It may be a Classic Series classic, but The Ark In Space has one of the slowest opening episodes ever, worthy of the Hartnell Era’s Strangers In Space. Thankfully though, things pick up after that, and The Sensorites it ain’t. That said, all we really need from the episode is Harry opening the cupboard and the dead Wirrn Queen falling out, but Bob Holmes being the genius that he is, he structures his script so that the action is consequential, meaning it’s almost impossible to cut anything even if you want to. So part one survives more or less intact, only with things tightened up a bit to bring it in at about eighteen minutes by the time Harry opens the cupboard.
As for the infamous “hand in bubblewrap” climax to part two, it may not be on a par with John Hurt’s chestburster but yes, it’s still there. Going into the edit I had planned on cutting it as it’s become rather notorious, though to be fair, full marks must go to Roger Murray-Leach for coming up with such an ingenious solution on a BBC budget. I’m sure bubblewrap wasn’t so recognisable back then as it is now but to my eight year old self, watching this on a Black & White portable in my Gran’s kitchen, I’m sure the effect was as convincing as he intended. And looking at the material that comes after it, it was clear that you couldn’t cut it without its absence being obvious so it had to stay. Instead I settled for cutting out Noah’s “my hand has a mind of it’s own!” acting, which is actually more naff than the bubblewrap as performing that sort of thing is almost impossible to do convincingly.
Part three’s cuts are mostly to give Noah a shorter chat with Vira and the Doctor less time connected to the Wirrn. We hit part four at a little under an hour in, with the scene where they shoot the Wirrn Grub having the bulk of the cuts for reasons of pace. I re-used the shot of the shuttle exploding from my earlier edit of The Sontaran Experiment, the only bit of the DVD’s new CGI in either edit, so that the two matched.
I did have a go at darkening the transom scenes as, particularly when Noah turns round and reveals he half-Wirrn, it’s rather too obvious that it’s not the blackness of space that’s outside but the grey studio floor. Why nobody thought they should paint the floor black I don’t know, but in the end I decided to leave the scene as it was transmitted, mostly because I wasn’t convinced that blacking out the studio floor frame-by-frame [all 118 of them!] wouldn’t be even more distracting. Just keep your eyes on Noah and don’t look at the floor!
The Ark In Space is Dr Who doing Alien before Alien did Alien, and it’s nice to think that these TV episodes were an influence on that movie, though they probably weren’t and it was just a case of two writers independently having similar ideas. It is possible though, as there were shedloads of peeps who saw part two, as the viewing figures take a huge spike that week with four million people who hadn’t watched the week before tuning in. Six weeks in, and already word has got around that this Tom Baker bloke is worth watching. The eight-year old me didn’t think anyone could be better than Jon Pertwee, who was my Doctor, the one I started with, but just like the transition from Eccles to Tennant years later, good as the first one was, his successor was even better.
And back then, in the anti-geek Seventies, long before the Internet or even the Video Recorder, if you didn’t see the show on the Saturday it went out, you’d missed it for good and wouldn’t know what everyone else was talking about on Monday at school or work.
They were different days back then, but fans then weren’t that different to fans now, the difference was we had a lot less to go on, Target books and sod all else basically, and so our imaginations worked, I’ll wager, just that little bit harder as a result. And although we didn’t know it at the time, those of us who were around back then really were in on the start of something special…
And if you were here back in 2009 then you’ll have been in on the start of something else that’s rather special. Whoflix’s Fan Edit odyssey began back then and with this edit, number 146, there are only 9 more Classic Series edits to go and we’ll have done the lot…