Well, if this is the direction that the new producer and script editor are taking us, then I’m completely on board. It’s always a slight worry when a new regime takes over, especially considering I’ve loved pretty much every iteration of the show so far, but bloody hell, this lot have hit the ground running.
The first part of this serial is one of the best individual episodes I’ve seen for a long time. The reason it works so well is that it takes the time to really explore the setting. I love the fact that even the Doctor doesn’t know where he is, and so the audience are learning at the same time as the characters, without the need for too much spoken exposition.
This sets the tone for the rest of the serial, which is never afraid to linger on interesting bits of problem solving, character building or the occasional inspirational speech, which Tom does brilliantly. You could just listen to that voice all day, but the script here is corking too. The Fourth Doctor has had almost as many character-defining moments in these two serials as the Third did in five seasons.
Similarly, I feel we’ve properly got a handle on Harry now, and I like him a lot. He’s an affable prat, and it’s played brilliantly by Ian Marter. His old-fashioned-even-for-1975 sailor patois could easily be annoying, but it’s done so earnestly that’s it’s perversely charming. I also like how Sarah is simply not taking any of his shit – she’s not been around that long herself, but she clearly considers herself an old pro at this time-travelling lark, and she knows that she’s a damn sight more capable than he could ever be.
As for the story itself, it’s a beautifully paced, creepy, horror movie, packed full of tension and drama. Noah slowly succumbing to bubble wrap disease was disturbing, and the fact that the Wirrn were always a step ahead of the Doctor’s plans was a great way of ramping up the stakes. I would say that the whole thing of a parasite getting on board a human outpost, creeping around in the infrastructure and using humans as breeding grounds is a complete rip-off of Alien, were it not for the fact that The Ark In Space is several years older.
Based on what I know about the rest of Tom Baker’s tenure, the horror elements in this story seemed like a clear mission statement that the show is shifting towards that direction, and it was certainly a big contrast to the majority of the Third Doctor/UNIT era. Weirdly though, a lot of it felt similar (in a good way) to an even earlier time – it was basically a typical base-under-siege/defeat-the-monster story from the middle bit of Troughton’s time. And the fact that this season’s serials all run directly in to one another is very much a Hartnell thing, and I’m enjoying the nostalgia.