Revenge of the Cybermen
The Ark in Space novelisation
The Ark in Space
|Dates||Jan. 25, 1975 -
Feb. 15, 1975
With Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter.
Written by Robert Holmes (based on a story by John Lucarroti).
Script-edited by Robert Holmes.
Directed by Rodney Bennett. Produced by Philip Hinchcliffe.
|Synopsis: The last survival sleepers from the doomed planet Earth become threatened by the Wyrrin, a race of giant parasitic insects.|
A Review by Ari Lipsey 11/3/98
The Ark in Space begins a continuous story line which ends with Terror of the Zygons. It is unfortunate that the rest of the episodes in this succession do not live up to the example of the Ark in Space. Though The Sontaran Experiment is quite amusing, Genesis of the Daleks bores, Revenge of the Cybermen is worse, and the concluding story, Terror of the Zygons is one of the most flawed episodes Doctor Who ever produced. Why didn't these stories take The Ark in Space as an example?
The first episode features mainly the regulars, giving the three actors some breathing room. Tom Baker is excellent as usual, and Ian Marter and Elisabeth Sladen are quite fun. The travelers have landed on a space station where nothing seems to work. There is some definite intrigue, especially when the viewer finds out the space station has been deliberately sabotaged.
When the Doctor finds the room where the humans are in their cryosleep, the Doctor makes a memorable speech about humankind's inventiveness. One of my favorite scenes occurs a few minutes later, when Vira is woken and speaks a different English dialect from the travelers. I loved this as a few minutes before this scene I had commented to the friend I was watching this with that speech would have evolved from Harry's time.
The Wirrn are one of the best monsters to ever grace the Doctor Who universe. The idea of using another species as a natural incubator was really neat, and to put them on a space station is pretty creepy. Other eerie parts of the Wirrn are their eggs in the solar stacks, and the goo which changes Noah into a Wirrn. They are definitely formidable opponents for the Doctor.
The action is constant, and there is an atmosphere of doom which looms through the whole station, especially when the Wirrn turn the power off. I also liked the Wirrn's motivation. They are not bent on destroying the Earth because it interferes with their galactic domination plans. The humans destroyed their planet, and only the humans should therefore be punished.
There are the usual Who-cringe scenes, like when Sara's leg is got by on of the Wirrn's tentacles or when Noah is wrestling with his hand. However, if your a Doctor Who fan, your used to things like this, so it won't effect your overall enjoyment for this story.
I would go as far as to say The Ark in Space is one of the top five episodes of all time. So why was the rest of the season such crap?
A Review by Leo Vance 12/3/98
So this is a Doctor Who classic is it? Really? Go back to your video and watch The Talons of Weng-Chiang, City of Death, The Two Doctors and Castrovalva, and you'll know what classic Doctor Who is.
That isn't to say that this is not interesting. The Wirrn, to begin with, are perhaps not perfectly realised, but they are well written and thought out. The transformation of Noah, and the characters of the Humans are also well written. Tom Baker gets one of the stupidest speeches in history during episode one ("They're indomitable!"). This is where the story fails. The plot is well thought out, but the scripting is strangely inept. Harry Sullivan gets a good role, and Ian Marter plays him well. Elisabeth Sladen is given a good role to play, and the scene where the Doctor taunts her in the ventilation is beautiful, accurately describing Sarahs character.
Tom Baker plays his role well, the plot is reasonable, and the sets are good. Direction is quite good, effects are reasonable. So where does this story have problems? In its scripts. They are far from perfect. Combine that with a generally "good" style for the rest, you have a quite good story. The good elements outweigh the bad, but not by much.
All in all, not as effective as The Sontaran Experiment or Terror of the Zygons. At the same time, it is slightly better than the boring and stupid Genesis of the Daleks. Watch it. You might think it was classic-if you're a fan who believes that Philip Hinchcliffe was a good producer. 6/10
A Review by Joseph Nunweek 13/4/98
The Ark in Space is one of those forgotten classics, often overshadowed by Genesis Of The Daleks, but just as good. The first Hinchcliffe and Holmes outing, it begins three years of nonstop sucesses.
This story doesen't have anything outstanding, but is such a good, solid four-parter that it is impossible to dislike. The first episode is reminicient of early serials like The Daleks: only the regulars appear, and Sarah is unconcious for most of it. This gives Harry a good chance to develop, and he is great throughout the story. Harry became superfluous when they hired Tom Baker who could the physical stuff, and Season 12 always feels as if the production team wanted to get rid of Ian Marter.
Tom Baker never seems to be bad, and this story is no different. How he manages to blend the Fourth Doctor's human qualities with his arrogant alien nature is quite amazing. Sarah Jane is fine, and gives one of her greatest scenes when she responds to the Doctor's verbal bullying. Noah, Vira, even Rogan and Libri are great, well-thought out characters.
The Wirrn? Well, they're great concepts , and they look good, but they're really impractical. Notice how you never see their lower bodies. The scene where they are seen spacewalking is nothing short of pathetic. They return in Gary Russell's next NA, so I hope to see them developed further.
A neat little tale that is helped along by good acting and sets. Watch it with The Sontaran Experiment and Genesis Of The Daleks, and you'll get a fantastic saga.
