The Ark in Space: Part 1
Broadcast on January 25th 1975 @ 5.35pm (9.4 million viewers)
‘The Ark in Space’ is widely regarded as one of the classics of Doctor Who. Executive producer and head writer on the modern show Steven Moffatt often points to it when questioned about the best the show has to offer and even contributed an introduction to the rereleased Target novelisation. It is another excellent script from prolific writer Robert Holmes, based on an idea from John Lucarotti, with a sparse but strong cast it is rightly considered amongst the greats.
The location of Nerva Beacon provides a fantastic premise, in the far future the Earth has become uninhabitable and so humanity launches a life raft in order to survive. It also provided an excellent opportunity to save the production some money. With the upcoming story ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ intended to reutilise the space station sets, more money could be invested initially and carried through to the next story. The results are some of the best examples of the work of designer Roger Murray-Leach with the convincing corridors and the suspended animation chamber miraculously delivering a sense of scale despite the height limitations of a BBC studio.
“There’s a mystery here, Harry”.
The trio of the Doctor, Sarah, and new recruit Harry Sullivan carry the first episode, slowly unraveling a mystery with both companions bumbling around to develop the plot and Harry having got them into the far, far future in the first place by yanking the helmic regulator. As this is only the fourth Doctor’s second story it is quite right that he receives this extended screen time to give viewers more exposure to his new character. The Doctor using a yo-yo to measure the gravity is an amusing but logical quirk for this new Time Lord and he also attempts to use his iconic scarf as a tool, without much success. Further praise for the strong cliffhanger, with the reveal of Sarah carefully constructed, building the drama and finally as Harry searches for a resuscitation unit with a sense of urgency only to be faced with an alien creature, lurching towards him and the viewer.
“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, defenceless 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.”
With this piece of dialogue, Tom Baker sums up the Doctor’s adoration for humanity, proves what a sublime piece of casting he was and sets a very high standard for other incarnations to follow. Similar moments can be found performed by Sylvester McCoy in ‘The Happiness Patrol’, Matt Smith in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ and Peter Capaldi in ‘The Zygon Inversion’ but for the Fourth Doctor, this is one of his most iconic moments.
Also first aired On This Day…
- The Daleks: The Ordeal
- The Seeds of Death: Episode 1
- Four to Doomsday: Part 3
- Snakedance: Part 3