Doctor Who: The Ark in Space (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros 'ark at this special edition release of the Tom Baker classic
Season twelve of Doctor Who had kicked off with the new Doctor facing up against a giant robot. Though it had been fairly well-received, viewers had yet to see Tom Baker in anything other than the tricky "new Doctor story", but this was about to change as The Fourth Doctor was about take an interplanetary journey with his companions...
After entering the TARDIS, Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) messes with the helmic regulator and this has results in the ship being sent somewhat further ahead in time than The Doctor (Baker) had anticipated. They materialise onboard the Nerva Beacon, which initially looks like a interstellar mausoleum, but further investigation reveals it to be carrying the remains of the human race in stasis, along with the Wirrn, a non-human race that has been using the humans in suspended-animation as frozen ready-meals...
We mentioned the supposed "new Doctor story" syndrome and this is only partially true, but it is usually the case that the newly-regenerated Doctor almost inevitably has a traumatic transition between bodies and takes at least one story to fully complete the transition. There have been debut stories for Doctors where the general opinion is pretty poor ( The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani spring to mind), but whilst Robot wasn't a particularly bad story, it was not the best one to showcase the new Doctor. This is remedied not long into the first episode of The Ark in Space, Tom Baker is granted the defining speech which stamps his authority on the role and cemented his position as a Doctor to be reckoned with; that grand speech is the one about homo sapiens being indomitable and it really hammered home the wide-eyed wonder and the gravitas that Baker brought to the role.
Baker is wonderful in The Ark in Space and watching him in this story reminds you of just how great he was when given a good script that he could sink his not inconsiderable teeth into; channelling William Hartnell's sense of explosive moral outrage, along with Patrick Troughton's impish, child-like sense of fun, adding a little dash of Jon Pertwee's pomposity, Baker makes the role his own during this particular story and it's still a performance that makes even the most jaded Doctor Who fan sit up and take notice of just how fresh it all was back then. During episode three, The Doctor risks his own life trying to obtain vital information to save everyone onboard the Nerva Beacon; the idea of The Doctor possibly sacrificing himself to save others ( "Humans always were my favourite species") is not out of the ordinary for Doctor Who, but it's the wide-eyed (with matching wide grin), almost gleeful way that he goes about it that sets Tom Baker apart from many of the others who played the role.
Ian Marter's Harry Sullivan begins to make the transition from bumbling upper-middle-class twit to go-getting, not-so-bumbling upper-middle-class twit, as dear old Harry begins to learn very rapidly that the parameters of his existence have suddenly broadened to an almost incalculable degree. The character was originally created before Tom Baker was cast in the role and was supposed to serve as an Ian Chesterton-type to handle more physical stuff if an older actor was going to play The Doctor, but it seems that a fundamental reason for Harry's existence was to deliberately rub Sarah Jane up the wrong way by being a bit of a chauvinist. Marter injects a degree of plucky - if somewhat befuddled - verve into Harry, along with some hints as to the heroic qualities that he will eventually have during his relatively short time as a member of the TARDIS crew.
Elisabeth Sladen has something of a rough ride in this story, being required to instantly wander off as soon as the TARDIS materialises and getting half suffocated, along accidentally being put in suspended animation (in something that eerily seems like a futuristic mechanised Dignitas clinic) and almost being killed in the process of being revived. This seems to go back on the "right-on" seventies feminist principles that the character had - Sarah Jane's always been one tough cookie and someone who can take care of herself, but for the first couple of episodes of The Ark in Space, she seriously comes off as a damsel in distress. As if to try and balance out the rampant sexism that befalls Sarah Jane in this story, the Earth's High Minister is revealed to be a woman in a Thatcher-like mould and Harry ribs her slightly by expressing his mild disbelief that “a member of the fairer sex” was “top of the table”. As a side-note, this might seem like vaguely sexually perverse to admit, but Lis Sladen looks very cute whilst doing her part-suffocated acting...
Roger Murray Leech's production designs are very nice, utilising gleaming white interiors for the ark, along with minimalist, but functional control panels. The corridors are a thing of beauty, and with corridors playing such a quintessential part in Doctor Who, these rank among the very best - it's no wonder that such impressive sets were ingeniously re-used not long after in Revenge of the Cybermen. Hmm, gleaming metal, flashing lights - does this description of the interiors sound familiar? Allow us to elaborate...