Another Robert Holmes gem by Michael Hickerson 3/6/98
I don't think I'm going to cause too much controversy here when I say that Robert Holmes was the best writer Doctor Who ever had over the long run. Yes, there have been some writers who had some great strories, but in terms of overall quality, Holmes is the winner hands down. No one else even comes close.
Indeed, after a slow start in the Troughton years with two relatively forgetful stories, he really honed his skill in the Pertwee era, finally coming into his own as script editor during the first three years of Tom Baker's run. And what a better way to kick off three years of quality storytelling and script editing than with this gem--The Ark in Space.
The premise is intriuging--humanity must struggle against an alien invader who seeks to wipe it out. Sounds familiar, eh? The twist is it's on a space station this time where humanity has overslept by several thousand years in order to repopulate the Earth. The bug-like Wirrin have other plans, intending to take Earth as there own. Enter the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry (who admirably carry the first episode of the story) and it's classic fourth Doctor, Who at it's best.
If Tom Baker seemed a bit uneasy in his first installment, he's positively at home here. His dark edge shows a bit as well as his alien quality, which Sarah Jane comments on several times. His sharp wit and even keener mind are on full display here as he struggles to stay one step ahead of the Wirrin and keep humanity safe to repopulate the planet Earth.
But in traditional Holmes style, it's difficult at times to root against the supposed monster. Yes the Wirrin are bug-like creatures, but in the overall picture, they want essentially what the humans on the station are trying to achieve--their own survival. What ultimately makes us pull for humanity is that the Wirirn are willing to kill ol' humanity to insure their survival. The Doctor and the rest of the crew must react out of self-preservation rather than malice, thus setting them up as the heroes we root for. One wonders if a story with the humans as agressors and the Wirrin as the victims would have been as successful.
As with most Who, there are some nitpicky things that go wrong. One of the most glaring errors in the story occurs early on with dialogue stating the air on the station is rather low while Sarah holds a lamp with an open flame, thus consuming the little oxygen that much faster. But the story does manage to have some other points that it does right--Harry's shoes are destroyed and we see him socked feet until he puts on new shoes on screen. A nice touch.
Overall, it's a strong story. It's certainly not groundbreaking Who such as Genesis of the Daleks, but it's still one of the better stories of the Tom Baker years and yet another piece of evidence that Robert Holmes is the greatest Who author of all time.
Eaten Alive by Ken Wrable 31/1/00
The Doctor, Sarah and Harry land on a seemingly-abandoned space station, where a race of cosmic parasites is intent on absorbing the last survivors of the human race.
Effectively the blue-print for the next three years of stories, this is clearly a change in direction for the series under the new team of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Out go UNIT, cups of tea and the Dad's Army cosiness of the Pertwee years and in comes suspense, bleakness and David Cronenburg-style body horror. The opening episode is remarkable for its atmosphere of isolation; the three regulars are the only characters in evidence and the impressive sets successfully convey a feeling of sterility and functionalism. Particularly good is the chamber where the humans are sleeping.
Like a lot of stories of this period, this is an effective shocker. While the adult Wirrn aren't particularly well realised (they look too clean and new somehow), the larvae are genuinely creepy and their sliminess makes a good contrast with the pure white utilitarianism of the space station. The story derives much of its power from the idea of bodily invasion - there's an interesting comparison to be made between this story and subsequent big budget movies like Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing.
The performances here are all well up to scratch. This is the first story that we really see the serious side of the fourth Doctor and Tom Baker pulls it off with honours - particularly noteworthy are the scenes when he's linking his mind to that of the dead Wirrn queen. Ian Marter is as blissfully insouciant as ever as Harry and Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah is wonderful. She seems convincingly terrified without ever losing her initiative or spirit. With the exception of Vira, the other characters are mainly there as larvae-fodder but Kenton Moore successfully gets across the horror that the slowly transforming Noah's experiencing and Richardson Morgan's Rogin has a refreshing supply of laconic one-liners.
This isn't the best Hinchcliffe/Holmes but it's a good place for newcomers to the series to start.
A Manifesto for Three Seasons by Andrew Wixon 12/12/01
In my review of the Target version, I was contemplating the fact that the TV version of Ark in Space was always a bit eclipsed by the novelisation. Well, probably because I've just watched it again after the tired and lacklustre final Pertwee season, I've suddenly realised what all the fuss is about. (At this rate I may even see what all the fuss over Caves of Androzani is about.)
Watching Ark in Space now it's extraordinary to realise that Tom Baker had only been playing the Doctor for a month or two. I'm probably biased, but by the end of this story it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. It's a remarkable performance in a story that boasts several from the guest cast - Kenton Moore and Wendy Williams in particular - and of course Lis Sladen and Ian Marter have nothing to be ashamed of.
Robert Holmes' script is remarkable on two levels - first, it's a compelling, intelligent SF story, full of big concepts and with a near-unique structure (no characters but the regulars in the first episode). But also, it's clearly a statement of intent, a roadmap for the three golden seasons Holmes and Hinchcliffe would go on to craft. Almost all the themes are here: a gleaming future threatened by atavistic horrors from the past, the possession and corruption of well-meaning but flawed characters, and the fierce, alien morality of the Doctor. Admittedly it's not a genre pastiche, but you can't have everything. A very fine story indeed, and every bit as good as the book.
