The Steel Sky
I’ve told Sue that The Ark is only two episodes long. I hope the risk to my personal safety is worth it.
Sue: At last, moving images again. And only two episodes as well. This should be a walk in the park.
The first thing we have to contend with is a Monoid.
Sue: That’s very sinister. Where’s its mouth?
Me: It doesn’t have a mouth.
Sue: It had better not talk, then. If I ever hear one talking, I’ll be very disappointed.
The second thing we have to contend with is even weirder: Dodo’s exuberant exit from the TARDIS (“It has such a reassuring sound, don’t you think?” – the TARDIS, not Dodo).
Sue: What on earth is she wearing? Have we missed an episode? Was she wearing that outfit under her coat or did she change into it? Was she on her way to a fancy dress party or an appointment with a psychiatrist when she bumped into the Doctor? They’re the only possibilities I can come up with that make any sense.
Me: Go with the latter. Throw in multiple personalities if you like.
Sue: She doesn’t sound very Mancunian this week.
It turns out Dodo has raided the TARDIS wardrobe.
Sue: So she did change into that ridiculous costume! What was going through her mind when she chose it? And why change into anything at all? And what were Steven and the Doctor doing while this was going on? It doesn’t make any sense! Hang on, did she just switch her accent in the middle of a sentence? Unbelievable. Oh, that’s a nice high-angle shot.
You’ll be pleased to know my wife fell for Michael Imison’s trap. Yes, she thought the episode’s elephant was the result of some cleverly integrated stock footage.
Sue: That almost works. The split screen effect is quite good, actually. I like this director. He’s trying.
Me: The elephant is in the room!
Sue: Oh yes, so it is.
Me: Isn’t it amazing? It’s a REAL ELEPHANT! You must be impressed, surely?
Sue: It isn’t that impressive. Didn’t Blue Peter have an elephant that pooed all over their studio floor? Wasn’t Peter Purves involved in that as well? It’s nice and everything, but I don’t see what the big deal is. Unless the elephant plays a pivotal role in the story.
Me: Well, er…
Sue: What a waste of money.
Sue is amused by the Monoids’ unique method of communication.
Sue: Their sign language is very advanced. The one-eyed thing waved his hand a bit and the human translated it into four very detailed sentences. Amazing.
When the Guardians provide the Doctor – and us – with a massive info-dump, Sue immediately spots the logical flaw.
Sue: If the voyage to this new planet takes them 700 years, they will be dead long before they get there, yes? Well, how come the criminals get to sleep through the really shit bit? They are shrunk, put into storage, and then wake up centuries later to reap all the rewards. It doesn’t seem fair to me.
Before we can get into that (and it is an excellent point), the Ark’s crew are suddenly stuck down by the flu.
Sue: Oh, brilliant! Not only is Dodo really annoying, she’s going to kill everyone as well. Is she cursed? Is this why she’s called Dodo? Does every species she comes into contact with become extinct? Is that her gimmick?
Sue: I still don’t see what these Monoid creatures are bringing to the plot. They’re just there to do the light filing and heavy lifting.
A Monoid corpse is blasted into space, and Sue’s impressed when we see the body fly out of the airlock.
Sue: That was pretty good, actually. They didn’t need to show that – they could have cut away. The director is definitely trying his best.
The Doctor, Steven and Dodo are accused of being spies, sent by the planet they’re currently travelling to (“Didn’t anyone bother to check if the natives were friendly before they left?”). Steven volunteers to defend them at a hastily arranged trial.
Sue: Is Steven really the best person for this? Shouldn’t the Doctor be stepping up to the plate at this point? Steven will just shout at them.
And then Steven comes down with the flu himself, which, as far as Sue is concerned, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Luckily, the main Guardian, who’s watching the Ark’s equivalent of Sky News from his sickbed, gains enough strength to stop everyone from being flushed out of the airlock. He then gives the Doctor an opportunity to find a vaccine to the virus and, er, he does!
Sue: That was a bit quick. Is that it?
Me: Looks that way.
Sue: Is that the Earth blowing up?
Me: Yes it is.
Sue: A tennis ball on fire? That’s the Earth blowing up?
Sue: What an anti-climax. I know it looks a bit shit, but shouldn’t somebody make a speech or something? It’s only the Earth blowing up! No? Oh.
Me: What mark are you going to give this one?
