The Ark in Space was a bold statement that Doctor Who was under new ownership. After five successful years, Jon Pertwee and his producer, Barry Letts, had both just departed and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe was keen to take the programme into deeper and darker waters.
Hinchcliffe was lucky not only to have the experienced writer and script editor Robert Holmes on hand, but also he had the considerable talents of incoming Doctor, Tom Baker. The Ark in Space was Baker's second transmitted story and the third in production order, but given his assured performance you could be mistaken for assuming he'd been in the part for years.
The central concept of the story is deeply disturbing - a group of parasitic aliens called the Wirrn infiltrate the Space Ark where the last members of the human race are in deep hibernation and they proceed to lay their eggs in the helpless humans. This allows the Wirrn to consume their hosts, thereby inheriting the knowledge of their helpless victim.
Whilst the concepts are horrifying, some of the realisations are maybe less so. There's no getting around it, but when Noah is infected by the Wirrn, the initial possession looks uncomfortably like his arm is covered in green bubble wrap, for obvious reasons. But by the time this happens you should have already bought into the concept of the story and its ideas. If not, then it's probably best to switch off DVD and do something else.
As I've said, Tom Baker is never less than totally mesmerising. The relatively small cast allows Baker substantial screen time and Robert Holmes' script gives him plenty of good material to work with. He is ably supported by Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter as Sarah and Harry. It's easy to see why Sladen would go on to become one of the most popular of all the Doctor's companions, although here she does overplay a little. Later on as her working relationship with Tom Baker deepened they would enjoy more subtle byplay.
Although Ian Marter didn't remain with the series for long, his square-jawed, enthusiastic performance was a definite plus for the early Tom Baker serials. Here he gets some good two handed scenes with Tom early in the story, and handles them very well - it's a shame that there weren't more of them during his time on the show.
Originally released on DVD in 2002, this special edition has slightly improved picture quality. But anyone thinking of upgrading will surely be doing so for the additional special features.
All of the original special features from the first release have been retained, with the exception of the news report on the filming of Revenge of the Cybermen. As it's also on the Revenge DVD, this is no particular problem. Disc 1 has a new making of documentary, running for half an hour, called A New Frontier. This is an entertaining watch, and it was particularly nice to see Wendy Williams (Vira) and Kenton Moore (Noah) recount their memories of the show.
All of the material on Disc 2 is new to DVD and kicks off with The Ark in Space - Movie Version, a 70 minute edit produced for a BBC repeat in 1975. Back in the 1970's it was quite common to edit Doctor Who stories down for an omnibus repeat, there's another example on Planet of the Spiders. This is an interesting curio, and good to have on disc.
There's a couple of other small Tom Baker pieces. Scene Around Six which dates from 1978 is a news report featuring Tom Baker visiting schools in Northern Ireland. The reaction of both children and adults to Tom and his interaction with them is just wonderful to see. It's a small reminder of just how popular he was back in the day.
The second Tom Baker item is just over a minute of mute 8mm film from the location filming of his first story, Robot. It's short, but incredibly sweet as it gives a lovely behind the scenes look at Tom's debut story.
The other major new special feature is Doctor Forever! - Love and War. This is the first in a new series of documentaries which will appear on the Doctor Who SE's to be released this year. This edition looks at the range of original fiction published by Virgin and the BBC in the 1990's and has some notable and interesting contributors, amongst them Russell T. Davies, Rob Shearman, Mark Gatiss and Gary Russell. It's an entertaining half hour for anybody who remembers and read the books, the only slight drawback is that it's presented by Ayesha Antoine who has all the warmth and animation of a block of wood. Thankfully she's not on screen very long, as the voices who shaped Doctor Who in the 1990's take centre stage to tell their stories.
If you've not got The Ark in Space then it's an essential purchase, as it's one of the very best Tom Baker stories. If you already have the 2002 DVD, then you need to weigh up whether the new special features are worth a repurchase. In my opinion they are. And whilst The Ark In Space might look dated and slightly unconvincing in places, there's no denying that it still packs a punch - nearly forty years after its original transmission.