Johny boy made this story by Mike Jenkins 14/12/01
This story like so much Doctor Who was interesting in it's original concept but rescripting soured it somewhat into an above average space opera tale which is slightly overated, particularly at the time of transmission. The story relies very much on it's central concept. It might have worked better as a two parter as the central concepts of the story cannot quite carry it for four whole parts and the acting is also substandard. Harry is given more to do which is another highlight, and this is his best work with Baker, as by the begining of the next season, he's calling him an imbecile (no wonder he left). Maybe he is but he never bothered to tell Adric what a prepubescent pain in the TARDIS he was. Anyway the alien, like most of the story is interestingly concieved but poorly realised and the evidence of the poor CSO of the Pertwee days is readily apparant. It is nonetheless enjoyable and worthy of a 7/10. If only the direction had been better. It's not so much Phils fault. Probably due to the fact that Bennet is somewhat of a sub par director anyway but this isn't the shows fault. On the whole enjoyable but like much of Holmes' work, overrated.
A Review by Gareth McG 10/7/02
I don't know if it's an oddity to consider oneself a Doctor Who fan without considering oneself a science-fiction fan but The Ark In Space certainly brought about that realisation in myself. Stories set solely upon space stations have just always struck me as being very soulless and perhaps explain why I was never interested in things like Blake's Seven. However my own personal tastes shouldn't bias this review and indeed The Ark In Space is another story that leaves a lasting admiration for the intelligence, the wealth of imagination, the conviction and the risks that the production team were willing to take (even if they didn't always work). In short it is a great piece of science-fiction.
What I like most is the attention to detail. Robert Holmes has obviously dissected these scenes to within an inch of their lives, forever contemplating how he can improve upon them. The soothing music that is being played while Sarah is preparing for cryogenic suspension is one example; The Doctor using the yo-yo for gravity readings is another and The Doctor taunting the lovable Sarah when she is struggling to escape from the shaft is also a nice touch. But best of all is the vision of the future. The automatic guard, for example, is a great idea and Tom Baker has frequently mentioned how impressed he was with the sets in this story. The circular corridor and the cryogenic chamber both look superb. The story challenges us to think about the future throughout. It makes us think about what exactly will happen when the world ends. In a thoughtful if slightly melodramatic speech The Doctor marvels at the amazing speed of human evolution and wonders if anything is beyond them ("What an inventive, invincible species"). It almost convinces us that the human race will last beyond Earth's inevitable destruction.
There is also the entirely plausible endoparasite idea whereby insects have started using human bodies as their hosts and are draining their intelligence in the process. Noah's situation is actually far more tragic than the character from The Fly because here is a man who has spent thousands of years in cryogenic suspension in order to have a full life. His frustration at witnessing his dreams being torn to shreds is brilliantly portrayed as he batters the ships console while the Prime Minister congratulates him and his crew in a recorded message. His plight is disturbing and so it is comforting to find out that his human decency came to the fore at the end when he sacrifices his own life to blow up the Wirrn.
Grovels - well obviously the adult Wirrn look terrible and poor old Ian Marter should have felt a bit aggrieved at the direction of his character because Harry Sullivan is unnecessarily annoying. But even though its weaknesses can be counted on one hand and even though it is undeniably good The Ark In Space is also the type of story that leaves me feeling a little bit cold and certainly not one that that I could ever feel terribly passionate about. Like the classic old break up line it's very much a case of "It's me that's the problem, not you".
Charting new horizons by Tim Roll-Pickering 7/8/02
The opening part of The Ark in Space features only the three regulars and a couple of voice-overs but in no way does this detract from its impact. It presents a truly groundbreaking and mysterious setting as the Doctor, Sarah and Harry explore Nerva seeking to discover what has happened. The episode is full of many delights but above all it is this episode more than any in Robot which truly establishes Tom Baker's characterisation of the Doctor. The interaction between Baker and Ian Marter as Harry is especially revealing, with the latter playing an almost clichéd ex-public school boy adventurer contrasted with the boldness of the Doctor. The speech delivered by the latter when they find the cryogenic chamber gives a true sense of the Doctor as a wanderer throughout eternity, showing him looking at literally the whole of humanity and commenting upon it as only one from beyond truly can. This is by far and away one of the most compelling first parts seen in the series so far.
The remainder of the story is not quite as spectacular as the opening section but it does nevertheless manage to maintain tension. There's a strong sense of fear and despair as the Doctor and the humans seek to survive the threat of the Wirrn and some especially strong characterisation as Noah fights against his infection by the Wirrn, with a wonderful performance by Kenton Moore who makes the best of some rather cheap effects showing his slow transformation into a monster.
