Thursday, 25 October 2018
Inspirations - The Ark in Space
There are some really complicated histories behind a number of Doctor Who stories, and The Ark in Space can certainly be counted among these.
This story marks the debut of Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer on the show. We've already mentioned that he has been shadowing Barry Letts for a while, but one thing he has not been able to do is influence the shape of his own first season. Letts and Terrance Dicks had already commissioned the stories that would make up Season 12. In planning this, they have taken into account the popularity of Jon Pertwee. He had been Doctor for longer than either of his two predecessors, and his casting had led to a huge upturn in the ratings. Concerned that his replacement might struggle to make an impact initially, they have loaded the new season with returning favourite monsters. The Sontarans are going to be back for a rapid rematch, following the success of The Time Warrior. Robert Holmes is now fully in place as Script Editor, so their tale will be written by the Bristol Boys - Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who can be trusted to deliver something challenging. The Daleks are naturally going to be present, as Terry Nation is still committed to providing one story per year at this point. And the Cybermen will be back. They were going to be included in Frontier in Space, but the costumes were found to be in a poor state and there wasn't enough money for new ones. Though it will eventually be held over to the next season, new writer for the programme Robert Banks Stewart will be producing an adventure set in his native land, featuring the Loch Ness Monster.
The final slot was initially going to be a contribution by Christopher Langley called "The Space Station", which was quickly deemed unworkable.
The remaining four episodes were then offered to one of the series' veterans - John Lucarotti. He had provided three scripts for the Hartnell run - Marco Polo, The Aztecs and The Massacre, after being promised a three story deal. The problem was, however, that the last of these stories had not been his version. The then script editor Donald Tosh had disliked his submission, and had come up with his own page-one rewrite. Lucarotti had made contact with Letts and Dicks through Moonbase 3, which is how he came to be invited back after such a long absence.
Lucarotti was asked to come up with a story set on a space ark. This was not a new concept for the programme, there having previously been the story now known as The Ark, by Paul Erickson and his partner Lesley Scott, which was broadcast in March 1966. Hinchliffe, Letts and Holmes would have known about this as Gerry Davis noted when he visited the BBC to discuss his Cyberman story that a system he introduced when he was script editor was still in place. This was a wall-chart in the production office covering every story produced so far, with a brief synopsis and an illustrative photo. The intention behind this was to avoid repetition of a previously used idea. The new team obviously thought that this was a concept worth revisiting, and enough time had elapsed since it was last employed.
The story which Lucarotti submitted involved alien spores infesting a space ark, which would accumulate into large balls. Their heads floated around on discs (not unlike what Terry Gilliam later had in his Baron Munchausen film with the King and Queen of the Moon). Having spent very little time living in the UK, and not seeing Doctor Who for years, Lucarotti gave each episode its own title - each with the word "ball" in it - e.g. "Puffball". The Doctor would have whacked the spore-balls into space with a golf club at the conclusion. Hinchcliffe and Holmes were not at all impressed, but there was a problem as far as rewrites were concerned. Lucarotti was living on a boat in the middle of the Mediterranean, and was virtually uncontactable. The decision was made to reject the scripts but, with time running out, there was no chance to offer the slot to anyone else. Holmes therefore decided to write the story himself. The BBC disliked script editors commissioning their own work, for fear of antagonising the Writers' Guild, but Hinchliffe was able to argue the case for an exception due to the time frame, the importance of this being Tom Baker's first season as the new Doctor, and the fact that Holmes was the person best placed to know the series and come up with something workable.
The Pertwee seasons had comprised a large number of six part stories, which Holmes disliked as he felt they needed a lot of padding. He advocated splitting them, narratively, into two and four episode sections. Bearing this in mind, he and Hinchcliffe discussed making two totally separate stories out of the budget for one six-parter. To save money, the main set for one of these would be reused in a third story - which would be Davis' Cyberman adventure.
Generally, each story was set up to include a small amount of filming, followed by a longer block of studio work. The length of the story determined how many days of filming was available, and how many studio days. This filming wasn't necessarily location work - it could be model filming. Previous producers had split this allocation across whole seasons, so that some stories might be entirely studio based (usually alien planets like Peladon), with the filming allocation given to another story (contemporary Earth set, or on a quarry-like planet). Apart from some visual effects filming, The Ark in Space would be an entirely studio bound four-parter, whilst its filming allocation would be given over to the Sontaran story, which was to be recorded entirely on location, and would only be two episodes long.
