Is The Ark racist? It’s become a popular opinion in recent years, with various bloggers championing it, but is it true? Let’s take a practical look at the story and see what we discover. The Humans are travelling on the Ark with their seemingly willing servants, the Monoids; their destination, Refusis II. They are aware Refusis II is inhabited but know nothing about the Refusians. When the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions arrive on the Ark, they accidently bring a deadly illness and are put on trial for their lives; accused by the Humans of being Refusian spies out to destroy them! When the prosecutor, Zentos (Inigo Jackson), reveals it is irrational feeling rather than reason that leads them to this conclusion, Stephen (Peter Purves) protests the Humans’ intolerance.
STEPHEN: “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.”
Only when the Humans overcome their prejudice against the newcomers to their world and let the travellers free is the situation resolved, as the Doctor is able to cure the illness. The Doctor leaves them with a parting message, “travel with understanding as well as hope”. So far, the story’s intention seems clear, to encourage acceptance of difference, not fear and hatred. However, it is the second half of the story that has provided the most evidence for the accusations of racism. The travellers return to the Ark 700 years later to discover the Monoids have now enslaved the Humans. It’s been suggested that the Monoids represent migrants, as they came to Earth to live with the Humans when their planet was destroyed, and that their rising up to overthrow the Humans reveals a reactionary fear of migrants doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately, the Monoids are depicted as crueller masters than the Humans, as although the Humans were seen to consider Human life more important than Monoid, and the Monoids served them, it seemed to be an amicable relationship, with no evidence of the Monoids being mistreated. Whereas the Monoids use weapons to inflict pain on the Humans and keep them in order, and plan to destroy them once they get to Refusis II. But is this intentional racism? No, not at all, just ill-considered, unsophisticated writing, accidently contradicting the message of the story. Yes, this could have been avoided if the Monoids were depicted as more sympathetic creatures, but to label it as deliberate racism is to be completely ignorant of how scriptwriting works. Both Stephen and the Doctor, the show’s moral conscious, give speeches condemning the Humans’ behaviour (“they were extremely intolerant and selfish”) and blaming them for the Monoids’ revolution.
THE DOCTOR: “they were treated like slaves! It’s no wonder when given the chance they repaid you in kind!”
Unawareness that a writer who wishes to send a prejudice message against migrants doesn’t write this kind of dialogue is baffling. However, the most glaring oversight that is always made by The Ark’s attackers is that the Humans are migrants too! Earth, the Humans’ home, has been destroyed, and they are travelling to Refusis II to make a new one; this is the whole thrust of the story! When they arrive at Refusis II, the Refusians insist that they must settle their differences with the Monoids. Once they do, they welcome the migrants to their planet in peace rather than enslaving them like the Humans did the Monoids. Again, the Doctor offers his message of hope and understanding, clearly signposting it as the story’s central moral.
It’s sad that a story that’s tried to promote the need for races to peacefully co-exist together has been labelled as racist by people putting two and two together and making five, but also blame must be put on the writer for not fully thinking through the connotations of his work. An example of how practical deliberation must always be employed by both writers and critics.
Additional Note: One recurring piece of evidence given by those accusing The Ark of racism is that Dodo (Jackie Lane) calls the Monoids savages. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. She hears the sound of drums from her cell when THE HUMANS are conducting a funeral and says, “sounds like savages”. A no longer politically correct word, but it’s never used as a slur against the Monoids.