Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Rodney Bennett
Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has one human female accompanying him on his adventures, and sometimes a human male as well or another alien. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by Tom Baker. Baker was one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor, and by many fan’s assessments, he was the most popular.
The Doctor is traveling with earthlings Sarah Jane and Harry (portrayed by Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter) in The Ark in Space. Due to Harry messing with something in the Tardis, they land on an orbiting satellite, sometime in Earth’s distant future. It’s almost dead, with the power cut, little oxygen, and no signs of life. Apparently, the humans contained on board this space station are the last remnant of humanity, hence the title.
As the Doctor slowly restores power, strange things begin happening. After the three are attacked by a defense mechanism on the station, Sarah Jane is separated from the two men and ends up in a sleep chamber. As Harry and the Doctor search for her, they learn the truth of what is happening.
Insect-like aliens known as the Wirrn have managed to infiltrate the station and are using the sleeping humans for food. The Wirrn were also in a sort of hibernation, but all of the recent activity on the station has not only awakened the humans (who view themselves as superior to the three people who have woken them up) but also the larvae of the Wirrn.
Can the Doctor save humanity so the “Ark” can fulfill its mission? Can he, Sarah Jane, and Harry get off the station without becoming Wirrn food?
The effects are typical of Doctor Who. At times, they are cheesy. When Sarah Jane is in the cryogenic chamber, it seems to be Styrofoam cut out in the shape of a human with lights behind it. The “slime creature” as it infects people is nothing more than bubble wrap painted green wrapped around the actors’ hands. In one of the special features, it’s stated that bubble wrap was a new invention at the time and was a very novel thing to use in this fashion. The only problem was the noise it made as it popped.
There are new CGI effects on the disc which can be added to the story. Me, I prefer to view the story in all its cheesy charm. The interior of the space station is depicted rather well. How they managed to do this as convincingly as they did is explained somewhat in the special features, and it’s quite interesting.
Tom Baker is just wonderful as the Doctor, demonstrating the boyish charm in The Ark in Space which has endeared him to fans so much. He actually confronts these life-size insectoid aliens and manages to pull off a convincing performance opposite them. He smiles and grins throughout the four episodes, but not in such a way that he comes off as an idiot, but rather that he’s amused at the whole situation. Instead of panicking and getting excited, he takes events in stride with a calmness rarely seen in science fiction.
Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane suffers a bit here from being poorly written. She’s supposed to be a heroine, but this is one of those instances where I can honestly say I preferred the strong, Xena-like heroine of Leela to Sarah Jane. She comes off as a damsel in distress, unable to do anything for herself, watches out for herself, or basically take care of herself in any way. Sladen does the best she can with what she’s given, but between her and the inept, oafish Harry, it’s a wonder the Doctor ever had anyone travel with him ever again. The two of them are just very poorly written in The Ark in Space.
The guest-cast handles themselves fine and believably. As one of them is infected with the larvae and transforms into a Wirrn, he pulls it off believably, something not easy when you have green painted bubble wrap on your arm. The dialogue between the Doctor and these people supposed to be the future of humanity is written much better than between the three main characters in most cases.
The special features contained on the disc are wonderful and are definitely worth watching. I enjoyed the interviews as well as the information about how certain effects were pulled off, especially in light of the fact that this was produced more than thirty years ago. Watching the new CGI effects versus the older effects really gave me an appreciation for just how far we’ve come.
I don’t know that I’d recommend The Ark in Space to someone new to the world of Doctor Who. I’ve seen much better episodes and though while this one is good, it does suffer from what I feel is some weak writing for his two traveling companions. I would prefer to show episodes with Leela in them to someone new to the world of Doctor Who. I did like The Ark in Space and would recommend it highly to those familiar with the series as it’s easier for anyone who’s developed an affinity for it to suspend some of the disbelief and overlook its shortcomings.
• new CGI model sequences
• unused title sequence
• original model effects
• trailer for episode 1
• photo gallery
• who’s who
• space station schematics
• information text
• Howard Da Silva Intros
• Tardis cam
• Interviews with Roger Murray Leech and Tom Baker