Doctor Who's "Alien"
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tom Baker was introduced to BBC viewers as the fourth Doctor Who on New Year's Eve 1974 with a story made under the auspices of the production team responsible for all of his predecessor's stories. The Ark in Space, broadcast in January and February 1975 was the second of his stories broadcast, the first under the production of Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes, and the change in direction is apparent from the word go! A precursor to Alien by almost four years, this story deals with the Doctor and his two companions, Sarah-Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan, and their fight against an insect like parasite, the wirrn, in a battle to save humanity. Set many centuries in the future, the Earth has been damaged by solar flares and has been abandoned, with humanity cast into space in vast arks where they are in suspended animation, waiting to return to Earth. Unfortunately, the wirrn have invaded the ark, and are consuming the humans, including their leader Noah, as they take over the ship. The theme of the story, the design of the sets and the direction, make a very stark contrast to earlier Who, and vastly increased ratings followed hand in hand. Already available for many years on VHS, the story has now been remastered and some bonus features added. New model shots have been filmed using the latest technology, and added to the adventure, although the original footage is available too. The soundtrack features both Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, the first time they've worked together on the show since 1976, and reunites them with producer Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe seems to do most of the talking, with Baker seemingly unable to recall a great deal about the story itself, but the warmth and friendship between the three of them is very evident, and even when they are "rambling" about the show in general, it is very entertaining. The on screen production captions are much more useful in highlighting the story's history. Also added are some test shots from unused opening credits and schematic pictures of the ark's design. This really is Doctor Who at its very best. A great story, very well acted, brilliantly designed and tensely directed. As a result it's easy to forgive the "bubble wrap" monsters! I hope Baker and Sladen reunite for future releases. Their commentary is truly entertaining, although presumably at some point they will run out of anecdotes. A great DVD release, certainly one of the best so far."
"I can't recall a single thing about it, really!"
Jason A. Miller | New York, New York USA | 08/25/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Ark in Space" is one of those stories I watched at age 11, only a couple of months after discovering "Doctor Who" on PBS. It instantly became one of my favorites, and remained so even after I'd seen the other 26 years' worth of stories. What makes "Ark" a great "Doctor Who" story is the list of usual suspects: small cast, claustrophobic setting, some moments of real horror (1974 special-effects style) as the Ark commander is turned into a 6-foot-tall fiberglass wasp, after becoming gradually encased in green bubble-wrap. And, of course, Tom Baker's larger-than-life performance as the Doctor.The "Doctor Who" DVD releases have been of uniformly high quality. Each episode comes with a pop-up track of subtitled production notes, and an audio commentary by the cast and crew. The "Ark" production notes include details on the original script for the story, and memorably inform us that bubble wrap was not as common in 1974 as it is today! The commentary track is one of the better ones: Elisabeth Sladen, who played companion Sarah Jane, has terrific recall and some intriguing insights into the original production that I hadn't read or heard elsewhere. Series producer Philip Hinchcliffe supplies enough inside information into the sets, lighting, and script editing process to be informative without ever getting stuffy -- and his recall is excellent, too.The star of the commentary track is, naturally, Tom Baker. Tom's involvement with DW since leaving the role has been infrequent and bizarre. His contribution to the track involves frightening barks of laughter at lingering shots of the male actors' physique, or double entendres in the script (intentional or otherwise). He confesses from the opening seconds that he "can't recall a single thing" about the story, and this frees him up to be the irreverent, unpredictable voice circling effortlessly around Sladen and Hinchcliffe's scholarship.There are other extra features -- an informative, current interview with the episode designer, and a vintage, bizarre interview with Baker in costume. There are 7 minutes of original (silent) model test footage. Help yourself. I fast-forwarded through this after my resolve was defeated somewhere around Minute Three. The 3D Ark schematic is brief, and thus cute. The redone CGI effects work better than you might expect when viewed as part of the story via seamless branching, and of course you can always turn it off. The "unused title sequence" has some interesting outtakes, but the final 30 seconds are, in fact, the used title sequence. The photo gallery is a must-skip. There's a strange "TARDIS-cam" view which appears to be a new creation; this is atmospheric, if pointless.There are reportedly three hidden easter eggs, of which I've only found one. Again, it's Tom Baker, in costume, being bizarre. I can't wait to find the other two."
