Robert Holmes’s four part story “The Ark in Space” provided the first inclining in 1975 to “DOCTOR WHO’s ten million-plus strong audience that things were going to be a little bit different from now on, under the watch of new show producer Philip Hinchcliffe with Holmes as his script editor. Of course, the previous story, “Robot”, had introduced one huge change already: the brand new Doctor, played by Tom Baker (who was now the fourth actor in twelve years to take on the role since the series started airing in November 1963) had by now arrived, replacing Jon Pertwee at the end of the eleventh series. By the end of these first four episodes, all the props and peccadilloes that were to become forever associated with his bohemian portrayal were now firmly established in the public mind – long scarf, jelly babies, mop of curly hair, insane grin, etc. However, although it was held back to kick off series twelve, “Robot” was actually written by departing script editor Terrence Dicks, who had overseen production of the show throughout the Jon Pertwee years alongside producer Barry Letts. Furthermore, it was produced in the same recording block as the end part of season eleven, with Letts still acting in his usual capacity as producer and Dicks still ensconced as the show’s script editor. Consequently, “Robot” still very much cleaved to the same UNIT family-centred tradition of Earth-based alien invasion stories as those which had largely dominated the approach taken throughout Dicks’ and Letts’ involvement with the show.
Season twelve, as it turned out, was to be very much a transitional period in the series’ history, since the departing production team had largely laid out the groundwork for its content in advance before their leaving. As an insurance policy, Letts had commissioned lots of stories featuring a succession of favourite monsters from the show’s past to ease in the new Doctor, hence a string of stories featuring Daleks, Sontarans and the return of the Cybermen for the first time since the late-sixties were already fixed, with several veteran series writers like Terry Nation and Gerry Davis having been commissioned to write them, entrusted with the task no doubt of ensuring some continuity remained despite the change of face at the centre of the show. However, this made things slightly difficult for Hinchcliffe, who was anxious to leave his stamp on the series by edging it away from the kinds of stories which had earned it a reputation over the years for being a show that was primarily aimed at very young children. He planned to take the series into darker areas incorporating adult science fiction concepts. These years was later to be termed the show’s Gothic period, although Hinchliffe and Holmes never used that word themselves at the time; the change came about because Hinchcliffe in particular had become aware that DOCTOR WHO was now more popular than ever with intelligent teenagers and even older University graduate-aged viewers, not just youngsters. He purposely set out to broaden the show’s appeal, although this was to become an increasingly controversial approach as the strategy developed over time and as the stories began to plunder the horror genre for their content, much to the consternation of Mary Whitehouse and her ilk.
“The Ark in Space” remains one of the most horrific stories (in concept if not always its execution) from the entire cannon of the classic series run, but it ended up being, like so many WHO scripts, something of a hurriedly written one. Among the old-school writers who had originally been commissioned to provide for the new series while Dicks and Letts were still overseeing the show, was the experienced TV writer John Lucarotti, whose association with DOCTOR WHO went back as far as its earliest days when he penned two of the show’s most beloved classic historical adventures during the William Hartnell era: “Marco Polo” and “The Crusaders”. He also scripted “The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve” from around the same era. However, his work on what eventually became “The Ark in Space” was deemed unusable by Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, who saw it as too redolent of the past they eventually hoped to supersed, harking back to the Hartnell years when the series had already been radically made-over by Letts and Dicks even before the Hinchcliffe & Holmes regime took over.
As script editor, Holmes was called upon to rescue the story at very short notice while retaining Lucarotti’s original space station setting, as well as the theme of the cryogenic freezing of human survivors in space and the idea of an invading parasite. This turn of events meant that “The Ark in Space” inadvertently came to be really the only story of the season that truly represented, in full-blooded form, the direction in which Hinchcliffe and Holmes were planning to move the show during coming seasons. The cost-saving production schedule (which involved reusing the same Nerva Beacon space station sets for the following Cyberman story) meant that the adventure aired second in the series run after “Robot”, even though the proceeding (in broadcast order) Sontaran story -- the two part “The Sontaran” Experiment” -- had already been filmed on location in Dartmoor by the same director, Rodney Bennett, using the BBC’s Outside Broadcasting Unit, combining the making of the two stories as though they were part of one six-part story production schedule (which, in a sense, they were).
