Written by Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott
Directed by Michael Imison
The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo materialize in a jungle that is filled with all types of animals from Earth and the sky is made of steel.
It is wonderful to be back to watching Doctor Who again, and I shall do my best to savor it while I can.
The Steel Sky seems to be a straightforward story, but it is quite clever in what it is doing. It is building the setting for the story that is about to unfold, but it is also setting up two distinct plotlines. The first is Dodo and the cold. The second, we’ll get to soon enough.
The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive in a jungle and Dodo insists that they haven’t traveled through space and time, they merely traveled outside of London. Steven is incredulous at Dodo’s disbelief. He must have forgotten that he was equally skeptical when he first traveled in The TARDIS. The Doctor agrees that Dodo may be correct, but he doesn’t completely confirm her assessment of their location, particularly when he notices the metal sky overhead and the mild trembling in the ground. The travelers are not in a zoo, they are in an ark. Now, make no mistake, the production crew went all out on this set. The jungle looks good. There are REAL animals present. They even managed to get an elephant! But The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo soon get to see more of the ship as they are captured by The Monoids.
The inhabitants of the ark fall into two groups: humans and Monoids. The humans look a bit primitive (somewhat reminiscent of Thals), but they are able to fly the ark and work the equipment so they must be somewhat advanced. No, perhaps the primitive nature I sense is in their attitude and trusting nature. Maybe that says more about me than the humans in this story. Regardless, the majority of the humans seem willing to trust The Doctor and his companions. Only one many is somewhat suspicious. Indeed, the humans are in a bit of a tough position. They are the guardians of the human race. The few humans we see are the only ones who still function as normal. The other humans have been miniaturized and stored away until colonization can occur. The Earth was destroyed long ago, and these humans are charged with colonizing a new planet, thus they have the responsibility to make sure the ark arrives safely. There is a scene early on where a man is tried for negligence and miniaturized. The leader seems a bit sad to pass this sentence, but the punishment is primarily for the negligence that could have led to the human race being destroyed. Why execute someone when they were merely careless? Such behavior, however, is not safe. The man will be restored when the ark arrives, so it is no great punishment, so long as you see taking him away from his friends and duties as a non-punishment. The humans are also engaging in a building project, a giant human statue that will adorn their new home.
The second race on the ark is The Monoids. They are creatures with one eye, vaguely reptilian, but having Beatles’ haircuts. The Monoids communicate via hand signs, and they seem to be a worker class in relation to the human ruling class. We are told that The Monoids arrived on Earth after their own planet became inhospitable. We are told that they agreed to the servitude. In truth, the humans seem to be benevolent masters, even allowing The Monoids to seek punishment when they are wronged. Justice seems to be done in all fairness.
Having introduced the setting, we now introduce a conflict. Dodo arrived on The TARDIS with a cold, which she has now exposed a group of aliens and humans with no immunity. The Monoids succumb first, and even the human leader is infected. The Doctor realizes how careless he was in allowing Dodo to exit The TARDIS while ill. Keeping with the mandate of the mission, The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo are taken prisoner. The man who didn’t trust them assumes power and vows that they will be punished.
This story seems to have much influence and roots in turn of the century (that’s 1800s to 1900s) science fiction. Indeed, the influence of H.G. Wells seems broadcast the moment Dodo steps out of The TARDIS and sneezes. Truth be told, I’m happy to see Doctor Who experiment with this type of conceptual science fiction and storytelling. Granted, this is probably the influence of John Wiles. The lore behind the show says that he wanted to take the show in a more “serious” (read: intelligent) direction, and if The Massacre and The Ark are any indication, this desire is showing a bit of fruition.
And while I know some fans don’t like the look of The Monoids, I think they look great. They truly don’t look like anything that appeared before or has appeared since on the show. Often, that’s what I want from Doctor Who.