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Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

"It may be irrational of me, but humans are quite my favourite species."

After bidding farewell to Jon Pertwee and introducing us to Tom Baker, producer Barry Letts and script-editor Terrance Dicks finally waved goodbye to Doctor Who in 1975. Stepping in to replace them were first time producer Philip Hinchcliffe, who was only 29 at the time, and Robert Holmes, who had been writing for the series since 1969. Together, they worked to usher in a radical change of tone for the series, making it darker and more adult. 'The Ark in Space' is a prime example of their more Gothic take on Doctor Who.

There's an element of body horror to the story as Noah is slowly turned into a Wirrm. It's great in concept, but the execution lets the side down. It's hard to suspend disbelief when the alien is clearly made of bubble wrap mixed with green slime. It also doesn't help that the actor playing Noah really hams it up when he's being taken over. The fully formed Wirrm are no better. Unable to use their legs, they are forced to shuffle on their backsides for the duration.

Rubbish special effects aside, 'The Ark in Space' is a terrific story and one of my favourites. The script, which Holmes completely rewrote when John Lucarotti's original script was deemed unusable, is Alien a few years early and several millions pounds cheaper. Despite being a last minute rush job, Holmes' script is fantastic, displaying his usual gift for memorable character and witty dialogue. Even with the four episode runtime, he manages to keep the action moving along at a steady pace and never once feels dragged out.

The Three leads are all excellent. Tom Baker gets to deliver his indomitable speech, one of the Doctor's most famous, and cements his place as the new Doctor with this story. You have to love the way he suggests doing something extremely dangerous while sporting a manic grin that would put Cheshire Cat to shame. Episode 1 is essentially a three header with only the Doctor, Sarah and Harry appearing. This is only their second story but you feel as if these three have been traveling together forever. Baker and Marter, especially, make for a surprisingly good double act.

Notes and Quotes

--The Doctor got his scarf from Madame Nostradamus, "a witty little knitter".

--Ian Marter wrote a novelization of this story for Target Books in 1977.

--The Doctor might talk about all races and colours, but everyone on the Ark is very white and very English.

--Always looking for a way to save money, the production crew reused the sets for this story for 'Revenge of the Cybermen'.

--Once again the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to actually unscrew something.

The Doctor: "Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable."

Harry: "Fancy a member of the fair sex being top of the totem pole."

Harry: "Independent sort of bird, isn't she?"
-Harry Sullivan, not a very progressive sort of chap.

Vira: "You claim to be med-techs?"
The Doctor: "Well, my doctorate is purely honorary, and Harry here is only qualified to work on sailors."

Three and a half out of four rolls of bubble wrap.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


  1. Love Tom Baker and here he's at his manic best. The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane are a really cool trio. Nevermind the rubbish special effects. Great review.

  2. Shonky effects they may be but my 9 year-old self didn't notice the bubble-wrap and green paint. That transformation into a monster gave me nightmares for months (see also The Seeds Of Doom).

    This is one of the great stories and the Doctor/Sarah/Harry partnership was a highlight. Such a shame about poor Ian Marter. Harry was a great companion.

    Great review, as usual. Thanks Mark.

    I've got that Target novelisation! Read it many many times. :-)

  3. Looking at this picture, I wonder if Cronenberg was influenced while making "The Fly".

  4. you can hear the bubble wrap bursting when noah is holding his arm at the begining of episode 3

  5. I love this one and never minded the bubble wrap, although the Wirrn having to hop on their posteriors looks silly.

    It really shows off my favorite TARDIS team to full effect, and is an interesting story to boot, coming especially as it did, before Alien (which I didn't see till many many years later as I was too young to see it in the theater and no way my mom was going to let anyone take me to see it!).

    This kind of story is exactly why I enjoy Doctor Who so much even all these years later. When they can do so much with such low budgets and they don't try to do too much unlike some of the show's more notorious stories, it's absolutely brilliant.


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