‘THE ARK IN SPACE’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
A New Frontier
We now come to what is probably considered a ‘bona fide ‘Doctor Who’ classic’! That’s how the story was described according to the 2-disc Special Edition DVD sleeve notes. In many ways it is and I wouldn’t like to dispute that. Although saying that, it’s not a ‘Doctor Who’ I’d watch again and again.
‘The Ark In Space’ is considered one of the best and well-known classic stories of the ‘Doctor Who’ series from the Tom Baker era. It was the second story transmitted in Tom Baker’s first season as the Fourth Doctor in the TV show and it’s a tale that manages to truly define his version of the character.
This story was originally released on DVD in April 2002. It was eventually repackaged and re-released as a 2-disc Special Edition DVD in February 2013 with the story on Disc 1 and the special features on Disc 2. Now it has been re-released as part of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 12’ Blu-ray.
‘The Ark In Space’ is a four-part story by Robert Holmes, one of the best writers of ‘Doctor Who’. Robert Holmes became the series’ script editor at the start of Tom Baker’s era, working with producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Both crafted a new era full of horror and suspense for the TV audiences.
This particular story, ‘The Ark in Space’, was the first of their era and was carried over from the previous Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks era. It was meant to be first by Christopher Langley and then by former ‘Doctor Who’ writer John Lucarotti. Unfortunately, both writers couldn’t complete this story.
The producer Phillip Hinchcliffe asked Robert Holmes to re-write the story from scratch and come up with a brand new four-parter. What Holmes delivered was an unusually creepy space adventure set in the far reaches of humanity’s future and there are a lot of slime and insect-like creatures featured.
‘The Ark in Space’ begins with the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry visiting the space station Nerva. The place seems abandoned at first and fully automated with safe-guards installed that can blow up the Doctor’s long scarf; Harry’s shoes and a cricket ball adding to the list, which they need to shut down.
They soon discover the space station houses thousands of cryogenic sleepers waiting to be revived and begin a new life on Earth. But something has gone wrong as evil aliens invade the station, intending to destroy humanity. Can the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry stop the menace of the Wirrn?
This is an interesting story. The action does seem slow at first before we get to blazing guns firing on the green creatures in ‘Part Three’. But the ideas that Robert Holmes addresses about humanity surviving in cryogenic chambers and Earth on the edge of extinction by solar flames and is very scary.
I’m glad I’m not in that somewhat bleak future, but the concepts are pretty well-detailed; constructed and realised through this traditional space station setting. It’s one that appeals to Robert Holmes, as he would use ideas like this again for ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ story with Ravalox.
The direction for this story by director Rodney Bennett is pretty impressive as well as the set design work by designer Roger Murray-Leach. You do feel like you’re in outer space when aboard the Nerva space station and it gets pretty tense when our three regular heroes are in airless rooms at the start.
The last surviving humans of Nerva are as follows. There’s Wendy Williams as Vira, the first to be revived out of her cryogenic chamber when the Doctor and Harry find her. She’s interesting and not automatically friendly to begin with. She seems cold; efficient and considers herself superior at first.
Vira is actually a ‘med-tech’ (the future equivalent of a doctor). She isn’t interested in being in command since it isn’t part of her function. But she soon takes command after Noah gets taken over by the Wirrn. Vira shows intriguing traits and becomes friendlier and likeable as a character later on.
There’s Kenton More as Noah, the ‘prime unit’ aboard the Nerva Ark. He starts off being efficient as Vira is and is distrustful of the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry. But as the story progresses, Noah gets infected with some green slime and he starts losing his mind when the Wirrn begin to take him over.
In ‘Part Two’s cliff-hanger, Noah’s hand gets revealed as being encased in a green organic casing that must have been very frightening for audience to see. Tragically and sadly, Noah soon becomes a fully grown Wirrn with the thoughts and intentions to destroy the planet Earth as well as the human race.
The story also features Richardson Morgan as Rogin; John Gregg as Lycett and Christopher Masters as Libri, who manage to come out of hibernation in the Nerva Ark but not survive the tale with the Wirrn. There’s Gladys Spencer as the High Minister’s Voice, almost sounding like Margaret Thatcher.
Of course the story’s star is Tom Baker himself. This is at an early point in Tom Baker’s career as the eccentric time-traveller with the floppy scarf. I really like how Tom’s Doctor manages to find his feet in this tale. He’s barely started following his debut in ‘Robot’, yet he’s somehow found his character.
I liked it when Tom’s Doctor seems confident and aloof about mind-linking his brain to the Wirrn’s in ‘Part Three’. I also liked it when Tom’s Doctor interacts with Harry in this adventure and I enjoyed it when he encourages Sarah Jane to crawl through a tunnel by using some meaningless insults at her.
Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith is lovely to watch. She works well with Tom’s Doctor. It was quite a shock when Sarah Jane suffocated in an airless room aboard the Ark and when she was being processed to be put inside a cryogenic chamber. Sarah Jane gets to wear a white uniform in this tale.
I liked it when she’s making jokes with the Doctor and has friendly banter with Harry. Sarah Jane’s defining moment is when she’s crawling through the tunnel and is on the verge of giving up before the Doctor insults her. It makes her angry before she realises the Doctor did not mean anything by them.
Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan is great to watch as well. This is of course Harry’s debut as a companion following his first appearance in ‘Robot’. He’s agog joining the TARDIS crew and where they are aboard the space station. Harry seems a little dim at times, but he manages to cope in unfamiliar situations.
