The combined knowledge of humanity is conveniently stored on microfilm, but Brundlefly would rather just eat it.
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Brand new companion, Harry Sullivan, messes with the helmic regulator aboard the TARDIS and sends himself, The Doctor and the old girl Sarah Jane Smith to a cryogenic repository holding the last remnants of humanity.
The Ark, as it is called, has been orbiting the Earth for millennia now. Tragically, its passengers overslept as a race of flesh-eating and mind-absorbing space flies stowed away and turned off their alarm clocks to eat them in their sleep.
It’s now up to The Doctor and his two friends to rescue mankind from certain extinction.
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Previous producer Barry Letts commissioned veteran DOCTOR WHO writers to supply stories for fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s first season. Script Editor Robert Holmes, though, could not keep in touch with writer John Lucarotti on his boat in the Mediterranean. Holmes paid off the scribe rewrote “Ark in Space” completely.
The story fulfilled new producer Philip Hincliffe’s vision of the Doctor and his companions adventuring in space. They arrived on an apparently deserted space station orbiting Earth in the far future and spent the majority of the first episode exploring, as frequently happened in the series’ early days. The story’s venue was gorgeous and constructed in BBC studios by designer Roger Murray-Leach. To save money, it would be reused later in the season for a story set in the same place at an earlier time.
Sarah Jane discovered a storehouse for humans who survived a global catastrophe as she was inadvertently placed in suspended animation. Meanwhile, Harry and the Doctor learned the time travellers were not Space Station Nerva’s first visitors. As Sarah Jane and the station’s occupants began reviving, the Doctor and the others discovered an alien insect, Wirrn, had killed a human engineer long ago and laid her eggs.
The Wirrn queen’s brood would soon be born and gain the sum total of human ingenuity, from the bodies awaiting revival. Meanwhile, alien slime infected the human survivors’ leader, Noah, and slowly, tragically mutated him into the swarm leader. The horror of his transformation cranked up tension as the Doctor led humanity’s defense to ensure the species’ survival. His brilliant, inspiring monologue about human inventiveness and the species being invincible and indomitable contrasted with the Wirrn’s ambition while emphasizing the stakes of the broad conflict as well as Noah’s vain struggle to retain his humanity.
Such personal conflict became common in Hincliffe and Holmes’ serials, either standing in for or complimenting, a serial’s monster. This production’s lighting reflected its darker tone visually, and along with the story; fabulous sets; and great performances, particularly by the principle cast, enabled “The Ark In Space” to become both a fan favorite and one of the most highly regarded DOCTOR WHO serials ever.
Greetings Who Back When peeps and here’s my review for…
The Ark In Space, Robert Holmes first script for Tom Baker’s Doctor and the start of Philip Hinchcliffe’s reign as producer, one of the most successful eras in all of Dr. Who’s history, both classic and new.
One of the things that strikes me in this story is ideas that it shares with Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stories which I will point out.
This is actually the first in a mini series of adventures with the Doctor and his companions followed by ‘The Sontaran Experiment’, which links in with ‘Ark In Space’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, then back to future Earth (or at least Wookey Hole) in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’.
Harry’s first trip in the TARDIS and Ian Marter plays him so well as baffled by where he is but takes it all in his stride, even when he has a giant grasshopper fall on him.
The Doctor has one of his great speeches when he talks about humans and their indomitability as we are taking our first steps into the stars. One of the best speeches in the history of Who.
Is it just me or does the Wirrn corpse at the end of episode one that falls on top of Harry similar to a scene in ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ when a Martian falls down in a spaceship??? And talking of Quatermass, Noah and his mutated form is like Victor Carroon when he is becoming the plant alien in ‘The Quatermass Experiment’.
When the doctor goes to look at the Solar Stacks to see what’s down there and he comes across the Wirrn living in the power centre with an eye looking at him it’s like Quatermass 2. I did warn you that there would be similarities to Kneale’s legendary Professor.
The alien grubs are quite effective looking despite being part made from bubble wrap. In fact the entire simple set design of the story is really well done. We only get given what is necessary to the story and nothing else so that nothing gets in the way of the story or the characters. In fact on the D.V.D. there’s a really good interview with the set designer Roger Murray-Leach. Not wanting to give too many spoilers away but we have a similar stripped down aesthetic in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’.
So there you have it dudes, my review for Ark in Space. One of the most fun of Baker’s early stories and proof that Robot wasn’t just a fluke. I give it 4.5 out of for a fun romp of an adventure. Well toodle-oo for now and take care until next time. ?
Hey, do you want a good story with the Wirrn in it? You do? Well, then this is the story for you!
The Ark in Space is definitely the story where the Fourth Doctor gets his stride. Robert Holmes was probably unaware that a story where humanity flees Earth wasn’t a new concept (The Ark, 1966), and it certainly wouldn’t be the last time this plotpoint would be used (The Beast Below, 2010). But this by far is the best execution of it in the show to date.
