Monday, 2 September 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Ark In Space

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Enjoy Bubble-Wrap Responsibly!
Doctor Who - Season 12, Story Two - The Ark In Space
Written 16/5/13

It's not just the later seasons that have some continuity, you know. As we begin, finally, the reign of Phillip Hinchcliffe as Producer and the great Robert Holmes as Script Editor, Holmesy brings us the first in a series of four interlinking serials. With the TARDIS interior set still not up and running, Season 12 doesn't see use of it, and so our characters spend the next four serials attempting to return to the location of this story, the space station Nerva. As is standard for a Holmes undertaking, Ark is a great mix of well-written concept work with a captivating plot to go with it, and while not being the most absurdly fun story in the world, it's certainly memorable.
     In Harry Sullivan's first trip aboard the TARDIS, it lands on the Nerva, a space station in the far future containing cryogenically frozen humans, chosen to repopulate the Earth thousands of years after the surface was made hostile by solar flares. Leader Noah and Med-Tech Vara are disturbed to discover upon their awakening that the station has been infiltrated by a Wirrn Queen, the progenitor of a race of parasitic anthropomorphic insects who eat their hosts alive from the inside and feed off of their tissues and their knowledge. Based on something that happened while humanity was asleep, the Wirrn plan to consume the remaining humans and return to Earth as a technologically advanced species, but this is foiled when a converted Noah tricks them into packing onto a doomed shuttlecraft. The Doctor and co. take a transmat to the Earth's surface, and we wait until next week.
     Great focus is made upon the vision for the future of humanity, be it in a positive way (the Doctor's early monologue where he praises the indomitable nature of the human species) or a negative one (the slightly eugenic-esque nature of the Ark's selection process). The Wirrn aspire to eat us and to be like us. There's also some nice dark humour made from the premise, especially with Holmes' standard comic character and his cries of, "I should have stayed on Earth, I like it hot!". It doesn't seem to judge humanity as anything other than the survivors, not making a comment on our interspecies morality but rather admiring our perseverance. Its dedication to these ideas bypasses the unfortunate limitations of its special effects, which seem to consist of plastic insect heads and green-painted bubble-wrap.
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Humanity's future sees us frozen to escape the sun's flares.
     Harry Sullivan's characterisation bothers me, if only because I'm not sure whether the sexism inherent in a lot of the things that he does is intentional or otherwise. The show during Sarah Jane's era made a lot of efforts to push forward the Second Wave Feminist ideals that were propagating in Britain at the time, and when he isn't doing something productive, Harry is awfully likely to come out with something akin to the stereotypical 70s chauvinist "comedians". I know he'll probably improve, but I'm not inclined to like a man who calls a female leader, "a member of the fair sex being top of the totem pole."
     The Ark In Space may not be a visual delight, but thanks to Robert Holmes the ideas are developed to a fantastic degree. Bubble-wrap or no, the script takes the issues surrounding Humanity and its will for survival - and its desire for freedom - as seriously as it can. The Wirrn are a classic bug-eyed (and bug-bodied) monster whose methods are instantly memorable, and it all comes together to produce something that, while maybe not your go-to story for a pick-me-up, is certainly a fine example of the genre.

Thanks.

NEXT WEEK: Those pesky potatoes are back... it's The Sontaran Experiment.

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