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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

16 Comments

  1. jasonandmikey
    March 31, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    That's a highly intriguing indictment of Wiles, and I partly agree with you. You especially seem to be onto something regarding Vicki, the Beatles wigs, Dodo's remark about "savages," etc. I was never comfortable with the way some fans have annointed Wiles' era as the show's finest.

    But I have to take issue with the following: "And when, at the end of the story, the humans are ordered to make peace with the Monoids, one does not sense that it will be a peace of equals, but rather the return of the Monoids to being a well-treated servant class." The Doctor denounced the humans for mistreating the Monoids and asked them if it was any wonder that they retaliated the way they did. There's no indication that the Doctor wanted a return to servant class status, although there's no guarantee the humans won't revert to the way things used to be.

    Also, the photo of Dodo does not depict anything that happens in the story. It might be suggestive of Wiles' overall approach, but it isn't part of the story itself.

    Still, I'm enjoying your blog immensely and am looking forward to your next essay.

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  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 31, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    I almost commented on the fact that the photo isn't even from the story, since really, that actually makes it worse – in that they clearly went out of their way to generate a race-baiting publicity photo.

    As for the end fate of Human/Monoid relations, for all the light scolding of the humans for mistreating the Monoids, the overall message still seemed to me that if you're not very nice to your colonized racial minorities, they might rise up and implement a really shoddy and inept government. I never once got the feeling that the Doctor saw the Monoids as fit for self-rule, and in the context of the time, that's really the key phrase. Everything in the story seems to add up to the idea that the Monoids are meant to epitomize those racial minorities that will never be capable of self-rule. The sin of the humans was mis-governing them, not governing them.

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  3. jasonandmikey
    March 31, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    You could be right, but the story allows for either interpretation of how the Doctor sees the Monoids. He does make a point early in the story of telling one Monoid that he's much smarter than the humans realize. Whether that's a recognition of equality or more akin to complimenting a bright pet is open to debate.

    The publicity photo is awful, but it's of a piece with the later photo of Five and Peri done up like the stupidly misogynist James Bond series. Both are crass attempts to appeal to the public, but I try to keep them separate from the stories in my mind.

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  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    March 31, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    Yeah. The thing that pushes me towards the bright pet interpretation is that the bright pet interpretation is very close to the primary form that colonialist racism took. That's why I quoted the Kipling poem – because the most shocking thing about it, at least to my mind, is the sense of nobility afforded to the racist ideology of the poem. The white man's burden is undertaken out of a profound love for and desire to save the "new caught, sullen people." In which case the figure of the Monoid who's smarter than people realize, for me, at least, points straight at that. Keeping with Kipling, it seems to me a sort of Gunga Din figure.

    But even if the Doctor is on the right side of this, at this point the Doctor's credibility has been so shattered by Wiles that it hardly matters. Even if the Doctor is treating the Monoids as equal, seeing them strut about in a grotesque parody of successful government while being Evil with a capital-E hammers home the fact that the Doctor is wrong. Even when civil war erupts among the Monoids, it's not a faction who want to be nice to the humans and a faction that doesn't – the disagreement is based entirely on the suitability of Refusis for habitation.

    But in the end, I think my argument is simpler even than that. The figure of the bumbling noble savages who want self-rule (a planet of their own, as the Monoids explicitly say) but are inept at it and need to be kept under control by the more evolved white man is a stock figure that would be instantly recognizable still in 1966 Britain. The Monoids, down the line, match that stock character. The Doctor's comment can be taken as a counter to that stock character, but it's virtually the only part of the episode that can. At best it's an argument for how to retcon The Ark so you don't have the problem of the Doctor visibly being an imperialist dick. But I don't think I can quite buy that the production crew intended that reading, unfortunately.

    But to some extent, more Friday, as The Celestial Toymaker, unfortunately, continues most of these themes.

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  5. Mike Russell
    March 31, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    Unfortunately for me as a fan, your rebuttal is very good. Have you read Zora Neale Hurston's essay "The 'Pet Negro' System"? It dovetails well with what you say about The Doctor treating the intelligent Monoid as a pet.

    The fact that most of Wiles' Who episodes are destroyed makes it easier for me to put their overarching themes out of my mind and pretend that The Ark exists in isolation. I know this is considered a horrible thing for a fan to say, but I sometimes wonder if the destruction of several 60s stories is, on some levels though obviously not all, a blessing in disguise in terms of being able to enjoy the show now.

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  6. Mike Russell
    April 1, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    P.S. "jasonandmikey" and "Mike Russell" (AKA KissTheZygon) are the same person; I just changed my profile.

    Reply

  7. John Seavey
    April 1, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

    shrug I've never seen the episode, so I'm uncomfortably aware that the iconography of it might contradict the point as scripted, but I always thought that the point of it was, "Treat everyone as equals, because the race you oppress as savages might someday be oppressing you."

    Which is pretty strong stuff for a country that was still trying to come to terms with the fact that an empire was something they shouldn't have, let alone something they should apologize for.

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  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 1, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

    That's certainly the "standard" reading of the story. But one thing that's rapidly become apparent watching the Hartnell episodes is that the traditional readings of these stories are usually deeply flawed. Which is understandable. The Ark didn't see home release until 1998, and didn't get a novelization until 1986. So it's one of the (many) stories that had its fan consensus well established by people who'd never seen it.

    I think it's very, very hard to argue for the standard reading in the face of the episode itself. I mean, I've tried looking at it from most of the proposed perspectives, but they all require a lot of square peg/round hole matching compared to the interpretation that it's just deliberately and consciously colonialist in the Kipling tradition.

