...with a look at The Ark in Space, a newly restored, four-part Tom Baker-era DOCTOR WHO adventure originally transmitted January/February 1975. This one’s from scripter Robert Holmes, who penned a number of the show’s very finest stories - including The Talons of Weng-Chiang (T. Baker, Story # 91), The Sun Makers (T. Baker, Story # 95) and The Caves of Androzani (Davison, Story #135). He also brought a few of DW’s more mediocre offerings to the table, including The Carnival of Monsters (Pertwee, Story # 66). Where does The Ark in Space fall within the spectrum of Holmes’ work? Somewhere in the middle. More on this below. =
A LOOK AT THE NEW THE UPDATED ICE WARRIORS (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)!!
We've known for a while that longtime DOCTOR WHO / SHERLOCK alum Mark Gatiss would be scripting a forthcoming S7 DOCTOR WHO episode in which the Doctor's long-time enemies, The Ice Warriors, would return to the show in an episode apparently set on a submarine. Here's an original version Ice Warrior from back in the day...
LAST WEEK, we got a hint of what these creatures...originally introduced a 1967 episode called, well, The Ice Warriors...would look like in their current iteration. This was via a poster which contained teasing images of them subtly reflected across shards of glass (or whatever it is).
Now, THIS piece over at SFX teases an upcoming interview with WHO-Producer Caro Skinner, and offers a full-bodied reveal of the newest version of these dastardly warriors from Mars.
Nicely updated, while still rather faithful...from the looks of it at least. Plus, it'll make one badass action figure.
A FLOOD OF NEW SEASON/SERIES 7B PROMO SHOTS (IN CASE YOU MISSED THEM)!!
BBC has issued a healthy portion of promo images from the upcoming second wave of DOCTOR WHO Season/Series 7 episodes (aka Season/Series 7B). Below you'll find a representative sample of said pictures - you can click any one of them to jump to BBC's official gallery for more!
BBC ANOUNCES OFFICIAL 50th ANNIVERSARY BLOW-OUT!!
The DOCTOR WHO 50th Celebration weekend will happen beginning Friday November 22 in London. Which means it'll be happening on November 23, the show's actual 50th anniversary! 15,000 tickets to become available soon. You can find more information HERE - where you can also sign up for a newsletter which’ll keep you informed. Yes, this process works for folks outside of the UK...I’ve already done it.
As of this moment, plans are afoot for me to attend this once in a lifetime event. Hopefully it’ll continue to come together - if you’re in UK and a Docbacker, be sure to let me know if you’ll be going as well!
NOTE: the site linked to above is shiny and new and filled with DOCTOR WHO commemorative fun. Definitely worth checking out.
HERE'S A PREVIEW OF THE 10th PLANET’S ANIMATED RESTORATION!!
LAST WEEK we go a look an animated restoration for The Ice Warriors (Troughton, ,Story #39) - for which two installments have been long-missing, but are now being animated to visually complete the tale.
BBC has now issued a tease of their similar restoration of The 10th Planet (Hartnell, Story #29), whose long-absent fourth episode is being similarly animated for an upcoming DVD issuance. This fourth episode features the regeneration of Hartnell’s Doctor into Troughton’s Doctor, a gag for which only a few brief moments of footage actually exist.
This forthcoming animated restoration will bring us that same sequence in an animated form. Here’s a sense of what it will look like...and it’s pretty cool.
DOCBACKER HORNORSILK REVIEWS THE BIG FINISH AUDIO SPACEPORT FEAR!!
Glen Note: Yeah Colin Baker! Oh. Bonnie Langford.
Boundless thanks, as always, to the good HornOrSilk!
170 – Spaceport Fear
Staring Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford. With Ronald Pickup.
By William Gallagher
The old, no-longer in operation Tantane Spaceport, has had its inhabitants split into two warring factions: Economy and Business. The spaceport remains relatively in the dark, with limited functions, like life support, and some computer displays, working. And onboard the spaceport, there is the Wailer, what appears to be a monster roaming about, eating whomever gets in its way.
At least, that is how the story begins. But this is a tale which follows in the footsteps of Face of Evil, Paradise Towers, and Dragonfire. Not everything is as it seems. The conflict between Economy and Business has been created by someone with his own agenda, someone who cares for neither Economy nor Business and yet pretends to be both. He takes on the role of Kane and the Chief Caretaker – he has helped create a society, he has helped form the rules of that society, he finds value in it as long as he remains on the Spaceport. But he doesn’t want to stay. He found himself trapped on the Spaceport and he wants off. And he will do anything it takes to achieve his goal.
When the Doctor and Mel land on the Spaceport, they quickly find themselves separated from the TARDIS. Their entry into the Spaceport has helped bring it back to life. Their entry into the Spaceport calls into question the way of life as it has taken place on the Spaceport. Their entry into the Spaceport has created an opportunity for change. And it has created an opportunity which the longstanding outsider aboard the Spaceport will use to try to make his escape.
The opening and closing episodes of this story work very well. However, I feel the middle two episodes feel a bit padded. This would work well as a three part story, but as a four part story, it gets a little boring in the middle, but, with the opening and concluding sections, it still is a worthy addition to the Doctor Who audio range. Colin and Bonnie are excellent. Ronald Pickup is, at least to me, average in his role, but nonetheless, it is nice to get guest stars like him involved with these audios. The role he is given is a common enough role in Doctor Who, and really has little which is exceptional to it in the way it is brought about in this story.
I would rate this story a sound 7. It’s an average tale. It really didn’t do anything for me. It didn’t have any great, over-arching ideas that I have not yet see in Doctor Who. Yet, it didn’t bore me to tears throughout the adventure, as a few audio stories have done. I did want to find out how it ended. I just wish it was a bit tighter.
