In a strange way, the Monoids are a more compelling bunch of characters than the humans on the Ark. As they gossip between themselves, they share their worries and hopes for the future. One covets Refusis as ‘a new planet of our own where we can establish our own way of life’. He’s becoming a proper tin-pot dictator, gesticulating wildly and giving every impression he enjoys his position. His chief rival, Four, sees through his increasingly grandiose plans though – ‘Your orders? You have given too many and delivered them unwisely.’
It’s nice that, despite the banality of giving them numbers instead of names, they never become straightforward monsters. And at the end, the Doctor is eager to point out to the Guardians that their ancestors treated the Monoids like slaves – ‘No wonder when they got the chance they repaid you in kind.’ However, the plot repeatedly and irritatingly relies on their absurdly over-detailed conversations being overheard.
In contrast, the Guardians are very under-written, and do seem largely to have abandoned the urge to live. Their de facto leader Dassuk is particularly listless, although Venussa has a winning spark of self-preservation (and an obvious fondness for Steven) that makes the struggle feel worthwhile. It’s a shame, though, that it wasn’t Dodo that was left behind on the Ark as a hostage, and helped to lead the Guardian revolt. It would have given her something more to do in her first story.
Elsewhere the episode veers wildly between good and laughable, in all departments. The Button Moon shuttle landings on Refusis are ridiculous, but a few minutes later one takes off in front of a Monoid, and it looks impressive. The largely silly Monoid dialogue has moments of poetry – as when One says of the Guardians, ‘They are a blind people. They deserve their fate’ – a cheeky reference to the adage “in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king”.
Nicest of all, the final scene is a deliberate counterpoint to the end of The Plague, with the Doctor again reminding humans and Monoids, ‘You must travel with understanding as well as hope’ before the TARDIS crew are waved off on the back of a truck, this time driven by a Guardian. It finishes with another moment of poetry, as Venussa wonders:
If we were to tell [our children] the story, do you think they’d believe us, or would they just dismiss it as a legend?
Bizarrely, this is the first Doctor Who story with a happy ending since Galaxy 4, five months ago. It’s good to see the first Doctor enjoying winning for once, delighting in taunting his enemies – ‘So we meet again! Welcome to Refusis!’ – and leaving the last humans safe on their New Earth. And it’s therefore all the more disconcerting when the cliffhanger has him fading from view – if John Wiles had had his way, for the very last time…
Next episode: The Celestial Toyroom