First broadcast late January/mid-February 1974, The Ark in Space featured the concept the protagonists materialising upon an ark in space carrying the last of a race that had departed their doomed planet. In 1978, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was first broadcast on BBC radio, the last episode of which featured protagonists Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect materialising upon an ark in space carrying what was supposedly among the last of a race that had departed their doomed planet. The Ark in Space's fleeing race were avoiding solar flare, whereas Hitchhiker's ones were supposedly fleeing an enormous mutant star-goat; whatever the reason, the concepts are surprisingly similar and it is made all the more interesting by the fact that Douglas Adams would go on to write for Doctor Who and was also story editor during a particularly busy period in his life. It's a pretty safe bet that Adams might have seen The Ark in Space and might have been influence by it in terms of the Golgafrinchams and their "B" Ark - if you wanted to desperately link the two of them together, you could say that the Ark in the Doctor Who story was the "A" Ark in Adams' universe, carrying all the brilliant leaders and the achievers, and The Doctor narrowly avoided materialising upon the one that contained the load of useless bloody loonies. It's a bit of a stretch, but an interesting one.
Speaking of possible influences, episode three of this story has The Doctor tapping into the memories of the dead Wirran Queen; mention is made of the concept of the eye retaining the last image it sees before death and this was explored in Dario Argento's 1971 thriller, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (the title alludes to a vital clue obtained through this concept). Argento's film was released in the UK in February 1973, nearly two full years before The Ark in Space was broadcast; Doctor Who has long been influenced by literature and films, taking concepts and ideas and then putting them into a science-fiction environment, so it's possible that Robert Holmes, original writer John Lucarotti or even Philip Hinchcliffe saw Argento's film during it's UK theatrical run and thought that the premise might make for a thing for Doctor Who.
The writing from the scribe with the safest pair of hands in classic Doctor Who, Robert Holmes, is great, with plenty of witty banter between our three leads, along with the pervasive layer of doom that manifests itself aboard the ark. Holmes chooses to toy with the concept of "bodily horror", which was touched upon several times during the original run of Doctor Who, with The Seeds of Doom being the best example of this. Holmes has the somewhat ghoulish concept of an alien being making direct contact with the human body, laying eggs inside and using the warm fleshy innards as sustenance for the yoong creature.
This story has taken a fair bit of flak for using the then-new material of bubble-wrap as a skin-like texture for the alien beasties; to be perfectly honest, it's not nearly as bad as many of the naysayers would have you believe, but the effects designers could have tried a wee bit more to disguise what it was. It's best looked upon as a commendable way of trying to present something different using new materials, though they could have significantly upped the gross-out factor stating that the bubble-wrap was pustulous and have them being squeezed like zits. When you see one of the creatures in the grub stages, the design is fine, but - in a situation that would later happen so many times during Doctor Who in the eighties - it is let down by being bathed in bright, flat lighting; this is remedied by having a power drain toward the end of the third episode, where the lighting is brought down to Genesis of the Daleks level and suddenly the level of palpable tension is increased considerably.
It could be argued that whilst most of the first episode sets up the story, there is quite a bit of padding in it, what with Sarah Jane getting herself into a bit of bother and the arseing around that The Doctor and Harry have with the lethal security system, but even though it might be padding, it's entertaining. In the scenes with The Doctor and Harry trying to outwit the ark's internal defences, there is good chemistry between Baker and Marter, the sort of thing that only really comes from two good actors who have a rapport with each other and have obviously sat down and planned out some unscripted bits of business beforehand.
Cock-ups that occur on-screen during this era of Doctor Who are pretty rare - gone were the days when the show was filmed "as-live", and the flexibility in editing that newer technology afforded videotaped television early into the Jon Pertwee years meant that it was easier to stop and go again if an fluff happened. There are those who would say that Tom Baker would overstep the mark in performance terms (most of season seventeen being a good example), but during the second episode of The Ark in Space, Baker literally overstepping the mark in one scene, where he accidentally steps in front of actress Wendy Williams just as she is about to deliver a particularly dramatic line - Baker suddenly realises that he is partially obscuring the actress and then tries to carefully take half a step back to get out of her way; the move worked, but it unfortunately robs a dramatic scene of some of its tension. We really should also give a passing mention to a dramatic scene in episode two being ruined by the extra playing a supposedly cryogenically-frozen member of the ark, who can clearly be seen blinking in the background...
