The Ark (Doctor Who)

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023 – The Ark
Doctor Who serial
Ark (Doctor Who).jpg
The inhabitants of the Ark discover that they have uninvited guests.
Directed by Michael Imison
Written by Paul Erickson
Lesley Scott
Script editor Gerry Davis
Produced by John Wiles
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Tristram Cary[1]
Production code X
Series Season 3
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 5 March 1966
Date ended 26 March 1966
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve The Celestial Toymaker
Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)
Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

The Ark is the fifth serial of the third season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 5 to 26 March 1966.

The serial is set in the far distant future, at least ten million years. In the first two episodes of the serial, the time traveller the First Doctor (William Hartnell) and his travelling companions Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) and Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) arrive on a generation ship Dodo names "the Ark", where the Doctor searches for a cure for a fever that has spread across the human and Monoid races on board who have no immunity to it. The last two episodes are set 700 years later, and involve the Doctor, Steven and Dodo working with the Refusian race to stop the Monoids from wiping out the last of humanity with a bomb.

The story constitutes Dodo's first journey with the Doctor as a travelling companion. It is also the earliest serial of the third season to exist in its entirety.


At least ten million years in the future, the TARDIS materialises on a vast spacecraft including its own miniature zoo and arboretum. The First Doctor and Steven Taylor are still explaining the basics of their time travel ability to new companion Dodo Chaplet when she starts to show signs of a cold. It is only a matter of time before they are found and taken to the control chamber of the vessel. Their captors are the mute Monoids, seemingly identical alien beings with a single eye. The Monoids live in peace alongside the humans who command the spaceship, their own planet having been destroyed, but often do much of the menial work. The humans explain that the Earth is about to be destroyed because of the expansion of the sun, and that this ship is an Ark sent into space with the last remnants of humanity, civilization and various forms of flora and fauna. The human Guardians in charge of the craft run a tight ship: failure to conform to rules means either death or miniaturisation until they reach their destination, an Earth-like planet called Refusis II, which takes nearly 700 years to get to. As an amusement during the journey a vast statue is being carved by hand, depicting a human being.

Dodo's cold has now spread amongst the Monoid and human populations, but regrettably, they have little natural immunity. When the Commander of the Ark collapses with the malady, the whole ship is placed on alert as Zentos, the Deputy Commander is suspicious of the travellers and believes they have deliberately infected the ship. When the first Monoid dies, there is little the Doctor can say to pacify the angry Guardians. Zentos places the Doctor, Steven and Dodo on trial for their crimes, with a young Guardian called Manyak and the Commander's daughter Mellium as defence. Steven acts as the first defence witness, attacking the closed nature of the minds of the Guardians, but exhausts himself in the process and collapses with the fever. His words have no impact on Zentos, who orders their execution, but the ailing Commander intervenes to protect the three travellers and permit them access to medical equipment to devise a cure. The Doctor is thus able to recreate the cold vaccine from the membranes of animals on the craft, and this is administered to the crew. The Commander, Steven and the others infected are soon on the road to recovery. Their work done, the trio have only time to observe the end of Earth on the long-range scanner before the Doctor leads them back to the TARDIS.

Curiously, when the TARDIS rematerialises, they are still on the Ark. However, seven hundred years have passed and there has been a major change: the Monoids are in control. They have completed the statue in the image of themselves, having staged a coup during the long journey. This was made possible by a genetic weakness introduced into the humans, but not the Monoids, by a second wave of the cold virus 700 years earlier. The Monoids also now have voice communicators and use numerical emblems to distinguish each other. The humans are now little more than slaves, with the odd exception like the collaborator subject Guardian Maharis, and have little hope of change. The Doctor and his friends encounter the Monoid leadership, installed in a throne room on the Ark, after which they are sent to the security kitchen to help prepare meals for the Monoids. Two humans, Manissa and Dassuk, believe the moment of their liberation is at hand. Steven tries to help them in a revolt, which is unsuccessful.

The arrival on Refusis is close at hand and a landing pod is prepared. Monoid 1 wants to make sure that the new world is inhabited only by Monoids, despite promises that the human population will be allowed to live there too. A landing party is assembled – the Doctor, Dodo, Monoid 2 and a subject Guardian named Yendom – and they soon reach Refusis II and start to investigate. A stately castle, which seems to be unoccupied, is in fact the home to the invisible Refusians, giant beings rendered invisible by solar flares. They welcome their guests and have been expecting them but only want to share the planet with other peaceful beings. Monoid 2 and Yendom flee the castle, and en route Yendom realises the humans will not be allowed to reach Refusis with the Monoids. Monoid 2 kills him and is shortly afterward killed himself when the landing pod explodes.

The tension of the situation foments dissent in the Monoid ranks, with Monoid 4 openly opposing Monoid 1's plans to abandon the humans and colonise Refusis without more checks on the planet. Three launchers are sent to the planet, Monoids 1 and 4 commanding them, and when the crews emerge Monoid 4 interprets the destroyed landing pod as evidence of the danger that Monoid 1 has led them to. A civil war erupts between the two Monoid factions. The Doctor, Dodo and a Refusian use the confusion to steal one of the launchers and pilot back to the Ark.

