The first thing you notice when watching The Ark in Space
are the beautifully designed and constructed sets. Designer Roger Murray-Leach, in his first brief for Doctor Who, succeeded in creating one of the most ambitious and best loved sets in the shows history, his highly acclaimed split-level cryogenic chamber becoming the main focal point for much of the story.
Philip Hinchcliffe’s strategy when taking over as producer was simple. For Doctor Who to maintain its popularity it should appeal to a broader audience, this would mean stories of a more mature nature that would appeal to both children and adults. The results of this policy can be seen very clearly in The Ark in Space
Working at breakneck speed, and with barely eighteen days to write all four episodes, Robert Holmes tense space thriller is a far cry from anything that had come before it. Based largely on the 1958 film The Fly
, Holmes storyline depicts horrific scenes of bodily mutilation as Noah, desperately struggling in vain to maintain his grip on humanity, slowly succumbs to his metamorphosis into a Wirrn. A stifling sense of claustrophobia and desperation is conveyed throughout this story, and as the invaders lay siege to the Ark and the stakes grow ever higher, we learn of the grisly fate of technician Dune and the Wirnn’s gruesome plans for the sleepers.
As in all of his scripts, Holmes writes his characters very real and caters to the companions particularly well. Having initially fallen foul to the tradition of the female assistant getting into trouble and having to be rescued, Sarah gets some very nice scenes. Having narrowly escaped suffocation, she winds up half sedated on the processing couch, from where she hears the sweet calming melodies and wonderfully haunting tones of the Earth High Minister informing her of the supreme sacrifice she is about to make. Later in the story, Sarah steps up to the plate and suggests a plan to secure the cryogenic chamber from the advancing Wirrn, however when it transpires that the conduits necessary for her plan to succeed are too narrow for a man to negotiate, Sarah tackles the arduous task herself.
Embarking upon his first trip in the TARDIS, and having inadvertently influenced their ultimate destination, the charmingly bewildered Harry -- having incurred the wrath of an irritated Doctor -- provides a nice source of humour early on in the story. Despite his clumsiness having created a bad impression early on, and having endured the time lords put downs, Harry stands up for himself by demonstrating his bravery and medical prowess. Despite her protests, Harry was fiercely protective over Sarah and the two travelling companions develop a nice relationship, with the surgeon assuming the traits of an old fashioned gentleman, qualities which over the course of the season would define his character.The Ark in Space
was a huge success for the new production team with episode two attracting over thirteen million viewers, a figure which hadn’t been achieved since 1965. With Tom Baker growing in confidence, and Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes exciting new formula for the show, the most popular era of Doctor Who had begun.
Rating: 5 Tom's out of 5