If there is one thing that is annoying about this story, it is that to begin with, the last remnants of the human race come across as terribly pompous and pious, seeing themselves as the "superior" race and regarding The Doctor and his human companions as being decidedly inferior; they tend to be like the sort of religious cults that sprang up during the nineties that regarded themselves as the chosen ones and were preparing themselves to be taken away in a spaceship (when in actuality, they usually ended up being taken away in private ambulances in body-bags). If anyone less noble than The Doctor had stepped aboard the ark, the chances are that they would have thought "sod the self-righteous bastards" and departed the ship, leaving them to the Wirrn. Luckily, the humans eventually lighten up, especially the initially ice-cold Vira (Wendy Williams), who comes to realise that The Doctor and his companions actually have thier best interests at heart. The capacity for selflessness and goodness that the human race has always had (at least that's what they say in science-fiction) is displayed near the story's climax, when leader Noah (Kenton Moore) manages to cling on to his humanity at a crucial moment and this is a good message to give to a family audience without ramming it down their throats.
Tom Baker's second story returns to DVD in a Special Edition; whilst we cannot comment upon any improvements that might have been made to the audio/video presentation as we did not have the original release, we will judge it on its own merits.
The image quality is pretty impressive, with the bright, flat lighting helping to bolster detail and eliminate graininess during the scenes where the white/cream colour schemes dominate. Image detail is about as good as you can get, given the age and limitations of the 2" Quadruplex tape format - this is not to damn the picture quality with feint praise, as there are times when it looks pretty damn good, with fairly vivid colours and a pleasing amount of image detail. We sincerely doubt that it will ever look better than this.
Nothing wrong here - Dudley Simpson's instantly recognisable brand of percussion, brass and woodwind comes across strongly, especially during the climax of episode three. Robert Holmes' witty dialogue is clear and distortion-free.
Audio Commentary: One of many special features ported over from the original DVD release, this commentary track combines the triumvirate largely responsible for dragging Doctor Who into a new era of public appreciation, as producer Phillip Hinchcliffe joins actors Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen in taking an occasionally light-hearted, but also very informative look at The Ark in Space.
We all know that Baker has had a major humility-graft over the last few years, and this track was recorded when he was still very prickly about Doctor Who, the fans, his previous work…well, just about everything, really. To have him on board at this time really was quite a coup, and getting him there must have been like guy from the “face-pack” scene in Steve Martin’s The Jerk, but having him in the studio is pretty cool, in spite of a few problems. As might be expected, there are long pauses during the proceedings, one would imagine through Baker being there through a cunning mixture of emotional blackmail and a disrupter jabbing him in the ribs, and the former Doctor sometimes will resort to communicating his emotions via the deployment of almost bestial grunts. Those looking for it will certainly pick out some residual animosity between Baker and Hinchcliffe, but with the amount of times Baker threw his weight around in the producers’ direction, it isn’t all that surprising.
There are a number of nice things said about the late Ian Marter, not least of which being when Sladen notes how his chivalrous qualities came to the fore when keep the hem of her dress to prevent anything from being glimpsed which would impugn her purity. Marter was probably the only guy in the known galaxy able to pull off the line “I say… what a marvellous way to travel” with such a perfect balance of sincerity and humour, and as if expressing his appreciation of the actor’s talents, Baker lets out a loud “Ha!” upon hearing it again. As a matter of fact, Marter and Harry Sullivan illicit much laughter from the participants, serving as a much-needed dose of reality to the outré plot, proving that the late actor knew exactly what he was doing, and did it damned well.
While a lot of commentaries are concerned with recalling the actual filming of the scenes they are watching, being the physical processes and the like, this earlier one (from over a decade ago!) hadn’t found itself pulled into the usual friendly, entertaining mould which would become effortlessly enjoyable. There is discussion about how Hinchcliffe went out of his way to make sure that all the actors took the show seriously, making sure that they weren’t just treating it as exactly the kind of job board-treading thespians have always seen it as, and therein lies one the key things which makes The Ark in Space work: that the conviction generated carries it through some rather dubious monsters and other problems. Sladen points out that things were tricky for the actors to try and remember how they played things in certain scenes to make them match up with others shot directly after, but appearing at different points in the story - or as it’s called, film acting.
One of our favourite exchanges between the two men come when discussing the supporting cast, which highlights the love/hate nature they all have when appearing in it. Sure, there are many other stories on numerous commentaries about those who came on board for a story and were almost crying when accepting, a lack of work forcing them to do so, but we hear about the other side of the coin. “I think all actors used to like guesting on the show…” muses the producer, only for Baker to burst into a fit of genuine giggles. “Yes, they did…” the bear-like thespian chuckles. “Because they knew…” continues Hinchcliffe, “…they get brownie-points with their children”. “And their grandchildren. That‘s exactly so, yes…” interjects Baker. “…Glenda Jackson once said that her son Daniel said ’can’t you get into something, you know, we all watch‘”.