Production wise this story does come across as extremely cheap and it's hard to imagine any modern TV show trying to get drama out of two men moving around a room using a table like a shield. The CSO is dodgy, the sets cheap, the full Wirrn look like costumes whilst the mini models for the scene where many advance on the shuttle are all too obvious and above all the larvae sack and infected parts of Noah are all too obviously plastic packing sprayed green. But The Ark in Space's success is that it makes the viewer look beyond both this and some weak acting from the rest of the guest cast. Both Robert Holmes' script and Rodney Bennett's direction work to compliment one another and in doing so thus propel the story to its conclusion. Throughout there is always a sense of just how much is at stake whilst at the same time Tom Baker continues to slip ever more comfortably into the role of the Doctor as the show departs for new horizons. It is clear from this story that the Pertwee years are now a thing of the past and that the time has come to move into a new era. More so it is an extremely compelling piece of television that deserves watching again and again. 9/10
A Chilly Classic by Nick Needham 24/10/02
For me, The Ark in Space is in some respects a type of adventure which looks back and pays homage to the Hartnell era. What I have in mind is that for a 1970's story, there is surprisingly little mobility or physical action. There's relatively small scope given to visual effects, with the stunning exception (of course) of the Ark itself. The main emphasis is rather on atmosphere, characterisation, and grandeur of conception. On these levels, I think the adventure operates with awesome effectiveness, moving and developing with a surgical timing and precision well-suited to its subject matter.
Comparing The Ark in Space with The Time Warrior, which was originally released at the same time on BBC Video, I can recollect quite strongly how the Baker story seemed less immediately vivid in its surface appeal. However, I found that it possessed a more concentrated intensity, a distilled essence, which reverberated deep in the mind long after The Time Warrior had gone to sleep in the archives of the memory. I'll stand by that verdict now. The Baker story's cold clinical grandeur, horrific and disturbing central idea, and strong mood of mystery and abnormality, raise it to altitudes of austere, haunting seriousness perhaps never surpassed in the history of the programme.
One of its greatest strength, as I see it, is that The Ark in Space comes across as a disarmingly credible adventure. The whole story seems to cohere with a ring of authenticity, greatly helped by a general air of understatement. I can believe implicitly in the reality of the magnificently designed Ark, particularly its cryogenic chamber: a chilling, claustrophobic, and infected womb of humanity. And the human characters who inhabit it are bitingly distinct individuals, from the fourth Doctor and his two companions, to frigid, dedicated Vira, suspicious and tragic Noah, and sarcastic, cocky Rogin ("I knew it. There's been a snitch-up!"). I think the dialogue works with succinct force as a lucid and vibrant vehicle for this characterisation.
Dominating the adventure, of course, is Tom Baker's rich, Homeric interpretation of the Doctor. (His "Hinchcliffe Doctor", if you like: I personally don't care so much for the later more Bohemian-undergraduate version.) His soliloquy in episode one on the greatness of the human spirit is a classic moment in the programme's history: only the second, and to date (I think) the last, of the Doctor's extended monologues. The charisma, eccentricity, and intrinsic humour of the character are all there, but what strikes me is the degree of vulnerability of Baker's early Doctor. He is nearly suffocated and electrocuted in the first episode. He is shot in mid-sentence and rendered unconscious by Noah in episode two. In episode three he is almost mentally possessed by the Wirrn queen. In episode four he is knocked cold by Rogin. More poignantly, in episode two he openly confesses to Sarah his fear for themselves and the future of humanity if the Wirrn can't be stopped. It's a thrillingly full-blooded characterisation which helps to explain how Baker's Doctor so swiftly captured the hearts of viewers still suffering from post-Pertwee trauma. No-one could doubt that this was indeed the Doctor - to many, the Doctor at his very greatest and best.
A Review by Robin Thompson 14/3/03
Gathered in the cryogenic chamber of a massive ship lay the best and brightest of the now all-but-extinct human race, tens of thousands of years in the future. Although this group of futuristic elites comprises the best and brightest of us all, their dark side comes out when they are prompted to attempt an execution on the lives of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry. The blood of our companions was deemed by them to be less then pure. I will vow to be more forgiving than the Doctor's quite rude hosts. This is a good story, not a great one, but one which deserves a clean, honest to goodness 7/10.
Another Holmes masterpiece by Joe Ford 31/7/03
Some stories are classics because they bring back a recognisable staple of the series back in superb form (Revelation of the Daleks, Survival), some are classics because they have definable images that you can never forget (Cybermen walking down the steps of St Paul's, the Autons smashing from shop windows) and others are classics because of their important status (Caves of Androzani, Castrovalva). The Ark in Space has none of these factors and yet has the distinction of being one of Doctor Who's all time greats (well according to me anyway).
First and foremost the most stunning thing about this story is the tight, intelligent and thoroughly scary set of scripts by Robert Holmes. He had already shown us he was capable of horror (Spearhead from Space) and comedy (Carnival of Monsters, The Time Warrior) and he combines the two here to superb effect. Here he has woven a well paced, claustrophobic story, created an entire future for the human race, invented one of the creepiest monsters in the show and still managed to tell a Doctor Who run-around. Not bad for a story that had such trouble beginnings.
Pre-Alien, the whole idea of a race of insects that infect a host and absorb their body and mind is just grotesque and given full treatment here. Holmes never once shies away from the horror of losing every facet of your humanity and it adds another layer of horror to the already creepy monster-fest. Early scenes of the empty deserted Ark with quick cuts to the green larvae suggest the horror that is to come and Noah's brilliant body make-up more than do justice to Holmes' macabre ideas.