The clarity with which this story tends to be remembered by those of us wo are of a certain age probably stems from the extreme change in style it seemed to embody, coming as it did, from a viewer’s point-of-view at least, straight after the comforting traditionalism of the Terrence Dicks-penned opener to series twelve. This one was also memorable because Baker’s unique characterisation of the Doctor was by now zoning in on its point of centre, establishing the benevolent alien persona he was to adopt throughout his time on the programme, which brought with it the quirky, ramshackle charm that was rapidly winning over the show’s regular audience. But, most strikingly of all, it sticks in the memory because Holmes injected a truly disturbing premise into a storyline which now took the show into a realm that encompassed vivid, uncomfortably depicted body horror in conjunction with a spiritual possession theme, and did so in a manner that played on the dread of infection, gruesome and disfiguring disease and parasitic invasion more explicitly than had ever been seen in the show’s past history.
Although this story is a quintessential manifestation of DOCTOR WHO in the full glory of its 1970s gothic mode, and would as such come to be viewed as being extremely characteristic of this whole era, the dark, shadowy dungeon gloom usually evoked by use of the word ‘gothic’ couldn’t be less a feature of designer Roger Murray-Leach’s inventive multi-level set, created to realise the space station Nerva Beacon with cunning use of rostrums, mirrors and repeatable white corridor sections that made it look bigger, taller and wider than the small stage allotted at BBC Centre really was. The cryogenic chambers themselves are stacked up on several levels, which even allow director Rodney Bennett to make use of crane shots – a rarity indeed on the show. The inherent nastiness at the heart of the story’s central bodily invasion motif is made somehow all the more unsettling and repellent by this emphasis on the clinically pristine nature of the cryogenic environment which, in the story, has been created to preserve humanity’s finest specimens for future repopulation of the Earth after an interplanetary cataclysm wipes out the majority of the planet’s population and renders it uninhabitable for 5,000 years.
Roger Murray-Leach may have picked up on this stark and sterile, part cathedral, part hospital, part frozen-food-section-at-Marks-&-Spencer aesthetic from hints in Holmes’s script. The writer outlines the coldly efficient, logic-chopping manner of the human survivors in his dialogue, and its a manner which proves to be indicative of the remnants of Earth’s human civilisation as a whole once its first few examples are woken from 10,000 years of slumber as a result of the Doctor fixing the station’s power and oxygen systems when he, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) pay the Nerva Beacon a visit in the 30th Century, as a result of Harry having tampered with TARDIS controls during a ‘quick trip to the moon’. Vira (Wendy Williams) is a haughty, humourless and rather dry individual even once fully revived after her lengthy bout of suspended animation; the group’s ‘prime unit’ Lazar (Kenton Moore), meanwhile – re-named Noah as a nod to the momentous responsibility he bears for the continuity of the human race -- is obsessed with the idea of ‘genetic hygiene’, and is wary of the supposed contamination risk posed by the unauthorised presence of ‘regressives’ on the station such as the Doctor and his companions.
It’s typical of Holmes’ sardonic sense of humour and irony that this vast project, ingeniously devised by the human race as it faced the prospect of its final destruction, is at first lauded by the Doctor when he and Harry gaze in awe at the stacked levels of cryogenic preservation units surrounding them. The Doctor grandly proclaims it the finest example of humanity’s capacity for endless inventiveness and to be indicative of the race’s invincibility and indomitability. But those who have been selected to survive the solar storm turn out to be a collection of rigid, bureaucratic eugenicists in unisex jumpsuits, obsessed with their genetic worthiness and with preserving their essential biological discreteness. This was never intended directly to convey the associations with racist thinking that eugenics these days is intimately linked with. Indeed, the Doctor speaks of the preservation units containing examples of ‘all colours, all creeds – all differences finally forgotten,’ as he surveys the cryogenic facilities. But unfortunately, the BBC’s casting policy still wasn’t up to the challenge of representing such a concept in 1974, continuing to draw on the usual pool of white, RADA trained middleclass thesps for this budget-priced representation of humanity’s great melting pot of ‘chosen ones’. No, Holmes was deliberately setting this grand project up for a fall by taking time to dramatically underline how the last humans had done everything possible to preserve the very best of their species, selecting from the supposedly best genetic stock and surrounding themselves with the entire history of human knowledge recorded onto ‘microfilm’ (digital storage not being a part of this future, it seems) then hibernating alongside a vast greenhouse of botanical specimens, with the intent of one day starting all over again. A recorded message from the High Minister of the World Executive is even automatically played to them when they wake, reminding them in sonorous tones of the greatness of this project in which the chosen will re-populate the Earth once the environmental danger that has by now destroyed everyone else has finally passed.