This story was producer Phillip Hinchcliffe’s first story in studio. Outgoing producer Barry Letts originally commissioned the story from John Lucarotti (Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve) but after it was found his script was unworkable, the script was handed off to Doctor Who’s best writer Robert Holmes, who with Hinchcliffe made it darker. Dark enough that a portion where Noah begged his colleague to kill him was actually cut from the final product because it was so dark.
This is also the best appearance of the Wirrn that I know of, seeing as Wirrn Dawn is so terrible it made Ponken ill after he and jD finally reviewed it. Even though the Wirrn Maggots are definitely just a guy wrapped in bubble wrap painted green, I guessed it worked because bubble wrap was new at the time and much of the public had no idea what it was.
Truly this is the first in many great Doctor Who stories Tom Baker would find himself in in this “Golden Era”. Mind you, it’s probably one of two classics in Season 12, and it does deserve the title of a classic. 4.0/5
Let’s not mince words here. This is without a doubt Doctor Who done right. The script is tight, the dialog natural, the characters well developed, the acting tight, the backstory interesting, the sets stunning, the costumes pristine, the story enthralling, the effects nicely done and the aliens, well…they’re good considering their budget. To top it all we get an epic speech about how humankind rocks.
I love the setting. Now we know where all the money they didn’t use in Robot went. The Ark appears as functional as it is beautiful. It’s the subtleties that make it so believable. The Arc’s minute design details render it both logical and interesting. Likewise, nuances in the acting make you care about every moment spent with the multidimensional, passionate characters.
I have only three very minor constructive criticisms. First, this would be another candidate to revisit with updated effects for the aliens. If they were not so of their time, the story entirety would truly be timeless. Issue two is that the one essential medkit upon which the entire human race relies is placed in a distant room’s storage locker. Finally the limited cryo-chamber set means that instead of finding things as they move from one area to another, the characters are sometimes forced to suddenly discover things that have been right next to them all along.
Again, trivialities. The directing, lighting, pacing, ending, it was all fabulous. Surely one of the top 10 best doctor who episodes ever. This story is indomitable….indomitable. 4.9
Things I Liked:
• “The horror, the horror!” I had this on VHS when I was 7 and the squirmy larvae and bubblewrap body-horror Noah freaked me out then. It still freaks me out. Particularly the bit with the udders.
• THIS IS A STERILE AREA – KEEP OUT!” Totally my new voicemail greeting.
• The killer ceiling light.
• It is just a screwdriver!
• Awesome supporting cast, particularly Vira and grumpy Rogin (was there a ‘will he / won’t he’ betrayal plot? he seemed to consider legging it in the shuttle).
• The Doctor and companions all perfectly awesome. Loved the “indomitable” speech.
• The Wirrn lifecycle. How does this work? Where did all the eggs come from if they only consumed a couple of cryo people? Looking forward to your expert analysis.
• The time lag between the mummified Wirrn breaking the cryo people’s alarm clock and it’s larvae hatching. If the cryo people overslept by several thousand years, it took that long for the larvae to hatch? Looking forward to your expert analysis.
Summary: the major downside is that good episodes make less funny reviews. And this is extraordinarily good. Alien and Cronenberg body-horror on a shoe-string budget. A masterpiece.
Rating: 4.7/5 gross Wirrn worms with udders munching on sleeping chryo people. Yuk.
Hello boys, glad to finally be able to properly contribute my first mini-review for a story. When I finally caught up with all that you had done, I knew that The Ark in Space (or as I prefer to think of it “Ark in Space”) was one that I REALLY wanted to provide a mini for. So, here goes…
This was one of only a dozen or so stories across the series that my mother had recorded on VHS, so it was one that I watched very often as a kid…perhaps the one I watched most often alongside Destiny of the Daleks, Logopolis & Castrovalva.
I recall you gentlemen previously discussing stories that would be a good intro for new viewers. I always strongly nominate/suggest this story for that purpose. There isn’t much in the way of backstory references, the viewer is able to see the adventure through the eyes of Harry (much like was intended with Rose in the early Eccleston era), the script is easy to follow and well written (to the point where Tennant repeats the term “indomitable” to describe human beings in Utopia), and it’s thoroughly enjoyable & easily re-watchable.
It’s not “The Best”, but it’s worthy of my first-ever rating of a Who serial…4.2/5.
• It was Tom Baker’s favourite of his run.
• It was also a favourite of the first 2 show runners of NuWho. RTD felt it was his favourite of the entire series and Moffatt said it was his favourite of the 4th Doctor’s tenure.
• The original script writer was John Lucarotti, who hadn’t penned a script since the Hartnell era and thus had even given the story individual episode names.
• While often described as the “only” appearance of the Wirrn in the TV series, there is one briefly seen in a later Tom Baker story called Stones of Blood.
• The opening titles are more green-ish than usual for the first episode only! (perhaps as a means of experimenting like the Delia Derbyshire version of the theme music during the Pertwee era?)
