‘The Ark In Space’ (TV)



Please feel free to comment on my review.

A New Frontier with the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry

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 thie story.

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 mono 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 mono 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


Originally written on the 7th of December 2022.

It’s Day 7 of ‘Bradley’s Basement’s Advent Calendar 2022.

Let’s see how Tom Baker’s Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry cope aboard the Ark in Space! 🙂

It’s amazing how the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry coped with recovering from oxygen starvation aboard the Ark, also known as the Nerva Beacon. Mind you, Sarah Jane suffered the worst, as the Doctor and Harry were getting her onto a bio-bed in order to recover and regain her senses. 🙂

It’s nice to see how the Doctor and Harry interacted with each other throughout this story, especially when elements of a mystery were being uncovered aboard the Beacon. I like that Harry shared his observations with the Doctor and that he’s not simply reduced to an idiot or an ‘imbecile’ in the story.

When Harry checked on Sarah Jane as she came round, it was funny when she said she’d spit in his eye if he called her ‘old girl’ again. 😀 Not that stopped him, though he did call her ‘old thing’ in ‘The Sontaran Experiment’. It’s clear that Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter enjoyed working together here.

It was funny when the Doctor and Harry suggested Sarah Jane should have some brandy to help her to get better and she went, “Oh, I hate brandy!” I don’t blame you, Sarah Jane. I wouldn’t fancy brandy either. Mind you, is the brandy from the TARDIS from the same bottle used in ‘Twice Upon A Time’?

It became tense when the Doctor and Harry had to duck and get under cover when they were being fired upon by an electrical beam from a huge camera lens. 😀 It also became tense when Sarah Jane was transported from her bio-bed to someplace else aboard the Beacon before being put into a deep sleep.


Originally written on the 8th of December 2022.

It’s Day 8 of ‘Bradley’s Basement’s Advent Calendar 2022.

Is the Fourth Doctor’s first meeting with Noah from ‘The Ark In Space’ a friendly one? 😐

I found it rude of Noah to shoot the Doctor like that, especially when the Doctor was trying to say something important. I know Noah had just got up from his hibernation sleep and he was likely to be suspicious, but that’s no excuse to be rude when someone is trying to help you out, is it?

I did feel sorry for Noah when his hand got sprayed with slime by the Wirrn in the solar stacks. Even Noah didn’t deserve that, especially when he was looking the wrong way. Mind you, he could have been alert, despite having come out of hibernation for goodness knows how many years aboard the Ark. 😐

There is a kind of sterile atmosphere aboard the Ark, especially when Noah and Vira were in communication with each other via the intercom. They are supposed to be lovers, yet there’s not emotional interaction between them when they discuss business concerning the Ark and its people. 😐

I liked it when Sarah Jane and Harry went to check up on the Doctor and he awoke finishing the sentence he was saying to Noah before he got shot. Sarah Jane looks good in her Ark outfit, having been processed and put into hibernation before she’d been taken out of her cell by the Doctor and others.

Vira’s line to Sarah Jane and Harry that “Complete truth is advisable” is a very good line for her character, especially when she’s being prim and proper by this point. It’s unusual regarding why Sarah Jane and Harry weren’t held prisoner before they went out to search for the Doctor to check on him.


Originally written on the 9th of December 2022.

It’s Day 9 of ‘Bradley’s Basement’s Advent Calendar 2022.

Let’s have a look at the Wirrn from ‘The Ark In Space‘ in this YouTube video. 🙂

One thing you should never do is to stand close to an open ventilation shaft or a hole in a wall as a squid-like tentacle thing may grab your leg, like the Wirrn did to Sarah Jane. 😀 I’m glad the Doctor was there to save Sarah Jane from being pulled into the shaft, as that could have been very nasty. 😀

It was eerie and disturbing to hear the Wirrn speaking with Noah’s voice, especially as he’d been absorbed by the Wirrn from ‘Parts Two to Four’. The Wirrn are impressive in terms of a monster design, with an insect-like head and giving the impression of being a space locust of 1970s standards.

Mind you, it’s a bit disappointing that we can’t see the Wirrn move their lips when they talk. I’m sure technology today would be able to add on the CGI mouths in order to let us see the Wirrn talk with their mouths opening up and down. Then again, aliens speaking could differ to how humans do it. 🙂

I enjoyed the sparring between the Fourth Doctor and Noah-Wirrn. The Doctor knows that the Wirrn won’t keep to their word about not harming anyone aboard the Ark and the scene did put me in mind of a confrontation I’d written between the Fifth Doctor and Morguth in ‘The Tree of Riverloth’.

It was disturbing when the Doctor tried to make Noah-Wirrn remember Earth and what it was like. The Noah-Wirrn claims that he has no memory of Earth, which is very sad, as there’s nothing left of the human Noah. It’s a lesson to learn about not coming into contact with the Wirrn at all costs here.