The particular horror here is founded in the fact that humanity turns out to be but one species in the Universe with a desperate will to survive no matter what, and it’s not the only one with the ingenuity to achieve its biological survival goal. The fact that the ‘chosen ones’ cryogenic chamber looks like a cross between a place of worship, a medical clinic and the frozen food section of a supermarket, is made to seem cruelly ironic when it is later revealed that this monolithic repository for the human race has been used as a massive larder store after the infestation of a race of giant, parasitic insectile aliens called the Wirrn.
These lovelies lay their eggs in the bodies of their human hosts in order to provide their larvae with a source of food after they’ve hatched, in much the same fashion as Digger Wasps do. This gruesome idea is given an extra fillip of unpleasantness with the revelation that, as well as consuming the body of its host from the inside and then following the usual developmental route in which a pulsating, grub-like larva will grow and pupate and then emerge from its cocoon as a full-grown insect Wirrn, the hatched larvae can also infect other creatures that come into contact with their slimy surfaces, causing the bodies of their victims gradually to mutate and transform into Wirrn/human hybrids that steadily absorb the mind and knowledge of their victims even as they corrupt and morphs their bodies. Eventually, the infected are changed in their entirety into giant, undulating Wirrn grubs that grow ever larger until they finally transform themselves into the adult wasp-like Wirrn phenotype (we might as well be biological about it) -- but now with the sum total of the human victim’s knowledge and intelligence also added to their essential make-up.
Alongside the grim humour behind the notion of humanity’s grand project being co-opted and corrupted in such horrendous fashion by an alien species, there is also the ironic fact that both Humans and Wirrn are engaged in the same biological endeavour (though the humans like to speak of it using noble-sounding, almost religious rhetoric) but seek to go about it through completely opposing strategies: the humans have separated and preserved themselves, selecting from the ‘best’ genetic material the race has to offer and sealing it up in separate compartments for its future re-emergence intact. This survival strategy seems also to have encouraged an extremely stratified and regimented frame of mind in the handful of Chosen Ones who are revivified during the course of the story. The Wirrn, on the other hand, are also surviving remnants of a decimated population (as a matter of fact, they’ve been destroyed by exploring humans who invaded their breeding colonies) but take the opposite approach to the promotion of their species survival: instead of choosing to remain genetically and bodily discrete, they merge with and absorb their food source, acquiring their victims’ characteristics in the process. This whole story amounts to an evolutionary battle, then, between Neo Darwinist genetic principles and Larmarckian heresy -- staged as a battle between humanity and aliens in space!
From the point of view of the Hinchcliffe ‘Gothic’ plan for the show, the parallel with the concept of possession that this idea brings with it as baggage proved to be the key to laying the foundations for the direction the series was to take across its next few seasons, and the possession idea would be returned to frequently over the course of the Hinchcliffe & Holmes years. Many commentators have pointed out the huge similarity this story idea (and its setting) clearly has with the plot of Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie “Alien”, similarly mixing sci-fi and horror tropes and anticipating the body horror theme of an alien form invading and destroying the human body from within, as well as the depiction of a biologically complex alien life cycle alongside it. But even swathes of the actual story content itself is actually very similar, including as it does such scenes as the one in which Sarah Jane Smith has to access a ventilation shaft with one of the Wirrn somewhere in the vicinity, and a climax in which the creatures are eventually destroyed after they are tricked into the space station’s shuttle rocket and ejected out into space.
