Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space

Part One
“You’re improving, Harry!”

“Am I?”

“Yes, your mind is beginning to work. It’s entirely due to my influence, of course. You mustn’t take any credit.”

From the start it’s clear that, great though the sets are, the special effects for this story look particularly dated from a modern perspective- from the start the space station is clearly a small plastic model on a wire and the camera has been sprayed with green stuff. I don’t usually bother about such things in old Doctor Who but in this story they are essential to the atmosphere the story is trying to create. Not necessarily a problem at the time, but it keeps me from feeling the suspense.

Not that it’s a problem with this first episode, which may be mostly padding but it explains where we are and gives us a chance to get used to this new and rather splendid TARDIS crew. The dialogue is fantastic, all three actors are great and there are lots of nice character touches, from the Doctor using a yo yo (a first!) to check the gravity to Harry showing us just how old-fashioned he is by suggesting brandy for Sarah’s recovery from oxygen starvation. But the Doctor’s speech is of course great, and a real high point.

Sonic Screwdriver mission creep continues, although we actually see the unscrewing of screws this episode. And I wonder if the voice of the High Minister is based on Thatcher, well known at the time for the snatching of milk?

Part Two

“Gremlins can get into everything, old girl. First law of the sea.”

I was expecting this story to be great, so I was surprised that I found it quite slow and tiresome. Not a lot happens, there’s too much talking, there’s little sense of threat, and most of the drama comes from a character (Noah) becoming irrationally suspicious of the Doctor, something which really annoys me. It’s frustrating for the viewer and seldom achieves much but to hold up the plot.

Oh, and the bubble wrap is somewhat unfortunate from a modern perspective! I’ll let that lie though.

There are some interesting bits though- Noah was given his nickname as a reference to mythology even though his real name, Lazar, rather appropriately recalls Lazarus. I bet that was deliberate. And the concept of alien insects laying eggs in people’s bodies is indeed horrible, as the Doctor says- an early sign of the programme going to darker places than would have been allowed under the previous regime.

Part Three

“Well, fancy a member of the fair sex being at the top of the totem pole.”

There’s a hint that the society that built the ark was not exactly utopia- the TARDISeers are “degenerates” and “the genetically impure don’t count.” But this episode is where the threat posed by the Wirrn becomes established, in a tightly scripted thriller that would’ve been great if it wasn’t so overlit and we didn’t see so much of the rather unconvincing monster. There’s also a great line from the Doctor: “It may be irrational of me, but human beings are quite my favourite species.”

Oh, and I think this is the first time we hear the word “transmat”.

Part Four
“How do you think I’m doing? Twit!”

So the Wirrn are from Andromeda? I can accept them surviving without oxygen for years and drifting through space, but the space between galaxies? That’s a very long way!

I love the scene with the Doctor “encouraging” Sarah to get through the vent. And there’s a satisfying ending with Rogin’s heroic self-sacrifice, which strangely echoes the way the BBC worked at the time: “We don’t want trouble with the space technicians’ union, Doctor. That’s my job.” And of course Noah sacrifices himself too. The human spirit indeed triumphs in the end.

I was surprised to feel a little ambivalent about this one. There’s much that’s good, great even, about Holmes’ script, but episode two drags a bit, and it just isn’t directed or lit like the thriller it should be. 3/5.

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