Sue: It was short. That’s something, I guess. The direction was pretty good – it’s just a shame the camera operators weren’t up to the task; they kept banging into things. Although, to be fair, sometimes the director didn’t cut away when he should. This scene with the Monoid driving an airport luggage buggy away at a snail’s pace is a perfect example. And the bit in episode one, where Steven almost suffocated Dodo, is another. But the main problem I have with this story is that it didn’t go anywhere. What was the point of it all? But it was enjoyable enough, I suppose, so I’ll give it:
And then the TARDIS rematerialises.
Sue: Not another ****ing jungle! They are really getting their money’s worth from this set.
And then the Doctor drops a bombshell: they have returned to the Ark.
Sue: Eh? What’s going on?
The Ark is completely deserted. But that’s not all. A statue which was supposed to take centuries to build has suddenly been completed.
Sue: Oh that’s clever, they’ve gone forward in time.
And it has the head of a Monoid!
Sue: Ooh. That’s very clever… Hang on a minute…
Sue: You told me this story was only two episodes long!
Me: Ouch! Stop hitting me! I’m sorry, love, but the twist only works if you don’t expect it. The audience in 1966 –
Sue: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s very Lost, actually. It’s just the sort of mind-**** they’d try. Oh well, I suppose two more episodes of this isn’t the end of the world.
Me: No, we’ve already seen that.
Sue: But you have to promise never to do that to me again. I like to know how many episodes I’m facing so I can mentally prepare myself, you git.
The Ark has become a place where the one-eyed homicidal maniac is king.
Sue: You can’t blame them. The humans had it coming. If I’d been enslaved for 700 years, I’d be pissed off as well.
The Doctor, Dodo, and a Monoid are sent to the planet below to scout around, while Steven is made to stew in the security kitchen. Or is he sent to make stew in the security kitchen? It’s unclear.
Sue: A security kitchen? I’m sorry, a what kitchen?
Me: The Monoids really like their cakes.
Sue: And how do they eat this cake, exactly? I can’t see a mouth for them to put any food into.
Me: Yes, I know. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.
When a Monoid enters the kitchen – for a nice potato salad perhaps – the prisoners/sous chefs agree with Sue’s exasperated suggestion that they should all jump him. After all, his peripheral vision is probably rubbish.
Sue: Just poke him in the eye!
Sadly, the Monoids gain the upper hand and an innocent waiter is shot dead. Steven is really pissed off about this, but that’s just par for the course for Steven.
Sue: He needs to take some Valium.
Meanwhile, on the planet Refusis II, the Doctor finally meets a Refusian, who is – wait for it – invisible!
Sue: They must have run out of money. They must have spent it all on the elephant.
The Refusian is only brought out of hiding when a Monoid throws some flowers on the floor and threatens to smash a vase. Yes, really. The Refusian explains his people have built a lovely city for the new arrivals to live in and Sue is touched by their hospitality.
Sue: Aw, that was nice of them.
And then the Refusians show another side to their nature by blowing up a Monoid before he can warn his comrades to bring plenty of vases with them when they take over the planet.
Sue: That’s gotta hurt.
There’s a bomb on the Ark (“I’d have put it in the statue’s ball”) and it feels like we’re watching a deadly version of pass-the-parcel.
Sue: I think Steven’s pulled.
Me: I think he’s got another bang to worry about first.
Civil war breaks out between the Monoids as pods start landing in the jungle.
Sue: It looks like they’re dropping buckets from a ladder. Having said that, he’s really trying, this director. It’s almost heroic.
The bomb is neutralised when a Refusian picks up the statue and chucks it out the airlock. This implies that the Refusians must be MASSIVE!
Sue: This is a bit too religious for me. First of all, you’ve got the whole Noah’s Ark business going on, but then this lot arrive in Eden and they have to agree to live with these omnipotent beings hovering around. These Gods will be looking over their shoulders the whole time. Breeding is going to be a big problem.
Me: Matt Smith should return to this planet a few generations later to find a really paranoid, half-mad civilisation who can’t get a moment’s peace from this benevolent race of incredibly creepy aliens who can’t stop building furniture for them.
Sue: I’d quite like that.
Back on the TARDIS, Steven and Dodo decide to change into some fab and groovy gear (a big improvement, according to Sue), but that’s not all. The Doctor is fading in and out of existence.
Sue: Is this it? Is he regenerating?
Sue: That wasn’t too bad. I liked the story. I liked the direction. Hartnell was on good form as well. But the Monoids let it down. They were too silly for words.