I liked it when Harry gets to show his caring side as a medical doctor whenever Sarah Jane’s comatose or trying to help Vira with getting revived. It’s the start of a new journey for Harry as a companion. Ian Marter is good and it’s a shame Harry’s run of stories didn’t last beyond one season.
Like I’ve said, I like some of the space station designs of the Ark. They’re futuristic and traditional as to what space exploration could look like. It’s quite appealing, even though the walls are stark-white and bland. It feels like an old-fashioned style of space adventure sometimes, but it is good to watch.
When we get down to the solar stacks on a lower level, it’s dark and spooky. Some of the Wirrn have already got in the solar stacks when the Doctor goes to see. This is where the Doctor gets serious. It was pretty creepy when the Wirrn start to hatch out and when Noah as a Wirrn goes for the Doctor.
The Wirrn are interesting monsters. They look like insects at first hand, but in actual fact these are cunning creatures that absorb and digest not only people’s bodies but also their knowledge and wisdom. This is a gruesome and horrible idea that works effectively especially when Noah goes mad.
These monsters come from the Andromeda Galaxy and are out for revenge on humanity. It turns out their breeding colonies were destroyed as a result of the humans’ exploration of space. It’s difficult to take the Wirrn seriously sometimes, especially as they lumber about like men in rubber costumes.
‘The Ark in Space’ has had its legacy over the years, especially as this story became the first of a trilogy featuring the Nerva space station. The trilogy includes ‘The Ark In Space’; ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ and the Big Finish audio story, ‘Destination: Nerva’, with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor.
This story also has a legacy for the Wirrn. These monsters would return to feature in more ‘Doctor Who’ stories. They include the Big Finish audio stories such as ‘Wirrn Isle’ with Colin Baker’s Doctor and Lisa Greenwood’s Flip and ‘Wirrn Dawn’ with Paul McGann’s Doctor and Sheridan Smith’s Lucie.
The Wirrn would also appear in the Eighth Doctor book adventure, ‘Placebo Effect’. They were also in the BBV audio drama called ‘Wirrn: Race Memory’, starring Sarah Sutton and Keith Drinkel. Sarah recalled something about the Wirrn when she was doing the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on Blu-ray. 😀
The original DVD special features were as follows. There was a making-of documentary called ‘A New Frontier’ with cast and crew interviews; an interview with designer Roger Murray-Leach; a model effects roll footage; a CGI effects roll footage and 3-D Technical Schematics for the Nerva Beacon. There was a BBC1 trailer for the story’s first episode; unused alternative titles (now on the ‘Robot’ disc for the Season 12 Blu-ray); a CGI effects option for the story and the ‘TARDIS-Cam No. 1’ CGI model sequence. There was also a photo gallery of the story; an info-text commentary option to enjoy; a stereo sound audio mix option for the story and a DVD audio commentary with Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe.
There was a movie/omnibus version of ‘The Ark in Space’ that was shown in 1975 and the ‘Doctor Forever!’ documentary called ‘Love and War’ that looks into the ‘Doctor Who’ books of the 1990s and the 2000s. There’s also a ‘Scene Around Six’ news item featuring Tom Baker and some ‘Robot 8mm Location Film’ footage which also can now be viewed on the ‘Robot’ disc for the Season 12 Blu-ray. There were also PDF materials including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, ‘The Doctor Who Technical Manual’ and ‘Promotional Materials for Cross & Blackwell and Nestle’. There was also a ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for the 2-disc Special Edition DVD of ‘The Aztecs’ with William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford.
On Disc 2 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 12’ Blu-ray, the movie/omnibus version of ‘The Ark In Space’; the ‘New Frontier’ making-of documentary; the model effects roll footage; the BBC1 trailer; the CGI effects option for the story; the CGI effects roll footage; the 3-D Technical Schematics; the Roger Murray-Leach interview; the stereo sound audio mix option for the story; the DVD audio commentary; and the ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF can also be found on there. The info-text commentary option and the photo gallery for ‘The Ark In Space’ have been updated for 2018 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘The Ark In Space’ with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor); Sadie Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter and producer Philip Hinchcliffe as well as Louise Jameson (Leela); Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa). There’s also a brand-new 5.1 surround sound audio mix option for the story to enjoy.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there are also production documents and scripts for the story. You need a special Blu-ray computer drive for that. ‘The Doctor Who Technical Manual’ PDF and the ‘Promotional Materials for Cross & Blackwell and Nestle’ PDF aren’t included. The ‘Doctor Forever!’ documentary ‘Love and War’ and the ‘Scene Around Six’ news item with Tom Baker aren’t included on ‘The Ark In Space’ disc for the Season 12 Blu-ray box set either.
‘The Ark in Space’ is a classic ‘Doctor Who’ story from the TV series that is certainly worth enjoying. It’s considered a popular one by the fans and is considered one of Robert Holmes’ best. I’m sure this is a tale worth having, especially in the Season 12 Blu-ray collection of ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker.
This story does contain a gripping plot and is pretty imaginative throughout. I wouldn’t consider it a favourite of mine as it is rather slow at first before we get into the main action. But it is definitely watching, especially with Tom Baker’s Doctor; Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane and Ian Marter’s Harry.
‘The Ark in Space’ rating – 7/10
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