Saturday 1 January 2011

The Ark in Space

Ridley Scott's Alien movie- We got there first

Ark in Space is the first story of the Hinchcliffe era. The first story of Season 12 was produced by Barry Letts, the outgoing producer. The Hinchcliffe era is seen by many fans as a golden era of Doctor Who. I differ from most fans in not holding this period in high regard. I certainly think it is the most consistent period in the show. While it had a few disasters, most notably The Android Invasion, on the whole it maintained high standards. However, the Hinchcliffe was far from as perfect as many fans would have you believe. There was something of an overreliance on borrowing plots from horror movies. More controversially, I believe that Hinchcliffe allowed the violence to get a little out of hand. I think there is something of a sadistic tendency in his stories. They seem to indulge a morbid curiosity about pain and death. I think Ark in Space is a good start to this period and while including a powerful horror element, it avoids the excesses of some of his later serials, such as The Robots of Death and Pyramids of Mars (in my opinion the two most overrated Dr. Who stories ever).

Ark in Space introduces a powerful element of body horror; the terror of being transformed into something inhuman; the complete destruction of the personality. This theme would be repeated in the Seeds of Doom. The serial also plays considerably on childish fears, such as the fear of being eaten by monsters while one is asleep.

Doctor Who has made several attempts to create B-movie style giant insects, mostly unsuccessfully. One has to admire them for trying on a limited budget. The Wirrn are not an exception; they are a rather clumsy and very unconvincing creation. Probably, it was a mistake to show a dead Wirrn early in the story, thus reducing their later impact. The metamorphosis effect on 'Noah' is also rather poor; it is very obvious that his hand is covered in bubble wrap.

We are given a very bleak vision of the future. Not only has the earth been devastated by solar flairs and it's surviving population in hibernation, but society seems to have changed. The survivors on the Ark, with the strange exception of Rogin, are very cold and callous. We are given a fleeting glimpse of a very regimented society that looks down on outsiders as 'regressives.' They appear to regard those humans that have colonised other planets as having an almost subhuman status. It is clearly not a future we would relish. This effect is a little ruined by the character of Rogin (Richardson Morgan). His character and posture is just completely out of character with the society in which he is supposed to be living. He even makes a gag about a trade union. So are there trade unions in this apparently fascistic future society?

The musical score is very good and helps to enhance the overall sense of doom. At times the suggestion is made that the entire future of humanity rests with the survival of the Ark's inhabitants. While they might well feel so with their peculiar distrust of space colonists, it does not seem a correct assumption. The story acknowledges that there are human colonies on other worlds and this is supported by many other Dr. Who stories.

Wendy Williams is very good as Vira, showing at first a coolness towards the TARDIS crew, then an increasing warmth. Kenton Moore has often been praised for his performance as 'Noah,' but I am not very convinced. He seems a little awkward in the role and at times hams it up rather too much.

Tom Baker still seems a little uneasy in his role as the Doctor. It is probably only in Genesis of the Daleks that he really makes the part his own. Elisabeth Sladen gives her usual decent performance. It is Ian Marter who really shines as Harry Sullivan. Being a diagnosed Dyspraxic (clumsy child syndrome), I really identify with Harry's clumsiness and apparent stupidity. What is so delightful about Harry is that he takes his reputation for being a clumsy fool with such good grace. As a naval officer and a doctor, he has status in society and is perfectly at ease with himself. After his shoes are destroyed in the first episode, he spends the rest of the story in his stocking feet, which must have been rather comfy.

The similarities between this story and Ridley Scott's Alien movie have often been pointed out. It would be nice to think that this serial was an influence on the film. Nevertheless, it should never be thought that Ark in Space is better. Not only was Alien a landmark science fiction film, but it showed a much greater sophistication, playing on subconscious male fears about female genitalia, childbirth and breastfeeding.

While Ark in Space is not a story that gets me particularly excited, it is a great introduction to the Hinchcliffe era and a worthy second story for Tom Baker.

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