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From TARDIS Index File, the free Doctor Who reference.

"Hudreds of lives at stake, and you lie there blubbing!"
―The Doctor
The Ark in Space
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Season Number: Season 12
Story Number: 76
Doctor: Fourth Doctor
Companions: Sarah Jane Smith
Harry Sullivan
Enemy: The Wirrn
Setting: Nerva Beacon
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Rodney Bennett
Broadcast: 25th January - 15th February 1975
Format: 4 25-minute episodes
Previous Story: Robot
Following Story: The Sontaran Experiment



The TARDIS arrives on an apparently deserted and deactivated space station Nerva, otherwise known as the Ark, orbiting Earth in the far future. There the Doctor, Sarah and Harry discover the last survivors of the human race held in suspended animation, Earth having been evacuated thousands of years earlier when solar flares threatened to destroy all life.

The station has been visited by a Wirrn, an insect life form, which has laid its eggs in the solar stacks and absorbed the body and mind of one of the sleeping humans. The Doctor's reactivation of the station's systems causes the humans to start to revive. Their leader, nicknamed Noah, becomes infected by one of the emerging larvae and is slowly taken over.

The Doctor and his friends meanwhile gain the trust of the other humans, now led by a med-tech named Vira. Together they manage to lure the hatched Wirrn insects into a shuttle craft and then eject it into space.

In a final act of humanity, Noah - by this time fully transformed into a Wirrn - deliberately neglects to set the shuttle's stabilisers, causing it to explode.



Part one

An unseen presence approaches a space station orbiting Earth and silently infiltrates it until it reaches a human apparently asleep and unaware...

The approach...
The TARDIS materialises in a dark and stuffy room aboard an apparently unmanned station, due to Harry's inadvertent interference with the helmic regulator. Once the Doctor turns the lights on, the TARDIS crew decides to look round. Harry presses another switch, unknowingly trapping Sarah in a small control room where the oxygen is rapidly being consumed. By the time the Doctor and Harry find her she is severely cyanosed, but they then find themselves trapped with her. The Doctor manages to repair the oxygen servos just in time to save them all, noticing that the control cables had been bitten clean through.

As Sarah recovers on a nearby couch, the Doctor and Harry are attacked by an automatic sentry system which fires electronic bolts at any organic object that moves. Meanwhile, Sarah is transported from the couch into a chamber where she hears two voices preparing her for a "journey".

The Doctor and Harry manage to deactivate the auto guard and discover that Sarah has vanished. Exploring further into the station, they encounter a slime trail in the corridor, but continue into a restricted section containing hundreds of cryogenically suspended humans, along with animal and botanical specimens, and an information store. Harry opens one berth and finds Sarah in suspension. He begins looking for a resuscitation unit to revive her and opens a cupboard - only to encounter a giant insect which looms toward him...
Vira is surprised to see anyone when she awakes.

Part two

The insect falls to the floor, having obviously been dead for a long time. The Doctor finds a medical kit, but is unsure what to do with it. One of the sleeping pallets then activates and the occupant takes the medkit and sleepily uses it to fully revive herself. She introduces herself as Vira, 1st Med-tech and demands to know what the TARDIS crew are doing aboard, but agrees to revive Sarah when she realises her suspension was an accident. Vira explains that solar flares were threatening to destroy Earth's ecosystem and that the government put a select group of humans in suspension on Nerva Station, so that they could repopulate the Earth after 5000 years. She is astonished when the doctor informs her that she has "overslept" by several thousand years due to the Alien's sabotage. While she attempts to revive the station commander Lazar, or "Noah" as he is known, the power fails again.

The Doctor goes down to the station's infrastructure to effect repairs and notices a large green grub inside the solar collector, feeding on the solar energy. Noah revives and demands the TARDIS crew be removed before they contaminate the genetic pool, promptly arming himself and proceeding to the control room where he stuns the Doctor. Vira notices that Dune, the station's chief technician, is missing from his pallet, which Noah also ascribes to the "regressive" interlopers. He enters the infrastructure to look for any damage the Doctor may have done, but is accosted by the grub which touches his hand and renders him unconscious. Harry and Sarah find and wake the Doctor, only to be escorted back to the cryogenic section by Noah, who keeps his hand firmly tucked out of sight in his pocket.

As they return Vira is reviving Libri, a young technician, who is instantly afraid of Noah. The commander then begins to act erratically, insisting that the revivals be halted and that Dune is not missing, stating "I am Dune" before storming out. The Doctor convinces Libri to go after Noah and stop him and then proceeds to examine Dune's cryogenic pallet. He finds membrane from the alien queen's egg sac and concludes that the queen laid her eggs in Dune's body before she died and that the alien larvae have absorbed Dune's knowledge along with his body. Libri, meanwhile, finds Noah in the control room but cannot bring himself to shoot his commanding officer, who then kills him before bringing his hand slowly from his pocket to discover that he has started to metamorphose into an alien being.
Losing the struggle

Part three

The voice of the Earth High Minister comes over the station's P.A. system and delivers a rousing pre-recorded speech for the awakening colonists, while Noah tries to fight the alien presence in his mind. He contacts Vira and transfers command to her, now ordering she get the sleepers revived and down to Earth as soon as she can. He explains that the aliens are called the Wirrn, before losing control and stating "we shall absorb the humans".

