Doctor Who: The Ark in Space
(4 episodes, s12e05-e08, 1975)
After this one started, I realized that I had seen it before as part of the “greatest hits” one-story-per-classic-Doctor series on Netflix. Just like The Aztecs in that same series, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense on my first watch.
How does it fare this time? You’ll find out shortly.
The TARDIS, sporting a different look (maybe?) with the backlit “POLICE BOX” label, arrives on a space station with people hibernating in stasis tubes. Harry Sullivan is shocked after his first trip in the TARDIS, and amusingly, the Doctor checks gravity with a yo-yo. I’ve missed the whimsy so much since Patrick Troughton. As the team investigates the strange station, Sarah Jane is divided from the group and trapped in a room that is losing oxygen. Harry and the Doctor discover her after she’s lost consciousness, but they also fall into the same trap. Just in time, the Doctor discovers that the cables have been chewed through, and he uses his sonic screwdriver to repair the circuit.
As Sarah Jane recovers, the Doctor and Harry are attacked by a security robot and they seek cover under a table. The Doctor tries to distract the robot with his hat and scarf – created for him by that “witty little knitter” Madame Nostradamus – and finally uses his sonic screwdriver to unfasten the table from the deck and move across the room like a turtle to the security panel. They distract the robot and shut it down.
Meanwhile, Sarah Jane is teleported away and processed by the automated system. As Harry and the Doctor look for Sarah Jane, they find a skulking creature that leaves a slime trail. They discover the processing room, which leads the Doctor to conclude that they are in a cryogenic repository and ultimate human library. A literal ark in space.
Hence, the story’s title.
They discover banks upon banks of suspended humans, as well as the slime trail, and this leads Harry to Sarah Jane, who is also in suspended animation. Harry looks for a resuscitation unit and finds a large dead insect. Shortly afterward, one of the humans revives. Her name is Vira, and she is a First Med-tech. She helps to revive Sarah Jane, and then moves to their leader, Noah. His real name is Lazar, but he is named after the myth of the Biblical Ark. They took to the stars after solar flares threatened the Earth, anticipating only 5,000 years in suspension. Evidently, they slept far longer.
The power fails as Noah is being revived, and the Doctor goes to the control room to restore the systems. He investigates the failure in the solar stacks and finds substantial contamination from the grubs. When Noah comes to, he is concerned that the travelers will contaminate their carefully selected gene pool. He tracks the Doctor to the solar stacks after arming himself. He finds the Doctor in the control room and refuses to believe the Time Lord’s story, and he shoots the Doctor.
A note on Harry: He just doesn’t learn. Sarah Jane has asked him not to call her “old girl,” yet he continues to do so. He also calls Vira the same and touches her shoulder when it’s clearly not desired. The Doctor sees something in him, so I’m giving him a chance, but come on, Lieutenant.
Anyway, Vira traces the slime trail in the hibernation chambers to a capsule once occupied by a technician named Dune. On the other side of the station, Noah goes to the solar stacks as Harry and Sarah Jane attend to the Doctor. Noah finds the broken solar stack chamber, and is attacked by the grub. The Doctor comes to and the travelers follow Noah to the solar stacks, but he intercepts them and escorts them back to the hibernation section.
Vira revives a technician name Libri, who reacts strangely to Noah’s presence as though he saw a creature. Noah leaves the captives to Libri, and then orders a shutdown of the station, claiming to be Dune as well as Noah. The Doctor advises Libri to stop Noah, then investigates Dune’s pod and finds evidence that the dead insect embedded larvae in Dune, just like creepy real-world parasitic wasps, which consumed him and absorbed his knowledge. Libri confronts Noah, but Noah disarms and kills him before revealing that he is metamorphosing into the insect. His hand is covered in painted bubble wrap. In a moment of lucidity, Noah fights the alien presence and transfers command to Vira with an order to get back to the planet as soon as possible. He discloses that the aliens are the Wirrn, and that they will absorb the humans.
Another note on Harry: He calls Sarah Jane a chauvinist for feminism. I’m really starting to dislike him. He’s competent, but he’s an ass.
The Doctor and Vira track down Noah, but he’s nearly consumed by the Wirrn. Vira is saddened because she and Noah were pair-bonded for the new Earth. Meanwhile, Harry and Sarah Jane begin to awaken the crew. Vira wants to awaken everyone and send them to Earth, but the Doctor convinces her to delay until he can stop the invasion.
Harry and the Doctor perform an autopsy/necropsy on the insect, and the Doctor tries to download the Queen’s memories into the station computer. When that fails, he downloads the memories directly into his own mind. As that happens, the Wirrn break into the hibernation chamber and kill one of the technicians. Vira orders the remaining men, Harry and Rogin, to be armed, and they drive the Wirrn back into the ventilation ducts.
The Doctor discovers in the Queen’s memories that she was killed by the automatic robot guard, and the Doctor decides to electrify the station’s infrastructure to defeat them. Trapped in the room by the Wirrn, the Doctor uses the transmat to move everyone to the control room, but it fails after only Harry and Rogin are transported since the Wirrn shut down the power systems. The Doctor braves the station to restore power, but encounters a nearly metamorphosed Noah. He is saved by Vira and Sarah Jane, and the Wirrn explain that they are seeking vengeance since human explorers displaced them from their breeding grounds in Andromeda. They plan to absorb all of the knowledge on the Ark become a superpower, but offer sanctuary for people on board if they leave immediately.
The team devises a plan to electrify the station using the transport shuttle, and Sarah Jane volunteers for the most hazardous task: routing the cable through the ventilation ducts. She gets stuck at one point, and the Doctor provokes her into fighting her way free, after which he praises her. I enjoyed that clever moment.
With the normal routes to the hibernation chamber cut off, the Wirrn attempt alternate entries. The Noah-Wirrn negotiates with the Doctor by holding the oxygen supply hostage. The Doctor appeals to his remaining humanity, but fails. The Wirrn attempt to take the shuttle bridge through the cargo bay, and the Doctor has the team return to the ark and the shuttle take off automatically. The Doctor’s attempt to sacrifice himself to release the locks is thwarted by Rogin who bravely takes his place. The swarm is ejected from the station in the shuttle, and Noah-Wirrn deliberately destroys the shuttle in his last gasp of humanity.
With the shuttle destroyed, the transmat is the only way to get the humans back to Earth, but the Doctor notices that the system is faulted. He, Sarah Jane, and Harry beam down to Earth to fix them as Vira begins awakening the ark.
This one was a fun romp with the typical monster-of-the-week and cliffhanger ending of the early years. Even with Harry’s bone-headedness, it was still enjoyable, much better on this go-round with some franchise context, and a good full intro to this Doctor.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sontaran Experiment
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.