An essential story that revealed a new vision for `Doctor Who', the full magnificence of Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, the dark imaginings of Robert Holmes and the indescribable horror of frothing, green, alien, multi-nucleate bubblewrap... 5*
Amazon have bundled together reviews of all versions of `The Ark in Space'; this reviews the 2013 Special Edition with the new extras. If this story is new to you, then it's one you really must see; everything that makes the Tom Baker years so popular is right here, in only his second broadcast story. If you already have the earlier release, then the picture quality of this Special Edition is superb - the all-studio video production is incredibly crisp, bright and colourful. I think it's the best quality I've seen to date and it looks brilliant when upscaled on an HD TV. The new DVD extras are enjoyable too, including an excellent `making of' feature.
The DVD sleeve notes say firmly that this story is a classic - and they're right. New producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor (and here also the writer) Robert Holmes lifted the series back out among the stars, to the home of many First and Second Doctor adventures. Robert Holmes only had a few weeks to fill an unexpected gap in the production schedules, after other scripts were thought impractical, but the results are excellent with a very strong story and great writing.
The space-station setting is starkly lit and gleaming white for the most part, but with moments of gloom and shadow appropriate for what might be called the first `Gothic' story. It began this most famous era with a simple but horrific idea. There are certain wasps on Earth that lay their eggs in caterpillars so the larvae have fresh, *living* food - the Wirrn are giant `wasps' and they need something large for their grubs to eat - something about the size of a person ...
This story has a well-known `fault' which I personally don't find a problem at all - the Wirrn in their putrescent larval stage are made from green bubblewrap. In 1975 this wasn't obvious, people mostly sent parcels wrapped in cardboard and brown paper and even tied up with string, so bubblewrap wasn't widely known. Even today, this doesn't spoil the illusion for me any more than, for example, imagining we can see "the vasty fields of France" on stage during `Henry V'. Here we are out in the infinitely more vasty starfields of space and imagination can work overtime.
As well as the strong script (years before `Alien'), this story works for three reasons: superb sets, fine direction by Rodney Bennett and excellent acting. Roger Murray-Leach's sets may have been built on a small budget, but they don't look it - or sound it, with their cathedral-like production acoustics. Forty years later, Space Station Nerva still looks impressive; back in 1975 it was astonishing. In the first episode the Station almost becomes a character itself, as the three regulars carry the story along on their own with great performances, exploring the mystery of an intact, seemingly abandoned space station with only the merest hint of a `monster' - until the unforgettable first cliffhanger!
Tom Baker is utterly magnificent. When he first appeared in `Robot', I liked the new Doctor but it seemed odd seeing a new actor in what was obviously the sort of UNIT story that had been home to Jon Pertwee, my Doctor, for five years. This story is different; with a futuristic vision and really great writing, Tom Baker creates a new, delightfully alien Doctor of sheer brilliance. His soliloquy on humanity in episode 1 is perhaps the best this Doctor ever delivered for the awe and wonder it evokes, and his humorous, slightly spiky interaction with Harry Sullivan is another highlight.
Ian Marter gives a great performance as the unflappable naval Surgeon-Lieutenant, acting as a foil for the Doctor's wit and hardly turning a hair as alien horrors surround them on this, his first trip in the TARDIS. He's such a good companion and so well written that Sarah is actually sidelined for the first half of the story, though this is partly for good plot reasons. Elisabeth Sladen mentions this on the commentary and was apparently unhappy about it, but as the story unfolds Sarah establishes an entertainingly jokey friendship with Harry and shows just what she's made of, putting herself deliberately and literally into a tight spot to help the Doctor's plan.
The guest cast are few but very good. First Medtech Vira (Wendy Williams) emanates cool intelligence - a product of a constrained society in crisis: "there was not much joke in the Last Days" - but we can tell there is a caring person behind the professional façade. EngTech Rogin (Richardson Morgan) is a complete contrast, with his clever and matey engineer's personality and annoyance that his prediction of a "snitch-up" has come true. There are two more Techs, Lycett and Libri - also well played and at least they are around long enough to get names and some lines ...
Kenton Moore is excellent in a monster of a role as Commander `Noah'; at first ruthlessly efficient and really unlikeable with his eugenic talk of `regressives' and the `gene pool'. But it's another very unsettling idea in the background of this story - if you could only save a few hundred people from Earth, how would you choose? His `breakdown' (and worse) is very well played and it was originally even better than we see it.
