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Doctor Who: The Ark In Space - Special Edition [DVD]
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The TARDIS lands on a space station orbiting the earth in the distant future. It’s seemingly deserted, but the Doctor, Sarah and Harry soon discover that they are not alone. Thousands of humans – the only survivors of the human race - are in cryogenic sleep, and while they’ve slept their Ark has been invaded. A parasitic insect race – the Wirrn – have taken control and threaten the very future of mankind…
- Commentary with Tom Baker (Doctor Who), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah) and Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer)
- A New Frontier Making The Ark In Space
- TV Movie Version A special 70-minute repeat compilation of the story broadcast in 1975
- Dr. Forever! – Love And War A new documentary examining the Virgin/BBC Books novelisation range produced during the 1990-2005 hiatus. Interviewees include Russell T Davies (Executive Producer/Writer 2005-2010) and Mark Gatiss (Writer)
- Scene Around Six 1978 news footage of Tom Baker’s public appearances in Northern Ireland
- 8mm Location Footage Amateur film shot during Tom Baker’s first story
- Optional CGI Effects
- Original BBC Trailer
- Interview with Designer Roger Murray-Leach
- Alternative Title Sequence and Model Footage
- 3D Technical Schematics
- Easter Eggs On both discs
- Photo Gallery
- Coming Soon Trailer
- Production Information Subtitles
- Radio Times Listings, Doctor Who Technical Manual, Crosse and Blackwell and Nestle Promotional Material in Adobe PDF format.
Tom Baker's second outing as the renegade Time Lord is a solid entry in the Doctor Who saga. Fan favourite Robert Holmes penned "The Ark in Space", which places the Doctor and his companions Sarah (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry (Ian Marter) on a seemingly deserted space station many years in the future. Station Nerva is not as empty as it appears, though, since on board are the cryogenically preserved survivors of Earth's destruction, as well as an insect-like alien race, the Wirrin, determined to use the humans--and the Doctor--as hosts to grow their monstrous larvae. Holmes' well-paced script (which, like Alien, bears a resemblance to the AE van Vogt story "Black Destroyer") allows Baker to flesh out his well-loved take on the Doctor, as well as considerable suspense.
On the DVD: "The Ark in Space" DVD's obvious highlight is an audio commentary track featuring Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Though Baker's contributions to the track are sporadic, his participation is valuable nonetheless, considering that his involvement with the series since his 1981 departure has been infrequent at best. The full-frame mono presentation also includes two interviews, one with Baker on the set of another episode in 1975 and the other with designer Roger Murray Leach, who discusses his long involvement with the series. Also included is the episode's BBC1 trailer, an unused title sequence, new CGI special effects produced by the BBC's visual effects department and an optional information track, which provides running background information and trivia that should prove valuable for series completists. A trio of Easter eggs reveal Baker's typically eclectic promotions for the Doctor Who exhibition in Blackpool. --Paul Gaita, Amazon.com --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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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!
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.
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