a real world point of view
|The Ark in Space|
|Novelised as:||Doctor Who and the Ark in Space|
|Script release:||The Scripts: Tom Baker 1974/5|
|Main enemy:||The Wirrn|
|Main setting:||The Nerva Beacon, 16087|
|Number of episodes:||4|
|Premiere broadcast:||25 January - 15 February 1975|
|Doctor Who television stories|
|Robot||The Sontaran Experiment|
|The Sontaran Experiment||Revenge of the Cybermen|
|Another memorable moment|
|One more memorable moment|
The Ark in Space was the second story of Season 12 of Doctor Who. It was the Fourth Doctor's first full, post-regenerative story. It proceeded from a mild-cliffhanger at the end of Robot, showing what happened after Harry Sullivan climbed into the police box in UNIT's laboratory. It importantly established the location of Nerva Beacon, which would be the narrative lynchpin of the season.
Ark had a somewhat tortuous scripting process, having slipped past two writers before its scripts were finally accepted. Both Christopher Langley and John Lucarotti tried and failed to write a script about a space station for season 12. Of the two, Lucarotti came closest. However, because he then lived on a boat anchored in the Mediterranean — and there was a postal strike afflicting Corsica — Lucarotti was essentially incommunicado to script editor Robert Holmes. It was impossible for Holmes to conduct timely consultation with the Doctor Who veteran. Lucarotti was paid fully for his work, and Holmes undertook a page one rewrite, retaining only the central conceit of Lucarotti's tale. (INFO: The Ark in Space)
Despite its difficult birth, the story won kudos from the BBC Wales production staff. Russell T Davies once called Ark his favourite storyline of the 1963 version of Doctor Who, (DOC: Inside the World of Doctor Who) and Steven Moffat considered it the best Fourth Doctor story, (DWM: DWM 457) while Barnaby Edwards confessed to being "petrified of the Wirrn" as a child. (CON: Do You Remember the First Time?). Tom Baker himself has also stated that, of all the stories he'd filmed, The Ark in Space was his favourite.
It was a particularly popular serial with contemporary audiences, as well. Part 2, in fact, was the fifth-most-watched programme of its week, making it the highest-charting episode of the original version of the programme. In fact, it retained its crown until the transmission of Voyage of the Damned, which was the second-most-watched programme of its week.
The TARDIS arrives on an apparently deserted and deactivated space station Nerva, otherwise known as the Ark, orbiting Earth in the far future. There the Doctor, Sarah and Harry find the last survivors of the human race in suspended animation. Earth was evacuated thousands of years ago, when solar flares threatened to destroy all life.
The station has been visited by a Wirrn, an insect life form. it has laid its eggs in the solar stacks and absorbed the body and mind of one of the sleeping humans. The Doctor's reactivation of the station's systems causes the humans to start to revive. Their leader, nicknamed Noah, becomes infected by one of the emerging larvae and is slowly taken over.
The Doctor and his friends gain the trust of the other humans, now led by a med-tech named Vira. Together they lure the hatched Wirrn insects into a shuttle craft and eject it into space.
In a final act of humanity, Noah - by this time fully transformed into a Wirrn - deliberately neglects to set the shuttle's stabilisers, making it explode.
Part one Edit
The TARDIS materialises in a dark and stuffy room aboard an apparently unmanned station, due to Harry's inadvertent interference with the helmic regulator. Once the Doctor turns the lights on, the TARDIS crew decides to look round. Harry presses another switch, unknowingly trapping Sarah in a small control room where the oxygen is rapidly being consumed. By the time the Doctor and Harry find her she is severely cyanosed. They then find themselves trapped with her. The Doctor repairs the oxygen servos just in time to save them all. He notices that the control cables had been bitten clean through.
As Sarah recovers on a nearby couch, the Doctor and Harry are attacked by an automatic sentry system which fires electronic bolts at any moving organic object. Meanwhile, Sarah is transported from the couch into a chamber where she hears two voices preparing her for a "journey".
The Doctor and Harry deactivate the auto guard and discover that Sarah has vanished. Exploring further into the station, they encounter a slime trail in the corridor, but continue into a restricted section holding hundreds of cryogenically suspended humans, along with animal and botanical specimens and an information store. Harry opens a berth and finds Sarah in suspension. He begins looking for a resuscitation unit to revive her and opens a cupboard - only to encounter a giant insect which looms at him...