Lis Sladen reminds the boys about the much-hated ten minute photo-call before the 7.30pm taping of Doctor Who, something which really destroyed all preparation. “We used to have a 7.20 call,” Sladen vocally grimaces, “ …where we had to pose for the BBC photographers, so they could get some stills, and I used to find that terribly difficult, because to make Doctor Who believable, you have to take quite a large step as an actor, and if they’d watched one of the run-throughs and seen a particular moment, and said ’pose behind that rock, Lis, and look frightened,’ and it was the antithesis of everything I needed for [filming at] 7.30”.
Hinchcliffe praises the leads for their ability to know just what was needed at key points to keep the pace up and have the everything work out for the benefit of the story. Well, there is a discrete barb among the bouquets - aimed at Baker - but it’s subtle enough to pass him by. “What I think was so good about both your performances,” Hinchcliffe confesses, “…is that both of you understood that you were carrying the story and the narrative, and whether it was exciting, whether it had energy, whether it was really gripping the audience was in large measure, sort of due to the intensity you got across in your performances, and also how you understood the turning points in the narrative yourselves…and maybe you didn’t read all the scripts… intently, but you intuitively understood - with the director’s help - what were important moments… what had to be really sort of pulled-up. You were telling the story though your emotions, we couldn’t rely on magnificent special effects”. In spite of the swipe at Baker, Hinchcliffe just nailed the entire love and appeal for Doctor Who in that last sentence, and it’s hard to put it better.
This is a fun track, with Baker managing to enjoy the proceedings almost in spite of himself. Regardless of past animosities, everyone is relaxed around each other, and Baker is surprisingly warm about the role which stays with him for the rest of his career. It’s pretty easy-going fun, and we guarantee you’ll be swept up along with it. We hadn’t heard this track before now, and the only mockers put on it all is to hear the late Ms Sladen so full of life and clearly having a good time when we all know her premature outcome. Don’t let such maudlin thoughts stop you from tapping into the fun, be it for the first or umpteenth time.
A New Frontier: Hurrah! Where there were none of these superbly-made documentaries being made about classic stories at time of the original DVD release, we are now treated exactly what we missed out on, scotching any such rumours that this special edition was just going to be exactly the same but with an extra disc thrown in with it. The making of Tom Baker's second Doctor Who story is examined here in this 30 minute documentary through a diverse range of folk both in front of and behind the screen, affording us a good look at the changing direction of the show under the new command of Phillip Hinchcliffe, as well as the design challenges faced with trying to upscale on a budget which had as much flexibility as an anvil.
Everyone loves a baddie, so it seems an appropriate place to start. Sure, the Wirrn were lacking in both the dexterity and flexibility departments, but to see a still-photo of them is still pretty impressive, even though they don’t look as though they might be any kind of credible threat to the human race when in motion. Phillip Hinchcliffe is almost defensive about the creatures, explaining that once approved, it was in the hands of the Gods and lighting crews: “…It was a good design, it was functional,” the impressively-eyebrow’d producer starts. “It looked like what it was meant to be, a sort of giant, waspy thing. The fact that it was light quite highly, um, I think…took away some of the mystery. Compare it to say Alien, which is a similar sort of story… you had the sense of something truly organic, but it costs a lot of time and money to create that”.
Director Rodney Bennett is a little less harsh about the insectoid villains, and tries to accentuate the positive in them, almost hoping that nobody noticed that they weren‘t massively expensive animatronics, “The design of the adult Wirrn had to take note of two things,” he waxes, “…One was the insect on which it was based - it had to be an insect-like creature… it also had to take into account how it was going to be operated… by a stuntman inside it. Therefore, the design had to take into account that the stuntman had to be able to move his feet. The cameramen obviously had to keep the camera off the floor, at the point where the stuntmen’s feet might have been seen… which would have given the game away completely”. It’s a nice try, but the human brain seems to paint the feet automatically, regardless of any careful cinematography.
As well as detailing his fight to “get away from the wobbles” of traditional Doctor Who sets when working on The Ark in Space, designer Roger Murray-Leach reiterates the sentiments of Hinchcliffe‘s mission statement at the time, that they would: “…try and make it feel harder,” our man with the set-square recalls, “…More credible. And if I say less cardboard, that sounds trite… a little bit more adult.” The casting of Tom Baker as the title character seems to have been part of this notion, to make the show a little more that it was, something which celebrity-fan Nick Briggs wholeheartedly agrees with, “I’d already bought into the new Doctor completely in ‘Robot’” he confesses, “It was a gear-change to something that at time I thoroughly approved of”.