The Monoids have placed a bomb on board the ship and plan to evacuate soon to the planet, leaving the humans to die. Word of this threat spreads and spurs a human rebellion. The arrival of the Doctor and the Refusian spur things along, and they soon realise the bomb has been placed in the head of the statue. Thankfully the Refusian is able to help dispose of the statue into space before the bomb explodes. The humans now begin to land on Refusis themselves, having been offered support on peaceful terms by the Refusians. Many of the Monoids have been killed in their civil war and those that remain are offered peaceful settlement alongside the other two species.

Once more the TARDIS departs, and this time the curiosity is that the Doctor simply vanishes from the TARDIS control room…


Although Lesley Scott is credited as a co-writer, she does not appear to have done any actual work on the scripts. Her then-husband, Paul Erickson requested that she be given a credit, but her name appears on no other related documents.[2] A Lesley Scott was credited as a contributor to the Dr. Who Annuals published by World Distributors/World International,[3] but it is not clear whether this is the same person.

The Monoids were played by actors, each holding a ping-pong ball in his mouth to represent the alien's single eye. The upper portion of the actor's face was hidden by a wig.

Cast notes[edit]

Roy Spencer later played Frank Harris in Fury from the Deep (1968). Terence Bayler later played Major Barrington in The War Games (1969). Australian actor Bill Hunter played one of the Guardians however remained uncredited.[4][5]

Richard Beale, who provided the disemboded voice of the invisible Refusian, later played Bat Masterson in The Gunfighters (1966).

Michael Sheard made the first of six appearances in Doctor Who; he subsequently appear in The Mind of Evil (1971) with Jon Pertwee, Pyramids of Mars (1975) and The Invisible Enemy (1977) with Tom Baker, Castrovalva (1982) with Peter Davison and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) with Sylvester McCoy.

Broadcast and reception[edit]

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [6]
Archive [7]
1"The Steel Sky"24:005 March 1966 (1966-03-05)5.516mm t/r
2"The Plague"25:0012 March 1966 (1966-03-12)6.916mm t/r
3"The Return"24:1919 March 1966 (1966-03-19)6.216mm t/r
4"The Bomb"24:3726 March 1966 (1966-03-26)7.316mm t/r

Reviewing the serial in 2009, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times stated, "The concept is fine, especially with the time-lapse cliffhanger to episode two ... Otherwise the plot is lacking in dramatic incident and there are often tracts of extreme tedium."[8] He felt that the Guardians did not have enough time to develop and called the Monoids "somewhat ludicrous", though he did praise the direction, music, and effects.[8] DVD Talk's John Sinnott gave the serial three and a half out of four stars, writing that the first half was "slow" but became interesting when the TARDIS crew returned.[9] Arnold T Blumburg of IGN rated the serial an eight out of ten, highlighting the "snappy and exciting" pace and the "surprisingly top-notch" production values, aside from the Monoids.[10] SFX reviewer Ian Berriman rated it three out of five stars, describing it as "quaint" with the Monoids being "laughable" villains.[11] However, he did note the ambition of the story, that it was faster-paced than others at the time, and the "positively epic" sets.[11] Brian J. Robb of Dreamwatch praised the direction but wrote that the "ambitious story that fails miserably thanks to the less-than-stellar Monoids".[12] Charlie Jane Anders of io9 listed the cliffhanger of "The Plague" — in which the TARDIS crew leave and return in the future — as one of the greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers in a 2010 article.[13]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

The Ark
Doctor Who The Ark.jpg
Author Paul Erickson
Cover artist David McAllister
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date

October 1986 (Hardback)

19 March 1987 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-426-20253-8

A novelisation of this serial, written by Paul Erickson, was published by Target Books in October 1986.

Home media[edit]

This story was released on VHS, in 1998. It was later released on CD with linking narration by Peter Purves. The CD also includes an interview with Peter about this story and his time on Doctor Who.[14] This CD is available as an Audio Book on the iTunes Store.

The Ark was released on DVD on 14 February 2011 in region 2, and on 8 March 2011 in Region 1.


  1. ^ Re-use of music recorded for The Daleks
  2. ^ Pixley, Andrew, "Doctor Who Archive: The Ark," Doctor Who Magazine, #228, 2 August 1995, Marvel Comics UK, Ltd., p. 26.
  3. ^ Pixley, Andrew, "The Ark: Archive Extra," Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, #7, 12 May 2004 (The Complete First Doctor), Panini Comics, p. 73.
  4. ^ Muriel's Wedding star Bill Hunter 'gravely ill' Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine., ninemsn, 18 May 2011.
  5. ^ Production notes, The Ark DVD, BBC.
  6. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  7. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "The Arc". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  8. ^ a b Mulkern, Patrick (7 March 2009). "Doctor Who: The Ark". Radio Times. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  9. ^ Sinnott, John (16 March 2011). "Doctor Who: The Ark". DVD Talk. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  10. ^ Blumburg, Arnold T (8 March 2011). "Doctor Who: The Ark DVD Review". IGN. Retrieved 20 January 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Berriman, Ian (11 February 2011). "Doctor Who: The Ark – DVD review". SFX. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  12. ^ Robb, Brian J (15 February 2011). "Doctor Who: The Ark". Dreamwatch. Archived from the original on 6 June 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  13. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (31 August 2010). "Greatest Doctor Who cliffhangers of all time!". io9. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  14. ^ "Doctor Who: The Ark (TV soundtrack)". Big Finish Productions. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]