But it's more than that. His dialogue just sparkles. Every single line that comes out of Harry and Sarah's mouth is instantly quotable stuff, this a writer who knows how to get the best out of his actors and knows how to capture the audience with their snappy banter. As written here the pair are thoroughly likeable. The Doctor is given a complete overhaul from Robot, snappy and urgent in the first few episodes and very alien in the fact that he seems to be enjoying the fight later on. This characterisation suits Tom Baker much more and the fourth Doctor has wasted no time becoming one of the greats.
For such a clinical, sterile story the script manages to keep the action content high and the atmosphere eerie. It's four episodes of exciting incident and top notch ideas and I cannot praise the man enough.
Rodney Bennett proved to be fine director out in the chilly Dartmoor air in The Sontaran Experiment and proves equally adept at handling dramatic studio work too. There are constant reminders as to the size and emptiness of the Ark as exemplified by long shots of the detailed sets suggesting there could be a horrible monster around any corner. When a Wirrn leaps out of a cupboard it is a genuinely shocking moment. But Bennett is an actor's director and rather than highlighting some of the cheesy FX he reigns in some superb performances from his guest cast. He gives the story an extremely mature feel by presenting the ideas in Holmes' script with such power and seriousness, for once you never doubt that the danger is very real. Certain shots such as the Wirrn bashing against the grill as Sarah squeezes past and Noah half transformed into a Wirrn being shot at linger in the memory for ages.
Kenton Moore is another reason this story works well. He has the most vital role, to convincingly act out Noah's torment and pain as the Wirrn host eats away at his mind and to his credit he makes some of the scenes extremely discomforting. The scene in episode three where he struggles with his controlled hand and begs to Vira into the comms system haunts me everytime I watch it, he screams his dialogue out as though he is about to throw up. And what about the huge smile on his face as he says "I'm here, I am Dune"...very disturbing.
Astonishingly the Doctor, Sarah and Harry hold up episode one on their own... it's not shocking because I didn't think they were up to the task (because they are) but for such a newly minted team they comes across as though we've been travelling with them forever. They all have a very natural chemistry together which makes their scenes that bit more heart-warming and an enjoyable contrast to the nightmares going on elsewhere in the story. The first episode is a triumph of three excellent actors, a terrifically atmospheric director and a talented writer. It is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever.
Things do get a bit more conventional in episode four with the Wirrn on the offensive but it's all done with a great deal of conviction. It's the Doctor Who base under siege formula taken to its most extreme where the cost of failure has never been so high. The future of humanity is in doubt and it gives the story an extra layer of tension.
Plus it's all assembled by (glamorous) Roger Maurry-Leech whose sets are simply dazzling. The cryogenic chamber is always singled out for attention because of its vast, soulless corridors but I love the corridors that run around the station more, such impressive design work doesn't turn up all the time and this story is enhanced so much by the visual flair of the sets.
Plus I can now watch the story on DVD with the glossy CGI shots of the Ark. Taking away the old model shots the story is now practically flawless. And the audio commentary with Tom Baker, Lis Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe is a beaut, very relaxed and engaging.
With its no-nonsense attitude, unforgettable characters and stifling atmosphere, this really is a triumph for the Hinchcliffe/Holmes combination. I've seen it dozens of times and it's still one of my favourites.
A Review by Paul Rees 18/8/03
The Ark in Space has always been one of my favourite Who stories. Whilst probably not amongst the top dozen or so, it is nonetheless a story of which every fan can be proud.
The set design is simply wonderful: the Nerva station has a very real sense of space, and provides us with a wholly believable environment. The model shots of its exterior are, however, less successful - although the updated version as featured on the DVD release is a marked improvement. <>This was only Tom Baker's second story as the Doctor, and it is here that we really become aquainted with the character - especially in the first episode, featuring as it does only the three regulars. Tom takes to the role with aplomb, and it is already difficult to imagine anyone else ever being the Doctor; he brings a real alien quality to role, being wonderfully unpredictable in his reactions. The interactions between the Doctor, Sarah and Harry are often highly amusing, and as a unit they must surely be the most believable TARDIS team to ever feature in the series. I particularly enjoyed Sarah's frequent exasperation at Harry's use of chauvinistic terms of endearment such as "old girl", as well as Harry's amazement that in the future a member of the "fairer sex" would be "top of the totem pole"!
The character of Vira is very well realised, coveying the impression that she is indeed dislocated from the 1970s Earth known to Sarah and Harry. The rest of the supporting cast are OK, but the acting is not of the very highest calibre here; it is all perfectly adequate, but is nothing outstanding.
There is a palpable sense of tension and claustrophobia running throughout this story, and the basic idea of the Wirrn being parasitic and preying upon humanity's knowledge is truly disturbing. In their adult form the Wirrn are pretty effective, but it is hard not to be critical of their somewhat rubbery larvae form - and even harder to take Noah's green, bubble-wrapped hand seriously! This rather laughable attempt to convey the early stages of Noah's Wirrn transformation is one reason why this story does not quite attain the status of being an undisputed classic.
