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The Ark in Space

Production Code: 4C

First Transmitted

1 - 25/01/1975 17:35

2 - 01/02/1975 17:30

3 - 08/02/1975 17:30

4 - 15/02/1975 17:30


The TARDIS arrives on an apparently deserted and deactivated space station Nerva, otherwise known as the Ark, orbiting Earth in the far future. There the Doctor, Sarah and Harry discover the last survivors of the human race held in suspended animation, Earth having been evacuated thousands of years earlier when solar flares threatened to destroy all life.

The station has been visited by a Wirrn, an insect life form, which has laid its eggs in the solar stacks and absorbed the body and mind of one of the sleeping humans. The Doctor's reactivation of the station's systems causes the humans to start to revive. Their leader, nicknamed Noah, becomes infected by one of the emerging larvae and is slowly taken over.

The Doctor and his friends meanwhile gain the trust of the other humans, now led by a med-tech named Vira. Together they manage to lure the hatched Wirrn insects into a shuttle craft and then eject it into space.

In a final act of humanity, Noah - by this time fully transformed into a Wirrn - deliberately neglects to set the shuttle's stabilisers, causing it to explode.

Episode Endings

Sarah has inadvertently been placed in suspended animation with the other sleeping humans. Harry searches in some cupboards for a resuscitation unit with which to revive her. The first is empty, but when he opens the second, a huge green insect lurches towards him.

A revived human named Libri goes after Noah, who is acting strangely. Noah persuades Libri to hand over his gun and then shoots him. Turning, Noah pulls his left hand from his pocket and stares at it in horror. It is engulfed in a green, larva-like skin.

The Wirrn turn off the Ark's main power and the Doctor heads for the solar stacks to try to reconnect it. There he finds numerous Wirrn hanging in chrysalises. He is about to turn on the power when he is confronted by a fully grown Wirrn creature with Noah's features still just visible. As he watches, Noah's face vanishes to be replaced by that of the Wirrn adult.

The Doctor decides to pop down to Earth using the Ark's transmat system to ensure that the diode receptors are in good working order to receive the returning sleepers. Sarah and Harry go with him.


The Quatermass Experiment (Noah's mutation and the Wirrn's stealing of memories).

Quatermass and the Pit.


Dr Strangelove (Noah fighting his own arm).

It! The Terror from Beyond Space.

The Fly.

Voyage of the Space Beagle.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. Ready to outsit eternity. They're indomitable."

The Doctor : "It may be irrational of me, but humans are quite my favourite species."

Dialogue Disasters

Harry : "Fancy a member of the fair sex being top of the totem pole."

Harry : "Independent sort of bird, isn't she?"

Noah : "Your resistance is useless!"

Double Entendre

Vira : "You claim to be med-techs?"

The Doctor : "Well, my doctorate is purely honorary, and Harry here is only qualified to work on sailors."

The Doctor : "Inch it round your end."


The Doctor's scarf was knitted by Madame Nostradamus. He carries a cricket ball. Humans are his favourite species.

Harry caught his nose in a sliding door in Pompey barracks. Sarah hates brandy, which the Doctor keeps in the TARDIS.

The Wirrn are natives of the Andromeda galaxy, who lived on herbivores until the humans arrived and fought them for 1000 years, driving them out. [A vast conflict that Noah may be overstating.] When they take over a person, they absorb their memories into the group mind. Individuals thus infected give out a subconscious impression of something alien [via pheromones]. Their life cycle doesn't necessarily need a host, but they use Noah to bypass the pupal stage.


The Doctor's Doctorate


Space station Nerva, in Earth orbit.

Future History

Nerva was built in the late 29th or early 30th century under a female High Minister, this story being set many thousand years later when it is being used to escape the solar flares that decimated Earth. Rogin refers to trade unions in a reference to demarcation disputes.


No one but the regulars takes part in the action of the first episode - the only instance of this occurring after season one's Inside the Spaceship.

The Doctor uses his yo-yo to take a gravity reading, and a cricket ball to try to hit the switch controlling the Ark's defence systems.

The Ark in Space shares a number of ideas with the season three story The Ark.


Humanity in the future is divided into functional groups, like insects, but Rogin wakes up as a fully fledged Holmes wide boy.

The slime trail which the Doctor and Harry chance upon is clearly visible to the audience from the start of the scene.

One of the frozen humans can be seen blinking.

Sarah's knickers are visible in episode one.

Can all of the Wirrn really fit into that small cockpit?

Why doesn't the Doctor want to wake everybody up and take them to Earth in the TARDIS? His reasons make it sound like he's just making the game more interesting.

Why are there only three transmat pads when there are millions of people on Nerva?

Why doesn't the Doctor go down in the TARDIS, as the transmat is faulty (and possibly dangerous)?

Fashion Victim

The entire population of Earth are wearing flares. (No wonder there's all that panic about 'stacks' and 'flares'.)

