February 24: "The Plague" / "The Return"

(The Ark episodes 2 & 3)

It's a serious business the Doctor has landed them in: because of Dodo's cold, the future of the entire human race appears to be in danger.  So naturally, the acting commander, Zentos, wants to do the right thing and...ensure that the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo are executed for bringing the plague on board the ship.  He seems to be under the impression that this is the result of Refusian agents from their destination planet attempting to sabotage their journey for some reason, but in any case, Zentos is out for blood.  To this end he holds the most amazing hearing, with Steven defending the time travellers from his accusations of deliberate infection -- and he gets a great line, by the way, as he responds to Zentos's accusations: "The nature of man, even in this day and age, hasn't altered at all.  You still fear the unknown, like everyone else before you."  But Zentos spends a lot of time whipping the other Guardians up into a frenzy against the travellers, to the point where Manyak, who's acting as defense for them, has to basically yell to be heard.  "Let him speak!  This is a fair hearing," Zentos then has the nerve to say.  And meanwhile, during this hearing, we keep cutting to the Commander (who's sick, remember) saying things like "That's true!" for some reason.  But nothing, not even Steven himself collapsing from the illness during the hearing, can stop the Guardians from decreeing that the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven be ejected into space.

The Earth begins to burn up as it falls into the sun.
("The Plague") ©BBC
I like the part where, after the Guardians have voted to space our heroes, the Commander has to come on over the intercom and basically say, 'Cut that out; what the hell is wrong with you?' to Zentos.  This means the Doctor can finally be allowed to work on finding a cure.  After a brief moment to lecture Dodo on her English (interesting that even as late as 1966 the word "OK" was deemed to be non-standard in some way), the Doctor gets to work.  A quick montage later (more than a little reminiscent of The Sensorites, it must be said), a cure has been found and everyone is saved.  The Doctor is hailed a hero (even though they brought the thing aboard in the first place) and the travellers are allowed to depart.  Yes, it's a story that wraps up quickly, but it's nice to see that not everything needs to be a 12-episode epic, and the sense of economy here is quite refreshing.

Except that's not quite what happens.  In one of the best cliffhangers ever, the TARDIS leaves, only to rematerialize in the same place.  But it's not the same time: the statue that was going to take 700 years to finish is completed -- except with a Monoid head...

"The Return" shows a much-altered Ark.  The Monoids have had a revolution and taken over, turning the humans into their slaves.  Many of the Guardians were killed; some survive to work in the security kitchen.  Yes, you read that right: "security kitchen."  There are some impressive effects shots in the security kitchen, as tablets are dropped into a liquid and instantly become new potatoes and chicken wings -- one almost gets the impression that the humans are being kept in a kitchen so that they could do those shots.

Monoid Two challenges the Refusians to show themselves.
("The Return") ©BBC
In any event, the Ark's journey is almost over -- they've finally reached Refusis II.  The Doctor and Dodo are sent down in the first landing party to assess the suitability of Refusis II as a place for colonization.  The encounter the Refusians, who appear to be invisible, and who have been waiting for the people from Earth to arrive.  The Monoids aren't terribly friendly to their new hosts though, so while the Doctor has a pleasant chat with their host, where he learns that the Refusians lost their appearance in a "galaxy accident" (er, yes...), Monoid Two tries to warn the others on the Ark, only to have his landing craft blown up by the Refusians.  It's actually a surprisingly brutal act from a species which had hitherto seemed quite civilized, and it's not absolutely clear why they do it.  After all, it's not like the Monoids could see the Refusians in order to shoot them down.  Maybe they just didn't want a whole bunch of Monoids streaming down from the Ark and messing up the place.

Still, after the first episode set up a thoughtful tone, these two episodes are a bit of a letdown.  "The Plague" is concerned more with haranguing the travellers about bringing the illness on board, and "The Return" seeks to show the Guardians' society with the roles of humans and Monoids reversed -- except that rather than explore that relationship in more detail, the Monoids are portrayed as generally unlikable from the start of the episode, so it's difficult to work up any sympathy for them.  Don't get me wrong, these are still pretty entertaining episodes: they just don't seem to have had as much thought put into them as "The Steel Sky" did.