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The Tardis appears on a space station in the distant future by accident, when the Doctor tests its repairs after long disuse. The orbital base turns out to be an ark for humans in suspended animation, but finding this out nearly gets inquisitive Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen, my favourite Doctor's companion) asphyxiated in an airless processing lab, while a security machine attacks the Doctor and Harry. When the first batch of the Ark's frozen remnants of humanity wakeup, they seem none too pleased at having slept in the same futuristic white pyjamas for 10,000 years. There's a giant beetle's carcass hidden in the airing cupboard, and a big green blob lurking in the solar power stacks. So, what should commander Noah (Kenton Moore) do now?
Although the supporting cast, including defrosted Vira (Wendy Williams) try their best with the slightly hokey sci-fi script by Robert Holmes, the TV series is badly letdown by the sort of embarrassingly cut-price effects work that sees an unfortunate stunt actor (playing one of the alleged monsters) wriggling along a corridor in a plastic sleeping bag. These creatures are supposed to be the larval stage of insectoid aliens the nomadic Wirrn, a race of space bugs keenly intent on repopulating the Earth by using human bodies as both hosts and foodstuff. Sadly, what we get are dangerous sheets of green bubblewrap clogging up machinery in the otherwise impressive sets, designed by Roger Murray-Leach.
Perhaps the best moments of The Ark In Space are its knowing references to Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Experiment (aka: The Creeping Unknown, 1956), as infected 'astronaut' Noah struggles heroically to control the violent impulses of his lumpy 'diseased' hand. Also, of course, Quatermass And The Pit (aka: Five Million Years To Earth, 1967), from which comes the visual ideas for the Wirrn's race memory flashback sequence as the Doctor wires his head up to study the alien hive mind.
For once, Doctor Who succeeds as genre TV entertainment simply by limiting its narrative ambitions. Merely saving the future for mankind by ensuring a post-cryogenic humanity's resettlement of Earth is enough. It makes a change to have a space story in which neither the physical universe nor all time is at stake. This is vintage Who, that's well worth seeing again.
The DVD has a commendable bunch of extras: interviews with star Baker, and a new exclusive interview with designer Murray-Leach. An entertaining commentary by stars Baker, Sladen, and producer Philip Hinchcliffe, informative subtitles about the production, photo gallery, new CGI effects to replace original 16mm filmed model sequences, and a clever option to play the programme with either. There's also an unused title sequence, 3D space ark schematics, Tardis-cam feature, a trailer and news report, scenes access offers six chapters per episode. Trivia: Peter Tuddenham, who later did the computer voices for Zen and Slave on Blake's 7, does some of the voiceovers here.