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Harry Sullivan - Ian Marter

Sarah Jane Smith - Elisabeth Sladen

High Minister's Voice - Gladys Spencer

Libri - Christopher Masters

Lycett - John Gregg

Noah - Kenton Moore

Rogin - Richardson Morgan

Vira - Wendy Williams

Voices - Gladys Spencer

Voices - Peter Tuddenham

Wirrn Operator - Stuart Fell

Wirrn Operator - Nick Hobbs


Director - Rodney Bennett

Assistant Floor Manager - Russ Karel

Costumes - Barbara Kidd

Designer - Roger Murray-Leach

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Sylvia James

Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe

Production Assistant - Marion McDougall

Production Unit Manager - George Gallacio

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Nigel Wright

Studio Sound - John Lloyd

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - John Friedlander

Visual Effects - Tony Oxley

Writer - Robert Holmes

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'There will be a two minute interregnum preceding the commencement of irradiation.' Robert Holmes' most optimistic script, where he defends humanity (the instinctive Rogin) against insect-like conformity. The Ark in Space rises above the dodginess of the effects by treating its themes so seriously it's a possible influence on Alien. Philip Hinchcliffe's new style is vastly different to Barry Letts', summed up by the alien way that Noah holds up what, in other circumstances, would obviously be a plastic glove over his hand.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

After the lightweight action-adventure of Robot, Doctor Who returns to its forte with a scary monster story to chill the viewer's blood. The Ark in Space in fact contains some of the most horrific material to have been featured in the series up to this point.

'The Ark in Space could hardly have been more different [from] Robot,' wrote Jonathan Way in A Voyage Through 25 Years of Doctor Who, dated December 1988. 'Gone were the large casts, omnipresent location [recording] and arrays of stunts and explosions; instead replaced by a sense of claustrophobia... The fact that [the first] episode... stands alone, carried by the three regular cast and two special voice-overs, is testimony enough to the skill of Robert Holmes's writing.'

Each new discovery by the time travellers leads to new questions. What has caused the strange trails of green slime on the floor? Why has the power been cut off? What has happened to Sarah? The effectiveness of these scenes is enhanced considerably by Roger Murray-Leach's superb sets, which convincingly convey the impression of being in a cold, clinical space station. Even the surprisingly large scale and impressive chambers in which Nerva's human occupants are found in suspended animation have an enclosed, claustrophobia-inducing quality to them.

'[All] four episodes were crammed full of tension and horror,' wrote Richard Walter in the appropriately titled Ark in Space No. 7, dated May 1983, 'and the feeling that there was very little chance of our heroes escaping from the eerie metallic corridors of the Ark.'

The terror mounts with the discovery that the Wirrn larvae are able to infect humans and physically convert them, taking over their minds and memories in the process. Kenton Moore almost steals the show with his depiction of a man being slowly transformed, cell by cell, into an alien creature that wants to kill everyone else - including his intended partner. The sight of the tormented Noah wrestling with his alien hand in Part Three is an enduring image, as is that of the pitiful and mutating creature later seen scuttling through the corridors.

'The Ark in Space is all about possession...,' wrote Tim Robins in In-Vision Issue Two, dated January 1988. 'On one level [it] again pays homage to... Quatermass... The possession of Noah closely mirrors the fate of... astronaut Carroon [in The Quatermass Experiment]. Carroon is slowly absorbed by an alien entity which has already absorbed his two ship mates... In the climax of this story... Quatermass appeals to the last vestiges of the three astronauts' humanity to help destroy the creature...

'Also fascinating is the serial's focus on what is now termed "body horror"... Examining the contents of films including Alien (1979), The Thing (1982) and Mutant II (1985), Pete Boss notes (in Screen, volume 27 number 1), "What is common is the sense of disaster being visited at the level of the body itself - an intimate apocalypse. The enduring image is of the body irreversibly self-destructing..."

'In this "apocalyptic" battle, health and sickness, order and chaos, compete in the body. In The Ark in Space, the Doctor makes the point that to revive Sarah, the medication Vira has administered has "turned her body into a battlefield". More starkly, the Wirrn's invasion of the Ark is also played out within Noah... His psychic battle for the control of his consciousness, his self-identity, is mirrored by a physical battle with his own mutating cells.'

The Wirrn grubs and the alien flesh of Noah's hand were constructed principally from bubble-wrap packaging material sprayed green, but never has such an innocuous material been made to seem so terrifying. The adult Wirrn creatures are also well designed and effective, despite the fact that they seem to be able to scuttle about with remarkable ease - full marks to the director here for avoiding showing their lower half, as the sight of a pair of feet protruding from the costume would have spoiled the illusion somewhat!

The regulars are all in fine form in this story, and the guest cast are very good too, as John Harding pointed out, also in In-Vision Issue Two: 'Among the station crew, Richardson Morgan's Rogin stands out - excellently played, with the kind of cynical delivery that brings a wry smile to the face. His character, noticeably out of step with his acceptingly obedient fellows, appeals from the first complaint ("Didn't I tell you, Lycett, I said five thousand years ago, 'There'll be a snitch-up!'") to the last noble act of sacrifice. Wendy Williams also turned in a creditable performance as Vira. She was somehow unearthly, cold and calculating, but allowed flashes of humanity to show; this was [most] apparent when coming to terms with Noah's destruction...'

The Ark in Space is a wonderful story that restores the viewer's confidence in Doctor Who after the lacklustre Robot and launches it on a new, more adult and horrific course.

< RobotFourth DoctorThe Sontaran Experiment >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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