Monday, March 11, 2013
Cult-TV Theme Watch: Arks
In the Bible, Genesis recounts the story of Noah’s Ark: a sea-going vehicle built by kindly patriarch Noah so as to save his family, and the world’s animals too, during the Great Flood. The Hebrew word for ark is “teba” which means “salvation from water.” Water, of course, is an agent of cleansing or catharsis, and so the ark story is about destroying the corrupt, and cleansing the very world. It is also a story of new beginnings.
In terms of cult-television history, the Noah’s Ark narrative has been transformed to involve any vessel -- usually space-going -- that can save the population of Earth from global disaster. Usually, the global disaster involves the Sun, but not universally so.
Doctor Who (1963 – 1989; 2005 – present) has frequently featured ark-style narratives during its long run.
In 1966’s “The Ark,” the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions travel to the 57th Segment of Time, around the year 10 Million AD, and discover the remnants of mankind on a starship heading for a new planet to call home. The Earth itself is dying because of the expansion of the Sun. The mystery in the puzzle, however, is the presence of a cyclopean alien race called Monoids aboard the Ark…
In 1975, The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companions find themselves aboard Nerva several thousand years in our future. Nerva is a space station orbiting an Earth ravaged by solar flares. Several thousand humans have been frozen in suspended animation since coming aboard, and are awaiting the signal to awaken and re-populate the planet. Unfortunately, an alien race called The Wirrn is feeding on the dormant astronauts, jeopardizing the future of the human race.
Recently, in 2012, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companions -- including Queen Nefertiti – discovered a Silurian Ark in the seventh season story “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” Here, the ancient homo reptilia --– the Silurians -- feared a planetary collision in prehistory, and preserved several species of dinosaurs aboard their Ark. Now, in 2367 AD, that ark is returning home, but with a dangerous scavenger aboard who wishes to exploit the animals.
The early 1970s series The Starlost (1973-1974) also revolved around the concept of a space ark. Five hundred years or so after launching from a devastated Mother Earth, the Earthship Ark is on a collision course for a “Class G Solar Star.” Alas, none of Earth’s denizens are aware they are aboard a spaceship, separated into separate biospheres, as the disaster nears.
When first imagined, Glen Larson’s series Battlestar Galactica (1978 – 1979) was to be called “Adam’s Ark,” and it involved an exodus from Earth in a time of disaster. In the actual series, the ark premise was reversed. After a deadly war in space, brothers of man from another galaxy set a course on their ark – the Galactica – for Earth.
Other cult series have also seen regular characters interfacing with space arks for an episode or two. On Star Trek’s (1966 – 1969) “For the World is Hollow and I have Touched the Sky,” the Enterprise encounters Yonada, a world-ship or Ark on a collision course with another world.
And in Space:1999’s (1975 – 1977) “Mission of the Darians,” the Alphans attempt to render aid to the crippled space Ark S.S. Daria, only to find the upper class of the ship preying on the bodies (and spirits…) of the ship’s other inhabitants.
In some sense, Moonbase Alpha is itself an “ark” in this series, one carrying humanity’s best and brightest to another world. Writer and story-editor Johnny Byrne often contextualized Space: 1999 as the (future) origin story of the Alphans, thus making it a story not unlike in some ways, Noah’s Ark.