Saturday, 27 July 2013

Story 76 - The Ark In Space

In which Harry has trouble with the helmic regulator. Instead of a quick demonstration trip to the Moon, the TARDIS materialises on a space station in the far distant future. The section of the station they have arrived in has lost power. Sarah almost suffocates when trapped in an airless compartment. The Doctor restores power - inadvertently reactivating a lethal defence system and transmatting Sarah to another section. She is put into suspended animation. The Doctor deactivates the defence system then he and Harry set out to locate Sarah. Harry spots a large green creature, like a grub, which disappears into the infrastructure. They discover that the station is being used as an Ark - holding thousands of people and animals in suspended animation. Harry discovers the corpse of a gigantic insect creature - a Wirrn. With power restored, some of the crew begin to revive. First is Vira - Chief Medtec. The Doctor must inform her that she and her people have overslept by thousands of years. They are survivors of solar flares which ravaged the Earth's surface. Vira helps to resuscitate Sarah. She discovers that one of the technicians, Dune, is missing - his pallet empty. The Doctor notes a slime trail leading up to it. The commander, Lazar - but known as Noah - has trouble reviving due to a technical fault. The Doctor traces this to the solar stacks - and discovers that they have become home to Wirrn larvae.

Noah is worried that the newcomers will upset their finely-balanced gene pool. He goes after the Doctor, who he suspects of sabotage. He refuses to heed the Doctor's warnings and shoots him with a stun gun. When Noah goes to the stacks, he is bitten on the hand by one of the larvae and infected. Another crewmember named Lycett is revived. When he first sees Noah, he gets the impression of a hideous creature before him. Noah later kills him. He is beginning to mutate into a Wirrn. He demands that Vira and the others depart from the Ark and leave the sleepers for the Wirrn. Two other crew revive - Libri and Rogin. The Doctor links his mind via the Ark systems to a piece of membrane from the dead Wirrn's eye. This enables them to witness the last moments of  the creature - how it broke into the Ark, was fatally wounded by the defence system and cut the power. It then opened Dune's pallet...

The Doctor deduces that the Wirrn are similar to Eumenes - a species of wasp which lay their eggs in host bodies. The Wirrn also absorb the memories and skills of their victims. Libri is killed by a larval Wirrn. The creatures have full knowledge of the Ark's systems and use these against the Doctor and his friends. He must devise a way to save them - and the thousands of sleeping humans. Attempts to appeal to Noah's humanity seem to fail. They eventually decide to use the power supply of the transport rocket - Sarah carrying a power cable though the airducts to prevent the newly hatched Wirrn from cutting it. The Wirrn suddenly launch an attack on the rocket, and Rogin sacrifices himself to launch it into space with the entire swarm aboard. The rocket explodes, and they realise that Noah had engineered this - his humanity prevailing at last. Without the rocket, Vira will have to transmat the waking humans to Earth. There is a fault with the system. The Doctor agrees to travel down to Earth to fix it, and Sarah and Harry insist on tagging along...

This four part adventure was written by Robert Holmes, and broadcast between 25th January and 15th February, 1975. It is the first story to be credited to Philip Hinchcliffe as producer.
It has a complicated writing history. Barry Letts decided to help Hinchcliffe, and launch the new Doctor, by setting up a number of stories for this season. A Dalek story had been commissioned from Terry Nation, and a Cyberman one from Gerry Davis. To save on costs, two stories would use the same sets. A story called Space Station was commissioned from Christopher Langley. It would be made alongside The Sontaran Experiment as a six parter - the four part Space Station getting the studio days and the Sontaran story getting the location work. The space station sets would be reused for Gerry Davis' story. Langley's story proved unusable, and veteran writer John Lucarotti was asked to devise a replacement using the same setting. The final story title is his, and it was he who decided to make the station an ark carrying the last remnants of humanity. His monsters were a dual race called the Delc, comprising headless drones and bodyless superiors. Rewrites were needed but Lucarotti lived on a boat in the Med and was unreachable. With only a handful of weeks to go, Robert Holmes stepped in and rewrote the story himself using only some of Lucarotti's elements.

Holmes takes the first Quatermass story as one of his inspirations (as he had the second one for Spearhead From Space). Carroon had returned to Earth with the absorbed memories and experiences of his colleagues, and both stories have the reveal of a horribly mutated arm as a cliffhanger.
Guest artists are Wendy Williams as Vira, Kenton Moore as Noah, and Richardson Morgan as Rogin.
Moore had featured briefly as a  Roboman at the beginning of The Dalek Invasion of Earth (watch it on DVD with the production subtitles switched on and you'll see they don't recognise him). Morgan had appeared in The Web of Fear.
The three regulars are all very well served, each having a good share of the action. Harry, especially, could have easily been sidelined, but Marter gets a lot to do and some lovely - mostly humorous - lines.
As well as Holmes' dialogue (including the famous "Homo sapiens..." speech delivered by Tom Baker), the sets by Roger Murray-Leach are the stand-out feature of the production. The Wirrn are not very well realised - never really convincing as organic creatures.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Looking for something to resuscitate Sarah, Harry opens a storage locker and a giant insect emerges...
  2. Noah has killed Libri. He pulls his hand from his pocket and it is now a green mass - no longer human.
  3. The Doctor is confronted by Noah, now a full grown Wirrn All that is left of him is part of his face, which dissolves away.
  4. The Doctor and his companions transmat to Earth, leaving Vira to prepare her people for the recolonisation of the planet..

Overall, an excellent story. Well written and well made by all concerned. RTD claimed it as the best Classic Series story, and Moffat the best Fourth Doctor adventure. The Hinchcliffe- Holmes era starts here.
Things you might like to know:
  • The first episode features the series regulars pretty much all to themselves - the first instance since 1964's The Brink of Disaster.
  • Lucarotti gave each episode an individual title - (1) Buttercups, (2) Puffballs, (3) Camellias, (4) Golfballs - referring to elements of his original script which they contained.
  • The male computer voices heard in this story are by Peter Tuddenham - best known for voicing all the Blake's 7 computers.
  • The TARDIS gets quite forgotten about after the opening scenes. The Doctor ignores it as a power source, place of safety or means of travelling down to Earth. The way this season will be structured, we won't see it again until the final episode of Revenge of the Cybermen.
  • What appears to be a bit of poor editing in Part Three - the corridor confrontation between Noah and the Doctor and Vira - is explained in an interview with Kenton Moore on the Special Edition DVD release. He just seems to disappear and drop his gun, but there were intervening scenes where he pleads with Vira to kill him. Hinchcliffe thought these scenes too strong for the audience and cut them.
  • It's fun watching out for the pallet-bound extras who blink and open their mouths.

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