From the Tom Baker era (1974-1981) of Doctor Who, The Ark In Space is one of my favorites. The Doctor is heading someplace else in the Tardis, but accidentally sets down inside some kind of space station thanks to traveling companion, Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter), fiddling with controls he shouldn’t have been. He, the Doctor, and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) slowly learn they are on a station that has collected the last remnants of humankind before the earth was made uninhabitable by solar flares. This “Ark” not only holds all kind of human knowledge in its computer banks, it also holds the last remaining humans themselves, all in suspended animation, waiting for their Ark’s alarm clock to wake them when the earth is safe to inhabit once more. Yet something has gone horribly and insidiously wrong.
An alien species called the Wirrn (pronounced Wir-rin), a queen, discovered the Ark, infiltrated it, disabled certain controls, and began to lay her eggs. What do Wirrn look like? Kind of like wingless wasps that move around upright like humans do.
The Doctor, Harry, and Sarah don’t know any of this yet. But they slowly learn when they wonder why there’s no oxygen in this room they are trapped in and have to reconnect the bitten in half cables. They then discover a dead Wirrn in a compartment and find a crucial Ark member’s sleep capsule empty, but with remnants of something alien having invaded it. Let’s not forget Harry spotting some kind of green worm-like thing scuttle about the station.
Several members are revived including the human’s leader, Noah, but things don’t end up well for him, after he encounters the larval Wirrn and it leaves its mark on his hand, he begins to slowly mutate into one of the creatures. The Wirrn also have the ability to absorb the knowledge of whatever they eat, or mutate into, including humans, a species they have a beef with. Their last encounter with them resulted in a good chunk of their species being wiped out. Well, pay back’s a bitch and the Wirrn plan to eat all the Ark members, revive their species anew with the knowledge they assimilate, and dominate the universe.
Thank God for Time Lords, though. Suffice to say, the Wirrn are stopped and all is well in the Universe again. This was only the second story arc Tom Baker was in. His debut as the doctor was the one that preceded this—Robot. The ending of The Ark In Space merges seamless with his next adventure, The Sontaran Experiment, since he offers to go down to the planet and have a look at how inhabitable or uninhabitable it is.
The full frame transfer is clear as a bell, and the audio is just as good. Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, and Producer, Phillip Hinchcliffe contributes a very good commentary, though Tom states he remembers nothing of this episode.
This is a 2-Disc Special Edition, and the extras you get on Disc #1 are as follows:
A New Frontier (29:53): Just about all these docs BBC puts on this discs that chronicles the making of these episodes are top notch, this one included. Talking with the producer, director and two of what appears to be surviving members of the cast (Wendy Williams who played Vira and Kenton Moore who played Noah) you get a thorough dissection of how the episode came to be and the rigors they went through to get it filmed.
Roger Murray-Leach Interview (10:29): Interview with the guy who designed the sets and some of the FX. He touches upon what he did for the episodes he worked on. Of note, Tom baker broke his collar bone on The Sontaran Experiment, and a porche that couldn’t be moved out of a crucial shot in The Talons of Weng-Chiang was covered in blankets and horse shit. And the Wirrn grub FX were nothing more than bubble wrap painted green, which was new at the time, and not called bubble wrap.
Model Effects Roll (7:09): B-roll footage of some of the space station models, shuttlecraft departure and Wirrin models scurrying about the outside of the station.
CGI Effects Roll (1:33): standalone shots of the replaced CGI of the above mentioned practical FX.
3D Technical Schematics (1:08): specifications breakdown of the space station, the shuttlecraft and the radar dish.
Trail (:51): a commercial for The Ark In Space.
Alternative Titles (:44): alternative opening credits.
Alternative CGI Sequences (on/off): Option, if you want to watch the episode with the replaced CGI shots that were made.
Tardis Cam No. 1 (1:26): Not sure what the hell this is. It’s a scene of a barren planet. In the foreground is a Cyberman’s head, behind that a crashed ship, and the camera pans over to the Tardis then back to the head. That’s all this is.
Photo Gallery (7:05): The requisite gallery of behind-the-scene shots from this episode.
The highlights of Disc #2 are The Ark In Space—Movie Version which was made back in 1975 and runs a more streamlined 1:09:47. Second highlight is the featurette, Doctor Who Forever! Love And War (27:36), get an in depth look at the novelizations that were created. I knew about them, but had no idea they eventually became stories unto themselves and a lot more adult, with the incorporation of sex, violence, swearing and drug use, before the BBC took back the rights and created their own book series. Very enlightening stuff here.
The remainder of the extras breakdown like this:
Scene Around Six (7:35): This is Tom Baker out and about circa the mid 1970s doing publicity by visiting various schools and showing up at public events. The man certainly looks like he loves his fame.
Robot 8mm Location Film (1:11): Behind –the-scenes on Robot. No audio.
PDF Materials: Radio Times Listings, The Doctor Who Technical Manual and Promotional Material for Crosse, Blackweed and Nestle.
Coming Soon: A trailer for The Aztecs.