Part two Edit
The insect falls to the floor, obviously dead for a long time. The Doctor finds a medical kit, but is unsure what to do with it. One of the sleeping pallets activates and the occupant takes the medkit and sleepily uses it to revive herself fully. She introduces herself as Vira, First Med-tech, and demands to know what the TARDIS crew are doing aboard. She agrees to revive Sarah when she realises her suspension was an accident. Vira explains that solar flares were threatening to destroy Earth's ecosystem and that the government put a select group of humans in suspension on Nerva Station, so they could repopulate the Earth after five thousand years. She is astonished when the doctor informs her that she has "overslept" by several thousand years because of the alien's sabotage. While she tries to revive the station commander, Lazar, or "Noah" as he is known, the power fails again.
The Doctor goes down to the station's infrastructure to effect repairs and sees a large, green grub in the solar collector, feeding on the solar energy. Noah revives and demands the TARDIS crew removed before they contaminate the genetic pool. He arms himself and proceeds to the control room, where he stuns the Doctor. Vira notices that Dune, the station's chief technician, is missing from his pallet. Noah ascribes this to the "regressive" interlopers. He enters the infrastructure to look for any damage the Doctor may have done, but is accosted by the grub, which touches his hand and renders him unconscious. Harry and Sarah find and wake the Doctor, only to be escorted back to the cryogenic section by Noah, who keeps his hand firmly tucked out of sight in his pocket.
As they return, Vira is reviving Libri, a young technician, who is instantly afraid of Noah. The commander begins to act erratically. He insists the revivals be halted and that Dune is not missing, stating, "I am Dune", before storming out. The Doctor convinces Libri to go after Noah and stop him. He proceeds to examine Dune's cryogenic pallet. He finds membrane from the alien queen's egg sac and concludes that the queen laid her eggs in Dune's body before she died and the alien larvae have absorbed Dune's knowledge along with his body. Libri, meanwhile, finds Noah in the control room but cannot bring himself to shoot his commanding officer, who kills him before bringing his hand slowly from his pocket. He has started to metamorphose into an alien being.
Part three Edit
The voice of the Earth High Minister comes over the station's P.A. system to deliver a rousing recorded speech for the awakening colonists, while Noah tries to fight the alien presence in his mind. He contacts Vira and transfers command to her, ordering her to get the sleepers revived and down to Earth as soon as she can. He says the aliens are called the Wirrn before he loses control and states, "We shall absorb the humans".The Doctor and Vira go in search of Noah, leaving Harry and Sarah to revive two more crew members, Rogin and Lycett. Noah, more fully absorbed by the Wirrn, meets the Doctor and Vira in the main corridor and explains that the larvae are approaching adulthood. Vira takes what is happening to Noah very badly; the commander and she were "pair-bonded" for the colonisation. Harry and the Doctor perform a brief autopsy of the queen and discover the Wirrn are a space-borne species. Vira begins to initiate the next phase of revivals. The Doctor convinces her to delay while he develops a plan to stop the Wirrn.
Using the Ark's technology, he links his mind to the queen's neural cortex, experiencing her last few memories. Meanwhile, a grub breaks into the cryogenic chamber and kills Lycett. Harry and Rogin run to the armoury for fission guns, narrowly avoiding Noah, and drive the grub back into the air duct with the Doctor's help. The Doctor has learned that the queen was killed by the auto guard and decides to electrify the walls of the cryogenic section. He transmats Rogin and Harry to the control room before the power fails again and realises that the Wirrn must be pupating into adults. He goes down to the infrastructure to turn the power back on, but Noah has almost become an adult Wirrn and advances on the Doctor. The only thing that remains human about him is his face, and even that mutates.
Part four Edit
Vira appears at the top of the stairs and fires her stun gun at Noah, allowing the Doctor to get clear. Noah asks Vira to stay and listen to his proposal. If she and the awakened crew-members take the station's shuttle, he will order the swarm to let them go. The Wirrn will absorb the remaining sleepers and become a technologically advanced race, like the human pioneers who displaced them, centuries before, from their homeworlds in the Andromeda Galaxy.
Vira refuses to abandon the Ark and the crew tries to come up with a way to ensure power will reach the Doctor's electric bulkheads. Sarah suggests the shuttle Noah mentioned and volunteers to carry a power cable through the service conduits to the cryogenic section.
