Doctor Who: The Ark in Space: Special Edition

As before with what used to be called “revisitations” but which are now called Special Editions, I will link to the original review of the story, which this time was by me, on the site. Then I'll come back to discuss the discs and the extras.

Review by Gary Couzens

The DVDs

The Special Edition of The Ark in Space is released on two dual-layered discs. The first disc is encoded for Regions 2 and 4, the second for Region 2 only. Both discs have optional audio-descriptive menus. There are episode and scene menus, and a Play All option – running 98:56.

The DVD transfer is in the original ratio of 1.33:1. The Ark in Space was a four-parter shot entirely in the studio (sharing a single serial's budget with the all-location two-parter The Sontaran Experiment.). It also has the advantage that it exists complete on its original broadcast videotapes (two-inch quads). I can't fault the restoration: any limitations are those of the original material, standard-def PAL video.

The soundtrack is mono, as it always has been and should be. It's a professional job of work, with dialogue, sound effects and Dudley Simpson's score all well balanced. English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the episodes and all the extras except the commentary. Also available are the ever-invaluable information subtitles, this time provided by Martin Wiggins.

That commentary is reused from the 2002 release, and features just three people throughout: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. At the time, I thought it one of the better commentaries up to that point, with all three making worthwhile contributions. It's a little different to what you might expect nowadays, which would be most likely moderated and would have a greater number of participants, but is none the worse for that.

Many of the extras on Disc One are also reused from the earlier DVD, but the next item is new: “A New Frontier” (29:54), which is the making-of documentary. This is a solid account of the serial from its original script difficulties (which resulted in Robert Holmes taking over the writing) to production. Interviewees include Philip Hinchcliffe, director Rodney Bennett, designer Roger Murray-Leach and actors Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore. Murray-Leach describes the design and making of the impressive sets and Hinchcliffe talks about one scene that became too intense for the show's intended audience and had to be edited.

Murray-Leach gets his own showcase in the form of an interview (10:29), from 2002, where he talks about his experiences on this and other Who stories. As the production designer is someone who tends to be overlooked on TV and film, it’s nice to see one being featured here. Murray-Leach is an engaging interviewee. Given that this DVD bears a U certificate, the BBFC have evidently overlooked one profanity from Murray-Leach at the end of this piece.

Also reused from the original DVD are a model effects roll (7:10) and one of CGI effects (1:33) which were an optional replacement for the original effects – of no interest to me, who would rather see this story as it was broadcast, even if the original effects date it, CSO fringing and all. 3D technical schematics for these graphics (1:09) are included, as well as an on-screen trailer for the first episode (0:51).

Also on Disc One are an alternative and textless title sequence (0:43) , an option to watch the serial with the alternative CGI effects mentioned above, the first “Tardis-Cam” computer-animated sequence (1:24), featuring a Cyberman head, and a self-navigating stills gallery (7:06). Click left from the stills gallery and you find an Easter Egg, a short commercial (0:15) with Tom Baker for the Longleat Doctor Who Exhibition. Another Easter Egg can be found from the main menu: highlight the Doctor Who logo at the top left and you get the studio countdown for Episode 2 (0:32) which begins with the studio manager saying that “We've lost the light”.

On to Disc Two, and the Movie Version (69:51) of The Ark in Space. This is actually a cut-down omnibus edition of the serial (with the final episode's end credits, so those who contributed to earlier episodes went uncredited), a kind of repeat that was a not infrequent sight during the 1970s. They were most common over the Christmas period, but this one was shown in August, just before the start of the next season, which was to begin with Terror of the Zygons.

“Doctor Forever! Love and War” (27:37), presented by Ayesha Antoine, is an account of how Doctor Who had a continuing life in book form after the show was cancelled in 1989. Peter Darvill-Evans from Virgin Publishing describes how the concept began with the Target novelisations of the 70s, but continued in 1991 with original stories, mainly aimed at the adults who had grown up with the programme. Interviewees include the publisher's editor behind the line, Peter Darvill-Evans, plus several writers who had their break writing for the line: Russell T Davies, Robert Shearman, Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell and Gary Russell among them. At first the books featured the then-current Seventh Doctor but later novels revisited earlier incarnations of the character – and once the TV Movie had came and went, the Eighth Doctor was added to the range. One new companion, Bernice Summerfield, featured in adventures of her own without the Doctor when the BBC took back the licence for the character – and who went on to publish their own Who books. This is an informative account of a part of Who I'm much less familiar with, though one omission is the range of Who novellas that Telos published before the show was recommissioned. One novel, Paul Cornell's “Human Nature” became a two-part story on television for David Tennant's Doctor.

“Scene Around Six” (7:36) is a compilation of very grainy news footage from Tom Baker's visit to Northern Ireland, including visits to a school and to children in hospital., from the BBC regional news show of the title. Also on the disc is some silent 8mm colour location footage (1:11) from the filming of Robot.

Included on the disc in PDF format are the Radio Times listings for the serial's original run, the 1983 book Doctor Who Technical Manual by Mark Harris, a 1975 Who promotion from Nestlé and a 1977 promotion from Crosse & Blackwell which featured on their tins of baked beans.

Finally, the Coming Soon trailer (1:13) is for the next release, the Special Edition of The Aztecs, out in March.



out of 10

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