Because he’s the Whovian we deserve,
But not the one we need right now.
Because he’s not that PC…
He’s cunningly resourceful,
A whimsical poet,
A published author…
He’s John Knight!
Despite a somewhat tortuous route from script to production, involving multiple re-writes, The Ark in Space still manages to be a classic story. Perhaps the most memorable aspects are its special effects and costumes, from the bubble-wrap monsters to the bell-bottom trousers complete with platform shoes (how Sarah changes clothes during the ‘freezing’ process remains a mystery). The plot is solid and most of the characters have plenty to do, with the exception of red-shirters Libri and Lycett who clearly snuck past the selection process.
Although only his second story, Harry is remarkably quick to accept that he has travelled in time and space, despite some initial scepticism. His relationship with Sarah reminds me of Jamie and Zoe, in that he is both protective and rather chauvinistic, even though Sarah is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
I’m somewhat surprised that they’re still using microfilm in the 30th Century, and Noah’s threat to ‘atomise’ the Doctor seems a bit over the top given that the guns seem to stun Time Lords and mildly irritate the Wirrn. Speaking of the Wirrn, they make an effective and creepy enemy, albeit let down by a special effects budget measured in pennies. The way they are defeated is unusual given the limited involvement of the Doctor, as Sarah comes up with the idea of using the shuttle and Rogin implements the final step.
Overall, another story where Baker gets to shine (his speech about humanity is superb). 4.5/5
Hello, Who Back When! I’m a long-time listener, occasional Tweeter and now first time review writer. I just had to offer my comments about Ark in Space because in twenty-six seasons of classic Who filled with many highs and more than a few lows, Ark in Space is my FAVORITE classic Who story.
The story itself is pretty straight forward base under siege stuff. BUT the small cast of characters is compelling. The transformation of Noah into the Wirrn is both scary and heartbreaking.
Yes, the Wirrn looks super fake and the green bubble wrap is legendarily low-budget. My favorite trivia from this episode is Phillip Hinchcliffe explaining in an audio commentary that bubble wrap was an exciting because in the 1970s not many people had heard of bubble wrap.
But back to the episode. The best bit of Ark is how the Doctor and his companions have already become a solid team in their second outing. Honestly, if the whole story was just the three of them walking around looking at stuff and bantering, I’d be happy.
Tom Baker shines. No other Doctor could deliver that speech about the indomitable human spirit. And his coaxing of Sarah Jane through the narrow shaft was comical and even a little inspiring. As much as I Iove Pertwee, had he tried to deliver that dialogue, it would have sounded sexist and condescending.
I love this story. I’m giving it a solid 4.5!
Hey guys. I would bet that I was one of the people Leon was thinking about when he talked about people correcting you. Know however that I’m not criticizing, but merely informing in the hope’s that it might make the story better for you.
That said I have two points. The first is that one of the reasons this story is so great is its rewatchability. I forgot to mention it, but others thankfully didn’t. It is endlessly reachable, truly a mark of a great story and a major reason I rated this so high.
Because I’ve way had this so many times I’d like to share some insight I recently had about the logic. Don’t feel put out, I never had this revelation until watching it this time with my who back when review in mind, so it’s podcast land and wbw that deserve the credit for making me look at this with an analytical eye.
Okay anyway, the opening POV is not of the larvae, it’s of the grasshopper creature. When it arrives at the station it Carrie’s and is being influenced by the wirryn. It gets shot by the lamp, and only survives by cutting power to both it, and accidentally the life support and the alarm clock.
At this point it is morally wounded and knows it cannot take the wyrrin to term, so it finds a substitute and implants the host.
At this point it goes off and puts itself in a closet to die. This might at first sound like a silly thing to do, but consider it’s still being controlled and the host k ow that if the humans wake up and theres a dead alien on the station it will raise all sorts of alarms and put the whole host in jeopardy before it can gestate.
It all sound like a flawless plan, except the only suitable substitute for the spawn is in cryo storage. As soon as it implants the larvae, they are unfortunately frozen as well. Remember too that the wyrrin can live in space, but need an atmosphere to spawn. It stays in cryo, perhaps not being fully asleep and slowly consumes “sir not appearing in this film.”
Thousands of years pass.
Finally the dr arrives and reconnects the power, atmosphere and the clock. At this point the larvae hatches, finishes its snack and sets about finding a safe place to spawn.
Harry is speculating when he talks of disturbing the air and his theory is mostly wrong, which is why it’s sort of dismissed. However he was on the right track in that they were the catalyst for all the events starting.
Anyway, I hope this helps someone, and possibly makes the story just that much better in their eyes.
Sorry for any spelling mistakes, I’m on my phone and autocorrect sucks.
Hey Peter, I think you absolutely nailed it! This makes sense and may well be what the writer(s) had in mind at the time. Bravo!!
Also, for the record, I wasn’t referring to you with my comment. Your input is always welcome! :-) Cheers, amigo! /L