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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Ark in Space (Special Edition)


Starring: Tom Baker
RRP: £20.42
Certificate: PG
Available 18 February 2013

Space station Nerva has orbited Earth for several millenniums. Built as an ark to survive solar flares which devastated the planet the colonists remain in suspended animation long after their mission has been fulfilled. Arriving on the orbiting station, the Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane initially think that the station is abandoned, only to discover that the colonists are very much alive. Vira is revived and she in turn revives the colonist’s leader, Noah. The Doctor discovers that the station is infected with the insect Wirrm who have been using the sleeping humans to reproduce...

Ark in Space was the second Tom Baker story transmitted. Originally shown between 25 January and 15 February 1975, The show was written by John Holmes and directed by Rodney Bennett.

The four part story cemented Baker as the Doctor, with all his quirks, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) as an intelligent and bubbly character that both young men and dads could quietly fancy and confirmed that Harry (Ian Marter) was essentially ballast as a companion.

Not that any of this was the fault of Marter, who acts his little socks off, the problem is that his character was already old fashioned, more of a throwback to the first two Doctors that a modern man of action, a role already magnificently filled by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney). The old school attitudes towards women and the awful duffle coat meant that he would not be likely to survive long in the show.

This story epitomises some of the criticisms which would be levelled at the show, in the wake of Star Wars (1977), but also refutes many. Harry was an anachronism, even at this stage of the show's evolution, Sarah-Jane represented the future of feisty young woman who were often able to hold their own with the Doctor.

The set design, by Roger Murray-Leach, was minimalist but highly effective for a television show on a limited budget. Its stark, white interiors were reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968), reflecting the sterility of the world the survivors have left behind.

In contrast, the Wirrm is a vibrant green life form, bursting with potential to reproduce and spread its progeny. At the time, Bubble Wrap was a new material and probably looked better than it does today, the general use of the material for the show's monster will have a modern audience guffawing over, the now, ludicrous sight of the Wirrms green bubble wrapped eyesight and its, vagina from a Freudian nightmare, mouth.

There are no great surprises in the plot. The survivors awaken to discover some of the party have been used as incubators for the Wirrms pupae. This sets the poor creature up as the bad guy and the Doctor takes a very humancentric position when dealing with, what is after all, the Wirrms normal mode of reproduction. So, the big baddy has to go, but not before it infects a number of the crew and generally plays havoc. For some reason it has an irrational desire to live and see its children thrive,, even if it has to use pink bags of fluid to do it. Given that they are all stuck on a space station, millions of miles from the nearest crèche facilities, this doesn’t seem all that unreasonable.

The story has been released twice before, initially as a VHS and then in its episodic form on DVD, but with the advance in remastering techniques some stories are getting a second showing. There is an appreciable increase in picture quality.

Disc one holds the show in its episodic format with a full length commentary from Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe.

The extras kick off with A New Frontier (29 min, 54 sec), which is the usual ‘Making of’ feature, which explores how the change of Doctor also gave the show a much needed change of direction. There is an interview with Roger Murray-Leach (10 min, 29 sec) designer of the show. It has snippets about the show and a discussion about the look of the story.

The Model Effects Roll (7 min, 10 sec) is a collection of pretty dodgy model work from the show; apart from some eerie music the shots are silent. This makes a nice companion piece to the CGI Effects Roll (1 min, 33 sec) which shows the newish CGI special effects, once again eerie music and no explanation.

You get 3D Technical Schematics (1 min, 09 sec) which shows the station and various other locations, they are considered 3D only because the picture rotates. If you like eerie music and no explanation here is another one to enthral. You get a short trailer (51 sec), an alternative version of the title sequence (43 sec) and the chance to play the show with the alternative CGI which you have already seen. Lastly you get Tardis Cam No 1 (1 min, 24 sec). If you missed these before they are short but very effective sequences. This one shows the Tardis on some desolate world parked next to a crashed ship and a beheaded Cyberman.

The disc also has the normal info text, always informative and well worth turning on while watching the show, and a self-running photo gallery.

Not enough for you, well on the second DVD you can watch the show in a movie format (1 hr, 09 min, 51 sec), though there is no option to watch this version with the new CGI. Doctor Forever! Love and War (27 min, 37 sec) chronicles the history of the Doctor Who books, its rise and slow decline, with contributions from Russell T. Davies, Mark Gatiss and many of the writers.

Scene Around Six (7 min, 36 sec) is unrestored footage of Tom Baker's public appearances in Northern Ireland, turning on their Christmas tree and visiting children, who all seem delighted to see him. Robot 8mm Film (1 min, 11 sec) is amateur footage of the show being made.

Finally we get the PDF materials and a Coming Soon (1 min, 13 sec) for another previously released story, The Aztecs.

It’s a nice combination of a good story, with a memorable visual look and a sack full of extras, what’s not to like?


Charles Packer

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