The Serial (4/5)
I will be the first to admit, that since become a born-again Whovian in 2007, I have not watched a lot of episodes featuring the First and Second Doctors (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton). It was not because of any lack of desire, but rather, just not getting around to it. That's not to say I didn't watch their episodes, I just happened to only catch some of the more iconic ones, such as the Dalek Invasion of Earth, an Unearthly Child, and Tomb of the Cybermen. The Ark is actually the first William Hartnell episode I've watched outside some of his very early ones, and Dalek Invasion... I have heard mixed things of his era, as Doctor Who was sort of finding itself during this period, so I really didn't have any sort of expectations for The Ark. That being said, I completely enjoyed this serial, and look forward to catching more of Hartnell's episodes in the future*.)
The Ark starts off slowly, and is too dialogue heavy in the first 2 episodes. At first it sort of feels like it's going nowhere, with all the trial bits, and the lengthy set up for the plot. However, upon the conclusion of episode 2 this serial kicks into high gear. The final 2 episodes are an absolute blast to watch, and showcase this era of Doctor Who at it's very best. In my research for this review, I discovered a very vocal dislike of the Monoids from the Doctor Who fan base, but in watching the serial, I have found them quite effective as villains. They have a very low-budget Italian Cannibal movie, gone Alien look to them, but the performances, really bring out the menace in these characters. The First Doctor and the TARDIS crew of Steven and DoDo, have a really great chemistry together, and the performances are uniformly excellent across the board, with few exceptions.
The Ark from a narrative standpoint, seems to be the first part of loose "end of Earth" trilogy with the latter parts being the Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) serial the Ark in Space, and the Christopher Eccleston episode End of the World. It takes place 5,000,000,000 years in the future as the sun is getting ready to envelope the Earth. A spaceship nicknamed "The Ark," has been sent into space with the remnants of humankind, and also a one-eyed alien race called the Monoids. Their 700 year mission is to reach an Earth-like planet called Refussis II. It is into this envirionment the TARDIS appears, upon arrival the Doctor's companions Steven and DoDo assume they are just South of London, a place they had been recently, only to discover they are far in the future, and on the spaceship. Unfortunately, DoDo has a cold, and when she is exposed to the passengers on the ship begins spreading out. Because of the lowered immunity of these humans, the sickness begins spreading, and the Doctor and TARDIS crew are put on trial for intentionally spreading a plague on the ship. The Doctor and crew are nearly executed for their "crimes," when the Doctor comes up with a cure, and helps to heal the ship.
They end up returning 700 years later in the exact same location, but things have changed. A second bout of the cold had weakened the humans aboard the ship, and the Monoids who were once considered lesser creatures to the humans have taken control, and are now running the Ark as what appears to be a monarchy. They are approaching their final destination, and the Monoids are planning to commit complete genocide on the human race upon arrival.
Doctor Who: The Ark has been presented in it's original 1:33:1 broadcast ratio. The image as one has come to expect from these Doctor Who releases is excellent. The Doctor Who Restoration Team really know what they are doing at this point, and maintain a high quality standard for their work. The Black and White image here is really sharp, and detail is excellent throughout. The audio is presented in it's original mono English soundtrack, and the track is as good as can be expected. The dialogue, effects, and music are mixed well together, and are completely audible throughout the serial. I could not detect any background noise, or any other audio blemishes.
As with most Doctor Who releases, the Ark has a nice slate of extras to accompany the serial. This set kicks off with a commentary which runs for all 4 episodes with actor Peter Purves (Steven), director Michael Imison, and Doctor Who superfan Toby Hadoke. This is followed up by a 13 minute featurette that discusses Doctor Who's connection to Sci-Fi author H.G. Wells. There is also a 20 minute documentary titled Riverside Story, which is essentially a studio tour, that shows where the last Hartnell serials were shot, and a 4 minute featurette called One Hit Wonder, about the Monoids, and why they were never used in the series again. The disc is rounded off with a collection of photo galleries, a .PDF Radio Times listing, and a pop up trivia track.
An excellent First Doctor Serial, with a fantastic story, and great performances. The A/V is excellent, and the extras while slim are interesting, and worth the time it took to watch them. Recommended for longtime fans of Doctor Who, newcomers might want to try another jumping on point.