Monday, May 27, 2013

The Ark in Space - "Yes, your mind is beginning to work. It's entirely due my influence, of course. You mustn't take any credit."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Ark in Space - Details

Season 12, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #76) | Previous - Next | Index

Following the wonderful, but scientifically ludicrous "Robot," the second adventure of the new regenerated Doctor jumps right into what I'd call proper sci-fi territory. The first episode of this story drops the Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry Sullivan (this is really a top notch crew, they got on so well together) on space station in the far future and we follow them as the figure out where and when they are, find themselves in a few spots of trouble, and get the first intimations that they, and the satellites precious cargo, are in terrible danger ...

But, enough about the details, what I want to drive home here is this is actual science fiction, not just a romp with technobabble or a gothic horror with alien standing in for the ghost, this is positively Heinlein-esque in its premise and it's such a relief after the careless silliness of the science-y side of the premise of "Robot."

Time and circumstance prevent me from spending as much time discussing this one as I'd like. The long weekend is drawing to a close as I write this and 'real-life' is demanding I get ready for what's going to be a crushing work week. I'll come back to this post and flesh it out somewhere down the road, but I can't resist relaying a moment from the commentary track on this DVD.

In it, Tom Baker is discussing the episode with Lis Sladen, and Philip Hinchcliffe. (It's one of my favorite commentary tracks, by the way, well worth turning on for a watch of the episode after you've seen it once without.) During an early scene where Four and Harry are forced to crouch under a desk to avoid being zapped by the station's security system, the two resort to trying to move the desk over near a control panel by crawling on hands and knees carrying the desk on their backs. This results in their backsides pointing at the camera for a stretch during which Tom Baker raves, "Look at those four jaunty buttocks! There's nothing we couldn't do back in those days!" Indeed. Baker, as I mentioned in previous write-up, absolutely owned the role from day one and his charisma takes the series to a whole new level. It's very much to his, Lis's, and Ian's credit that he doesn't blow them off the set. When he turns on that big toothy grin and delivers his sharply written dialogue, it's always very much as part of an ensemble. He's a reactive as he is dynamic and it certainly looks to the viewer he's very much enjoying himself with cast mates. Not in a distracting way, it's wholly natural in the watching, but in retrospect, and in the mode you watch a story with the commentary on, you're very much aware that you're watching craftsmen work, and work extraordinarily well together.

One last item I'd be remiss to not mention. I'm always watching for how the show conveys secular humanist values and this one has a very subtle moment (well, maybe not that subtle?) where the first of the space station's cryogenically frozen humans, Vira, is starting to revive the command staff and mentions that they called their commander "Noah," which Harry immediately recognizes as a reference to Noah's Ark. Vira admits it was an amusement, in a time where there wasn't much to joke about (the Earth about to be ravaged by solar flares) to give him a name from mythology.

Oh, yes, it warms my humanist heart to hear the story of Noah described as mythology. Exactly so.

Quite coincidentally, I read a new Third Doctor adventure late last night that completely face-planted by working some mythology into its story and treating it as history. "The Ark in Space" is an example of the creative team being true to the spirit of the show. "The Spear of Destiny" gets it all wrong.

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