Whilst The Ark had dealt with the destruction of Earth in the far distant future, with the human race setting off to found a new society on another planet, Holmes' story featured an ark which was more of a lifeboat. The Earth was only temporarily uninhabitable, and the people were up in a space station in suspended animation, orbiting the planet until the time was right to recolonise. However, an alien had got on board and messed up their alarm clock, making them oversleep. The story naturally set itself up as a base-under-siege sort of tale - something which the programme hadn't done for quite a while.
Another idea which Hinchcliffe and Holmes came up with for the season was a story arc. We mentioned these not long ago, when considering the whole Pertwee era from Terror of the Autons through to Planet of the Spiders. The Season 12 arc would be much more explicit. Robot had seen the Doctor leave UNIT HQ with Sarah, and they had invited Harry Sullivan along for the ride. This story begins immediately following that one - with Harry having tampered with the controls of the TARDIS to send them into the far future, instead of the planned quick trip to the Moon and back. At the conclusion of the story, the Doctor would have to visit the Earth to repair the transmat for the awakening humans, and he elects to leave the TARDIS behind and use the transmat to pop down. Using the machine to get back to the Ark, he and his companions would be hijacked by the Time Lords and deposited on Skaro, to face the Daleks. Given a Time Ring to get back to the Ark and the waiting TARDIS, they would then arrive much too early, when the station was a navigation beacon. This would be the Cyberman story, at the end of which the TARDIS would be sent back through time to meet them, and there would be a message from the Brigadier summoning them back to Earth for the season's final story - the one set around Loch Ness. UNIT would therefore top and tail the season, and Harry could stay behind and become a single season companion - no longer needed as they had gone with a younger Doctor than the one originally envisaged.
When Holmes had been interviewed by the 6th Floor for his new post, he had been told about some silly writer who had once included killer policemen and murderous dolls in Doctor Who, which had caused some controversy. He was naturally bemused by this, that writer being himself. Letts and Dicks had shied away from horror elements after Terror of the Autons but Holmes loved this sort of thing, and found a kindred spirit in his new producer. Hinchcliffe wanted to aim the series at a more adult demographic, and away from it being seen as a children's show. We will be talking about Horror influences a lot over the next batch of these posts, and Holmes' particular obsession with "body-horror". The two main themes of this are mental possession, and people being physically taken over, their bodies mutating and transforming. Holmes sets out his stall early here, with the character of Noah, leader of the sleeping humans. Even before he gets bitten by a Wirrn larva, his mind has already been tampered with and a psychic link created with the insectoid interlopers. He then begins to physically as well as mentally mutate, his flesh becoming green and lumpen like the larva's. It should be noted that bubble-wrap was very new when this story was made, so at the time it looked particularly effective. Having Noah become a Wirrn also works on a dramatic level, as it gives the Doctor someone to converse and debate with.
One thing which is missing is Holmes' trademark comedic double act. Instead we get the single character of Rogin, who seems totally out of place in this society - a down to earth, bloke next door, personality surrounded by people who seem emotionally sterile.
One of the inspirations for the Wirrn is mentioned within the dialogue. They lay their eggs inside living creatures, which are then consumed by the larvae when they hatch. The Doctor refers to the Eumenes wasp. Also known as Potter or Mason wasps, because they fashion mud nests for themselves, this genus of vespidae is named after a Greek general who fought alongside Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death his generals fought a series of internecine wars and split up his kingdom. Eumenes spent his last few years under siege, which is presumably why his name came to be associated with the wasp family - he had sealed himself up. The Royal Navy frigate which Harry mentions does not exist.
Whilst he was happy with Roger Murray-Leach's designs for this story, Hinchcliffe was very disappointed with the Wirrn costumes.
It has been said that The Ark in Space can be counted as one of the inspirations for Ridley Scott's breakout movie Alien. This is due to the creature planting its young in a human host, as well as the base-under-siege format and the picking off of crew members one by one. If that is the case, then one of The Ark in Space's forebears might well be 1958's It! The Terror From Beyond Space, which is definitely an inspiration for Alien (as is Mario Bava's 1965 movie Planet of the Vampires). The former has an alien stowaway on a spacecraft, picking off crew, and includes some classic ventilation shaft action. Scott claimed he knew neither film, but give them a go and you will spot so many references. It! is free to view on dailymotion, and Vampires is on You Tube, though both have had recent Blu-ray releases.
Next time: Sontarans become Doctor Who's new Nazis, and Tom Baker is having a cracking time out on location...