Because while I don't find the bubblewrap `makeup' a problem, what still disappoints me about this story is the ugly cut made in episode 3 at the climactic encounter between the Doctor, Noah and Vira. As the commentary explains, it was filmed, looked great, must have been emotionally intense and would have been very memorable - but it was cut on grounds of `taste'. A great pity, especially as this made Noah a less sympathetic character, since we lost the full poignancy of his and Vira's doomed love-story. Ian Marter's excellent `Target' novelisation shows what we missed here and also at Lycett's literally sticky end.
The Doctor and his friends certainly help a great deal, but the ultimate heroes of this life-affirming adventure are the five awakened humans of Space Station Nerva - all of them - willing to make any sacrifice and proving that they are indeed members of, as the Doctor says, "an invincible species".
This is a terrific story where Tom Baker really took off as the all-new, truly regenerated Time Lord and the legend of the Fourth Doctor was born. 5*
Thanks for reading.
NOTE: You'll probably want to navigate to the second page of the `Special Features' Sub-menu and select `Alternative CGI Effects'. These impressive effects, inserted seamlessly into the story, make the exterior views of Space Station Nerva look as good as the interiors have always done.
DVD Special Features
On Disk 1:
The commentary with Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe is as entertaining as you'd expect and also has a lot of fascinating background information.
NEW: `A New Frontier' (30 min) is a really good new `making of' documentary, with Philip Hinchcliffe and director Rodney Bennett, plus the actors' perspective from Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore, enjoyable and very interesting.
NEW: A very good photo gallery including some fun informal and rehearsal pictures.
`Roger Murray-Leach Interview' (10 min): the designer talks about his work on several memorable shows during the Tom Baker years, very good.
Several small items: The original and CGI replacement effects sequences, original BBC trailer, schematics of `Nerva Station', an impressively bleak `TARDIS-Cam' short animation.
Two `Easter Eggs'.
On Disk 2:
NEW: The edited `movie' 70 minute version, unrestored. This is how we were sometimes (rarely) allowed to see a `Doctor Who' story repeated, at Christmas etc. Really an item for completists, but it does demonstrate the leap in quality to the final restored version.
NEW: `Doctor Forever! - Love and War' (30 min): Fans of the Virgin range of `Doctor Who' novels will love this history of the Doctor's survival in print from 1990 to 2005, with an excellent group of contributors.
NEW: `Scene Around Six' (10 min): BBC News film of Tom Baker's visit to Northern Ireland in 1978, cheered by huge crowds. Anyone who still underrates classic `Doctor Who' and its impact should see this: vox populi.
NEW: `Robot 8mm Location Film' (1 min): short but good film of the stars on location in Tom Baker's first story.
Several items as PDFs:
Radio Times listings, two product promotions and a fun, 69-page `Technical Manual' (1983) covering the Doctor's own technology and the fully or semi-robotic characters from K-9 to the various types of Dalek and some very obscure characters indeed. And plans for making a card model TARDIS!
on 3 June 2014
Tom Baker’s earliest ‘outer space’ serial in the title role of Doctor Who was this, a tale of giant insect-like aliens invading a space station where thousands of humans are being ‘stored’ in cryogenic sleep, awaiting the day when they are to be re-awoken – the day when the Earth is once more inhabitable after being ravaged by solar flares. When the Time Lord, along with travelling companions Sarah-Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan arrives on Space Station Nerva however, the Wirrn have already insinuated themselves into the infrastructure, and are busy devouring the sleeping bodies of the blissfully ignorant people, swelling their own numbers and preparing to take over The Earth itself.