The presence of Kenton Moore brings certainly the funniest anecdote to the proceedings, augmented through his choice of words and delivery. Excited by the dramatic possibilities Noah’s hand being controlled by the Wirrn, rehearsals sailed by for the thespian, but: “…when we came to record it,” Moore almost sighs, “…that’s when the problems for me as an actor started… I went off into my dressing room, and these two makeup ladies turned up. One had a roll of bubble-wrap, one had a roll of Sellotape, and the other one had …a plastic bottle of green liquid, which looked like - indeed, I think it was - Fairy washing-up liquid, and my heart sank”. The Wirrn designs sank as many hearts as Louise Jameson broke when she decided to stay on Gallifrey.
Oh, and speaking of Noah, time is devoted before the credits roll about the infamous cutting of his death-scene, with all involved expressing their fears and disappointments from the time and even today about one of the most dramatic moments in the shows’ history being nixed before it was even broadcast. Through anecdotes from Moore and Hinchcliffe, along with extracts from the script, we are given enough material to work out for ourselves just how it might have looked, and makes it even more of a shame that they had to “refer it upwards” to higher authorities, when if left unhampered, would have provoked minor outrage and generated higher audiences via Daily Mail-type headlines.
As things approach their unwanted ending, the woman who would be Vira, actress Wendy Williams, perfectly sums up everything which a fan would hope those guesting on the show would take away with them. Carefully photographed from the side, in order to obscure some of her health problems, which we would assume was a previous stroke. “Forty years on, it’s quite amazing that I’m still hearing from people who’ve bought the DVD and that they’re enjoying it, ” she professes with a measure of pride, “It’s quite incredible and I feel very proud that I was lucky enough to be chosen to be in it”. So would any of us, our dear. This documentary is yet another winner, and even more appreciated that they have gone to the trouble of bringing it into being when it didn’t exist last time out. It’s only a shame that Elisabeth Sladen wasn’t around to participate. Certainly worth half an hour of your time, aside from arriving eleven years late!
Roger Murray-Leach Interview: Murray-Leach‘s semi-serious opening gambit of “I do not want to talk about Blake’s 7. I do NOT want to talk about Blake’s 7” kicks off the genial artist in this illuminating chat with the man able to pull innovative designs out of his arse, which was the preferred way of creating things at the BBC, as it was the cheaper that setting aside things in the budget. It’s an intriguing mix of struggling through little money, trying to get around the limitations of the BBC studios, bonding with Tom Baker when he was in hospital during The Sontaran Experiment, creating alien worlds and languages, and proof that Porches really are a load of old horseshit. It’s short, but packs in a lot of fun stuff, and Murray-Leach is an engaging listen, and how can you not like a guy who believes that having to build things from scratch for a futuristic show like Doctor Who is: “…the joy of it”?
Model Effects Roll: It's always a treat when some of the original effects elements are presented as special features, and here is seven minutes of footage boasting all the effects you love and a number of ones which went unused. This is a pretty illuminating look at the methods originally employed to make the unreal real, with everything done in-camera. You can almost look at it a progression-reel, in much the same way than images go though their various motions when a CGI sequence is being constructed, varying and improving with each “pass”. A good example is where the wee Astral System space ship flees the station, with the “sparkler” for the engines running out after a few unsuccessful passes, and isn’t present in all the ones thereafter, and all done with the same techniques used in Button Moon, boasting a more obvious connection to the world of Doctor Who. We’ve always thought that the escaping ship looks like a cross between Thunderbird 1 and a penguin, particularly when an unused shot sees it waddle in much the same way as the beloved, flightless bird. Oh, and as much as the shots of the Wirrn crawling over the hull was nixed in the final edit (save for the brief shot of them on the scanner), a brief glimpse of them would have given them a bit more the animation they sorely needed.
CGI Effects Roll: For those to don’t want to wait to see all of the new effects created for The Ark in Space, then you get the opportunity to witness them all in a continuous stream, all presented in chronological order. The new work is really rather nice, and blends in quite well with the rest of the material, giving a new dimension to the limits of the time. It’s just a pity that the Wirrn couldn’t have had a bit of the same loving treatment given to them, and The Ark in Space would have kept even the most jaded of Nu-Who brats happy. The six CGI effects shots are presented here in their entirety, clocking in at around two-and-a-half minutes in total.
