February 25: "The Bomb" / "The Celestial Toyroom"

(The Ark episode 4 & The Celestial Toymaker episode 1)

So Monoid Two's report is cut off mid-sentence, in what must surely be suspicious circumstances.  So Monoid One's decision is to ship every Monoid, including all the miniaturized Monoids in trays, down to the planet's surface.  He's not really a forward thinking kind of person, is he?

This episode is concerned with two things: finding the bomb concealed on the Ark, and watching the Monoids annihilate each other in infighting.  There's not really anything terribly surprising in this episode -- really the only unanticipated part is that some of the Monoids disagree with Monoid One's decisions and choose to return to the Ark, which leads to Monoid One and his followers trying to gun them all down (and watching them shuffle about in their costumes, shooting at each other, has to be seen to be believed).  The battle that ensues seems to wipe out most of the Monoids, leaving the Guardians free to colonize the planet without having to deal with the Monoids too much.  Meanwhile, a Refusian pilots a landing craft back to the Ark and helps the Guardians eject the bomb (hidden inside that big statue) into space, apparently with only seconds to spare, judging by the timing of the explosion.

There are some really quite ambitious model sequences here, with some forced perspective shots and things that are nicely done (even if you can see the wires occasionally).  The takeoffs and landings of the landing crafts, for instance, are often done incredibly close to the camera, to give the impression of a large craft landing nearby -- and fortunately the model is of sufficient quality to carry off the illusion.  It's a charming effect.

Really, that sums up The Ark in general.  As a story it never quite lives up to the promise of its first episode, but there's enough here presented in such a way that you can't help but be entertained by it.  It's not the most perfect story in the world, and you wouldn't be wrong pointing out that the second half is weaker than the first (even though the first is just about a plague and the second has invisible aliens and battles and things), but it's still an enjoyable little tale, aided by some striking direction.

And now it's back to the soundtracks for "The Celestial Toyroom", which is a bit of a pity given how visual this story seems to be.  It's a nicely sinister set-up we're given, as the Celestial Toymaker (and note that's almost certainly "Celestial" as a synonym for "Oriental", the way that word was once used -- the Toymaker's Mandarin garb indicates this is the case) forces the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo to play games for their freedom.  It's a chilling concept, as the Toymaker indicates that if they lose, they have become his playthings and remain in his realm forever.  The Doctor has to play the Trilogic Game (a form of the Tower of Hanoi puzzle) while Steven and Dodo participate in a sort of obstacle course against two of the Toymaker's dolls, clowns named Joey and Clara21.  This is where it becomes painfully clear how much this episode loses by being audio-only.  It might have been a bit tedious watching Steven and Dodo play this game, but when all you can do is listen to them play, it becomes a bit difficult to remain engaged in the episode.  Ah well; maybe the next two episodes will work better as soundtracks.

21 Lest anyone get any ideas, the pronunciation is different from the BBC Wales' companion's name ([klεɹə] vs. [klɑɹə] in the International Phonetic Alphabet), and as the clown Clara is actively trying to hinder Steven and Dodo's progress, the modus operandi doesn't really fit anyway.