Doctor Who: The Ark In Space – Special Edition

Doctor Who: The Ark In Space – Special Edition DVD review.

“You should have seen the size of the can of Raid!”


Release Date: 25 February 2013
1974 | U | 99 minutes | £19.99
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Director: Rodney Bennett
Cast: Tom Baker, Elizabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Kenton Moore, Wendy Williams

Fourth Doctor adventure “The Ark In Space” is often seen as the start of ‘70s Who’s golden years. It’s easy to see why. This is a story brimming with confidence. The first episode, in particular, has a wonderfully ominous tone, as the TARDIS crew explore a seemingly deserted vessel containing the cryogenically frozen survivors of Earth, which has been infiltrated by insectoid aliens. Unusually, it’s not until the second episode that we really meet any of the story’s guest actors, or see the monsters in action.

Ah yes, the Wirrn. Inevitably, the creature effects are charmingly wonky, and the decision to fashion the Wirrn grub out of the (then obscure) material bubblewrap causes some unintentional chuckles. But sod that, because as a concept, they’re terrifying. Four years before Alien hit cinema screens, here was another creature that implanted its offspring in a living human host. Kenton Moore gives a brilliant, tortured performance as Ark commander Noah, one of the infected.

This new found focus on body-horror, combined with Roger Murray-Leach’s excellent sets give the story an edge, but it’s the humour, warmth and cameraderie displayed by Tom Baker (in only his second story), Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter that make “The Ark In Space” – and indeed this era of Doctor Who – so memorable.

Extras:

This is an updated Special Edition of a story which previously came out on DVD in 2002. These reissues have proved vaguely controversial in the ever-precious world of online Who fandom, but there’s no denying that you get an impressive list of stuff.

So, from the original release, there’s a full-length commentary with Baker, Sladen and producer Philip Hinchcliffe, a 10-minute interview with production designer Roger Murray-Leach, the option to replace the shonky model effects with smoother, but less charming, CG effects, an alternative title sequence, some isolated model effects work and a photo gallery. Only a local news piece with Tom Baker during filming in Wookey Hole appears to be curiously absent from this edition.

The new features include “A New Frontier” (30 minutes), the now standard making-of documentary, which features interviews with Hinchcliffe, Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore amongst others. Hinchcliffe discusses the extensive rewrites the story required early on in its production, and director Rodney Bennett talks about the appropriate – but unforgiving! – decision to have Nerva so brightly lit. Dedicated scholars of Who may not learn anything new, but for newbies and more casual viewers, it’s interesting stuff.

The other big documentary is “Doctor Forever! Love And War” – a 28-minute overview of the novel lines that ran while the show was off-the-air in the ‘90s and early 2000s. It’s a decent beginner’s guide to the books, with input from former Who-novelists Paul Cornell and Russell T Davies, but it’s also a little shallow. The books had a huge influence on the shape of the revived series, but this is (mostly) glossed over in favour of focusing on their more controversial aspects (occasionally people swore and had sex).

More heartwarming is “Scene Around Six”, a local news clip from 1978, which follows Baker as he turns on the Christmas lights in Derry, and visits a nearby primary school. “You’re all looking very suspicious…” he says to the startled children. Magic.

Finally, you also get some 8mm footage from Baker’s debut story, “Robot”, a condensed “movie” version of the story (used for repeats) that lops off about 20 minutes, and lots of PDFs – including a Crosse and Blackwell Who colouring book!

Will Salmon twitter.com/evilrobotbill

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