The seriousness and commitment that both the regular and the supporting cast members were able to bring to their performance of the story considerably amplify the hidden horror inherent within it. Although the transformation effects, which famously utilised commercially available green bubble wrap (although it was still a fairly new, not too well known product in 1975) and sticky tape, were cringe-makingly primitive and are easy to mock nowadays, the intensity with which actors Kenton Moore and Christopher Master convey the abjectness of those who become infected, and find first their bodies gradually transforming into horrific slimy green grub-like entities and then their minds being submerged by an alien insect swarm mentality, helps make the whole process seem that much more terrifying on a deeper Cronenbergian level of biological existentialism that helps it to go much further beyond the ‘monsters in suits’ silliness often associated with the show in the minds of many people. There is still an aspect of that to it though, relating to the depiction of the adult Wirrn insect form, which involved stuntman Stuart Fell having to don a restrictive costume that required that he shuffle along in what was ostensibly an upright carpet role ,while the cameramen attempted to make sure his feet remained out of view. However, the few short sequences in which Noah and one of the other humans are shown in partial states of transformation constitute two instances of some of the most deeply disturbing imagery in the show’s history.
Despite these radical, worrying concepts redolent of modern horror being involved in the story, Holmes, working against the clock to get the scripts finished in time, had actually also been drawing heavily on a number of traditional sources, including the original “Quatermass” serial from the 1950s (in which a human astronaut is infected by an fungus from outer space and becomes possessed by an alien intelligence) and one of its sequels, “Quatermass and the Pit”. The imagery involved in Noah’s infection, which begins when his hand is transformed into a green alien mush, recalls the fate of Victor Carroon in Nigel Kneale’s original “Quatermass” story, while the Doctor’s idea of tapping into the race memory of an alien species that’s preserved in the eye of a Wirrn corpse, is also a direct lift from “Quatermass and the Pit” (and was also earlier filched by Barry Letts in “Planet of the Spiders”). The story ends on a note of somewhat unconvincing optimism which echoes the conclusion of “Quatermass”, with the Wirrn swarm leader committing suicide under the influence of Noah’s resurgent humanity in much the same way as the unstoppable alien shown mounting the exterior of St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of “Quatermass” destroys itself after the Professor appeals to the last vestige of Carroon’s humanity that’s still resident within it.
For viewers, “The Ark in Space” provided a first look at the new Doctor in what was to become a fresh science fiction-oriented context for the show, alongside his two transplanted traveling companions from Earth. The whole of the first episode is devoted to establishing their burgeoning relationship, depicting the Doctor, Sarah and Harry exploring the Nerva Beacon, with no other supporting cast members making an appearance until episode two. Instead, the trio carry the entire episode while they have various run-ins with self-sealing rooms that become drained of oxygen because of the failed power supply; an auto-guard unit that tries to vaporise them; and the station’s computerised automatic cryogenic process managing to accidently freeze Sarah ready for a three-thousand-year spell of suspended animation while the dulcet voice of Peter Tuddenham soothes to the accompaniment of some Handel (Tuddenham later plays the bad tempered voice of a security door that sounds suspiciously like Orac from “Blake’s 7”).
Baker’s performance is still in the early stages of its development here, with a few scripted Pertwee-isms creeping in upon occasion, but generally the rhythm of his individualistic style of playing the role was already making its presence felt via certain striking details that were utterly new to fans who had grown up with Pertwee’s dandy action hero portrayal of the Time Lord, particularly the new Doctor’s habit of grinning manically while relating disturbing information, as though he’s grimly always delighted by the amount of danger he’s in. It’s an aspect of the performance Baker picked up from Philip Hinchcliffe’s reminder that the Doctor was essentially an alien, who might well look upon humanity with a certain degree of fondness (‘humans are quite by far my favourite species!’), but only in the same way that humans might look upon, say, chimpanzees with indulgence. Ian Marter was the new companion joining the previously established Sarah Jane Smith alongside the fourth Doctor, but there is a slight awkwardness here that stems from the fact that Marter was cast on the understanding that an older actor was most likely going to be playing the Doctor (Graham Crowden and Fulton McKay were in line for the role at various stages) which meant that a younger male Ian Chesterton-like companion would have to be around to perform the physical action material that might be required in some adventures. The casting of Tom Baker -- the youngest actor to take the role so far -- made Marter surplus to requirements and to some extent delayed the establishment of a rapport between the new Doctor and Sarah. Elisabeth Sladen was slightly unhappy behind the scenes as well by what appeared to be her downgrading while the Harry character was being established, although by the end of this story Sarah and the Doctor have started to gel a bit more, and the tender friendship between the two that would make Sarah Jane Smith one of the show’s most beloved companions is starting to come into focus.
