Sue: So what’s gone wrong with the credits this time?
It’s a very good question. For some strange reason the title sequence for Part One has been rendered in sepia tone. We both agree that it looks terrible. In fact, the only good thing about the titles as far as Sue is concerned is the sudden appearance of Robert Holmes’ name.
Sue: What’s an inflatable toy doing floating in space like that?
Me: Are you going to be like this all the way through?
Sue: Struck a nerve, have I? I can tell you like this story before we even start.
Me: How can you tell?
Sue: Well, first of all, you were the one who suggested that we watch Doctor Who tonight, instead of it being me; secondly, I heard you trying to coax Nicol downstairs, promising her that “it’s brilliant, honestly”; and thirdly, you are very defensive and we’re only one minute in.
Me: I just thought we’d passed the point where a slightly dodgy special effect could cloud your judgement. That’s all.
Sue: We have. I just enjoy winding you up.
It’s working. We have finally arrived at a story that I genuinely love and having my wife mock it isn’t a particularly pleasant sensation. I have some very fond memories of the last two Pertwee seasons but they are nothing more than fragmented vignettes. The Ark in Space is where I became invested in this show, and having its magnificence called into question by your significant other many years later isn’t something that I’d recommend.
Sue: Nice TARDIS materialisation.
Me: I could be wrong but I think it’s the first time we see the camera moving as the TARDIS lands. That’s because they didn’t use the traditional ‘roll back and mix’ technique. They just turn up the lights a bit.
We watch the sequence again, just to be sure.
Sue: Yes, it works. Well done.
Me: I told you it was brilliant.
Sue: Are you going to be like this all the way through?
As the adventures gets underway, Sue feels the urge to talk about Harry.
Sue: I’m not impressed with him so far. He’s far too posh and he’s a bit of a berk. Oh, and he looks like a young Michael Ball, which is a bit of a problem. I’m trying to ignore him, to be honest.
As our heroes explore the Ark, they gradually realise that they are running out of oxygen.
Sue: I think they’ve seen enough of this place now. If it’s so uncomfortable there, why don’t they just sod off back to the TARDIS and try again. Oh, and when does the Doctor’s TARDIS start working properly? They keep promising me a working TARDIS and they keep failing to deliver one.
Before very long, Sarah finds herself being hypnotised on a bed.
Sue: Sarah Jane is clearly off her head on drugs in this scene. Ecstasy by the look it. They should be playing some Floyd rather than this pompous classical music, though. That would be far more relaxing.
Meanwhile, Harry is busy having his shoes obliterated.
Sue: Does Harry end up like Bruce Willis in Die Hard? Do his shoes form an important plot point later on?
The Doctor manages to disable the Ark’s security system, but with great personal cost to his scarf.
Sue: So, does the Doctor always have burn marks on his scarf? And do the fans who knit their own versions of the scarf put the burn marks in as well? I’m pretty sure that his scarf is full purl, by the way.
Me: Yeah, thanks for that.
Sue: Oh look, Sarah Jane is having a nice sauna, now. Have they arrived at a futuristic spa?
When the action moves to the Ark’s circular corridor, Sue perks up considerably.
Sue: Now that looks great. That’s probably the best set design that I’ve seen in this show so far. It really is quite impressive for 1975.
It’s about bloody time!
But it doesn’t last.
Sue: The problem with Harry is the last time I saw sideburns that big, Noddy Holder was attached to them. And I’m pretty sure he was taking the piss.
The Doctor and Harry enter a huge cryogenic storage facility.
Sue: The bodies look plastic. Are the Autons up to no good again? Am I close?
I have to hush her as the Doctor begins an indomitable speech.
Sue: Nice speech.
Me: It’s so good, David Tennant’s Doctor paraphrases it in the new series.
Sue: Really? I don’t remember that.
Me: Tennant probably burped in the middle of it so it would have been easy to miss. Anyway, could you imagine Jon Pertwee delivering a speech like that?
Sue: Not a chance. He would have insulted the human race, probably.
The episode concludes with our first good look at a Wirrn as it topples out of a cupboard.
At this point, Sue simply turned to me, smiled a slightly condescending smile, and gently shook her head.
When it is revealed to us that the Wirrn is just a corpse, Sue still isn’t impressed.
Sue: It looks like a giant poo with green bits sticking out of it.
Suddenly, a woman named Vira awakens from her cryogenic sleep.
Sue: Oh, the polystyrene was a bit too squeaky when she stepped out. They should have thought that through a bit more. Hang on, is that… is that Sue Lawley?
Vira demands to know who Harry and the Doctor are.
Sue: I love the line about Harry only being qualified to work on sailors. Tom Baker is practically laughing his head off as he says. He seems to be enjoying himself.
Vira attempts to revive Sarah by injecting her with some antiprotonics. Vira claims that Sarah now has a 50-50 chance of survival.
Sue: She could have told them the odds before she stuck that thing in Sarah Jane! And her bedside manner is appalling.