The previous story

For the Fourth Doctor was

For Sarah Jane was

For Harry was

The next story

For the Fourth Doctor is

For Sarah Jane is

For Harry is

For the Wirrn is

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Return to Sarah Jane’s Timeline
Return to Harry’s Timeline
Return to The Wirrn’s Timeline
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6 thoughts on “‘The Ark In Space’ (TV)

  1. Timelord-007

    Brilliant review of a Fourth Doctor classic, the first episode is one of my all time favourites.

    The only niggle i have is the ending seems a little abrupt but barring that this is a bona fide Doctor Who classic.

    As ever great attention to detail & a great synopsis on the DVD extras.

    Nice one Tim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Thanks Timelord Simon.

      Very glad you enjoyed my review on ‘The Ark in Space’. Yes, I like that the first episode focuses on the Doctor; Sarah Jane and Harry before it builds up to what happens with the Ark and the Wirrn in later episodes.

      Yes the end is a little abrupt, and it clearly is meant to go into ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ as it was originally a six story before it was divided into a four-parter for ‘Ark’ and a two-parter for ‘Sontaran’.

      Thanks for your kind comments, Simon. Glad you enjoyed this. Tim. 🙂


  2. Timelord 007

    Blimey Sadie looks very much like her mom Lis doesn’t she, i was hoping she’d featured with Tom Baker Doctor as a new companion but alas not to be.

    Great review of Ark In Space, as i said before i just find the ending abrupt & the Doctor didn’t do much in part 4 barring that this is a excellent story & shows how bloody awesome Tom Baker as the Doctor is.

    “Homosapians there indomitable….indomitable” & “Harry Sullivan is a imbecile” lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi Simon.

      Yes Sadie Miller does look like her mum Lis, doesn’t she? This was the first time I saw Sadie in anything ‘Doctor Who’-related via the ‘Behind the Sofa’ features on Blu-ray. It was nice for her to share some comments on the stories her dear mum appeared in and to represent her mum as well. It would be nice if Sadie Miller became Tom Baker’s companion in ‘Doctor Who’. You never know. Sadie did do some Big Finish audios with her mum in the ‘Sarah Jane Smith’ series. Maybe she’ll reprise her acting career in Big Finish audio again someday.

      Very pleased you enjoyed my updated review on ‘The Ark In Space’. Yeah there are issues with the story like the ending and it’s not a story I would watch again and again. But apart from that I enjoyed this adventure and it was exciting when the Wirrn came in.

      That ‘indomitable’ line is something David Tennant’s Doctor would use again in ‘Utopia’, isn’t it? 😀 As for Harry Sullivan being an imbecile…well, wait for my updated review on ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’.

      Many thanks Simon.

      Tim. 🙂


  3. Williams Fan 92

    Hello Tim.

    I just finished watching this story yesterday. I will have to watch it twice more, the omnibus edition and the episodic version with updated special effects. I’m pleased I finally got around to watching a story from Season 12 other than ‘Robot’. I found the story to be enjoyable and very tense. The Wirrn seem to be a very creepy and dangerous species. It would be nice if I got around to experiencing other stories featuring the Wirrn including ‘Wirrn: Race Memory’ starring Sarah Sutton.

    Speaking of Sarah, I am enjoying her in ‘Behind the Sofa’. I notice that she isn’t wearing glasses for this, Season 26 and Season 24 yet she does for Seasons 19 and 8. Maybe she wore contact lenses for Seasons 12, 26 and 24.

    Thanks for replying to my message yesterday. I believe I sent another one before then but I’m can’t tell if you recieved it.

    Take care, WF92.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi WF92,

      Glad you enjoyed ‘The Ark In Space’. I’ve yet to check out the omnibus edition of the story. I’ve seen the CGI version of the story though. The only other omnibus edition of a ‘Doctor Who’ story I’ve seen is ‘Planet of the Spiders’ on DVD, but that was quite some time ago. I’m sure you’d enjoy the Wirrn in other stories like ‘Wirrn: Race Memory’. Sarah Sutton’s good in that. I’ve also heard the Wirrn in ‘Wirrn Isle’ with Colin Baker. I’ve yet to hear them in ‘Wirrn Dawn’ with Paul McGann though. 😀

      Glad you’re enjoying Sarah Sutton in ‘Behind the Sofa’. It’s always a treat for me to see her react to ‘Doctor Who’ stories she’s not been in with other ‘Doctor Who’ stars. I don’t know if Sarah wears contact lenses. I know she tends to wear glasses at times. Maybe she wears glasses for certain stories when she’s a distance away from a screen. Sometimes I have to wear glasses when I’m working at a computer (like I am now) or watching something on a small TV from a distance away.

      I have received your messages on the DU forum. It sometimes takes a while for me to answer them, but I have received them. I’m currently waiting to hear more from Timelord007 and Wolfie on responses to our current ‘Keeper of Traken’ discussion before I can proceed further.

      Many thanks,

      Tim. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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