The influence of this adventure was particularly keenly felt come the advent of the revived 2005 series. Both Russell T Davis and Steven Moffat cited it as one of their favourites, and they even repeated the season twelve production device of setting a number of stories on the same space station during different epochs of history, as a cost cutting exercise which allowed them simply to re-dress the same sets. The serial has always been high up on the list of most fans’ favourite stories, which is probably why “The Ark in Space” was one of the first titles to reach DVD in 2002. Since then the range has developed considerably with its commissioning of professionally produced filmed extras, and in the increased sophistication of the technology that’s now available for cleaning up the old video tape masters. Now that the vast majority of existing stories from the classic series have been released in the DVD format, BBC Worldwide have started revisiting many of the older titles in a series of 2 –disc special editions intended to bring older releases up to the same standard of quality as that which marks out the range’s releases over the last few years. Most of the releases planned for 2013 appear to be new versions of previously available titles, a fact that might annoy some fans faced with the prospect of double dipping on such a grand scale. This particular re-issue is probably mainly for fanatical fans only, since aside from a wonderful piece of footage of Tom Baker visiting schoolchildren in the province of Derry in 1978, there are only really two new featurettes included here that are of any significance. The original master tapes have been given an extra clean, which leaves them looking absolutely pristine (like the interior of the Nerva Beacon itself) but the improvement is only marginal since they were never that bad to begin with.
The previous extras are all here once more (apart from a news item shot during the filming of “Revenge of the Cybermen” at Wookey Hole, which has been relocated to the DVD for that particular story) starting with the 2002 un-moderated commentary track featuring Tom Baker and the late sadly missed Elisabeth Sladen, alongside producer Philip Hinchcliffe. Baker talks about his being cast as the fourth Doctor as a result of Bill Slater, Head of Serials at the BBC, catching him in the then-recently made feature film “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, and how the role became the best part he ever had. At the time, no-one knew how he would be received by the public, but the first few episodes of “Robot” were broadcast during the making of this story and Baker talks about how, though he never watched his performances back, he would wait an hour after every episode went out on a Saturday evening before venturing out to the local pub in order to gauge opinion, and would enter to ‘a tumultuous round of applause!’ Liz Sladen recalls how this period was a difficult time for her, though, as she was unsure about what was happening with the character of Sarah Jane Smith, now that Ian Marter had come on-board. There are moments in this story in particular when it appears as though she’s something of ‘a spare part’ but it was also during the making of this adventure that her relationship with Tom Baker was properly established after he rescued her when she became lodged for real in the piece of fake ventilation shaft that Sarah was supposed to get stuck in for a scene in the story. Philip Hinchcliffe talks about how excited he was when the viewing figures for episode two of “The Ark in Space” reached 13.6 million – the highest figure in the show’s entire history. He mentions how the multi-camera studio recording techniques of the day were unsuitable for the kind of drama they were trying to produce on a shoestring budget, and how it hindered the atmosphere the production team was striving for, but that it had its benefits as well since it became apparent that the strengths of the stories were largely dependent on the skills of the actors in selling the concepts behind them through the rhythm of their performances, rather than, as is the case in single camera film recording, relying on a performance being constructed in the editing suite. This resulted in Hichcliffe actually having to censor one particular scene in this story in which one of the infected crew begs his colleague to kill him; despite the crudity of the Wirrn transformation effects involved, the scene in question was simply too powerful and horrific for a tea time slot because of its seriousness and the intensity with which the actor conveyed the trauma of his character’s plight.
As usual, a text based production commentary is also included and features all the usual minutia of detail on this serial’s production that one could wish for. Details of John Lucarotti’s original scripts are related; the comments on the serial that have been preserved in the paper work for BBC executive review meetings from the period are examined; and comparisons with the shooting script and the finished broadcast version are related with excised lines of dialogue and changes in the on-screen action spelled out in full. Ian Marter’s novelisation is also looked at, since the former actor who played Harry Sullivan in this very story attempted to fix the numerous inconsistencies and logical lapses this rushed screenplay is inevitably host to when he came to write the novel version. Supporting cast information is also supplied, making this another copiously detailed collection of information titbits on all things Ark related.
