The Ark In Space
Working Titles: Puffball (episode one), Golfball (episode four).
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Surgeon-Lieutenant Harry Sullivan).
The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to the Nerva Beacon in the far future, where the remnants of humanity have been placed in suspended animation because of the risk of deadly solar flares on Earth. The humans have overslept by millennia, however, due to the incursion of the insect-like Wirrn. More Wirrn are gestating within Noah, the Beacon's leader, and as Noah starts to succumb to the alien influences, the human race faces imminent extinction..
The first major problem for new Doctor Who script editor Robert Holmes was the loss, in the spring of 1974, of Space Station by Trevor Langley, originally scheduled as the second story of Season Twelve. Holmes and incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe elected to replace Langley's six-part serial with two linked stories, one a four-parter and the other a two-parter. The former would be made entirely in the studio while the latter would be made just on location, so that combined they would only require the resources of a six-episode serial. To write the studio-bound story -- which, in a further cost-cutting move, would itself link up with the last adventure of the season, Gerry Davis' Revenge Of The Cybermen -- the production team approached John Lucarotti, who had not written for Doctor Who since The Massacre Of St Bartholomew's Eve in 1966.
Lucarotti was asked to write a story set on a space station where the entire human race lay in suspended animation. Lucarotti developed a storyline in which the space station was invaded by aliens called the Delc, a fungus which came in two varieties (the thinkers, which were basically just heads, and the workers, which were just bodies). Ignorant to the fact that Doctor Who no longer used individual episode titles (a practise suspended with 1966's The Savages), Lucarotti assigned each installment its own name, including Puffball and Golfball. However, contact between Lucarotti and Holmes was hampered by the fact that Lucarotti wrote from his houseboat in Corsica, a situation furthered complicated by delays arising from a postal dispute. Consequently, by the time it had become apparent to Holmes and Hinchcliffe that Lucarotti's scripts were not what they had originally envisaged, it was too late for Lucarotti himself to perform the necessary rewrites.
As a result, permission was sought for Holmes to essentially write a completely new storyline, with only the original concepts of the space station setting, humanity in hibernation and invading aliens being retained. Hinchcliffe acted as unofficial script editor in this case. Holmes' story was written in a mere eighteen days, and bore the title of The Ark In Space.
The two-part story to which Ark was linked was The Sontaran Experiment, which would be made first (because location recording was usually scheduled before studio material) but aired second. Because Ark and Experiment were essentially being treated as a six-part story, Ark retained much of the crew of Experiment, including director Rodney Bennett. Bennett took the story into the studio beginning October 28th. As had become the norm, studio sessions for Doctor Who were scheduled as fortnightly two-day blocks. The only major excision from the script was a scene between Noah and Vira in which Noah expresses the horror of his transformation into a Wirrn. Hinchcliffe and Head of Serials Bill Slater felt this scene was too disturbing for Doctor Who's largely youthful audience, and it was severely edited down as a result.
The Ark In Space saw Barry Letts break completely away from Doctor Who. He had remained on the programme in an advisory capacity for the first two serials of the twelfth production block, and now moved on to other worked. Ironically, The Ark In Space turned out to be the most successful serial he was involved in. Part two, broadcast on February 1st, 1975, drew 13.6 million viewers and finished fifth amongst BBC-1 programmes for the week, breaking the record for Doctor Who previously held by the first episode of The Web Planet, seen by 13.5 million people in 1965.