All in all, something of a triumph. 9/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 4/11/03
Underrated and overlooked by some quarters of fandom, The Ark In Space is the story where Tom Baker`s Fourth Doctor really comes into his own. The story in itself is a strong one (as you might expect from Robert Holmes) in that it is basically a base under siege tale. The fact that it works is a credit to the writer and the production team and cast. For starters, the first episode featuring just the regulars allows for greater characterisation-particularly the newcomers in Tom Baker (whose alien qualities bring the Doctor to the fore) and in Ian Marter`s Harry Sullivan, who makes a good foil for the Doctor. Similarly Sarah Jane also gets a fair slice of the action, although not until the second episode.
Of the guest cast Wendy Williams stands out as Vira, the remainder being good but not as memorable. The Wirrn themselves are simple yet effective, as is the Ark itself which conveys the vastness of space well. In all then a strong start for the new producer, and a strong second story for the new Doctor.
"I have no memory of the Earth" by Terrence Keenan 6/12/03
The Ark in Space is the true beginning of Big Tommy B's run as the Doctor, as well as setting the agenda for what Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes wanted to take the show.
Good-bye Earth; time to go Space Truckin'.
The Ark in Space has a slow ramp up. The first episode is just The Doctor, Sarah and Harry. In an unusual start, the TARDIS team is allowed to poke about the Ark and discover a few of the mysteries on their own before the inevitable accusations of mucking about with things and causing all the trouble. It also allows some interaction between The Doctor and Harry, who is still a newcomer at this stage (his role in Robot keeps him on the sidelines).
Robert Holmes creates a parallel between the Wirrn and the humans by having the denizens of the Ark divided into insect-like labor divisions (engineering, administration and medical). The Wirrn themselves have strong motivations -- survival needs of the species, and revenge on the humans for having their breeding colonies destroyed -- another Holmes characteristic. The horror comes from how the Wirrn propagate themselves. Consumption of humans is a terrifying concept well executed within the story.
The Ark in Space benefits from having strong performances all around, both by the regulars and the guest cast. Kenton Moore plays the anguish and menace of Noah quite well. Richardson Morgan gives Rogin an everyman weariness. Wendy Williams is the best of the lot, as she shows Vira to be very much part of the insect-like personality of the humans in the Ark, but also shows her emotional awakening through her interaction with the Doctor. Ian Marter plays Harry with a bit of innocence and forthrightness. Lis Sladen is sidelined in the beginning of the story, but, as usual, give another excellent performance as Sarah. In fact, there's a great Sarah/Doctor moment when she's running the cable to the cryogenic chamber and gets stuck. Hints of what was to come between these two. Tom Baker manages to bring out the alien in the Doctor moreso in Ark. The comedy slant from Robot is toned down and we are given a better representative as to how Tom would play the role for the next three seasons.
The DVD is stuffed with extras, including some new CGI footage that can be watched with the course of the story. The Howard DeSilva intros are a bit fun. The real treat is the commentary by Hinchcliffe, Baker and Sladen. By far the best of the ones I've heard, the trio all have interesting things to say not only about Ark, but also about the state of the show at the time, the Hichcliffe era and other fun tidbits.
Um, it goes without saying that The Ark in Space is brill, and worth getting the DVD version. It's everything you'd want in a Who story and more.
A Review by Ryan Thompson 11/6/04
Note: I would like to make it clear that I do live with Mike Jenkins. We are but cheap Doctor Who fans. Or poor, however you want to look at it. We have but the one computer. There's no need to buy another one. That said, I reviewed one story; a joint review with Mike. Some of the opinions expressed in that review were my own. Some were Mike's. All the crap about Robert Holmes being a talentless hack was Mike. He's a wonderful man but still an annoying fanboy with bizzare opinions on almost everything, including Doctor Who. That said, I'll get on with it:
Ark in Space is full of ideas that harken back to the golden age of science fiction. It reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke in particular. It's the sort of story that makes you proud to be a human being. To have created a future in which man protects himself from solar flare through deep hybernation is pure idealistic genius. The ominus voice of the Wirren is also enjoyable.
For a change of pace, Harry is given lots to do while Sarah remains in the background. Tom is at his clowning best here; doesn't appear to be green at all, settling into the role quite comfortably. The Wirren are psychologically threatening, but what's truly fear-inducing is the errie look of the ship, similar to Alien. Roger Murray-Leach should get some kind of award.
The Ark dwellers are somewhat bland, but they're supposed to be from a time when people were focused and single minded. The plot is thinned out in the first two episodes and becomes denser as the story reaches it's climax. I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it's a testament to the human spirit. I'd say this story is almost as good an example of early Tom Baker as Genesis of the Daleks.
A Review by Finn Clark 6/6/06
As with The Robots of Death, this is regarded as one of Doctor Who's scary classics. However it's probably not best approached with that in mind. If you watch it expecting The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you'll be disappointed. It's Saturday evening family television. However it is a bold, admirable story and furthermore one of only two post-Hartnell examples of its breed.
I've always found Season Twelve to be a misshapen oddity. It doesn't feel as if the Hinchcliffe era's begun properly yet. It starts with a Pertwee-era throwback and ends with a whimper, not to mention its eccentricities of format. Its stories are 4, 4, 2, 6 and 4 episodes long respectively, adding up to only twenty episodes. Admittedly Tom had another such truncated year, but at least Season Seventeen had an excuse. Season Twelve contains two classics, Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks, but somehow even they feel uncharacteristic of the Hinchcliffe era and Tom Baker's years in general. They're played straight. They have a sombre nastiness and an understated kind of realism, harking almost back to the Hartnell era in a way which we never saw again. Tom's still serving the scripts, doing a serious acting job instead of going hogwild with The Tom Baker Show. He's still vivid and charismatic, but he's not overwhelming in the way one later come to expect.