“A New Frontier: Making the Ark in Space” is a brand new ‘making of’ featurette which goes into more production detail on the making of the serial in the company of producer Philip Hinchcliffe, director Rodney Bennett and set designer Roger Murray-Leach. Hinchcliffe relates again how he was hoping to make the show ‘a little more credible and more adult’. We learn that the story started out as a space station story idea by Christopher Langley but that the John Lucarotti script was too complex and involved, and the writer was hard to reach since he was sending his scripts in from abroad, so it was decided that Robert Holmes would take over the writing instead. Bennett mentions that he was not ‘a technical sort of director’ and was unaccustomed to special effects-driven drama. He talks about how he cast many of the supporting actors from those he’d known on previous assignments such as “Z Cars” and “Softly, Softly”, including Wendy Williams as Vira, whose husband had directed several Patrick Troughton era stories. Kenton Moore talks about how seriously he attempted to take the role of the infected leader Noah but that his attempts to develop the idea that his hand was becoming alien and acting on its own against his will were scuppered by the special effects team simply wrapping his arm in green bubble wrap held in place with sticky tape, making it impossible to articulate his fingers. Roger Murray-Leach talks about how he created the sets and went about imbuing them with their distinct character. The downside to them was that the plastic surfaces were very squeaky and the studio resounded to the noise of popping bubble wrap when the Wirrn grub (in the form of Stuart Fell) had to crawl and wriggled its way across the floor. Rodney Bennett relates how it was his idea to banish shadows completely from the lighting plan of the serial in order to emphasise more effectively the sterility of the space station environment; and fan of the show (and voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen in the current version of the series) Nick Briggs discusses the impact this story had on him when he first saw it as a thirteen-year-old boy, and talks about what makes it stand out and continue to inspire so much devotion.
The rest of disc one ports over the extras included on the original 2002 single-disc release, starting with an interview with Roger Murray-Leach, who talks about the creation of some of his most memorable set designs during his involvement with the show. He mentions first bonding with Tom Baker on location after the actor broke his collarbone during the making of “The Sontaran Experiment” when he had to accompany him to hospital and wait with the injured actor while he was being examined. He pithily sums up his experience of working for the BBC during this period thus: ‘you’d be told, “You’re doing DOCTOR WHO this week, here’s three-and-sixpence … oh, and you’ve got a week to get it ready”!’ As well as explaining once again his design concept for “The Ark in Space”, the designer also talks briefly about the amazing jungle set he devised for “The Planet of Evil” and relates a few amusing anecdotes pertaining to “The Talons of Wing-Chiang” and “The Deadly Assassin”.
Despite its revered place in the DOCTOR WHO cannon, “The Ark in Space” suffers its fair share of technical difficulties, chiefly the CSO used for the model shots of the exterior of the Nerva Beckon, is decidedly ropey even by the standards of the time. These model sequences were re-shot for the 2002 DVD using 3D CGI animation, and an option exists on the disc menu to be able to watch the programme with these CGI takes as an alternative to the original’s wobbly models set against their cheap photographic backgrounds. The technical schematics for the 3D images are also included, along with alternative failed takes of the original model footage and the original BBC trailer for the series from 1975. There’s a photo gallery of production stills which includes shots of Elisabeth Sladen wearing her normal day clothes instead of the costume she wore in the actual series. Finally, one of those pointless TARDIS-cam animations the range always used to include on every disc, to the total bafflement of everyone, appears here again.
Disc two kicks off with the special feature-length 70 minute edit of “The Ark in Space” which was broadcast in August, 1975 as a prelude to the new series. It tends to cut exposition and makes the plot even more obtuse in places (if that’s possible) but includes all the stand-out scenes everyone remembers from this story in a more compact form. Completests will no doubt appreciate having this version, now being made available commercially for the first time.
Also new to this disc is some archive footage from news programme “Scene Around Six” in which Tom Baker is shown during a trip to Derry, visiting kids in schools and hospitals and going on a walkabout in a high street with a camera crew in tow while being interviewed by local TV reporters. It’s a joy to behold, and Baker is clearly in his element among rowdy kiddies in schoolyards who practically mob him and star-struck youngsters seated in rows at their desks in numerous classrooms or in hospital beds, giggling with delight at his eccentric asides as Baker hands out posters and badges and lets them try on his hat. ‘I love being received like this,’ intones a giddy Baker to a young news reporter. You can tell he does, as well.
