backstory here which makes you want to know more about her. Despite being considerably longer than the TV version, the storytelling only drags occasionally, mostly during a trial sequence which goes on half an hour, reaches its verdict, and then is immediately overturned.
Narrator Peter Purves is frankly flawless here – not only is he able to still capture his original part of Steven perfectly despite the passing of over 50 years, he delivers a Dodo you care about, and his First Doctor is sublime. His performance anchors the story absolutely in the telling.
Better than the original, this new audiobook version of The Ark is by far the best version of this classic Sixties adventure there is.