The Ark in Space part one almost out-Hartnells Hartnell. It does that thing which became almost prehistoric after the sixties of giving over the entire episode to just the regulars. It works really well! It doesn't even feel padded, even in the context of the fast-paced Hinchcliffe era. It works better without foreknowledge, though. If you can forget that you know what's going to happen, the "Sarah's about to be frozen" scene is blackly hysterical, as a doped-up Sarah gets distinctly twitchy as a disembodied voice reassures her about being about to make the supreme sacrifice and pass beyond life.
However at the same time, this was the first Doctor Who story to be both written and script-edited by Robert Holmes. At last he's cutting loose and doing everything he ever wanted to. It's got his dry wit, with contemporary references (the unions in part four) and self-awareness (Harry's comments on the Nerva folks in part two), but it's unashamedly balls-to-the-wall horror. It outdoes even his Auton stories in its sadistic glee in that department. Understandably its themes are more characteristic of the Hinchcliffe era than the rest of Season Twelve: loss of identity, metamorphosis and man becoming the alien. See almost every single Season Thirteen story, from Zygons to Krynoids, although oddly enough in Season Fourteen that almost disappears in favour of mental possession and a more psychological approach. For this reason you'd have thought Holmes and Hinchcliffe would be perfect to tackle the thematic potential of a Cyberman story, yet Season Twelve's Revenge of the Cybermen just turned them into robots with yet another silly allergy.
In fact The Ark in Space is almost a better Cyberman story than Revenge of the Cybermen! It's just upside-down. Noah and Vira start out almost inhuman, with their natural reactions and emotions drilled out of them, and they only learn how to re-establish contact with their humanity over the course of the story. In Noah's case, this is deeply ironic.
The story's scale is stunning. Holmes gives us mankind's fate, with the world ravaged by solar flares. Admittedly this would be undercut the following week with the discovery of other surviving humans in The Sontaran Experiment, but for these four episodes it's everything. The entire world, the entire human race. What's more, the script knows what's at stake and works hard to evoke the appropriate weight, as with Tom's big speech or "what we're protecting here is too important."
I also like the structure of the story, which works better if you space out the episodes. The Wirrn biology is fascinating, with their growth through various insect stages, metamorphoses, larvae, eggs, etc.
Tom Baker rules, despite the fact that this was only his second story. He had me laughing out loud at odd lines or facial expressions. Damn, he's good. However at this point it's all precisely controlled. That beautiful trained voice, for instance, isn't yet just rumbling away for the joy of its own velvetiness. As an aside, I noticed that here he has a clipped R ("yellow, black, gdeen"). On a characterisation level, it's interesting that the 4th Doctor is genuinely thrilled by danger and death, in a way that no other Doctor shared until Eccleston. Oh, and his grin makes him look like a gargoyle.
The characterisation is interesting, both of the people and their world. They're not a nice bunch! For example they're explicitly racist, initially dismissing the Doctor and his friends as regressives and not having a single black face aboard the Ark despite Doctor Who's track record of using an ethnically diverse cast as shorthand for "this is set in the future". Their pioneers casually destroyed alien civilisations. At first we think Vira's chilly, but then we meet Noah (who reminded me of Avon from Blake's Seven). The natives aren't friendly, captain! Frankly they're emotionally constipated and rather too pleased with themselves. Nevertheless this future clearly isn't quite the Orwellian Nazitopia that Vira and Noah want to think it is, with distinctly down-to-earth engineer types who know about unions.
Most important is Vira and her character development. She goes from frosty ice maiden to being charming. She learns to smile! She shows courage in coping with what's happened to the man she loves. Her performance is particularly impressive given BBC actors' dodgy track record with futuristic emotional cripples, e.g. the Tesh in Face of Evil. She sells the story. It's Tom Baker's show too, but we know he'll disappear at the end. She's the one who's going to stay there. It's her world. Even the final self-sacrifice of Noah gets its true weight from Vira's reaction, despite the fact that heroic self-sacrifices of incidental characters are ten-a-penny in Doctor Who. In fact, for me, the entire conclusion of episode four was emotional. There's no one moment I can pick out, but it seemed to me the perfect culmination of everything that had preceded it.
The production is reasonable... considering. Even with Bubble Wrap Man and the usual white BBC sets for The Future (TM) it's vaguely creepy in places, but I give credit for that mostly to the script. Imagine this as a theatrical movie with designs by H.R. Giger. A generation would still be having trouble sleeping at night. However the actual story is arguably more memorable for its intellectual horror, the apocalyptic "This Is Mankind's Future" and its SF high concepts, than for actual scares. On a purely visual level, I think it's below Horror of Fang Rock or even Curse of Fenric. Even more damagingly, it's obviously missing a scene where Noah begs Vira to kill him. That was a clumsy cut, imposed late in the day. Admittedly for six-year-olds, this must have been terrifying. There are scenes like the siege of the cryogenic chamber (where they actually turn down the lights!) and Sarah crawling through the ventilation duct which genuinely do build some atmosphere. However I wonder how different Ark in Space might have been had it been produced even a year or two later. For instance, the Wirrn might be the worst-looking major monster until Graham Williams came along, if we ignore overambitious side attractions like the Skarasen or the rat in Talons.