In the same vein, some brief 8mm behind-the-scenes cine-footage shots of Tom Baker, Nicholas Courtney and John Levene on location during the making of “Robot” have been discovered and included on this DVD.
“Dr Forever! – Love and War” is a documentary that tells the story of DOCTOR WHO in its book series incarnation, recounting how the Target range of script novelisations originally published by WH Allen Ltd was expanded by Richard Branson’s Virgin Books after it took over the company, with Peter Darvill-Evans commissioning budding new writers to continue the New Adventures of the seventh Doctor after the programme was cancelled in 1989. Names now familiar from the writing credits of the 2005 to the present day series such as Mark Gatiss, Rob Sherman, Paul Cornell and Gary Russell, not to mention Russell T. Davies himself who also contributed to the range, talk about how the world of WHO was kept alive and expanded into more challenging adult areas as the core fan base that was buying the New Adventures books grew up with them. This period saw the introduction of Bernice Summerfield, portrayed in audio adventures to this day by Lisa Bowerman, and of Paul Cornell’s story “Human Nature” which was the only New Adventure novel to later be adapted for the new TV series during David Tennant’s second season. Gradually, Virgin realised there was a market for stories featuring the other six Doctors as well. But the BBC’s attempt to revive the series in the 1990s with Paul McGann in the role led to Virgin Publishing’s licence being abruptly revoked and the launch of a BBC books range which basically carried on where Virgin had left off, a decision which Mark Gatiss calls ‘an absolute scandal’ and ‘a very typical BBC thing to do’. Steve Range talks about how the range got more and more bogged down in complex story arcs during the eighth Doctor stories, until the return of the series in 2005 meant a fresh start as tie-in parallel stories were developed with the ninth, tenth and now the eleventh Doctor and his companions all featuring regularly. The documentary is hosted by actress Ayesha Antoine (who appeared in the David Tennant episode “Midnight”) and features a marvellous title sequence full of animated WHO merchandise on the set of “The Magic Roundabout”!
Finally, PDF files are included. Normally this turns out to be just the Radio Times listings for each episode, or perhaps a newspaper promotional piece, but here we get treated to some nostalgic delights. Nestle’s 1975 wrappers for its DOCTOR WHO chocolate bars were updated to take account of the Doctor’s recent transformation, with descriptions of some of the major characters from the series included on the back of each one alongside an artistic representation of them. The fourth Doctor’s clothes are untidy ‘almost like a gypsy’ claims the blurb accompanying Tom Baker’s image! In 1977 Cross and Blackwell ran a promotional campaign in which purchasers of their tins of soup could collect coupons in order to send away for various products, including a TARDIS colouring in book (worth 95p) – which is reproduced here, along with the four ads which advertised it, and a scan of somebody’s soup stained coupon. The back cover of the book came with a drawing of Tom Baker and the copy scanned for this PDF version was autographed by the man himself. Finally, in 1983 The TARDIS Technical Manual was published, authored by Mark Harris and with a forward by producer of the day John Nathan-Turner. The full text is included here, featuring a potted history of the mythology of the Time Lords and some of the Doctor’s most enduring enemies, alongside plans of the TARDIS (including the layout of the control console), Davros, the Daleks, a Cyberman, K-9, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver … even the bleedin’ Quarks get a look in!
“The Ark in Space” special edition is aimed very much at the completest. If you have the original disc, you can probably be satisfied that it provides you with a reasonable version of one of the all-time classics, but this adds the bells and whistles such a major story appears to demand. The extra material is interesting and enjoyable enough but whether one feels they really need it will depend on just how fanatical they are about the series as a whole. The best new extra here is probably the documentary on the book range but this actually has nothing much to do with “The Ark in Space” itself and will be only of interest to someone who is into the history of all aspects of the show’s media representation. The episodes themselves look better than ever though, and for those yet to purchase the original release, this is an easy one to recommend as it still stands as one of the best ever DOCTOR WHO stories, with a fresh Tom Baker revelling in his new role.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!