Tom Baker’s second adventure confronted Doctor Who’s young audience with ravenous alien horrors.
The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) arrive on a space station where they find that the human scientists in stasis waiting to re-colonise Earth are not the only inhabitants. The Ark has been infiltrated by the Wirrn; a bright green, highly infectious alien species that is intent on consuming through the crew and claiming the planet for themselves.
While the effects have certainly dated (this is the story with the green bubble-wrap monsters), ‘The Ark In Space’ is tremendous fun. Baker already seems completely settled into the role, establishing his almost-gleeful reaction to the prospect of certain death, and it’s still a joy watching his chemistry with the wonderful Elisabeth Sladen.
With strong elements of body horror and aliens overruning the ship, it’s suprising to remember that this aired four years before Alien was released. It’s a comparison that is warranted. The discovery that a missing crew member has been consumed by the Wirrm after the queen laid eggs in his body is grim stuff, the transformation of Ark commander Noah is effectively played by the committed Kenton Moore, and the Wirrn’s hive-mind desire to swarm through the ship is still chilling, even if it is conveyed by something resembling an upright plastic cricket.
The documentary is excellent, with focus on Baker settling into the role and how producer Philip Hinchcliffe pushed for a more adult and more adventurous Doctor Who. There’s also some hilarious discussion of the green bubble wrap, with Hinchcliffe on the defensive and Moore bemoaning having to act through it. There’s a loving and informative look at the Virgin Doctor Who novels, as Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, Russell T Davies and others remember their contributions.
Best of the miscellany is footage of Baker touring Northern Ireland in character, visiting schools and hospitals and turning on the Christmas lights. There’s also a lovely cosy commentary from Baker, Hinchcliffe and the much-missed Sladen.