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12 February 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 408: The Ark in Space, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’ve been trying to find the right word to describe what we’ve seen of this story (and thus, of the Hinchcliffe producership so far), and I think I’ve worked it out today: it’s confident. I thought it by about the time Episode Two of Robot had rolled around, but it’s hard to think that Tom Baker hasn’t been playing this part for years already. He’s just so sure of the performance, and I’m completely sold on his version of the Doctor.

It also has to be said that the style of the show has already started to assert itself very strongly. This is possibly the biggest tonal shift that we’ve seen the programme attempt up to this point, and yet it’s doing it with such bravado – there’s no gentle easing into this new format of Doctor Who. I was mentioning this to a friend earlier today, who pointed out that it’s no greater change than any other regeneration. But I think we’re prepared for the way the Troughton yers begin because The Tenth Planet is something of a template for his era, and we’re prepared for the Pertwee years by the presence of stories like The Web of Fear and The Invasion. Although the Third Doctor had started spending more and more time away from Earth as his era went on, the adventures he had out in space were of a different style to the one we’re seeing here. To put it bluntly, they simply weren’t as scary as this story.

The Wirrn themselves are a great design, and I’m really surprised that they haven’t turned them into an action figure yet – they’d look great on the shelf! My only complaint about the costumes is that they’re too dry. That sounds a bit odd (and it probably is), but it feels as though they should be at least shiny, if not slightly dripping with goo. It’s not the first time that I’ve felt this – I thought the same about the maggots in The Green Death, a great design, but one that’s let down by the fact that they’ve been so obviously created for a television programme, and they don’t seem to have anything making them look a bit more… natural.

I’ve seen it said over the years that the one moment which lets this story down is the Wirrn crawling their way across the surface of the Ark in an attempt to reach the rocket. I’ve known, therefore, that such a shot was coming up, and I’d been sort of dreading it. With everything else pulling together so well in this story, I didn’t really want it to be let down in a few seconds of screen time during the final episode. I rather liked the shot, though! It’s certainly not the worst model effects that we’ve ever seen in the series, and it may even be the moment where I find the Wirrn most effective! When it comes to the full-size models, younger me on my commentary recording makes a point of describing them as not being the most mobile of creatures, and I think that thought holds true now. It’s a lovely design, but a bit… bulky. No wonder they couldn’t follow Sarah down the ventilation shafts!

I think I sort of lost track of what was happening at this point, because when the Wirrn suddenly find themselves blasted off into space I was completely stumped by it. I’d not registered that they’d entered the shuttle at any point, and figured that they were just making their way towards our heroes to try and cut them off before… oh, I don’t know. I’d just sort of lost my place with things. Still, it’s nice to see Noah retaining some of his human spirit right until the very end of the story, and that’s something that younger me had picked up on, too (even if I’d forgotten all about it by the time of this viewing).

It’s been interesting listening to the commentary I recorded for this story five years ago as I’ve made my way through – mostly because I’ve completely forgotten everything about it. I’ve know that I’ve watched this story right the way though to the end before now – and I’ve even got the audio recording to prove it! – but I couldn’t have told you anything about what happens at the end here. I’ve got a commentary recording for The Sontaran Experiment, too, and I’m hoping it continues to be a novel experience for me to listen back to them. I’ve been struck so far by how little we’re actually saying on the commentaries, but there’s steadily more coming out with each passing episode. I think we’re finding our feet with the process as we go along!

At the end of today’s recording, the title credits play out and I make a point of asking Alex and Stevie what their favourite moments from the story were. Alex’s answer is jokey to begin with (he plumps for the little blue ‘splat’ effect when a gun is fired early on) before deciding that he was rather fond of the Doctor teasing Sarah Jane in this episode to spur her on in a moment of need. Stevie simply liked the moment when the Doctor got punched for his own good, and I decided that the best bit of the story was that moment in Episode Three where the door opens and we find Noah in a half-infected state on the other side.

While I’d still single that out as being a fantastic moment in the story, I think I’d like to change my answer now. This time around, I was more struck by Kenton Moore’s earlier performance in Episode Three, where he wrestles against his infection to try and warn Vira that she needs to get off the Ark while she still can. It still stands out as being one of the greatest performances we’ve seen in the programme, and I’m surprised I didn’t say much more about it the last time I watched the story – I think I was too busy looking at the bubble wrap!


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