As she proceeds past the Wirrn, they try to stop her and the shuttle crew from performing their tasks. Two Wirrn are repelled by a test burn from the shuttle's engines. Sarah gets stuck in the conduit. The Doctor uses reverse psychology, complaining she is useless in an emergency and not nearly as tough or resourceful as she thinks. Sarah fights her way free, only to realise she has been "conned" by the Doctor. The electricity keeps the Wirrn at bay, but Noah threatens to turn off the oxygen, which the Wirrn don't need.
The Doctor tries to remind Noah of his human past and urges him to lead the swarm back into space where they belong. Instead, the entire swarm breaks into the shuttle's cargo hold and tries to reach the bridge. Vira sets the controls for automatic take-off and disembarks, while Rogin and the Doctor remove the synestic locks that hold the shuttle down. Rogin sacrifices himself by removing the final lock. He is killed by the shuttle's exhaust. As the Doctor wonders if Noah led the swarm aboard the shuttle on purpose, Noah radios the station and says goodbye to Vira before sabotaging the shuttle, making it explode in space and proving his humanity had won. Vira vows to get the sleepers revived and down to Earth, but without the shuttle will have to rely on the transmat. The Doctor, however, notices the transmat receptors on the ground are faulty and volunteers to beam down with Harry and Sarah to fix them, while Vira returns to her duties.
- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen
- Harry Sullivan - Ian Marter
- Vira - Wendy Williams
- Noah - Kenton Moore
- Rogin - Richardson Morgan
- Lycett - John Gregg
- Libri - Christopher Master
- The Wirrn - Stuart Fell, Nick Hobbs
- High Minister's Voice - Gladys Spencer
- Voices on Nerva - Peter Tuddenham
- Assistant Floor Manager - Russ Karel
- Costumes - Barbara Kidd
- Designer - Roger Murray-Leach
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Make-Up - Sylvia James
- Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
- Production Assistant - Marion McDougall
- Production Unit Manager - George Gallaccio
- Script Editor - Robert Holmes
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Nigel Wright
- Studio Sound - John Lloyd
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - John Friedlander, Tony Oxley
Foods and beverages Edit
- The Doctor keeps brandy in the TARDIS. Sarah hates brandy.
- Before the Doctor transmats down to Earth he gives Vira a bag of jelly babies.
- The Wirrn are natives of the Andromeda Galaxy, who lived on herbivores until the humans arrived and fought them for a thousand years, driving them out.
- The Wirrn's lungs can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen.
- All of the Wirrn from the Ark are able to fit into Nerva's shuttle.
- Harry twisted the helmic regulator in the TARDIS sending them far into the future.
- The Doctor and Harry attempt to disable the auto guard with a cricket ball.
- The Doctor notes the presence of a Bennett Oscillator in dating the Ark to around the 30th Century.
Transport technology Edit
- The transmats within Nerva are reversible.
Story notes Edit
- The story's working title was Ark in Space. (Ark in Space was also the title given in Radio Times for the 69-minute compilation repeat version of the story, as first broadcast Wednesday 20 August 1975.)
- In Part One, the title sequence was tinted pink and green, making it appear brown rather than the usual blue (even the light on top of the TARDIS is full brown). This experiment was never repeated.
- The Nerva Beacon sets are reused for TV: Revenge of the Cybermen.
- The whole story bears resemblance to the Ridley Scott film Alien released in 1979.
- It is only mentioned once by Vira but Noah's name is 'Lazar', "Noah" being a joke on his role on Nerva.
- Aside from an extra, Brian Jacobs, as Technician Dune and two voice-over artistes, no-one but the regular cast appears on-screen in Part One of this story; the last time this occurred was The Edge of Destruction.
- Vira was written to be black and possibly Haitian, but this was changed by the director.
- The original script was written by John Lucarotti and he was paid for his work; however script editor Robert Holmes had to do extensive revision and was the credited writer. Lucarotti's story line included an Ark, an uninhabitable Earth, humans who had 'over-slept' and aliens who had entered the Ark in the meantime. Noticeable differences include the race of the aliens and that the Doctor went to the Ark intentionally. Lucarotti's aliens, named the Delc, had the ability to replicate instantly. This would have been Lucarotti's fourth script for the show and his first since the William Hartnell era.
- Elisabeth Sladen is credited as 'Sarah Jane' in Radio Times for Part Two.
- Gladys Spencer is credited alongside Peter Tuddenham as 'Voices' for Part One, and as 'High Minister's Voice' for Part Three.