Of course, it’s easy to decry the ‘not-so-special effects’ and poorly-realised monsters on display here, however to do that I think misses the point entirely. Although I’d say that the model shots of the ‘ark’ as well as its clinical interior are both excellent and would stand-up today, what really makes this serial is good old Uncle Tom. Love him or loathe him (and to be fair most fans seem to love him), he embodied The Doctor’s ‘alien-ness’ like no-one else before him, and surely like no-one else ever could. His sudden bursts of energy, maniacal grin at any hint of danger, and his innate remoteness (whilst somehow still displaying his fondness for Sarah and Harry), are just some of the things that make this so much more than a run-of-the-mill base-under-siege classic Doctor Who story. On top of this, the late-lamented Ian Marter plays old-fashioned naval surgeon Harry Sullivan as an immensely lovable duffer, and it would have been good to see him travel with The Doctor and Sarah more regularly. Say what you like about the bubble-wrap, the supporting cast are all superb, and the whole package is immensely satisfying for an ageing Whovian like me.
on 27 May 2006
fundamentally, this is a good story.
dated by todays special effects and pace, but must have been quite striking at the time.
the show is the start of a seasonal four story arc, which technically ends with Revenge of the Cybermen, (the sontaran experiment and genesis of the daleks saandwiched between them).
Naturally, this was to save money during a very tight season, presumably, most of the cash was spent on Genesis, as technically, that story seemed better.
Typical dr who, bubble wrap sprayed green must have been extremely fearful in the mid-seventies, i still to this day feel sorry for the actor who had to endure these scenes, dressed in plastic like he was... ;-)
still, its an enjoyable dr who romp, and well worth a buy
on 5 April 2000
Humans lie in kryogenic suspension on a remote ark, the only survivors of the solar flares which have devastated the Earth. However, Nerva Space Station has been infiltrated by a deadly race of space creatures, the Wirrn, who are intent to wipe out the last remaining shreds of humanity.... The Ark In Space is simply wonderful. The terror of being physically converted and turned into something else is ever present, and some of the scenes are horrific, especially when the viewer finds out that this conversion is possible via the infected hand of one of the recovered humans being revealed in one of Whos all time classic episode endings in part two. Admitedly, the bubble wrap monsters are a little too obvious, but they do not take too much away from the eerieness of this story, which is taken to a new level by the superb incidental music. Tom Baker and the regulars, especially Liz Sladen as Sarah, are excellent in the Ark's claustrophobic surroundings. A fantastic story, this is Doctor Who pushed to it's creepy best.
on 2 January 2013
The ark in space was the story that got me into Dr Who. it's amazing now that just three actors can keep the story moving for the whole of episode one, but they do and it works very effectively. For its time the set's were very impressive. I remember watching a documentary where Philip Hinchcliff stated that Tom Bakers voice was so good you could use it to move a story on wards or increase the suspense with just him describing something without seeing it, he was right. The Dr, Sarah and Harry land on the space station Neva which had been previously visited by a Wirrn, an insect life form. It has laid its eggs in the solar stacks and absorbed the body and mind of one of the sleeping humans. The Doctor's reactivation of the station's systems causes the humans to start to revive. Their leader, nicknamed Noah, becomes infected by one of the emerging larvae and is slowly taken over. On the extras you find out all about how bubble wrap became a favorite for the manufacture of monsters, at the time it worked well, and now it still looks effective. As for the Wirrn, they were a little clumsy, however its proof when you have an excellent script that you forgive such things. The commentary is the same as the original issue and the CGI effects are still included as an option. You also get the original 70min edited together omnibus episode broadcast around Christmas 1975, and a nice making of documentary. Other extras are a news item of the time, and 8mm behind the scenes film from Robot. The main feature is the same as the original with the same option to have the CGI effects recreated in 2002 the original release of this story.So this edition is for about an hour of extra not on the original disc. 2013 is going to be a very re-release year, as well as the Ark in Space we will be getting the Aztecs, Inferno, Green death and Visitation, funny how things change when we are reaching the end of the schedule of releases role on the Mind of evil.
"Doctor Who: The Ark in Space" was only the second serial that Tom Baker starred in, but his instant ease in the role shows why he was one of the best Doctor Whos ever. This serial has very hokey special effects, but the story is a pretty solid, straightforward sci-fi alien-invasion story.
The TARDIS randomly arrives on a space station in orbit of Earth, thanks to Harry fiddling around with the controls. And after Sarah is briefly put in suspended animation, the Doctor discovers that this station is called the Ark -- it's a sleeper station with the last remnants of the human race, since Earth has been rendered uninhabitable.
