The Doctor Who Companion

Get your daily fix of news, reviews, and features with the Doctor Who Companion!

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who Lost Stories – The Ark

Time for tee off!

The Ark, not to be confused with the First Doctor (William Hartnell) serial from 1966 (I’ve yet to watch it!), gives life to the first draft scripts by John Lucarotti — later rewritten from scratch by Robert Holmes as The Ark in Space. Since both versions of the story are vastly different from each other, I will only denote comparisons when necessary.

Adapted for Big Finish’s Lost Stories range by Jonathan Morris, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane Smith (Sadie Miller), and Harry Sullivan (Christopher Naylor) arrive on a space station orbiting Earth, where a menacing fungi species called the Delc attempt to take over the titular Ark; a direct parallel to the Wirrn on Nerva Beacon, both settings which have claustrophobic atmospheres. I was only 10 years old when the TV serial repeated on BBC Four back in late 2006, with the green larvae slug being the most terrifying aspect (still grosses me out today, including the cheap use of bubble wrap!).

From a production standpoint, Lucarotti’s script works very well as a full cast audio drama, with Morris keeping it as faithful as possible to the original concepts. Considering that Lucarotti is famous for his 1960s pure-historical serials (with Marco Polo being my favourite), stepping out of his comfort zone to write a science fiction serial was an unorthodox approach. It’s highly intriguing, also, that this adaptation maintains the characterisation of the Doctor being more Hartnell-like than Baker’s onscreen portrayal, by giving the companions more action-driven stage directions in the script; notably Harry’s spacewalk and Sarah crawling through the air vent.

After being deemed unsuitable for the budget in the 1970s, the script was eventually rejected by Holmes and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. It doesn’t surprise me that the long gap, nearly a decade, was a contributing factor, since Lucarotti only wrote for Hartnell’s incarnation. Totally understandable. I wasn’t especially surprised that he also retained the show’s early format of each episode having individual episode titles in the draft scripts: Buttercups, Puffball, Camellias, and Golfball — very whimsical choices, but more on that later.

What I find brilliant about the adaptation is that Terry Molloy has been given the role of Noah, who significantly contrasts with Kenton Moore’s role of Lazar (nicknamed Noah by his Nerva Beacon personnel) but also the main villain Narib. The same goes for Viva (Yasmin Mwanza): a bold move to revisit Holmes’ idea of casting a black actress to portray said character. Both excellent casting choices!

Without giving away spoilers (including the cliffhangers), there are no jelly babies mentioned at all in the adaptation or Lucarotti’s script; unlike in The Ark in Space, where they were frequently featured. I’m sure Tom didn’t mind the lack of jelly babies, but he still did a damn good job at engaging with the Hartnell style performance. And so did Sadie and Christopher — they’ve very much adjusted to the voices and characterisations of Sarah and Harry, with Tom giving them full support. The late Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter would be very proud of them.

Going back to the story titles, that is an issue I would like to address further. You’ll perhaps remember when Doctor Who and The Ark was initially considered for the audio release, as labelled on the early cover artwork with the Wirrn (see image comparison above). That title, in fact, was documented in Lucarotti’s original script, which can be glimpsed in the DWM 590 article Writer of the Lost Ark (worth the read). Not sure why Big Finish decided to go for the exact same title as the 1966 serial, but I’m relieved that they didn’t stick with the Target-style naming convention, unlike The Silurians which erroneously used the infamous prefix onscreen. In my opinion, I think “Noah’s Ark” would’ve been better suited and memorable than The Ark, as a title, by conveying its symbolic reference to the biblical verse.

Furthermore, I was originally planning to mention a notable error found at the start of Part 1, but Ian McArdell was quick to point it out in his CultBox review:

Tom Baker introduces each episode, including its individual name. Except on part one, where he simply announces the story title in a gruff tone (for no discernible reason.)

I totally agree, Ian. While I didn’t mind him doing the announcements, it was the lack of mentioning Buttercups that seemed problematic. But the “gruff tone”, weirdly enough, made me laugh my head off.

If that weren’t the only issue, both The Ark and Daleks! Genesis of Terror alternative covers use the font Della Robbia Bold (Seasons 14 to 17), rather than Futura Extra Bold (Seasons 11 to 13) as correctly featured on Return of the Cybermen. Not sure why they ended up that way, but Ryan Aplin’s artworks are nonetheless magnificent and nostalgic.

Overall, I consider The Ark to be the strongest “Alt Season 12” audio in the Lost Stories range. A vast improvement from Genesis of Terror, which I also reviewed not long ago. For its consistent pacing and faithfulness to Lucarotti’s scripts, this is a Big Finish release I wholeheartedly recommend for fans and casual listeners alike. Well, since it makes no mention of Nerva Beacon, or hints at Return of the Cybermen, I’m fairly confident that the story is set in a completely separate timeline…

The Lost Stories: The Ark is available now from Big Finish.

Andrew Hsieh

Aspiring screenwriter with Asperger's syndrome, and lifelong Whovian since (shortly after) Christopher Eccleston's reign, Andrew has written and co-edited short story anthologies for Divergent Wordsmiths. Plus, he lives near Bannerman Road.

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Doctor Who Lost Stories – The Ark

by Andrew Hsieh time to read: 4 min
%d bloggers like this: