Doctor Who #391: The Ark in Space Part 4

"You don't want trouble with the space technician's union, Doctor."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.15 1975.

IN THIS ONE... Sarah Jane in her first air ducts, and Rogin sacrifices himself by trapping the Wirrn inside a rocketship.

REVIEW: So it turns out humanity struck first. Yep, our colonists made it to Andromeda and destroyed the Wirrn spawning grounds. It's good to hear we won't put all our eggs in the same basket (i.e. Nerva), but still, it's come to bite that other strand of humanity in the butt. And speaking of butts, the reason the Wirrn do not work as creatures is that they are basically hopping ON their butts, as opposed to using their legs. It's an unworkable costume, and the story's main flaw. The mood lighting aboard the rocket, while more like what the entire story needed, still wouldn't have helped them out (there's one shot with Wirrn aboard and it definitely doesn't). As the Doctor said at the end of Robot, the other monsters, humans, have the capacity for both good and evil, and though we now know humans caused the Wirrn's exodus and subsequent revenge scheme, humanity is also to be celebrated in Rogin's and Noah's respective sacrifices. In the end, though she's lost her mate and commander, Vira's smile and laugh feel earned as a result, and are so sweet I've always come off this story liking her, despite the cold, logical side.

In a story about transformation, it is perhaps acceptable that Sarah Jane starts out wet and panicked, and ends with her finding courage, resourcefulness and confidence. It may even by why Holmes briefly turned her into a sleeper, so she could be "born" and grow over the course of the story. I'm being generous, I know, since we can hardly excuse turning her into a wet blanket after a whole season of her being brave and independent. Thematic or not, at least Sarah's back to some semblance of plucky heroism. She's the one that figures out the rocket is the independent power source they need, even as the "grown-ups" hatch a much more complicated plan. She volunteers to squeeze herself into a triangular duct (that's a thing: why are there two duct systems, one triangular and the other square? Just like there are two totally different types of guns...). And she's quick to get her raincoat to visit future Earth too. Of course, there's that cute scene in which the Doctor uses reverse psychology to make her get through the last few meters of air duct. Cute, but here's hoping it wasn't the sole reason she was turned into a coward for three episodes.

Towards the end, we get a shot of the Wirrn crawling on the outside of the station towards the ship, and it's a striking (if blurry) image. It can't be done very well in 1975, but our imaginations take us the rest of the way. They'd make terrifying monsters in the New Series, wouldn't they? Not sure how they got aboard the rocket - we don't see it, perhaps mercifully - but though they die, I'm sure there are others somewhere in space-time. It's all very abrupt though. Perhaps it's the realistic silence at the moment of destruction, or the brevity of Noah's last message to Vira, but it feels rather anti-climactic. Then again, this isn't really the end of the story, as it doesn't end with the TARDIS leaving. Instead, the Doctor and co. T Mat to the planet surface to continue the adventure, leaving their ship aboard Nerva. In fact, there's really no break for our heroes until the end of the season when they return. Holmes is doing something a little different with the usual pattern of stand-alone stories.

VERSIONS: The DVD's CGI models create a much better rocketship, though the explosion is very CG, as from Space: Above and Beyond. Ian Marter's Target novelization brings more depth to the characters and doesn't mind going for that extra bit of violence. He also has the TARDIS move the characters to Earth at the end instead of the T Mat.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The correct amount of cleverness and sacrifice, so why does the ending fall a little flat?

- A smartly plotted Doctor Who story, and of interest to Alien fans, but Sarah Jane is annoyingly out of character through most of it and the Wirrn design hasn't aged well if it was ever acceptable.



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