Classic sci-fi TV survives because of excellent scripting...
Jason A. Miller | 04/26/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A great segment from TV's longest running sci-fi series. Due to lack of budget these episodes of Tom Baker's second story have the typical cheesy effects and limited set designs, however the tight script and fascinating premise will keep any true sci-fi fan riveted. Note how this 1974 TV show had similar aspects to 1979's ALIEN movie by Ridley Scott (Insects in space that germinate in the human form aboard a craft of cryogenic sleepers resulting in the aliens being destroyed aboard an escape craft). Coincidence? Anyway you slice it, the gorey deaths, cool rubbery aliens, cliff hangers, snazzy dialogue and glimpses of future cultures keep the eyes watching and the mind whirling. This is a must for any Doctor Who fan's collection."
Warm Romanticism vs. cold and logical Positivism
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 01/30/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenseless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine, and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable." So says the Doctor when he notices the rows of humans in suspended animation aboard the title vehicle, an example of the normal Positivist stance sci-fi takes.The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry land on Space Station Nerva, which houses hundreds of humans in suspended animation. Apparently, solar flares caused millions of Earth people to hide underground while a percentage of them was sent to Nerva, wake up after a few thousand years after the Earth cooled off, and resettle it.Trouble is, the humans overslept by a couple thousand years, and during that time, they had a visitor, which Harry discovers--a green giant locust-like alien. The crucial members of the crew, Vira, first medtech, and Noah, the ark's Prime Unit, are awoken, and prepare to resucitate the others.Noah is then attacked by an alien, and before long, his body begins to metamorphose into that of a Wirrn. His transformation is mental as well as physical, yet he constantly struggles to maintain his humanity as he's gradually absorbed into the Wirrn hivemind.The concept of aliens using men for endoparasitism predates Alien by a good five years. And look at the title of the story and at Noah's name. The biblical connotations are obvious, as the mission is to repopulate an Earth destroyed by a catastrophe. The difference is, Biblical Noah will live in a world where man and beast live in harmony, but in this story, humans are in danger of "symbiotic atavism", of an Earth ruled by aliens.But the Wirrn and the humans on the Ark have a commonality. The Wirrn are a collective hivemind, while the Ark survivors have a humorless, strictly hierarchical, coldly scientific, compared to the more warmer and less technical Doctor, Harry, and Sarah. Indeed, when Vira coldly asks the Doctor and Harry if Sarah's of value, Harry incredulously says, "Of value? She's a human being like ourselves! What kind of question is that?" Vira then tells the Doctor that Harry's a Romantic, to which the Doctor says, "Perhaps we both are." This denotes the crossing out of the cerebral Positivism with a more warm-hearted Romanticism.As a cost-cutting measure, the sets for Nerva were reused in Revenge Of The Cybermen, which was the next story shot after this, but aired as the last story of the season. Trivia: the music played to Sarah in Episode 1 is taken from Georg Handel's Largo. And why Episode 2 was the highest charting story, #5 and netting 13.6 million viewers on first airing, is anybody's guess, as I've seen better episodes.As for the effects, the Ark model and interior are realized great, especially the cathedral-like cryogenics chamber, but the Wirrn larvae are wrapped in both sizes of bubble wrap sprayed green.This story clearly puts human beings in a good light, and sees great potential for them. As the message by the long-dead Earth Minister says, "You are the chosen survivors. You have been entrusted with a sacred duty, to see that human knowledge, human culture, human love and faith shall never perish from the universe. Guard what we have given you with all your strength.""