    And part of it is its positioning – coming right before the even more unrepentantly racist Celestial Toymaker, and after a lengthy series of episodes that really destabilized the moral foundation of the show, this story has a lot less cover for its lapses than it would have a season ago or a season later. Which falls under my other argument for why a lot of these stories are misread in the fan consensus – they're treated as movies as opposed to a TV serial, because that's how the VHS, DVD, and novelization releases ultimately treat them. The Ark, these days, is encountered more as the story that came out on DVD between The Mutants and Snakedance. Which is a kind of staggeringly weird context for it. 🙂

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  9. Tallifer
    August 25, 2011 @ 9:00 am

    I disagree that this story has a sinister message. The Doctor's words are plain: "Understanding and hope." He condemns the earlier treatment of the monoids and supports the Refusians exhortation to live in peace. When the Refusian tells them, "You must learn to live together with the monoids," I presume that the "learning" refers to learning a better way than the two previous inequal ways, both of which only led to the violence which the Refusians abhor.

    If indeed we must draw parallels with contemporary earth, Zimbabwe is a good counter example. Mugabe and his supporters are every bit as irrational, destructive and hateful as the monoid leader. His rise to power is undeniably due to the grievance felt against the perceived white misrule of Rhodesia.

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  10. The Chief Caretaker
    February 4, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

    Hey Philip, I've been reading your blog, and I think it's awesome, giving your opinions on Who, and informing me about different affairs of the 20th century. 🙂

    But I'm gonna go out on a limb and disagree with your assertion of the racist message behind this story, like other commentors. My reading is here…

    http://paradisetowersreviews.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/travelling-with-understanding-as-well.html

    Reply

  11. The Chief Caretaker
    February 4, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

    Also, in reply to this comment:

    "As for the end fate of Human/Monoid relations, for all the light scolding of the humans for mistreating the Monoids, the overall message still seemed to me that if you're not very nice to your colonized racial minorities, they might rise up and implement a really shoddy and inept government."

    But the government of the Monoids wasn't inept; it was just really tyrannical and cruel. It's not that the Doctor doesn't think that the Monoids can't rule themselves, but that the current government is oppressing it's citizens. For a figure that goes around the universe opposing tyranny, I think that's a reasonable position to take.

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  12. frasersherman
    April 14, 2013 @ 9:36 am

    Just saw this one via Netflix and I can't see the message as 'slaves should know their place.' The Guardians when the first show up are openly smug and arrogant (or so I thought them)–i fully expected a much more dystopian society on the Ark.

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  13. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

    I have to agree with your general assessment of John Wiles. He is on record as disliking and disapproving of Doctor Who, and complaining about being saddled with this mess that he got from Verity Lambert, so it's not surprising that under his tenure, the show rejects all the morals and ideas it's been espousing under Verity Lambert.

    What makes the stories more watchable is that Wiles's message isn't the only one. Donald Tosh is coming at the show from a different angle — he liked the show and appreciated the work of Dennis Spooner particularly. Gerry Davis had his own angle as well. The writers, meanwhile, have their own ideas entirely. This is, of course, one of the reasons for the tonal shifts in the Dalek's Masterplan — multiple writers.

    The Ark comes out pretty well compared to some of the earlier stories when you look at it this way; there's a clear tension between different visions from different members of the production team, but the less offensive readings are more tenable here than in previous (and subsequent) stories. Maybe this is because Wiles is finally leaving and had less hands-on influence.

    It's really hard to tell what the writers, Paul Erickson and Lesley Scott, were thinking. We know Erickson was a bit of a sexist pig given that he put his wife's name on the credits and later denied that she'd written any of it (however you interpret that, it's sexist). Apparently the story has layers of rewrite from both Donald Tosh and Gerry Davis. The story concludes with the god-like Refusians telling both humans and Monoids that they are puny but will be allowed to live as pets, because the Refusians have destroyed their future (in another one of the nods to nuclear war which show up so often in the 60s). This section is emphasized in Erickson's much later novelization, along with a clear emphasis that there are "good" and "bad" Monoids and "good" and "bad" Guardians. It starts to feel like Erickson's moral was that hubris would destroy you, but Wiles had different views. Or it could be that Erickson became less colonialist over the course of 20 years — hard to tell.

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  14. arse bandit
    February 10, 2014 @ 3:02 am

    Just because Dodo espouses semi-racist thoughts does not mean that the likes of Wiles or the writers do. Don't mistake a character's viewpoint for the authors.
    As for the publicity photo, that is a common pose for monsters in horror films since time began.

    Reply

  15. Paul A.
    August 6, 2015 @ 4:00 am

    "As for the publicity photo, that is a common pose for monsters in horror films since time began."

    Well, yes. Which means that the Monoid is being positioned as a monster – instead of, for instance, an intelligent member of an oppressed population whose problems the Doctor and the audience might be expected to sympathize with.

    Reply

  16. Alisha Ross
    February 6, 2019 @ 4:11 am

    So, who wants to help me? England, UK, 2002 (give or take), SNES (one assumes), and RPG overworld game (I think). The question is, what game did I use to play? Help me find my memory. I am half thinking of a ‘marketplace’ and half thinking of ‘open fields’, finding monsters along the way — but I was 6 at the time, lest we forget. Not sure if the game was A Link to the Past, Breath of Fire II, Secret of Mana, Soul Blazer, or something else! Anybody know which were known/unknown at that time and place?

    Reply

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