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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
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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.

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


Tropes:

  • 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: It's not the gigantic bugs; those look silly. It's what seems to be a man in a sleeping bag covered in green goo, and before that, the person turning into said bag of slop by melting bodyparts is worse than the alien creature it turns into. The story also has one of the show’s most famous cliffhangers, with Noah slowly removing his hand from his pocket to reveal he's being taken over by... green bubblewrap?
  • 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 serial, even when he's complimenting him on figuring something out for himself, amounts to "See, Harry? You're not a total 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.
  • Characterisation Click Moment: The famous "humans are indominable" speech is widely regarded as the moment where Tom Baker officially became the Doctor.
  • 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.
  • Darker and Edgier: Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes immediately make their mark on the show with a story involving body horror, posession and much more ruthless Doctor than before.
  • 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.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: The Doctor recovers from being shot by Noah's stun gun:
    Ah, Sarah, you're back. Splendid. Where's Noah? Shot me, did he? Cut off in mid sentence. I might have been saying something important. I was saying something important!
  • 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.
  • Fallout Shelter Fail: Humans who didn't travel into space or accept cryogenic suspension aboard the Ark, opted to enter shelters, hoping to simply weather the solar flares. In contrast to the efforts of the former two, the shelters failed so badly that for millennia the earth was considered uninhabited.
  • 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.
  • Hat Damage: The Doctor and Harry are pinned down by an automated security system. Testing the system, the Doctor extends his fedora on an extending pole, only for it to be zapped by a laser beam and returned to him smouldering.
  • 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 favourite 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 defence 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 knocks the Doctor out and puts him a safe distance away from the ship, which will kill anyone underneath it once they release the locking mechanisms necessary to send the Wirrn out away from the Ark.
    Rogin: You don't want trouble with the Space Technicians Union, Doctor.
    The Doctor: What?
    Rogin: [punches the Doctor out] That's my job!
  • 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.
  • OOC Is Serious Business: The Wirrn are enough to unnerve even the Fourth Doctor.
    When I say I'm afraid, Sarah, I'm not making jokes.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Doctor repeats the phrase "red, yellow, green", because the word green is difficult for Tom Baker to say in the accent he gives the Doctor. It comes out as a strained "red, yellow, gnuiin" that gets funnier every time he does it.
  • 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.
  • Outfit Decoy: The Doctor extends his fedora on an extending pole to test the limits of the automated security system. It comes back to him smouldering.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: "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."
  • 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 serial'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!
  • Pupating Peril: Having already demonstrated a breeding process replete with Body Horror and bubble wrap, it's revealed that the Wirrn larvae resulting from this conversion process will eventually pupate into even more dangerous adults. Worse still, this also marks the point when they cease to require oxygen - leaving the Doctor and the others in serious danger when the Wirrn switch off life support.
  • "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.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The Doctor paraphrases Henry IV - "Discretion being the greater part of valour".
  • 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.
  • Un-Paused: Noah shoots the Doctor with a stun pistol while he's trying to explain why he was messing with the Ark's power system (an attempt to deal with the Wirrn), cutting him off in mid-sentence. When the Doctor recovers from the stun, a few scenes later, he immediately continues the sentence from where he left off.
  • 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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