However on one level it's almost scarier than Giger's Alien. That was more visceral, but this is more intelligent. The Wirrn aren't mindless monsters... "Either that or they're planning something." Given the way they eat everything about you (your body and mind), in one generation they could acquire the knowledge of an entire civilisation. If these chaps ever got on a roll, frankly I find it hard to imagine anything standing up to them.
Overall this is a fascinating story, caught in the cracks between two famous eras when the new style hadn't quite settled down yet. In its own way, Season Twelve is as interesting as seasons Seventeen or Eighteen. As with Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker's first season was tougher and grittier than the rest of his era... but Season Twelve didn't manage this as consistently as Season Seven, so the fact isn't as widely recognised. Nevertheless, along with Genesis of the Daleks, The Ark in Space is a fascinating one-off in Doctor Who and a very special story.
In Space No One Can Hear You Scream by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 2/9/10
If Robot functions as an introduction for Tom Baker's Doctor, then The Ark In Space is where he is allowed to make the part completely his own. Actually, you'd never know that this was only his second story; everything for which the Fourth Doctor is famous is present and correct. But this isn't just a showcase for Tom Baker's talents. It's a superb tale of body horror masking an allegory of the triumph of humanity and individuality over insect-like conformity. It's one of Robert Holmes' finest contributions to the series. It's one of the most gruesome stories in the show's history and it's one of Dudley Simpson's greatest accomplishments as composer.
It's also bloody scary. Yes, that's right, scary. Watch this one alone at night and it's really unsettling. The sounds, the darkness, the ideas, the music... Oh dear god, the music. This is one of Dudley Simpson's finest scores: dark, sinister and absolutely dripping with menace. It's what really makes this such a scary story. The scenes in the infrastructure all have very creepy music and so does... well all of it really. The final scene as the Doctor and friends leave prepare to transmat down to Earth is just about the only part of the story underscored with more upbeat, positive-sounding music but it works very well and comes as a bit of relief after the intensity of the rest of the story. The bit of Handel used during Sarah's processing doesn't hurt either.
Episode 1 is carried off by the regulars alone and they do a sterling job. They've only been together for 4 episodes prior to this but already they've established an excellent rapport with one another and the first episode is just goes to show that this is an excellent TARDIS team. Elisabeth Sladen is always wonderful and this story is no exception, her legendary chemistry with Tom Baker already clearly on display. I love how she gets annoyed with the Doctor at the start for playing with his yo yo. Also of note is when she gets stuck in the conduit and the Doctor berates her in order to encourage her. Ian Marter makes Harry impossible to dislike with his somewhat naive, jolly-hockey-sticks manner. He also has a nice comic touch with his references to finding the Wirrn Queen "in the cupboard".
Tom Baker is well and truly in his stride by this point. His quirkiness and sheer alien quality place him miles from Jon Pertwee. Just look at the way he grins when he realises that the Wirrn don't need oxygen during their pupal stage which is a most effective way of killing them. This is also exemplified later on when he and Sarah have just been molested by a Wirrn. He looks like he's having the time of his life. His complete lack of fear is openly on display here as he strolls around the Ark in the dark, merrily skipping into the infrastructure like he hasn't a care in the world. We all know about the 'Homo Sapiens' speech so I'm not going to go into it; suffice it to say that it's wonderful, his velvety tones given excellent back up by Dudley Simpson.
The guest cast is small but very effective. Kenton Moore is always acknowledged for his part and quite rightly so but I think Wendy Williams deserves more recognition. She plays a very elegant, dignified part and does a wonderful job with some quite jargon-heavy dialogue. It's interesting to watch how she starts off as cold and aloof and gradually rediscovers her humanity as the story progresses. She's openly smiling by the final scene.
This is certainly a striking story from a visual perspective. It's very overlit, with lots of gleaming white surfaces absolutely everywhere but then again it's supposed to have a clinical, sterile feel to it. As Harry says "it's just like a hospital". The vivid green of the Wirrn larvae stands out enormously against such a gleaming backdrop. Speaking of the Wirrn, the larvae are suitably repulsive, as is the transforming Noah. The adult Wirrn look good and they make some strange noises as they move around but they need very low light in order to be passable otherwise they just look too shiny and plasticy. Fortunately, by the time the imago forms of the creatures appear, they've cut the power and the lights are low. I personally think that they could have turned them down just a bit more but there you go.
There are a lot of scary scenes in The Ark in Space; the Doctor finding the Wirrn grub inside the solar stack; the Doctor finding the membrane in Dune's pallet and realizing what's happened to him; the Doctor and Harry discovering the slime trail in the cryogenic chamber and pondering on what it might be; Lycett gets munched by the grub; Sarah is menaced through a grille in the conduit; the Doctor states that "Something happened a long time ago... whatever it was had a reasoning intelligence". It's all thoroughly creepy stuff.
Wonderful on every level. The new CGI footage is the icing on the cake.