However, something sabotaged the station's power, leaving the suspended animation lasting for thousands of years longer than intended. Yeah, it's obvious what happened as soon as a giant bug falls out of a closet.
The Doctor soon discovers that there are more giant insects -- known as Wirrn -- infesting the ship, especially since one of them laid eggs in a now-dead crew-member. And the ship's commander is beginning to act strangely as an alien consciouness turns him into a giant mass of green bubble-wrap.
Yeah, the weakest part of this serial is the special effects, which are rather hokey even by old "Dr. Who" standards -- the giant dead Wirrn looks like somebody's science project. Buuuutttt... fortunately, that is the biggest problem this serial has.
One of the best parts is the depiction of the 29th-century humans -- cold, rigid, repressed, and apparently big fans of eugenics. Example: Noah immediate reviles the newcomers as "regressives" who could contaminate their perfect genetics. What, he thinks they're going to go on a mad babymaking spree?
But to the writers' credit, they don't get preachy on us. And despite the hokeyness of the Wirrn, there are some genuinely creepy moments as green ooze and larvae overcome the station's power systems.
And of course, there's Tom Baker. He was pretty new to the role, but gave this story a lot of intelligence as well as kooky humor (the scene where he verbally abuses Sarah as motivation). Elisabeth Sladen gives a nice solid performance, but Ian Marter is... well, he's just there to be an extra pair of hands.
"Doctor Who: The Ark in Space" is a solid sci-fi adventure, and a lead performance that reminds us why Baker is still one of the favorite Doctors ever.
on 29 January 2002
An early outing for Tom baker as the Doctor ably assisted by Elisabeth Sladen and the late Ian Marter as Sarah and Harry. This horror story in space centres around a space station in orbit of the earth in the distant future. This ark holds the remaining members of the human race awaiting to return to Earth after it has become habitable again. The problem involves creatures who have invaded the station. I will leave the rest of the story to you but some of it is generally unsettling for what many regard as a childrens programme. The DVD includes new special effects which are seamlessly inserted into the story. However this is not the only reason to buy this the acting is excellent and the story is generally gripping. A definite buy for any fan.
on 11 April 2006
Story: 4/5 - Extras: 3/5
Tom Baker's second story in the role (although The Sontaran Experiment was filmed first) is vintage Who. Scripted by prolific Who writer Robert Holmes, The Ark in Space is one of those entirely studio-bound stories with shonky model work and a rubber monster. As such, the futuristic setting looks pretty dated, but as the story relies as much on character work as it does on conventional sci-fi conceits, it doesn't really matter.
Even at this early stage, the Fourth Doctor's character is becoming well-established, complete with Tom Baker's trademark toothy grins and effective put-downs, and Ian Marter is very proper and British as over-his-head Naval medic Harry Sullivan. Only Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith gets a poor treatment here, made to act even more terrified and hopeless than usual (not to mention spending half of the first two episodes in cryogenic sleep).
The small guest cast is well performed, particularly Wendy Williams' Vira, whose certainty of and adherance to the established rules gradually unravels as the story continues. Kenton Moore as Noah and Richardson Morgan as Rogin are decent if more forgettable characters, with Noah's struggle against possession by the Wirrn being reasonably well-played.
Despite the obvious use of bubble wrap in the construction of the Wirrn larvae, The Ark in Space holds together well as a story. I always prefer my Who when it goes on location, but with a decent script a limited set budget can be overcome; maybe, however, the lighting could have been more moody. The model footage is looking old, but as a feature of the DVD one can enable a series of replacement CGI footage that looks pretty good.
In terms of special features, the leading feature is a moderately entertaining commentary by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. As well as the traditional photo gallery, there are a couple of interviews; some unused title sequence footage and model shots; a couple of related cuttings from the BBC archives; and of course the usual informative on-screen production notes. Not a bad package overall.
on 6 July 2009
I have always loved this story - it's a first outing for Harry Sullivan in the TARDIS, some interesting supporting characters and a really exciting story involving crawling through ventilation shafts and other standard classic moments. The special effects are bit dated now, including monsters made of green bubble wrap - but that doesn't actually spoil my enjoyment of it. Some great dialogue from the ever-witty Robert Holmes.