Thursday, October 20, 2005

'The Ark In Space'

4 episodes

Wow. I'd forgotten this was so good - a claustrophobic exercise in body horror that succeeds on every level. That we find ourselves aboard a space station in the far future immediately distances this new era from the largely Earth-bound previous one, and the opening episode is spectacular in a very understated way: featuring no-one bar the regulars for the first time since 'Inside the Spaceship' eleven years earlier, it brilliantly establishes the setting, where a hive-like space station carries the hibernating survivors of humanity in an eerily clinical, silent solitude. The rapport between the Doctor and Harry is great, and Lis Sladen shows how well she plays fear when her character nearly gets suffocated. The contemporary viewing public must have realised something was up, as well - the second episode subsequently pulled in the highest viewing figures the series had ever recorded, its 13.6 million finally topping the mark set almost exactly a decade earlier by part 1 of (of all things) 'The Web Planet'... Once the other characters start to wake up things get moving nicely, and are an interestingly mixed bunch - the cool, calm Vira manages to thaw slightly by the end, the doomed Noah transforms compellingly into a green mutant alien creature, Rogin is engaging and makes a poignantly cheerful sacrifice at the end to save the Doctor and his compatriots, while the Wirrn make for impressive and threatening monsters. The sets are tremendous, cold, clean and evocative of the damaged future world they represent, and the modelwork is decent - although not as good as the replacement CGI shots of the station that are viewable on the DVD and which I checked out afterwards! The plot spools out very nicely through the four episodes; again in contrast to the end of the Pertwee era, this is a fine example of how a bloated six-parter with not enough to say is trounced by a sharp four-parter where the action needs to come thicker and faster. Tom Baker's Doctor is excellent; you'd swear he'd been in the role for years so easily does he acclimatise, effortlessly combining the best of his predecessors (wise, playful, action-man) into a unique new package. Roll on the next story...


Episodes watched: 281
Episodes still to watch: 441

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