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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Additional footage - New CGI effects
  • Audio commentary - Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Phillip Hinchcliffe
  • Production notes - On-screen
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • TV spot
  • 2 Interviews
  • Outtakes - SFX trial runs

Doctor Who - The Ark in Space

BBC/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 98 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

I begin this review assuming that, by now, most readers are at least familiar with the basics of Doctor Who, the Time Lord from Gallifrey who travels through time and space in his blue, police-box shaped TARDIS. He is almost always accompanied by one or two companions from some world or other, and no matter where or when, the Doctor will undoubtedly turn up in the middle of a trouble spot, be it on Earth or any one of hundreds of other worlds.

Doctor Who: The Ark In Space was first broadcast in 1975, and features perhaps the best remembered Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter). In a sort of Gilligan’s Island type beginning, it transpires that the Doctor has promised Sarah Jane and Harry a quick trip to the moon, to convince Harry that the TARDIS is not a police box at all. Needless to say, the moon is not where this adventure begins.

It appears the three travellers have landed in an abandoned space station, and it is the silence and the echoing voices and footsteps that provide the space station's eerie atmosphere. Whilst ‘poking around’, something the Doctor can never resist, they learn that the space station is human-made, is from what we would call the future, and is far from empty.

While they are avoiding being fried by the station’s defence systems, Sarah Jane, being the typically meddlesome female companion, manages to get herself separated from the boys, and the Doctor and Harry set about finding her. In their search, they stumble across hundreds of humans all sealed up in cryogenic suspension. Finding Sarah Jane in one of the cubicles, they set about trying to revive her. In the process, they ‘awaken’ various personnel from their ‘slumber’, and discover that a giant ‘space-weevil’ has been there already, laid eggs in the solar stacks, and absorbed the body and mind of one of the sleeping humans. Trouble is, some of the eggs have hatched. This giant bug (called a Wirrn – pronounced Wir-rin) has also chewed through the station’s alarm clock, and thus, the humans should have been revived centuries ago and guess who gets the blame. The space station, known as The Ark, contains all that is left of Earth as we know it, before it was destroyed by solar flares, and it looks like it was all in vain if the Wirrn aren’t stopped.

Doctor Who: The Ark In Space was Tom Baker’s second story as the Doctor, and it ranks as one of the more popular. It was written by Robert Holmes, who wrote seventeen Doctor Who stories that made it to completion, and was produced by experienced Doctor Who producer, Phillip Hinchcliffe. It is a good yarn, with minimal settings and characters. This allows actors a chance to develop their characters and the show is all the better for that. The acting is really quite strong for a change, and although the monsters were literally made out of bubble-wrap (it was a new thing in 1975), it is the strength of the acting and simplicity of the storyline that carries this adventure. It also means there are fewer problems with continuity, something Doctor Who often had trouble with. Tom Baker was at his best already, just months into the role he would play for the next seven years. He is quirky, witty, flippant, confident and cheeky. The trademarks are all there too, including the hair, the hat, the scarf, the jelly babies, and his beloved sonic screwdriver.

"There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."

The special effects are still crappy, and if you look hard enough I’m sure you’ll see fishing line holding up the space station against its starry background (actually it wasn’t that sort of special effect and is an overlay but it still looks very dodgy). As usual, the show succeeds on the tiny budget and tight time constraints that were always a problem for the cast and crew. If you are already a Doctor Who fan then you know what to expect, if you are new to the whole thing and want a good introduction, then Doctor Who: The Ark In Space is as good an introduction as any.

  Video
Contract

Once again, the restoration team have toiled long and hard to bring this up to standard. It is presented in a full frame ratio (well it was filmed for TV, so what can you expect?), and The Ark In Space scrubs up as good as I have ever seen it. Filmed mostly on videotape in the studio, there are a number of video artefacts that are almost impossible to avoid such as aliasing. However, it is very clean, and significant effort has been put into removing dirt and scratches, apart from the opening title sequence that has the odd mark or two.

