Doctor Who #390: The Ark in Space Part 3

"He talks to himself sometimes because he's the only one who understands what he's talking about."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.8 1975.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor mindmelds with the dead Wirrn. A giant grub attacks. And Noah becomes one of THEM.

REVIEW: It's easy to cry foul when nothing makes sense, which is what I did in Planet of the Spiders and the Doctor's sudden interest in projecting thoughts on TV monitors. The scene in The Ark in Space where he plugs a monitor and himself into a Wirrn (name of the alien revealed!) eye membrane is just as strange, but now has the virtue of being consistent. Is this a particular Time Lord technique? Is this how the Matrix works? And if so, what was the third Doctor trying to build on Earth in his final days? But aside from triggering all this conjecture, the scene has another effect, and that's making practical use of Doctor Who's trademark alien POV shots. We're always seeing them, letting us know some creature is lurking, while simultaneously keeping its appearance secret, but the characters in the story are never privy to them. Here, the Doctor not only sees, but experiences what it is to be a Wirrn, flying through cold, vast space in search of a good place to nest. I suppose the ability to live in a vacuum explains their hardened shells, impervious to most weapons.

We're seeing the Wirrn's point of view because this is the monsters' episode to shine. We understand its motives (survival) and the one Wirrn with a voice - Noah - is still able to reason and warn away his human friends. And though we might accept that they're not actually "evil" per se, we're still repulsed by the shapes they take. That giant grub, while it could use a little less lighting, is still pretty effective. In terms of horror, this really is their big moment. In Part 4, not only will they be defeated (inevitable, really), but they'll start to look like big insects walking absurdly upright. Noah's already there in the cliffhanger, moving from gross and disturbing to silly, from actor to prop.

But let's visit with the humans for a bit. If there's a theme to this story, it's renewal, but a questionable renewal. The Earth has died, but volunteers will replace humanity. Except are these cold beings human enough? On the Ark itself, the humans are being replaced by Wirrn, surely a horrific idea, but made worse by the contrast between one's unwavering logic and the other's pure instinct. And then there's the moment between Harry and Sarah, in which he jokes about the female High Minister heard over the intercom. Harry was no doubt designed as an old-fashioned sexist to better play with Sarah Jane's Libber leanings (see The Time Warrior and the Doctor poking fun at her, also by Robert Holmes), but in the context of this story, there's the sense that he's the old guard, being supplanted by a new gender-neutral society (at least, by the 30th century, but represented by Sarah). It's a testament to Ian Marter's likeability that we don't immediately reject Harry. Among the guest cast, there's an anomaly in Rogin, a tech who has one of those "colonist accents" Vira and Noah are so down on, and it seems he didn't volunteer willingly. What's going on there? He's more entertaining than his bland colleagues, a sort of Bones McCoy type who hates T Mat, but how was he drafted for this adventure? Maybe his genetic, cultural and professional background was required. Don't know about the eventual rebuilding of the human race, but here, in the story of its survival, where things are so desperate, the most humane thing is to let everyone sleep in case they get devoured by the Wirrn after all, he is. There's the whole bit with using the short-range T Mat beds from Part 1 (clever), and as part of a white bread cast of characters, he brings a whole wheat earthiness that takes us away from the generic and into the specific. And since individuality is at stake, that can't be a bad thing.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes CGI model shots of the station, requiring a tiny re-edit of the scene where they're cross-faded over the Doctor's face.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I could do with less mad science and more subtle lighting, but the story works well in terms of both what's on the surface and what lies beneath it.

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