- Part 1 - 9.4 million viewers
- Part 2 - 13.6 million viewers
- Part 3 - 11.2 million viewers
- Part 4 - 10.2 million viewers
Filming locations Edit
Production errors Edit
- There is a piece of very poor editing done when the half-mutated Noah confronts Vira and the Doctor as they move along the corridor (probably done to remove the more grotesque aspect of the scene). Noah is still talking and then somehow the door slams shut, cutting him off. Yet it is not clear who does this or what exactly happened. A part of this scene, in which Noah asks Vira to kill him before he turns completely into a Wirrn, was cut because it was felt it might be too disturbing for children.
- The Wirrn falling out at the first cliffhanger interrupts the Doctor talking - but he's not talking at the start of episode 2. Actually, he's talking in both, but his lines fade out more in episode 2. In both cases the Doctor is not watching Harry open the cupboard, so he has finished speaking when the dead Wirrn crashes to the floor.
- One of the frozen humans can be seen blinking.
- When the Doctor and Harry move the screwed in table there are no mounting holes for the screws to go in.
- The space station noticeably "wobbles" as it orbits above Earth in the opening shot.
- The empty chamber that held Dune is tinted or stained orange-yellow here, but it was the same colour as the others in the previous episode. The individual capsules light up when the revival process starts, but since Dune is absent, the red light indicates some kind of fault.
- When Vira climbs out of the cryogenic capsule, the styrofoam comprising the capsule squeaks.
- The Ark in Space is part of a set concerning the Nerva Beacon without TARDIS travel, beginning in The Ark in Space and continuing through TV: The Sontaran Experiment, TV: Genesis of the Daleks, PROSE: A Device of Death and ending in TV: Revenge of the Cybermen set back aboard the Nerva Beacon earlier in time. The Doctor would return to the Nerva Beacon in the company of Leela. (AUDIO: Destination: Nerva)
- PROSE: Placebo Effect features the Wirrn and delves further into their history and psychology.
- AUDIO: Wirrn Dawn is set during the war between the humans and the Wirrn.
- TV: The Beast Below is set during the same human diaspora from Earth, as the episode explains that Starship UK was launched just before the climax of the solar flares hit Earth.
- According to AUDIO: Wirrn Isle, the recolonisation process began in 16087. By 16127, the main settlement was called Nerva City, which was built on the former site of New York City.
Home video and audio releases Edit
DVD releases Edit
- Commentary by Elisabeth Sladen, Philip Hinchcliffe and Tom Baker
- New CGI Model Sequences - Choose to watch the story with the original space-station model shots replaced by new computer-generated effects.
- Unused Title Sequence
- Original Model Effects
- Trailer for Episode 1
- Photo Gallery
- Who's Who
- Space Station Schematics
- Howard Da Silva Intros - Continuity announcements by Howard Da Silva, included in the 1978 Time/Life distribution of The Ark in Space to North American television stations.
- Interviews with Roger Murray-Leach and Tom Baker
- Production Subtitles
- Easter Egg - 16-second spot featuring Tom Baker promoting the Doctor Who Exhibition Blackpool. To access this hidden feature, press up at Part One on the Episode Selection menu. Another promotional spot for the exhibition appears after the closing credits of Part Four.
- Easter Egg - 30-second shot of a production clapperboard used for Part Two of The Ark in Space. To access this hidden feature, press left at Photo Gallery on the Special Features menu.
- PAL - BBC DVD
- NTSC -
- Editing for DVD release completed by Doctor Who Restoration Team.
- Viewers have the option of replacing the model shots with new CGI effects.
- As with many serials released on DVD pre-2006, The Ark in Space was subsequently re-released as a special edition, with additional content
VHS releases Edit
This story was released on VHS in Australia and the UK 1989 in PAL format (BBCV 4244). This was an edited movie-style release with all episodes edited together.
Laserdisc releases Edit
- This story was released on Laserdisc by Encore Entertainment in 1996.
Audio releases Edit
Excerpts from Dudley Simpson's score, arranged by Heathcliff Blair, were released by Silva Screen in the early 1990s on their compilation CD Pyramids of Mars: Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era (FILMCD 134).
- The Ark in Space at the BBC's official site
- The Ark in Space at BroaDWcast
- Detailed synopsis of The Ark in Space at the Doctor Who Reference Guide
- The Ark in Space at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)