The image is clear and detailed. Shadow detail is very good, and colours are good and accurate. The set, and many of the costumes, are very white and clinical, and what colours there are stand out that little bit more. There is no evidence of noise, colour bleeding, or cross colouration.

The layer change on this dual-layer disc is placed between episodes.

  Audio
Contract

Being filmed in 1974 for television, it shouldn't come as any great surprise that The Ark In Space is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Needless to say (but I will anyway) there is no action from the centre speaker, surrounds, or subwoofer. All dialogue is clear and there are no sync problems. Sound effects are fairly basic, and there are little to no explosions and the like, so this transfer is quite unremarkable, though adequate.

Unlike some Doctor Who stories, the music is subtle and well placed. Doctor Who always seems to work better when the music is so subtle you barely know it's there.

  Extras
Contract

Another well thought out and generous batch of extras accompany this release, made even more valuable when you consider how much original Doctor Who footage is still missing or gone forever. Extras like these are often seen for the first time on these DVD releases, and this is especially true for countries like Australia.

Of note is the Audio Commentary provided by Elisabeth Sladen, Tom Baker, and producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. This is of particular value merely for Tom Baker's presence, as he has had little involvement in anything associated with Doctor Who since leaving in 1981. The commentary itself is of limited interest and there are some frequent pauses with occasional grunts. However, it is great hearing Tom Baker talking about Doctor Who in any capacity. As usual, I would recommend listening to this whilst watching the on-screen Production Subtitles which is a running trivia track providing many things to look for, and information to store away for future discussions with fellow Doctor Who nerds.

Interestingly, the CGI Feature is a modern day recreation of the original special effects refilmed by the BBC's Visual Effects department. These can be watched in isolation or substituted into the feature. When viewed this way, they fit in seamlessly but do change the look of the introduction, and purists will choose the original effects I am sure.

There are two Interviews included. One is with Tom Baker and was filmed on location in 1974/75 during the making of another Doctor Who story. It wasn't a planned interview, and lasts just under six minutes. It is presented in full frame and contains many artefacts, but is very watchable. The other is a very recent interview with Roger Murray-Leach who was a designer on Doctor Who for many years. In this 10:29 interview, he discusses the trickery used in various Doctor Who stories, and the need for inventiveness when working to shoe-string budgets.

Model Sequences is 7:10 of original 16mm model film sequences of the exterior of the Ark and the Wirrn moving over its hull. In addition, there is an electronic 3-D Technical Schematic of the Ark.

There is also a BBC1 Trailer that runs for 51 seconds which is a quick voiceover announcing the new adventure while footage plays on screen. It's designed to pull in viewers, but you wouldn't know it as it's not overly exciting.

A common feature of Doctor Who DVD releases is the inclusion of an Unused Title Sequence and this is no exception.

Another common feature is a Photo Gallery and one is included here. It contains stills from the feature and some amusing 'backstage' shots.

TARDIS-Cam is the first of six brand-new model sequences from BBC1's TARDIS-cam feature. It is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and 16x9 enhanced. While it would be exciting to think that this is a subtle clue that Doctor Who is to be ramped up again, I seriously doubt it. Shame.

Lastly, there are three Easter Eggs, but the fun part about them is the search. Of course we at DVDNet do have an Easter Egg page for those that don't fancy the challenge...

  Overall  
Contract

There are a number of reasons to check out Doctor Who: The Ark In Space, not least of all because it features Tom Baker as the Doctor. The storyline is quite strong and the acting is a lot better than we are used to with Doctor Who. Yes, it has bubble-wrap monsters, literally, and the (original) special effects looks like they were filmed by kids, but everything else comes together nicely. There is a nice package of extras and the video and audio quality is about as good as it is going to get considering this was filmed almost 28 years ago.

With something for children and adults alike (as remarked during the commentary), this is a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and as the Doctor himself once said, "There's no point in being grown up if you can't be childish sometimes."


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      And I quote...
    "Another entertaining addition to the Doctor Who DVD catalogue, and another story featuring Tom Baker..."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
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