3D Technical Schematics: Here they are, a damned good look at the principle vehicles seen in The Ark in Space, essentially give the “turntable” treatment used when constructing CGI models - no prizes for guessing where these came from! You get up close and personal with the Nerva Orbiting Vehicle, the sleekly-smooth Simpson Astral System Shuttlecraft and the Tucker Matter Transmitter Array, even though it isn’t technically a vehicle, it does allow with movement of personnel. A nice little bonus, and we can see captures from this being utilised in a number of different ways, aside from wallpaper.
Trailer: This vintage advert for The Ark in Space recalls the times where programmes were trailed with extended clips to establish the story, rather than lightening-fast snippets to generate phoney excitement and the “if you don’t watch this, you will die” methods used these days. It’s nice that the voiceover doesn’t fall into the usual trap of calling the main character the title of the show, opting for “…a brand new adventure of Doctor Who” instead. It’s not one of the best plugs they have ever done, but it’s nostalgia value cannot be underestimated.
Alternative Titles: This is a weird one, with the opening image being the TARDIS falling from camera only to bounce back up again, all in silence. After that, it pretty much continues as usual, but it really makes you scratch your head trying to work out just what they were thinking with it.
Alternative CGI Sequences: We all know that some of the effects aren’t the very best to grace the show, but the decision was made to try and freshen up the story by giving it a digital re-do, and we have to say they we really enjoyed the results. They are in keeping with the original aesthetic, blending well with the wonderful interiors and opening up The Ark in Space to more than just the devoted, who would be much more forgiving. The option to view with or without them is yours, so everyone’s happy.
TARDIS-Cam no.1: Ah, the very first one of those little bursts of Doctor Who which gave the faithful that little shot in the arm every now and again, and they certainly set the bar pretty high on the initial entry, with the severed head of one of our favourite-era Cybermen staring out reminiscent to the opening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. There is probably more atmosphere created this a single vista than Nu-Who could manage under the same constraints. Excellent, indeed!
Easter Egg: This is the thirty second clapperboard shot for scene two of The Ark in Space, where - dun..duuuuuuun - they lose the light at the beginning. It won ‘t rock your world, but it’s nice to find something there you have to find for yourself.
Easter Egg: This is an amusing plug for the famed exhibition held up north. Tom Baker, in costume, barges his way into a close-up on camera and announces: “Hello… goodbye! Can’t stay long - I’m off to Blackpool. Brush your teeth!”
The Ark in Space - Movie Version: This condensed version of Tom Baker's second story clocks in at 70 minutes, which was the fate of numerous Doctor Who stories during times when the regular run of the show wasn't on. Things start off very much as the episodic version, with the first part only having about five minutes removed, which somewhat bafflingly includes Baker's "Homo Sapiens" speech, but serious nips and tucks begin to occur with episode two. There have been many Doctor Who fans who have said that condensed versions six-part stories tend to work much better (if we had a fiver for every time we've heard someone smugly say that Genesis of the Daleks works better as four-parter, we'd have about twenty quid by now...), but it seems odd to make a severely truncated omnibus of a four-part story, and one that was reasonably well-plotted to start with, but that's just our opinion - there are doubtless some people out there who will prefer this shortened version. It should be pointed out that much like the truncated edition of Jon Pertwee's Planet of the Spiders, the Restoration Team have not woven their usual magic here, and has been presented "as is".
Doctor Forever! Love & War: This is the first part of a five-part series looking at various aspects of Doctor Who. The nineties were an odd time for Doctor Who; the cancellation of the TV series just when it had started to lift itself out of the doldrums meant that there was something of a vacuum, in that fans of Doctor Who were still eager to experience new stories that involved everyone’s favourite Time Lord. The main stepping-stones between the classic series, the TV Movie and New-Who came in the shape of a series of novels from Virgin Publishing, under the banner of The New Adventures.
Even though we had been Doctor Who fans ever since Tom Baker returned to face the Daleks in season seventeen, when the show was cancelled, we were never really interested in reading the New Adventures stories – we constantly saw them on the shelves in bookshops, but we were apathetic; it’s hard to remember exactly why we weren’t bothered, but it was probably that we felt Doctor Who had run it’s course and this was just an act of desperation to continue.
Irrespective of our feelings on the books, this 27 minute documentary takes a loving look back at the Doctor Who’s wilderness years, where the seeds of Doctor Who’s eventual resurrection were sewn, with stories grounded more in reality from young authors who were fans and wanted to put their own stamp on the series’ mythology. Several of the authors in question are interviewed here, including Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and Paul Cornell, all three of whom have written scripts for Doctor Who in recent years.
What comes through during this documentary is the passion that everyone had for Doctor Who, with Gatiss and RTD giving fairly lengthy readings of the opening paragraphs from their novels; Gatiss’ reading is wonderful, as his thespian background allows him to infuse a grand sense of foreboding into his writing.
