That was a cracking good time. While I liked “Robot” this story felt like the proper introduction to the 4th Doctor. It felt like Hinchcliffe and Holmes were putting their own stamp on the show and saying this is what it is going to be like now. The Doctor wandering the cosmos and blundering into situations where he does his best to help, all with a dash of sci-fi and horror.
The first episode was rather good and did a nice job of setting everything up. I thought keeping it isolated to just the three main characters was a good idea. This is still a new Doctor and Harry is a new companion. Spending time with just them before new characters are introduced makes sense.
Sarah Jane does get sidelined for the first two episodes, but I was okay with that. She has had an entire season of adventures with the Doctor. This is Harry’s first true adventure and he needs some time to shine. That’s not to say Sarah doesn’t do anything. She gets a lot of screen time in the last two episodes.
I liked the dynamic between the Doctor and Harry. The Doctor doesn’t take Harry seriously at all and likes to deflate Harry’s pompousness but never in a mean way. Harry seems like a genuinely good, if slightly chauvinistic, guy who is in a little over his head.
The first episode just kept piling on the calamities. First they were in an undisclosed location with no power, then there was no oxygen, then they were getting shot at by the automated security system, and then Harry seemingly gets attacked by a giant insect.
Poor Harry. He lost both his shoes and has to do a lot of running in just his socks. Is it terrible that I was hoping he would lose his pants, too?
This episode has some big ideas and it is too bad the budget wasn’t there to pull them off. The dead Wirrn looks terrible, the green bubble wrap on Noah as he transforms is silly looking, and the space station itself is horrible looking.
Thankfully the script and the ideas on display more than make up for the budgetary shortcomings in a way that the script and ideas for “Warriors of the Deep” couldn’t. Noah’s bubble wrapped hand may look silly but the idea that he is slowly changing into a Wirrn and betraying the very people he was supposed to lead and protect is chilling. The fact that the Wirrn are a hive mind and that Noah sometimes speaks as if he is Dune (a human that was consumed by the Wirrn in the first episode) just ads to the strangeness.
Honestly, the body horror aspects are pulled off well. Noah is a tragic figure that does his best to resist the Wirrn hive mind and he does get a few fleeting moments of resistance but for the most part he is nothing more than a tool for the alien insectoids.
I appreciated the fact that the Wirrn weren’t just evil monsters that want to eat humanity. They have traveled all this way to find a new home planet and to get revenge on humanity. Human colonists took over Wirrn breeding planets and the Wirrn lost the subsequent war so they decided they would head to Earth and conquer that planet. It makes them complicated antagonists.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the story does as much with that concept as they could have. The 4th Doctor seems sympathetic and he makes a token effort to dissuade the Wirrn and then he proceeds to wipe them out. It is a stark contrast from similar situations faced by the 3rd and 5th Doctors. The 4th Doctor finds humanity to be his favorite species and he is going to save them, even if they are their own architects of doom.
The story does a good job of presenting an alien culture with regards to the future humans. This isn’t the humanity that Sarah Jane and Harry are familiar with. These humans are colder, have different speech patterns and vocabulary, and are much more regimented. They were little touches, but I appreciated that the episodes did their best to differentiate the humans in the future from the modern day humans.
I liked Vira. Yes, she was cold and almost didn’t revive Sarah because she might not have been important, but she kept a level head and did her job. She was cool in a crisis and listened to the Doctor, and that’s all you can ask from a good supporting character.
I knew that the TARDIS wasn’t featured much this season because of the dispute going on behind the scenes but I still thought we would see the characters travel in it. Instead the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry beam down to Earth to make sure the transporter is working and to check the condition of the planet. I wonder if this means we will see the space station again this season?
“The Ark in Space” was a really good story. It felt like a statement of intent by the new creative team that things have changed and that the UNIT days are behind us. I am enjoying the dynamics between this TARDIS crew which makes it sad that Harry will be gone soon. The horror aspects, especially the body horror, were done well. The special effects might have been rubbish but the story and characters more than made up for that deficiency. I am excited to see what comes next.