The Ark in Space
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and The Ark in Space

Author Ian Marter Cover image
Published 1977
ISBN 0 426 11631 3
First Edition Cover Chris Achilleos

Back cover blurb: At a time in the far-off future, Earth has become uninhabitable. A selection of Humanity is placed, deep-frozen, in a fully automated space station, to await the day of their return to Earth... Thousands of years later, DOCTOR WHO arrives. He finds things going suspiciously wrong, and the station under attack from the giant WIRRN, deadly creatures who, in their lust for power, now threaten the future of the whole Human Race...


Grub's Up by Andrew Wixon 23/6/00

Like most UK DW fans of my generation (the late 70s crop) I grew to know and love the series in a very particular way. Every year, from September through to March or April, Doctor Who would be on for half an hour a week on Saturday tea-time. Then, the following summer, two of the stories would be repeated mid-week. And that was it. Out-of-Doctor repeats were unheard of and you can understand my confusion when my parents told me that Jon Pertwee 'used to be Doctor Who' or when I found battered copies of the novelisations of The Mutants and The Auton Invasion at a local jumble sale.

I've no idea how the old Targets are perceived else where in the world, but for us in the UK they were the only way to experience the Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee eras (unless the cricket was rained off and the Cushing movies were wheeled out to fill the schedule). Never mind that Terrance Dicks seemed to be writing by numbers most of the time, or that you were somehow sure that the stories Malcolm Hulke novelised couldn't possibly be like that on the TV, they were Doctor Who, unfettered by dodgy BBC effects, given shape by the unlimited budget of our childs' imaginations.

This was a source of some heartache when, in 1985 and 1986, the first 'old' videos came into my fevered, sweaty palms. The first two I saw were (quite coincidentally) the Nerva stories from Season 12 - Revenge of the Cybermen (on Christmas Morning, the very first day we had the VCR!) and Ark in Space (an appalling 4th or 5th generation Australian pirate borrowed from an older boy at school. Later he was a frequent source of news and rumours on future seasons, but his accuracy rate was extremely variable).

Sad to say, these stories were so disappointing. The sets looked dated, the characters nothing like I'd imagined, the effects seemed so clunky... five years of being told by DWM that 'this story is a classic' had built expectations far too high. Every 'old' story I watched for the next few years had a similar effect, with the odd exception - Talons of Weng Chiang, and the E-space trilogy (well, two-thirds of it) and Logopolis.

I don't feel this way now, of course. Pyramids of Mars, one of the first 'old' videos I watched, is now one of my very favourites. So too Robots of Death. There are many others. Revenge... still seems a bit disappointing, but that's mainly because the story was such a duffer even back in 1975.

But Ark in Space, which I've just watched again for the first time in over ten years... I still get this feeling watching Ark. I can appreciate its strengths, the great designs, the compact, occasionally poetic script, the evocative score... not to mention the way it prototypes nearly every major theme of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker seasons... but it just doesn't click for me in the way later H/H/B stories do.

I blame Ian Marter. Not as an actor, he's perfectly fine in the story, even if the script overemphasizes Harry's tendency towards gaffes. No, I blame him for writing such a wonderful novelisation. It was one of the first I read and I can remember the details to this day. He added so much embellishment and detail to the story that it lives on the page in a way it doesn't on the screen. Tiny little details -- a stun gun becomes a 'paralysator', fission guns become 'laser lances'. The Wirrrn larvae and imago seeth and bristle fluidly and lethally across the page. The violence is much more graphic -- Noah splits open and coughs up acid, and his metamorphosis reads rather like a treatment for the 1986 Fly remake. On TV Libri dies with a rather fey and halfhearted flop backwards (as bad DW pratfalls go, it's nowhere near as terrible as Davyd Harries' stagger-backwards-and-collapse-with-legs-in-air in Armageddon Factor, but it's still bad). In the book he gets welded to the wall by repeated paralysator blasts as Noah goes berserk. The ending is an improvement too. We're spared the camera pulling back to reveal a three-person teleport booth which hasn't been seen or mentioned before despite large chunks of the story occurring in the same room and a teleport possibly being quite useful given the characters' dire straits... they just get in the TARDIS and go.

