BBC Video // 1975 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // March 27th, 2013
"This is a cryogenic repository."
"Repository -- for what?"
"Everything. Everything they considered worth saving."
-- Conversation between the Doctor and Harry Sullivan
In an interview from his tenure on Doctor Who, Tom Baker told a reporter he expected to be the last Doctor. That didn't turn out to be the case, of course, but he did have the longest run in the role (seven seasons) and his face probably comes up in your mind first if you think of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who: The Ark in Space (Special Edition) finds Baker near the start of his run.
Harry Sullivan (Ian Marterm, Doctor Faustus) couldn't resist fiddling with the controls on his first trip in the TARDIS, so the time-and-space police box has landed far into the future -- on a ship carrying the cryogenically frozen last humans. Naturally, the TARDIS crew quickly gets into trouble: Harry and the Doctor (Tom Baker, Little Britain) are menaced by an automatic laser, while Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, The Sarah Jane Adventures) gets trapped in a room without oxygen, then is cryogenically frozen herself. Soon, two of the ark's leaders wake up -- and aren't happy to find the Doctor and his companions aboard. They're less happy to find the Wirrn, larvae who see those sleeping survivors as tasty baby food.
As usual, the Doctor lands in an apparently empty space vessel with low oxygen -- and decides to take a look around instead of bolting back into the TARDIS. I noticed that the William Hartnell episodes that I've seen recently ("The Reign of Terror" and "The Aztecs") separate the Doctor and his companions from the TARDIS so they'll have to get involved in the situation, but by Tom Baker's tenure, the Doctor's just going to go wandering, maybe fiddle at some controls like he yelled at Harry for doing. When it looks dangerous, he wants to investigate further. His companions protest a little, but they generally want to keep looking themselves.
As Sarah Jane, Elisabeth Sladen manages to sound resourceful (even coming up with a solution to the episode's crisis) and innocent at the same time (falling for one of the Doctor's tricks when she's about to give up). Ian Marter's Harry Sullivan comes across like Bertie Wooster, charming on the surface but annoying and mostly useless.
Tom Baker's bulging eyes manage to say a lot, as when the Doctor realizes that Harry has pressed another button and they grow wide with both concern and irritation. When facing a monster or a dangerous situation, Baker sounds enthusiastic, relishing the challenge. Somehow Baker makes that come across as reassuring rather than batty.
The idea of the ark in space may be intriguing, but what I found myself watching during the episode was Kenton Moore's performance as Noah, the ark leader who slowly turns into a Wirrn. It looks like he's arguing with a sock puppet as the Wirrn starts to take him over, but Moore is convincing enough with his mental anguish and conflict to steal the show from Baker. There's also a good smaller turn as one of the ark crew complains about being awakened to face the threat, wishing he'd stayed on Earth to die, but ends up saving the day.
The BBC's DVD releases of Doctor Who present the serials in the most pristine form possible -- so you'll quickly notice that the space ark looks like an inner tube against a backdrop of space, and guess that the monsters are bubble wrap (which the commentary will tell you is right on the money). The interior sets, although minimal, make the ark feel larger than it actually is, a bit like the TARDIS, perhaps.
Tom Baker's along for the commentary with Elisabeth Sladen and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Fans will note that Baker refers to himself as "a Doctor Who," not "the Doctor." He also recalls that being recognized as the Doctor was more fun than being recognized as Callan, a tough guy, was for friend Edward Woodward. Sladen recalls the musical score she heard on the Quebec dub of this serial.
Pop-up notes go into the history of the word "cryogenic" and look at the influences on The Ark in Space, including The Quatermass Experiment and Horror Express (which starred Peter Cushing, the movies' Doctor Who). A Dr. Forever (their spelling) feature looks at the original Doctor Who books that were printed between the two series; authors included former showrunner Russell T. Davies and Mark Gatiss, both of whom are interviewed.
Filling out the extras are a making-of, an interview with serial designer Roger Murray-Leach, model effects roll, CGI effects roll (an improved look, which you can insert into the story as you watch), 3-D technical schematics, a trailer for the serial, alternative title sequence, a TARDIS cam CGI, a photo gallery, news footage of Tom Baker touring Northern Ireland, 8MM film from the set of "Robot" (Tom Baker's first adventure), and a TV movie edit of The Ark in Space.
There's an Easter Egg on the first menu screen, which shows a director's title card. There's also a brief, inexplicable snippet of Tom Baker at the very end of the serial, after the last closing credits.
Many of the extras, such as getting to watch a slightly shorter version of the story, aren't really that special. There's certainly no reason to double-dip if you already have this one.
I liked the serial, but I was surprised to find early on that Tom Baker could let a guest actor steal the show. I was also a little disappointed with the extras on Doctor Who: The Ark in Space (Special Edition). Fans of classic Doctor Who will likely enjoy it, but it's not irresistible.
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* PDF Content