Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Rodney Bennett
Starring: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and Ian Marter
- Commentary by Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe
- Interview with designer Roger Murray
- New CGI model footage and 3-D Ark schematic
- Pop-up production notes
- Unused title sequence and 16mm model footage
- Original BBC trailers and news report
- Photo gallery
- Who’s Who cast and character notes
Released by: BBC Video
Rating: NR, suitable for 12+
My Advice: Own it.
[ad#longpost]The Ark in Space marks the Fourth Doctor’s first voyage in the TARDIS, and it lands him a few millennia in the future, on a space station orbiting the Earth. The station contains the last remaining members of the human race, contained in suspended animation for thousands of years, along with records detailing the sum total of human knowledge. While pondering over this fascinating find, the Doctor and his companions Sarah Jane and Harry Sullivan discover that the station appears to have been sabotaged.
As the sleeping humans begin to awaken, they immediately suspect the strange interlopers of interfering with their station, and as usual, the Doctor and company find themselves harried and confined as criminals. And then circumstances intervene (as is so often the case), and only the Doctor’s peculiar brand of ingenuity can save the last vestiges of the human race from the bizarre Wirrn, an alien race using the station as a convenient larder and breeding ground.
The most notable thing about this story is that it was one of the first stories after Tom Baker‘s arrival as the Doctor. Baker is widely considered the best of the actors to portray the enigmatic Time Lord, and so this story marks part of a historic span in the life of Doctor Who. While all the guard-changes in the series are notable for the arrival of a new Doctor, Baker’s arrival is likely to hold a higher position just by virtue of introducing Baker himself.
This is not to say that the story isn’t a fine example of a Who adventure. Quite the contrary, it’s an excellent tale, providing all the classic Who elements: a new alien race (hostile, naturally), suspicion of the Doctor and his companions, time travel, and a problem that requires the Doctor’s unparalleled intellect. The acting of some of the secondary characters is a bit sub-par, but with Who, that’s always a risk one runs. The principals do a fine job, though.
The DVD is stacked, with commentary, interviews, production notes and some unused footage. The space station model sequences from the original broadcast have been replaced with CGI, just to up the overall look of the piece’s production values. It’s a bit strange seeing quality CGI work on a Doctor Who story, but it’s nice to see the DVD team lavishing so much attention on the disc. With the rabid fanbase for the Doctor’s adventures, I’d imagine BBC is making sure they’ve got their bases covered for fear of scarf-wearing fanatics with question-mark neckties storming the studio of Channel 4.
An excellent addition to the collection of any sci-fi buff, this one obviously appeals to the pre-existing Who fans most of all. But don’t let the sometimes hokey alien costumes and mediocre set design put you off. The Ark in Space, as with all Doctor Who, is a simple issue of substance over style. Excellent writing and truly original ideas are presented at their bare minimum, with no flashy effects and no bags of money dumped into an effects budget (more often a tactic to hide shoddy writing than to actually enhance quality scripts, anyway). Start your Doctor Who collection today. You won’t be sorry.