The Ark’s commander, Noah (who’s real name is Lazar), is the next occupant of the Ark to be revived.
Sue: His real name is even sillier than his nickname. How does that work?
As Harry and the Doctor argue with Noah, a maggot-like creature can be seen entering the inner-workings of the Ark.
Sue: I’m not even going to comment on that. But I have noticed something interesting: Tom Baker has a very odd shape.
Sue: I wouldn’t call him fat but he appears to be carrying a lot of weight around his mid-section.
Me: That’ll be all the crap he’s carrying around in his pockets.
Noah is worried that the Doctor and Harry will corrupt humanity’s gene pool.
Sue: Do they really believe that Harry is going to start shagging unconscious women in their plastic containers? It’s a bit of a leap.
Finally, Sarah is revived from her enforced sleep and she quickly re-enters the fray.
Sue: The outfit she came out with is a lot better than the one she went in with. Actually, I’m sure the costumes in this story were influenced by the Osmonds.
Me: Are you mad?
Sue: The Osmonds were a very influential group. I’m pretty sure they wore white uniforms on stage just like that.
Me: That’s weird, even for you.
When the Doctor investigates the Ark’s solar stack, he encounters a large writhing green thing with a single eye bubbling away in a tank.
Sue: Giant tadpoles. That’s quite unpleasant. Even Tom Baker looks as if he is genuinely freaked out by it.
The Doctor tries to reason with Noah, who is now acting very strangely indeed after a close encounter with some green slime. So strangely, in fact, he shoots the Doctor dead when he’s in mid-sentence.
Sue: So has the Doctor just been atomised? That was a very short run.
Me: Still longer than Paul McGann’s.
When Baker later regains consciousness, he picks up the sentence where he left off. I turn to Sue and I notice that she is grinning from ear to ear.
The Doctor describes the Wirrn’s reproductive habits in gruesome detail.
Sue: So this is basically Alien?
Me: There are certain similarities, yes.
Sue: How did they sneak this idea into an afternoon tea-time slot? The concept is pretty horrific.
Me: This story scared the shit out of me when I was a kid. I couldn’t hide behind a sofa, though – ours was pushed up against the wall – so I had to use a cushion instead. In fact, I’m fairly certain that The Ark in Space gave me nightmares.
Sue: Yes, and you’ve been terrified of bubble wrap ever since.
Another crew member named Libri is revived but he detects a problem with Noah. So Noah kills him.
Sue: What’s with the star-jumping death, mate? I’m glad he’s dead – he couldn’t act his way out of a plastic bag.
The episode concludes with Noah realising that he’s not feeling himself.
Sue: Now, that is going to **** up the gene pool.
As Noah struggles to overcome the Wirrn inside him, Sue can’t decide if she should be impressed or incredulous.
Sue: I know I really should be laughing at this but the actor’s performance is selling it to me. But it’s still just some bubble wrap sprayed painted green, you know. There’s no getting around that fact.
Me: You have to remember that bubble wrap was probably quite exotic in 1975; it wouldn’t have been so familiar to the audience back then. Give them a break.
Sue: You never got this defensive when I criticised some of the monsters in Jon Pertwee’s stories.
Me: Yes, but this is an incredible performance from Kenton Moore as Noah. Just look at the anguish etched into his face. It’s incredible!
Sue: Well, it was. Now he looks like Rod Hull practicing his act in his bedroom. It doesn’t help that if you look at the bubble wrap pattern you can make out a little face. Look! Can you see its eyes and nose? But full marks to the actor for banging his hand on the desk without popping it. It is a great performance.
As Noah succumbs to the Wirrn, Vira laments his passing.
Sue: Maybe they can pair bond Harry with Sue Lawley. Does Harry stay behind to revive the human race? That would be a nice end to his story.
Me: You don’t like Harry, do you?
Sue: I just don’t see the point of him.
I think this could be a new record when it comes to Sue wishing that a companion would be ejected from the TARDIS.
Sue: Oh look, there’s someone in a sleeping bag that has been spray-painted green. But what can you do, eh? And as long as the actors believe it, I can go along with it. And Tom Baker looks as if he really believes it. He is very good, I have to admit.
When the Doctor and Sarah are attacked by the beast, the story reaches a new low point for Sue.
Sue: You could easily run away from that thing! It’s moving like a snail – literally like a snail.
The Doctor decides to plug his mind into the brain of a Wirrn corpse while the rest of the crew keep the “Hungry Caterpillar” at bay. The Doctor eventually discovers that electricity is the key to their salvation.
Sue: Why couldn’t the Doctor have worked that out from what happened to Harry’s shoes? They should have guessed that ages ago. It’s so obvious – they spent an episode trying to switch the bloody thing off.
The episode concludes with Noah reaching the final stages of Wirrnhood.
Sue: I could have done without the shaky dissolve. In fact, I can’t say I’m impressed with the direction in this story. It’s alright, but it’s nothing special.
