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Recap / Doctor Who S12 E2 "The Ark in Space"

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Get ready, boys and girls; the Doctor's about to monologue!

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. Indomitable.
The Doctor

The one with killer bubble wrap.note 

Before Alien, there was "The Ark in Space". note 

The TARDIS arrives on an apparently deserted space station in Earth orbit, some time in the far future. Investigating, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry discover that the remnants of the human race are in suspended animation awaiting Earth's return to habitability following solar flares. The Doctor realises that the Earth is in fact now habitable again and activates the controls to begin reviving the humans. However, there appears to be something amiss — some controls are damaged (which is why the alarm clock didn't go off) and there are green trails around the place.

It seems that a race of giant insects — the Wirrn — are also aboard. Eggs have been laid in the solar stacks, and larvae are glimpsed. One of them infects the human leader, Noah, who begins turning into a Wirrn himself. The Doctor and his companions gain the trust of the other defrosted humans, now led by medical officer Vira, and together they lure the hatched Wirrn onto a shuttle craft and launch it into space. Noah, using the last vestiges of his humanity, deliberately doesn't set the shuttle's stabilisers and it explodes.


Both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have cited this as their favourite serial from the original run of Doctor Who.


  • Air-Vent Passageway: Unlike what's usual for this trope, Sarah Jane is the only one thin enough to get through the vent, and even she gets stuck.
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: One of the first things the Doctor needs to fix on the Ark is the oxygen supply. Later on, the Wirrn deliberately cut off the air, because they can survive for longer periods without breathing, but the humans obviously can't.
  • Apocalypse How: Solar flares toasted the Earth, likely afflicting Total Extinction on anything that hadn't evacuated.
  • The Ark: The Earth is rendered temporarily uninhabitable by solar flares, and the surviving humans, as well as samples of the animal and plant life, sit it out in suspended animation on a space station. (The station commander even adopts the name "Noah"; Vira tells the Doctor that they know it's not much of a joke, but under the circumstances they were taking their laughs where they could find them.)
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  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The Wirrn.
  • Body Horror: Noah's transformation.
  • Bottle Episode: The first episode features just the Doctor, Sarah, Harry and no other characters save for some cryogenically frozen extras. This was because the set had been extremely expensive to construct. The set reappears, with some light modifications, later on in "Revenge of the Cybermen".
  • Break the Badass: The Doctor is far too masochistic to freak out about directly connecting his brain to a psychic space-wasp eyeball even though this is the most directly dangerous thing he does in the story, but becomes slowly more and more afraid of the Wirrn as he begins to understand more and more what it actually is. As this was still an early story this sets up a clear contrast with his predecessor, who usually got much less scared of the monster the better he understood it.
    Doctor: I'm afraid he's been digested.
    Sarah: Don't make jokes like that.
    Doctor: When I say I'm afraid, Sarah, I'm not making jokes.
  • Butt-Monkey: Harry Sullivan. Almost everything the Doctor says to him in this episode, even when he's complimenting him on figuring something out for himself, amounts to "See, Harry? You're not a total fucking idiot, are you?"
    Doctor: You're improving, Harry! Your mind is beginning to work. It's entirely due to my influence, of course, you mustn't take any credit.
  • Chekhov's Gun: While working on the shuttle craft, the Doctor removes a piece of metal and puts it in his pocket. It's still there in the next story and saves his life when the bad guy shoots him.
  • Chromosome Casting: Apart from Sarah, Vira is the only female character in the story.
  • Cold Equation: Discussed, Lazar thinks that the Doctor and Companions should be destroyed to ensure the ark Residents survive. Vira reminds him that the mission has a seven percent stretch factor. This turns out to be a red flag.
  • Cryonics Failure: Because the Wirrn sabotaged it, the waking system doesn't work. And Dune is converted by Wirrn larvae while suspended.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Rogin.
  • Decontamination Chamber
  • Earth That Was: A marginal case, since the whole point of the Ark was to enable humans to repopulate the Earth when it was safe to do so. So really it's the Earth That Was And Will Be Again.
  • Emotionless Girl: Vira never shows much emotion, at least until the moment she realises the mission has succeeded.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: The Wirrn have this as a part of their complicated life cycle. The queen parasitises the bodies of other creatures (on their planet, they use non-sapient animals that they farm for the purpose, but humans can be used as well) and their body is converted into a larval Wirrn. This larva eventually becomes a fully-grown Wirrn, inheriting the knowledge of its host.
  • Fantastic Caste System: 30th century humans are restricted to a class-job system, people aren't expected to step outside their role to say give orders when they're a med-tech.
