Doctor Who – The Ark in Space

Doctor Who Story 076 – The Ark in Space

Noah becomes a Wirrn.
Source: Copyright 1975 by BBC.

Who Wrote It: Robert Holmes

What’s It About: The TARDIS accidentally materializes on the Nerva Space Station which is an ark for the survivors of a solar storm that devastated Earth. They soon discover something is lurking in the halls of the station, and it wants to absorb the human survivors to strengthen its own species.

From the perspective of theme and tone, you probably won’t find a stronger contrast between Robot and The Ark in Space. Where Robot is a fun romp, The Ark in Space is a claustrophobic story with some truly disturbing subtext. Welcome to the Philip Hinchcliffe era.

I know I saw this story as a child. I can distinctly remember wrapping my arm in bubble wrap and pretending I was being attacked. This places The Ark in Space firmly in the realm of formative influences. And it proved no less compelling on this viewing. Similar to Warren from Radio Free Skaro, I tend to judge my enjoyment of Doctor Who based on how distracted I get while watching it (either making lists or surfing the internet). With The Ark in Space, I was riveted from beginning to end. I know in the past I have found the story slow (often due to over-watching it), but this time the story seemed very short (due in part to watching so many six-parters in the Pertwee era, I think).

The only real complaint I have about the story is the underuse of Harry Sullivan. If I understand the behind-the-scenes lore, Harry Sullivan was created to be an action-oriented male figure, someone like Ian Chesterton, who would engage in fights or dangerous situations while The Doctor, who was originally going to be cast older, took a more intellectual approach. But Tom Baker was cast and, since he was young enough to do his own fighting, the action-male character was made redundant. This is a shame. Ian Marter did a great job with the character he was given, and I would have enjoyed seeing a return to a more Hartnell-esque dynamic.

The world-building in The Ark in Space is wonderful, if bleak. We are given a future where Earth has been abandoned (not the first time, however) but vengeful forces are eager to take advantage of a group of survivors while they are at a disadvantage. The Wirrn are a great creation—insects capable of interstellar travel without the aid of technology—and they are creepy because they are cold and unsympathetic. They are parasites, which is even more frightening. The design works well enough for the story, but I would love to see the Wirrn return with a big enough budget to do them justice. That said, the Wirrn may be too dark and gruesome for new Who.

My Rating: 4/5

One thought on “Doctor Who – The Ark in Space

  1. I don’t remember when I watched this episode (I think it was before New Who) or how many other Classic Who stories I’d seen (I know it wasn’t my first), but I really liked it.

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