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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Doctor Who : The Ark in Space
Doctor Who : The Ark in Space
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // August 6, 2002
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 14, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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"Shot me, did he? Cut off in mid-sentence. I might have been saying something important." - The Doctor

The Fourth Doctor and his companions, Harry and Sarah, find themselves on a space station orbiting Earth in the distant 30th century. After turning on the ships power, Sarah disappears and the Doctor and Harry must contend with the space stations now functioning defense systems. After doing so, they discover that the station contains a large cryogenic chamber which is preserving the last of the human race. The crew hasn't woken up because someone tampered with the system. It seems a race of insectlike creatures called the Wirrn have been feeding off the crew and nesting in the stations power supply. The Doctor and Harry begin to wake up the crew but their efforts are hindered when the station commander, nicknamed Noah, is taken over by the Wirnn and begins to transform into one. So, the Doctor must figure out a way to regain control of the station and best the intelligent and nearly indestructible Wirnn in order to save all of humanity.

The Fourth Doctors second story and start of his first proper season, an incarnation that would lead to Doctor Who's most prosperous time and a long run for Tom Baker as the Doctor. After being relatively Earth bound for several years assisting UNIT, the Doctor finally steps back into his time and galaxy hopping TARDIS to find adventures across the Universe at any time and place.

Baker slides into his role, bringing his own quirks, creating a character that is slightly off kilter but also brilliant and curious, equal parts Mad Hatter and Albert Einstein. The story is a good one, aliens infesting a station, feeding off the human beings, absorbing them, using them as a means of reproduction, and it proceeded the somewhat similar Alien by a few years. Of course, being 30 years old, it is a dated show. The aliens, in their pupae state, were constructed mainly out of some sculpted and spray painted bubble wrap (a new thing at the time). But, it is a neat little slice of science fiction adventure, with the ever charming Doctor just barely managing to come out alive, save his friends, and in this case the entire fate of human kind.

The DVD: First I want to commend BBC Worldwide/Warner for these releases. But, if I may gripe, and I may, the world of Doctor Who is so huge, these single story releases will become very wallet draining. Especially when you consider we are used to seasonal releases of television shows. When broadcast, Ark in Space was followed, in cliffhanger form no less, by a short two episode adventure, The Sontaran Experiment. Why on Earth they didn't go ahead and include that tale is beyond me. Sontaran is probably too short as a stand alone release; it would either have to be combined with Ark or the episode that follows it, Genesis of The Daleks. Assuming they keep to this single release policy with hundreds of Who episodes, its certainly going to be difficult to cram extras on every one. So, why not put extras on the fan favorites (BBC did a poll, after all), and release the rest bare, but in seasonal box sets? I mean, I love the extras on this disc, but I am realistic. I would rather have entire seasons (please, season 13), even if that meant sacrificing extras on some tales.

Picture: Standard 1.33:1. This Who story was filmed entirely in studio. Of course, there is only so good a mid 70's British tv series done on a fairly minuscule budget is going to look, and this is a case where the image is, in all likelihood, as unsullied as its going to get. Any little foibles such as softness and grain are a product of age and the time it was actually made. I noticed no technical flaws such as artifacts or pixellation on the transfer.

Sound: Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Optional English subtitles. Close Captioned. Like the image, there is only so good the elements can be given the time and budget under which the show was made. The soundtrack is fine and clear, except in this cases where the actual studio recording was a bit off, actors slightly out of range or voices reverberating throughout the set.

Extras: Episode and Chapter Selections --- CGI Model Option. This allows you to either insert new CGI footage of the space station into the program or view it separately.--- Photo Gallery (31 production stills)--- Who's Who, actor bios--- Unused Title Sequence (:45 sec)--- Trailer for Episode One (:51 sec)--- Text Info Subtitles. This subtitle function lets you read info about the episodes, actors, locations, fx, general production bits. A nice accompaniment while listening to the commentary.--- Original Model Fx (7:09), basically various silent test shots involving the space station, escape rocket, and Wirrn puppets.--- Space Station Schematics (1:09), very geek oriented 3-D model blueprint of the space station.--- Howard Da Silva US Intros (15 min), a collection of recaps and teasers made for US audiences when Doctor Who was first imported.--- TARDIS-cam (1:25) a stylistic little film bit of the TARDIS on a planet.--- Interviews: Roger Murry-Leach (10:29). Murry-Leach, production designer for many Who adventures, shares brief anecdotes about several episodes he worked on. Tom Baker (6 min). A charming BBC recorded news promo interviewing Baker about becoming the new Doctor. Shot before his episodes had aired and he became famous to the public. --- Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0) with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, actress Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), and actor Tom Baker (The Doctor, of course). This is a case of a commentary that limps along and gradually comes to life around the end of episode two. Stick with it. Hinchcliffe is the main instigator, with Sladen producing some decent observations and fondness, while Baker gradually adds some good anecdotes, jokes (like acerbically referring to how the solar flares that wiped out Earth in the episode "is now a popular anxiety" and that he wanted to title his autobiography "All Friends Betrayed" ) and most of all good natured howls of laughter at the dated fx and sci fi dialogue. They obviously enjoyed doing the show and reflect warmly without getting too overly sentimental.

Conclusion: In the entire run of Doctor Who and the Tom Baker years, Ark in Space is a middle of the road adventure. Solid and entertaining, not in the highest echelon of the Doctors travels, but not the worst either. The disc itself is packed with extras making this disc well worth a purchase.

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