ark in space“Out among the remotest planets, in faithful orbit through the Solar System, the great Satellite revolved slowly in the glimmer of a billion distant suns, reflecting their faint light from its cold and silent surfaces.”

Huge Doctor Who fan though I am, my knowledge of it prior to the 2005 revival is rather lacking. I’ve done the research and therefore get a lot of references in the newer episodes, but I’ve seen very few of the old ones and have therefore slightly sketchy opinions on each of the actors and their portrayals of Doctors 1 through 7.

However, here I found myself with the novelisation of one of the stories featuring the Fourth Doctor, as played by the always incredible Tom Baker with companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. I’ve never seen the episodes in question, but I may have to seek them out. It is interesting to read a book that was first done in another media, as it is so often the other way around. The last time I did that it was with the novelisation of Agatha Christie’s play Black Coffee. As an added twist, the book was written by the actor who played Harry in the show, Ian Marter. Anyway, here’s what it’s about.

The Doctor and Sarah Jane have taken Harry with them to prove that the TARDIS can indeed travel in time and space – the plan is just once around the moon then back home. However, Harry can’t resist pressing a few buttons and the three find themselves in the distant future on board a spaceship where the humans are cryogenically frozen, along with numerous other Earth species. One of the humans, Vira, defrosts and believes them to be the enemy, and they must convince her that they mean no harm and have arrived by mistake. On top of that, Sarah Jane has just gone missing and there’s something creeping about the ducts leaving sticky silvery trails behind it.

Things become even more fraught when the Doctor uncovers a Wirrrn Queen, a huge alien insect that lays its eggs inside the bodies of other living species. And there are plenty of those on board right now…

It’s a good spacey romp but it’s also a classic example of how some of the earlier Doctor Who episodes have aged. Sarah Jane immediately falls into the role of the damsel in distress, although thankfully does later prove herself as more than capable of holding her own just as was always shown in the programme, and in fact is certainly more of a hero than the old-fashioned Harry. The Doctor is in full jargon speak here, with lots of technological words batted about to describe the spaceship and the cryogenic technology, some of which goes entirely over my head. The book has the claustrophobic feel of some of the best episodes of Doctor Who (see “Midnight” from the 2008 series), but I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see much more of the Ark. Humans are shown in large numbers, and there’s a reference to elephants, but what could otherwise be a wonderful bit of scenery porn is skipped over entirely. It’s all panels and flashing lights.

It’s quite dark and the body horror inflicted on some of the characters is enough to make your skin crawl, and the Wirrrn are an interesting species but, again, I don’t know if we really see enough of them. They’re another one of those races native to the series that are perhaps justified in their evil, because that’s simply the way they do things. A good read, but a lot of wasted opportunity.