This is the only time this has happened, to me anyway. I don't know why - maybe other novelisations stick that bit closer to the story. Maybe I just read Ark in Space once too often as a child. Maybe it's just that well written.

But I do know that the next time I want to experience the story of the Nerva beacon, the battle with the Wirrrn, and Noah's sacrifice, I may turn not to my video cabinet, but to my bookshelf.

Heighten tension at the roots by Tim Roll-Pickering 22/2/04

This book has the novelty value of being the first adventure adapted by one of the cast members, allowing for a different perspective upon the story. Normally Robert Holmes' scripts are adapted by Terrance Dicks, producing some of the best novelisations of their era, but diversity is the spice of life and Ian Marter proves his writing skills admirably in this book. The result is a novelisation that feels very different from one produced by Terrance Dicks and yet still manages to reproduce the drama of the televised version on the printed page. The Wirrrn (for some reason Marter has decided to add an extra "r" to their name) suffered on television from not looking especially threatening, which to an extent is carried over on the original cover, though for his last contribution to the series Chris Achilleos manages to make the cover look dramatic, but within the text there is a real sense of tension, especially in the scenes where Sarah crawls through the tiny conduit with the vital cable and reaches a transparent section with several Wirrrn surrounding her.

Doctor Who novelisations aim to stand or fall by themselves and so it would be pointless for Marter to waste the page count explaining how Nerva Beacon came to change from being an intergalactic marker buoy to the last refuge of humanity or why the Earth government felt the need to go into suspended animation given that so many other stories (not least The Sontaran Experiment) show that humans have reached out beyond Earth long before the thirtieth century. Doctor Who and the Ark in Space stands out for being very different from other stories. Whereas the Pertwee stories had offered a consistent vision of Earth's future, with even the dates tying in (frontier pioneers and corporations fighting on remote worlds in the 25th centure in Colony, an Earth empire at its height facing both Draconians and Daleks in Frontier and Planet, the empire weakening under attack in Death to the Daleks, the empire finally withdrawing in The Mutants and then being succeeded by the Federation in both Curse and Monster), this story deviates dramatically and heads off into a different era of the show. It is often said that the second transmitted story of any Doctor could be easily transplanted into the Hartnell era and this is never clearer than here, especially when transposed to the printed page. This tale of humanity's future being threatened by another race also wishing to survive, with sympathetic aliens and companions who wander into the TARDIS by accident and only slowly come to terms with everything around them works superbly here, briefly returning Doctor Who to its roots without ever once feeling dated.

There are few enhancements for this book beyond a prologue which details how the Wirrrn Queen comes aboard the Ark and shuts down the systems. Otherwise Marter focuses on retelling the tale. Some of the dialogue appears differently, most noticably the Doctor's famous "homo sapiens" speech, but by and large it works since what works on television does not necessarily work in print and vice versa. There is a nice touch where the Doctor and Harry now use a small table with a central leg as an umbrella to avoid the automatic laser rather than the giant box seen on television - something that would have been too time consuming on screen but here evokes wonderful images. Harry is given a strong role in the story but not an over dominant one, showing that Marter is willing to let his loyalty to his own part not supercede the basis of the story. There is however a strong degree of anti-feminism present throughout the book, indicating perhaps the backlash against protests going on in the wider world. Although the High Minister remains female and Sarah and Vira retain their roles, Harry often resorts to put downs in speaking to Sarah which from a modern perspective date the book heavily even though they are used to urge Sarah on. This is the one section where the book feels weak as otherwise the claustrophobia and tension is, if anything, even stronger than on television with the stakes all too clear.

The book's resolution remains a little loose as well, with the Doctor, Sarah and Harry setting off in the TARDIS (a change from the televised version) to set up a transmat station on Earth but as this was always intended to tie in with The Sontaran Experiment and would make for an overlong epilogue if detailed at all, this does not matter so much. at the end of the book the reader is left highly satisfied with a tough story that shows Marter's skills and leaves the reader hoping for more adaptations from him. 9/10