The way that The New Adventures went from strength is chronicled here, as is the fateful telephone call that author Garry Russell received from BBC Books, asking if he was interested novelising the Paul McGann movie, which caused the Beeb to realise that there was gold in them thar books, and subsequently withdrew Virgin’s licence. The death throes of this particular era of Doctor Who are covered, exploring the efforts to keep the New Adventures going by having Doctor Who books without The Doctor in them, which ultimately resulted in New Adventures fan-favourite companion Bernice Summerfield being given her own run of stories.
This is a fascinating documentary that lovingly shows the efforts that fans went to in order to keep the good Doctor alive, with contributions from several people who would ultimately shape the destiny of The Doctor (ahem) and it is topped and tailed by amusing title sequences that feature a range of colourful crap that was Doctor Who merchandising over the years, along with a brass band arrangement of the Doctor Who theme.
Scene Around Six: This comprises of footage of Tom Baker during a visit to Northern Ireland, when he was arguably at the peak of his powers on Doctor Who; there are shots of him being mobbed by all and sundry, along with him being interviewed on radio. Baker once famously likened his predecessor, Jon Pertwee, to a "tall light-bulb that glitters", but what is presented here makes Baker seem like a lighthouse with jazz-hands, as his imposing frame and radiant personality makes him stand out during the scenes where he is besieged by fans and well-wishers.
One of the most interesting pieces has Baker putting in an appearance in a school, where most of the kids in class seemed pleased at his surprise materialisation; Baker wrote about this experience in his autobiography, and when one little kid put on his trademark hat, the child wanted to be a cowboy, rather than a Time Lord, and Baker thought that he probably hadn't seen Doctor Who. There is some rather sweet footage of a hoard of kids chasing him up and down the school playground, much to the amusement of the youngsters, but the reality simply was that Baker didn't know what the hell to do and just improvised by running up and down. There is a touching scene where a young girl in hospital is visited by Baker and the joy on her face when the actor makes his entrance is immeasurable - it's reminiscent of the sort of appearances that Jimmy Savile used to do around the same time, but without all of the pederastic nastiness that went with it.
Watching this material serves as a great reminder as to how popular Doctor Who was at the time, how god-like Baker was during his tenure and how he seemingly revelled in the attention, even if this was not always the case. This really is an undiluted piece of nostalgia and also a lovely document of the public affection was toward Doctor Who.
Robot 8mm Location Film: This is very interesting, as most of Tom Baker's first story was shot on videotape, you are presented here with a shot but sweet collection of silent footage shot on colour film (more than likely 8mm). The viewer is given glimpses of the cast getting ready to shoot some of the location footage during the final confrontation with the giant robot, and you get to see John Levene mugging for the camera, along with Nicholas Courtney wearing a very un-Brigadier-like pair of aviator sunglasses.
Photo Gallery: A cool montage of images from the filming of The Ark in Space have been included for your personal edification. There are the usual mixture of colour and black-and-white images, which was common practice for the time presented here in a generous of around seven minutes. With Tom Baker still the new guy on the block, a lot of the photos here are “hero” shots of him, ones designed to be easily and conveniently used in various forms of media to establish him as The Doctor, but we also get - among this quite extensive collection - some really nice pictures which really show off the wonders worked by the design department. Dulled by the curse of quad-video, the whites of Nerva Orbiting Vehicle interiors show their full clinical nature when seen on celluloid, and shots of the cast in sequences from the story viewed in such manner almost looks like a really cool, well-funded feature-film, not to mention breathing life into the villains of the piece where shots of the critters dead prove that the Wirrn work best in still-form. Although there is a real dearth of snaps of Ian Marter when compared to the other main stars, the sight of ol’ Harry and Lis Sladen in civvies is enough to quell any grievances. Some lovely monochromatic looks at the impressive sets and at least one semi-dressed Wirrn larvae rounds out a nice gallery, and all to appropriately spooky sounds and music.
Production Subtitles: This particular feature has always been a strong favourite of ours, and we will keep banging on about just how invaluable it is to have something as detailed, accurate, concise and so damned entertaining at your fingertips to enhance the experience of even the most casual of viewer, let alone the flag-waving, t-shirt-wearing, dog-christening variety being equally as well-served by it.