  • Fighting from the Inside: Noah manages to get a message back to Vira while the Wirrn is converting him. And at the end, he is strong enough to not save the Wirrn despite knowing how.
  • Fling a Light into the Future: The purpose of the Ark is to make the human race survive.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Both Rogin and Noah.
  • High-Voltage Death: The Wirrn's main weakness.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: Humankind have evacuated the Earth in order to being a new life when the planet is devastated by solar flares.
  • Human Popsicle: Humanity froze itself to wait out an environmental catastrophe. Ironically, the Doctor himself makes the cryogenic/cryonic mistake, while belittling poor Harry's intelligence.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In spite of the Doctor's obvious faith in humanity, there is evidence that they are not so virtuous after all. The Wirrn's plan to destroy humanity and steal their knowledge is an act of revenge for the destruction of their original breeding colonies in Andromeda by the human empire. When Vira learns of this, she is delighted that the occupation of Andromeda was successful, instead of sad that it caused large scale misery for another species.
  • Humans Are Special: See the page quote.
    "It may be irrational of me, but humans are quite my favorite species."
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: The Doctor appeals to what is left of Noah's humanity by reminding him of the beauty of Earth. Noah claims to have no memories of it, but considering how he stops the Wirrn at the end, it seems the Doctor got through to him.
  • Inspirational Insult: The Doctor intentionally insults Sarah Jane and hurts her feelings in order to help her achieve the Air-Vent Passageway escape. Needless to say, he doesn't mean it.
  • Lawful Stupid: Every human in this time, apparently. Noah is the worst.
  • Lightning Gun: The automatic defense system has one.
  • Minimalist Cast: The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry are the only characters on-screen in the first episode.
  • More Expendable Than You: Rogin to the Doctor.
  • Mutagenic Goo: The slime trail left by the Wirrn larva transforms Noah into a Wirrn.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Done to Sarah Jane. Twice. Eventually, the Doctor reveals he's doing this as a Secret Test of Character, trying to make Sarah feel undervalued so she will rise to the challenge. In truth, the Doctor is very proud of her.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: The Doctor claims that his is honorary, and that Sullivan can only treat sailors.
  • Our Monsters Are Weird: The Wirrn has a truly bizarre multigenerational life-cycle that functions as The Virus and parasitism simultaneously. Wirrn larva are created through fertilising the skin of another species (non-sapient animals are used for this purpose on the Wirrn homeworld, but humans and presumably Time Lords work just as well) and converting their body and brain into that of a larva. The larva then pupates and develops into a fully-fledged Wirrn, a huge wasp-like creature, which gains all the knowledge its host knew. It then lays eggs containing larvae that hatch under its direct control, and any hosts they fertilise transfer the knowledge back to the swarm leader as well.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: See the page quote.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Done as a Cliffhanger with a Wirrn corpse rather than a human one.
  • People in Rubber Suits: The larva was actually made out of green bubble wrap - but considering that bubble wrap had only just been invented (to the point where it wasn't even called 'bubble wrap' yet), the overall effect worked, if only for about five years after the episode's premiere. Supposedly the bubbles went 'pop-pop-pop' as the extras inched their way across stage reducing cast and crew to hysterics and the sound department to tears. Most of the scenes with the larva are recorded silently with incidental music over the top - if there's dialogue in the scene, a layer of smooth plastic is placed underneath the larva to reduce the likelihood of the bubbles bursting.
  • Percussive Prevention: When The Doctor and Rogin, a space technician, need to decide who stays and gets killed when the rocket they're working on blasts off.
    Rogin: You don't want trouble with the Space Technician's Union, Doctor! [Thump] That's my job!
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Doctor gives one to Sarah Jane calculated to hit all of her Berserk Buttons, in order to turn her screaming into screams of Unstoppable Rage. (This was the Fourth Doctor's second story and so it serves as something of an Establishing Character Moment for him - it is impossible to imagine the Third Doctor being this manipulative.)
    Doctor: Oh, stop whining, girl. You're useless.
    Sarah: Oh, Doctor..!
    Doctor: "Oh, Doctor", is that all you can say for yourself? Stupid, foolish girl. We should never have relied on you. I knew you'd let us down. That's the trouble with girls like you. You think you're tough, but when you're really up against it, you've no guts at all. Hundreds of lives at stake and you lie there, blubbing.
  • Sleeper Starship: Well, it's meant to be gone for 5 millennia.
  • Solar Flare Disaster: Solar flares have made the Earth uninhabitable, so the humans evacuated it in search of a new home.
  • Transformation Horror: Noah finds himself slowly undergoing a horrifying transformation in a Wirrn after being infected by one.
  • The Virus: The Wirrn can work a lot like this.
  • You Are in Command Now: Noah appoints Vira as the commander when he realises he's no longer able to.


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