Sue: Okay, it’s stopped being like Alien, now. I don’t remember the crew stopping to have a long chat with the monster in that film.
I can tell that something else is bugging her.
Sue: I’m sorry but the monsters are rubbish. What were they thinking? How did they think this would work? I’m sorry but I just wish it looked a little better. I think part of the problem is that this story is lit far too brightly. Nothing can be that scary when it’s under strip lighting, and they should try to hide these aliens as much as possible.
When searching for a means of escape, the Doctor realises that the Ark’s matter transporter works both ways.
Sue: You can reverse anything in this programme. Everyone knows that.
As a crew member named Rogin climbs onto the magic bed, Sue finds fault with the Ark’s ergonomics.
Sue: They should have worked out a better access route to that bed. You know, like some tiny fold-a-way stairs. If they had to clean somebody’s piss up, they’d have to trample over all the expensive machinery just to get at it.
Me: What possessed you to think of such an eventuality? Jesus!
The Wirrn put a spanner in the works when they instigate a massive power failure.
Sue: This is much more like it. Why didn’t they cut the power ages ago? It’s a lot more scary now. They should have lit the whole thing like this.
As the Doctor concocts yet another plan, Sarah tries to interject but the Doctor shuts her down.
Sue: Here we go again. Nothing ever changes.
But, just a few seconds later, the Doctor is sweetness and light as he asks Sarah for her input.
Sue: Okay, fair enough. That is a big difference. Pertwee wouldn’t have behaved like that. Still a bit rude, though. And does Tom Baker ever blink? I don’t think I’ve seen him blink. He’d be good against the weeping statues in the new series.
When the action moves to the Ark’s shuttle, Sue is impressed by the scene’s ambience.
Sue: Oh, I like the lilac lighting. Why didn’t they shoot the whole thing like this? The lighting in the first three episodes was terrible but this is really nice.
In the mist of all this insanity, Sarah and Harry start bickering with each other.
Sue: You can see how Amy and Rory’s banter may have been influenced by Harry and Sarah Jane. They have a similar chemistry. I just hope they don’t start shagging each other in the TARDIS.
As Sarah makes her way through the Ark’s ventilation shaft, Sue is once again struck by the story’s similarities to a certain sci-fi blockbuster.
Sue: It’s definitely turned into Alien again. When was Alien released?
Sue: So Ridley Scott could have seen this before he made Alien?
Me: It’s entirely possible.
Sue: Maybe he showed it to his crew and said, “I want it to look like that, but with decent lighting, sets, monsters and music”.
When Sarah finds herself stuck in the shaft, the Doctor decides to taunt her out.
Sue: I knew he was just pretending to be mad at her. If this had been Pertwee I would have believed him. Maybe that’s why Sarah believed him – maybe she’s used to it.
The Doctor and Sarah reach the control room but a Wirrn attempts to interfere with their progress.
Sue: Just walk away from the grill! Sarah Jane is starting to irritate me a bit now. Get a grip, girl!
The Wirrn are lured in the Ark’s shuttle but the Doctor is denied an opportunity to nobly sacrifice himself when Rogin decides to intervene on his behalf.
Sue: What a nice man. And it’s nice to know that cockneys wills survive in the future; at the beginning, I thought it was just stuck-up pompous twats who were going to repopulate the planet; there’s hope for us all yet.
The story concludes with the last vestiges of Noah’s humanity reasserting themselves long enough for Noah to blow up the shuttle, killing all the Wirrn in the process.
But instead of returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor volunteers to fix the Ark’s T-Mat instead.
Sue: I thought you said this story was only four episodes long? Why hasn’t this ended yet?
Me: It’s a return to the formula of the early days where the stories would flow into each other.
Sue: So, they will come back to the Ark later, then?
Me: Of course they will, they’ve left the TARDIS there.
Sue: So, The Ark in Space has an arc in space? Can you see what I did there?
Me: Yes, very good.
As our heroes prepare to leave, Sue suddenly becomes very animated.
Sue: Hang on a minute – I recognise this. I’m sure I’ve seen this before. I recognise Sarah Jane’s yellow coat and bobble hat.
Me: I believe you are experiencing your first memory of watching Doctor Who with me – almost 19 years ago to the very day. But we’ll save that story for another time.
Sue: It was good but it wasn’t great. I admit that Tom Baker was brilliant and the overall concept was okay (although I’m sure the story could have been told in a much better way), but the direction was a bit flat and the acting ranged from the very good to the completely bizarre. It could have been a lot scarier, too. And I’m very sorry but the monsters looked ridiculous. Having said that, it flew by. It’s a tough one to score but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
Me: That was our first story from new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes. Could you tell?
Sue: It did feel a little different. I couldn’t imagine Jon Pertwee appearing in that story. I can imagine Patrick Troughton doing it but not Pertwee. I’m glad that Robert Holmes is a regular feature now – his scripts are always a cut above the rest – and the tone does seem to have shifted a bit. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet but it’s definitely an easier programme to watch. And no CSO either, which was nice.