The track is as incisive as usual, and not one to let sentiment take place of revealing some of the more clumsy/awkward direction on the show, with one of the most pertinent examples is found when Sladen is about to be grabbed by the invading monsters at the climax of the story. A lot would have found her movements rather curious, but it’s always a comfort to have your suspicions confirmed by such noble a source. How about: “Elisabeth Sladen backs towards the wall to get herself within Wirrn range. As [Bob] Holmes imagined it, a longer tentacle whips out, lassos Sarah’s waist, and drags her across the floor towards the grille”. Not just criticism, but explanation with it. Would you expect anything less?
There are praise and revelations for the efforts the cast put into their characters, including that of a certain companion of the female variety. Remember where Sarah is rubbing her hand in the back of the shot after being injected by Vira? If you are even reading this, you certainly do. Said rubbing of the effected hand was: “…Elisabeth Sladen’s input: in crafting her performance, she always paid attention to Sarah’s physical experiences“. Speaking of everyone’s favourite spunky female journalist, the fan-loved Sladen line of “How to you think I’m doing, you twit” when Marter asks how her journey through the vent is progressing was destined to be very different, with the originally scripted reply of “Elloney uffa ungay twit” not nearly as pithy as the one which went before the cameras.
We also get a definitive list of changes, along with extracts of the missing material, which occurred between original script and final taping, be they bits which were natural wastage, altered on the set, or snipped out during the final edit. It’s common knowledge that the scene where Noah was messed-about with, and we get to read the pieces which would have caused indigestion at tea-time, with the debilitated crew-member pleading for his death. Some nice banter between Marter and Sladen also hit the sawdust, but this (as the track reliably informs us) was due to timing rather than the Frankenstein reference it contains.
You want minutia? How about not only a comprehensive list of the recording dates, complete with which sets were being erected at what particular time, but you also find out exactly which cameras were only able to see the full effect of the star-field through the corridor windows? Or how the production wrapped at [gasp] 10.15pm on one day, due to problems trying to get a CSO effect to work properly? This might be a vintage track, but Martin Wiggins really hit the ground running when he put this one together, almost being a template for the impeccably high standards maintained by those which followed. We hadn’t watched the first DVD release of The Ark in Space, so this was essentially a new track for us to experience, and we really couldn’t have told it apart from any other the others, so it’s testament to Mr Wiggins that his old work more than holds its own against all those that followed. It’s another easy recommendation for enhancing your viewing pleasure.
Coming Soon Trailer: Don't get TOO excited! Although this is a trailer for the eagerly-awaited Patrick Troughton story, The Ice Warriors, and it's a pretty cool (ahem) trailer at that, the problem is that since this trailer was commissioned, the story has fallen back in the release schedule and it is not up next. Still, it'll be great to see what they've done to patch up the hole caused by the two missing episodes.
PDF materials: Aside from the usual Radio Times listings that are a permanent fixture, there are some wonderfully nostalgic items included here for your viewing pleasure - the most bizarre one has to be a tie-in promotion for Crosse & Blackwell Baked Beans, which features not only a reproduction of the label, but also shows you what you could send away for (the cut-out TARDIS looked pretty cool), but, amongst other things, it also includes two pictures of 24-can boxes that have the Doctor Who logo on the side! Also included are images from the tie-in with Nestlé, which features character cards for the main cast and also has several tantalising pack-shots and point-of-sale material. Finally, the Doctor Who Technical Manual has been thrown in for your delectation, which is VERY cool and features all 69 pages. Featuring the technical schematics of everything from the TARDIS, to Davros himself, there is much to entertain and amusing the hardened Doctor Who fan, along with much to astonish and bemuse casual fans. It's a great way to round-off a fabulous collection of extras - good work to all concerned!
This particular Doctor Who story really hammered home the sense of wonder and joy that Tom Baker infused into the role of The Doctor – more so than Jon Pertwee, Baker truly made the role his own and though it haunted him for many years, the sheer joy that he was obviously having during this period of Doctor Who is impossible to dismiss. Robert Holmes' script is backed up by pretty good production values and an able supporting cast that all help to sell the premise and the menace that manifests itself on-screen.
The extras in this special edition release are plentiful, and the inclusion of the truncated omnibus version means this is the last word in terms of bringing out The Ark in Space on DVD.
Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat cite The Ark in Space as one of their favourite Doctor Who stories and when you watch it for yourself, it's not hard to understand why.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 18th February 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, A New Frontier, Roger Murray-Leech Interview, Model Effects Roll, CGI Effects Roll, 3D Technical Schematics, Alternative Titles, Alternative CGI Sequences, The Ark in Space - Movie Version, Doctor Forever! Love & War, Scene Around Six, Robot 8mm Location Film, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PFD Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Bennett
Cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter
Length: 98 minutes
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