Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ark in Space

Dear Gary—

The Ark in Space is not the first time the Doctor has landed on an ark in space. Interestingly, both mark the first full TARDIS adventure for a new companion, Dodo back in The Ark and Harry in our present serial The Ark in Space. Both take place on a ship sent from a dying Earth full of representatives of humanity along with flora and fauna of the planet. However, that is where the similarities end. The Ark in Space is a story unto itself, and quite remarkable at that.
The TARDIS lands off of its mark of the moon, apparently due to the clumsiness of Harry who pushed the wrong button in flight. I believe I had described Dodo in The Ark as a floppy sheepdog getting under foot, loveable but exasperating. Harry is similarly endearing, but in his own way. He is a tad old fashioned, always well-intentioned, and prone to mishap. He goes through most of the story in his stocking feet because he loses both of his shoes, and he mentions his dislike of sliding doors ever since he got his nose trapped in one.
But Harry is game, accepting the fact that they have traveled many thousands of years into the future and ready to face any danger. “Oh, I say, we’ve gone,” is his fist reaction as he steps out of the TARDIS. “I’ve gone mad,” is his conclusion. But he quickly adapts in his typical British “simple sort of chap” way.  When the Doctor leaves him in charge of resuscitating the sleeping  human cargo on the ark using the advanced medical technique he only observed once, Harry calms Sarah’s doubts by claiming, “dead simple, really; medicine by numbers.” Harry might push the wrong buttons at the wrong time and step out of his shoes, but the Doctor can count on him in a pinch.
“Your mind is beginning to work,” the Doctor tells Harry, but then qualifies, “it’s entirely due to my influence of course; you mustn’t take any credit.”
Harry has quickly settled in as a companionable companion.
The Ark in Space is not only Harry’s first TARDIS adventure, but Tom Baker’s as well. His first story, Robot, was a UNIT adventure taking place on Earth. The Ark in Space is his first foray into space and time.
“There’s a mystery here, Harry.” The Doctor has always loved a good mystery to solve, and my impression of the fourth Doctor’s quick wittedness in Robot continues here in The Ark in Space. More than any previous generation, this fourth Doctor inspires confidence that his mind is always working, always several steps ahead of anyone else, always unraveling the mystery as easily as he untangles sabotaged wiring.
Sidestepping questions is a Doctor Who tradition. The first Doctor couldn’t be bothered; the second Doctor ran; the third Doctor simply reversed the polarity. With Tom Baker’s Doctor we realize that the questions just don’t matter, we know that the Doctor has the answer and that’s all that counts.
Harry: “Doctor, I haven’t the foggiest notion what you’re on about.”
Doctor: “Never mind. It just means that Sarah can’t be far away. All we’ve got to do is find her. Come on.”
“Never mind." He would explain and sometimes does, but why when the explanation would be so far above everyone’s head? (“He talks to himself sometimes because he’s the only one who understands what he’s talking about.”) Simply put it in practical terms (“It just means that Sarah can’t be far away.”) and act (“All we’ve got to do is find her. Come on.”).
And then there are philosophical questions that have definite answers (“yes”) but that have deeper meaning.
Vira: “Is she of value?”
Harry: “Of value? She’s a human being like ourselves. What sort of question is that?”
Doctor: “The answer is yes.”
Vira: “Your comrade is a romantic.”
Doctor: “Perhaps we both are.”
The “she” in question is Sarah Jane who has been accidentally placed in cryonic suspension. The Ark in Space goes beyond the question of the value of a single human being, however. The Doctor has always had an affinity for the human race and in this story he admits this interest plainly: “It may be irrational of me, but human beings are quite my favorite species.”
The Doctor is a romantic, he has a sense of wonder and awe fostered in him by his aged mentor on that long ago Gallifreyan mountainside. The Doctor sees Mankind as the “daisiest daisy.” But the Doctor can say it far more eloquently:
“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, defenseless 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; to upset eternity. They’re indomitable . . . indomitable.”
The poetic soul of the Doctor brings beauty and meaning and life to the Time Lord vision of limitless time and space.
This romantic nature manifests itself in practical terms: “Never mind me, Harry; there’s a man in danger.”
I’m sorry for rambling on, Gary, but it has been a while since I have been as inspired by the Doctor, and I am excited to learn that my youthful affection for Tom Baker’s Doctor stands the test of time. I truly do find this fourth generation Doctor to be the most interesting and complex.
This new Doctor is serious and playful at the same time; calm and intense; logical and nonsensical; arrogant and humble.
“When I say I’m afraid, Sarah, I’m not making jokes.” In the same way, when playing with a yo-yo he is really taking a gravity reading. The Doctor has many layers; what you see is not always all that it seems. A joke is not always a joke; a yo-yo is not always a yo-yo. The Doctor has depths deeper than his endless pockets (in which a yo-yo, cricket ball, and jelly babies are found in this story).
The first Doctor stated he never did get his medical degree; the second Doctor at first claimed to remember getting his degree but then later in his run said that no, he was not a medical doctor; the third Doctor when asked about his title often replied that he’s a doctor of “practically everything.”  Now with the fourth Doctor we learn: “My doctorate is purely honorary.” This Doctor has a certain humility about him, despite his arrogance (“Mine is exceptional,” he says of his brain).
And of course there is that wonderful scarf, almost as endless as his pockets. It gets an end scorched off in this story: “Pity about the scarf. Madam Nostradamus knit it for me; witty little knitter." Yet it seems to remain as long as ever. Good thing since the Doctor says he’ll “never get another one like it.”
I’m definitely rambling, Gary, and I haven’t really said anything about the plot, which has a complexity of its own. The fact that the inhabitants have been in suspended animation and overslept their alarm clock by several thousand years is compelling enough. Add the horrific fact that an alien insect has invaded while they slept and laid its eggs in one of the humans and that the entire human race is in danger of being absorbed by the newly hatched creatures, and the story becomes riveting.
Like the Doctor, the plot finds humor in the horror. I especially like the character of Rogin. “We’d have been happily dead by now,” he grumbles upon waking to find himself thousands of years off mark and in danger of becoming an insect (Wirrn).
At first I took Rogin to be your typical malcontent trouble maker, but he is anything but. Yes he complains, but he is heroic in his actions, sacrificing himself to save Mankind. “We’re all safe now, Sarah, thanks to Rogin’s bravery.”
I really should wrap this up, Gary. The Wirrn explode (more sacrificial bravery on the part of Noah who has been taken over by the Wirrn) and the Doctor and his companions use the Ark’s transmat system to beam themselves down to Earth to look around while Vira revives the rest of humanity. It’s a rather nice flow into the next story, which I am really looking forward to as I remember it to be a short but sweet Sontaran story.
“Well,” says Harry, “the Brigadier did tell me to stick with you, Doctor, and . . . ah . . . orders is orders.”
I’ll stick with you, too, Doctor.
So I send this out, dear Gary, hoping it finds you out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life; to upset eternity . . .

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