THE ARK IN SPACE
“You’re improving, Harry...Yes, your mind is beginning to work. It’s entirely due to my influence, of course. You mustn’t take any credit.” - the Doctor, The Ark in Space, Episode One
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and companions Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) arrive on space platform Nerva, where the last vestiges of mankindawait awakening from cryonic suspension. Their mission: to repopulate Earth after its scorching by plus-sized solar activity. The problem: hyper-intelligent super-roaches called Wirrn have other ideas for the Nervans, and humanity as a whole...
The Ark in Space frustrates considerably.
The opening three of its four installments are directed by Rodney Bennett (The Sontatan Experiment: T. Baker, Story #77) with an almost excruciating indifference. We quickly learn TAIS is about nothing less than frantic, last-ditch efforts to preserve what’s left of the human race - but these concerns are presented with all the the urgency of shopping for a refrigerator on a Saturday afternoon. There is almost no tension running through Episodes One through Three, no sense of either long term jeopardy or immediate desperation. We’re told what’s happening on-screen is important, but through much of its run, The Ark in Space steadfastly refuses to act important. And when a show doesn’t believe in itself, it’s difficult for us to believe in it.
Even for budgetarily challenged vintage WHO, this attack of the bubblewrap moment strains credulity.
Energetically, Eps One-Three of Ark rarely come to life. Even fun and interesting conceits are shorted out with sometimes staggering displays of illogic. Or, would that be laziness? One humorous-but-smart(ish) sequence finds the Doctor and Harry thwarting an organic-matter-zapping auto drone by creeping around under a table (a la SCOOBY DOO) to avoid detection. This is a little silly, but it’s a fun kind silly which is not entirely unreasonable given the mechanics of the circumstance being laid out. Yet the matter is ultimately resolved by the pair discovering the ON/OFF SWITCH for said drone mounted conspicuously (and insecurely) on a nearby wall (!?) Later, out of the mammoth assemblage of humanity suspended on Nerva for thousands upon thousands of years, a med-tech named Vira (Wendy Williams) is automatically and conveniently thawed out in order to help a newly popsicled Sarah Jane. The movement is random... and deus-ex-machina. It’s a bewildering means to an end, with no apparent causality.
The Ark in Space offers some very nice sets. Like this cryo-chamber on Nerva (above), and this expansive corridor locale (below)
Throughout all of the above, one hugely underlying concern hamstrings the story over and over again - our ability to identify with the peril our characters are thrown into. This shortcoming can be laid principally in terms of how Ark’s supporting cast is wrangled. One of DOCTOR WHO’s consistent strengths across the years has been its speedy and masterful introduction of accessible, even brilliantly realized, supporting players. Folks we can relate to and feel like we’ve known for years...even though we just met them five minutes ago. This does not happen here. It takes a long time for Ark’s supporting cast to find its footing and thaw out (literally and figuratively). Which pushes back against the grand, wrenching poetic crisis these characters, and Baker’s Doctor, constantly tell us we’re beholding. The human race being saved herein is (for much of the tale) a gathering of dour, bureaucratic, gratingly irascible douchebags. They’re so grim and so devoid of any sense of awe or humor or hope or warmth that they come across as pathetically stunted and underdeveloped, rather than being particularly worthy of salvation. Perhaps this was Holmes’ ultimate intent...perhaps The Ark in Space is, in the end, a circuitous commentary on who we are as a people, what we’re in danger of becoming, and what is truly worth holding onto when facing our endgame. As presented here, however, such thematics develop as either fleeting or tenuous at best..presuming they were ever truly intended at all. Making for an unpleasant ensemble throughout much of the show.
Matters stabilize and improve considerably when Ark reaches its fourth and final episode - especially when a number of thematics which had been hazy or unrefined throughout are finally hauled into the light and focused more clearly - which is also when those stuffy humans actually start acting, well, human. It is in Episode Four when The Ark in Space truly begins to shine, and shine rather brightly at that. Better late than never I suppose, although this does somewhat painfully illustrate how special Ark might’ve been throughout, but wasn’t for whatever reasons.
In the end, Ark may well have been under-developed, or at the very least improperly developed. In principle, Holmes' tale represented the very best kind of DOCTOR WHO there is - a sprawling concept intimately told: the last remnants of humanity leaving Earth in a cryo-arc in a desperate bid for species continuance - only to be interfered with and preyed upon by beasties whose agendas are wholly unsympathetic to our cause for some very good reasons. There's pathos in such notions, and these core elements serve beautifully as a testament to DW's often chillingly Darwinistic attitude towards life in its universe. But here, these ingredients rarely coalesce into an effective whole. Much like the human refugees it portrays, The Ark in Space feels set adrift and stuck in a state of perpetual slumber. Very much wanting to wake up and begin anew, but encountering obstacles nearly every step of the way...
The newly restored Ark in Space is now available on DVD HERE in the US and HERE in the UK. When compared to other restorations of stories from this era, Ark’s video image is a tad softer and seems to suffer from a “dupiness” - or a sort of generational artifacting - which some might find distracting. Color saturation of the image is very nice and often impressive, to be sure...but there was definitely something a tad wonky about the physical texture of image on my screener copy. Those who remember what a home-duplicated VHS tape looked like back in the day? Where the image was there and was often completely fine, but you could tell it wasn’t as clear or crisp as the original? That’s pretty much what this looks like. Not bad...just not altogether typical of the WHO restoration team’s often breathtaking efforts.
(top) original effects shot, (below) newly incorporated CGI
On the plus side, much of TAIS’ original effects work - gratingly unfortunate even by vintage WHO’s sometimes challenged standards - have been re-worked via CGI which feels comfortably organic when integrated with the original material around it. Which effects you want to watch Ark with is an option which can be toggled, so you can choose your flavor.
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