The Doctor and Vira go in search of Noah, leaving Harry and Sarah to revive two more crew members, Rogin and Lycett. Noah, now more absorbed by the Wirrn, meets the Doctor and Vira in the main corridor and explains that the larvae are approaching adulthood. Vira takes what is happening to Noah very badly, as she and the commander were "pair-bonded" for the colonisation. Harry and the Doctor perform a brief autopsy of the queen and discover that the Wirrn are a space-borne species, while Vira begins to initiate the next phase of revivals. The Doctor convinces her to delay while he develops a plan to stop the Wirrn.

Using the Ark's technology, he links his mind to the queen's neural cortex, experiencing her last few memories. Meanwhile, a grub breaks into the cryogenic chamber and kills Lycett. Harry and Rogin run to the armoury for Fission guns, narrowly avoiding Noah, and drive the grub back into the air duct with the Doctor's help. The Doctor has learned that the queen was killed by the auto guard and decides to electrify the walls of the cryogenic section. He transmats Rogin and Harry to the control room before the power fails again and realises that the Wirrn must be pupating into adults. He proceeds down to the infrastructure to turn the power back on, but Noah has already become an adult Wirrn and advances on the Doctor.

Part four

The travellers say goodbye
Vira appears at the top of the stairs and fires her stun gun at Noah, allowing the Doctor to get clear. Noah asks Vira to stay and listen to his proposal that if she and the awakened crewmembers take the station's shuttle, he will order the swarm to let them go. The Wirrn would then absorb the remaining sleepers and become a technologically advanced race, like the human pioneers who displaced them, centuries before, from their homeworlds in the Andromeda Galaxy. Vira refuses to abandon the Ark and the crew tries to come up with a way to ensure power will reach the Doctor's electric bulkheads. Sarah suggests the shuttle Noah mentioned and volunteers to carry a power cable through the service conduits to the cryogenic section.

As she proceeds past the Wirrn, they try to stop her and the shuttle crew from performing their tasks, with two Wirrn being repelled by a test burn from the shuttle's engines. When Sarah gets stuck in the conduit, the Doctor uses reverse psychology, complaining that Sarah is useless in an emergency and not nearly as tough or resourceful as she thinks. Sarah fights her way free, only to realise that she has been "conned" by the Doctor. The electricity keeps the Wirrn at bay, but Noah threatens to turn off the oxygen, which the Wirrn don't need.

The Doctor tries to remind Noah of his human past and urges him to lead the swarm back into space where they belong. Instead the entire swarm breaks into the shuttle's cargo hold and tries to reach the bridge. Vira sets the controls for automatic take off and disembarks, while Rogin and the Doctor remove the synestic locks that hold the shuttle down. Rogin sacrifices himself by removing the final lock and is killed by the shuttle's exhaust. As the Doctor wonders if Noah led the swarm aboard the shuttle on purpose, Noah radios the station and says goodbye to Vira before sabotaging the shuttle, causing it to explode in space and thus proving his humanity had won. Vira vows to get the sleepers revived and down to Earth, but without the shuttle will have to rely on the transmat. The Doctor, however, notices that the transmat receptors on the ground are faulty and volunteers to beam down with Harry and Sarah and fix them, while Vira returns to her duties.




Story Notes

  • The Nerva Beacon sets are reused for Revenge of the Cybermen.
  • The whole story bears resemblance to the Ridley Scott film 'Alien' released in 1979.
  • It is only mentioned once by Vira but Noah's name is Lazer, Noah being a joke on his role on Nerva.
  • No one but the regular cast take part in Part One of this story; the last time this occurred was episode one of The Edge of Destruction.
  • Vira was written to be black and possibly Haitian, but this was changed by the director.


  • Part 1 - 9.4 million viewers
  • Part 2 - 13.6 million viewers
  • Part 3 - 11.2 million viewers
  • Part 4 - 10.2 million viewers


to be added

Filming Locations

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • If there are thousands of people on Nerva, why is there only 1 shuttle and a transmat with only 3 pads? The Shuttle may be larger than what we see and there are probably more transmat pads throughout the station. Vira does say that getting everyone down to Earth via transmat will be a long task.
  • Why do they teleport to the Earth rather than take the TARDIS? The TARDIS can be unreliable at times.
  • There is a piece of very poor editing done when the half-mutated Noah confronts Vira and the Doctor as they move along the corridor (probably done to remove the more grotesque aspect of the scene). Noah is still talking and then somehow the door slams shut, cutting him off. Yet it is not clear who does this or what exactly happened.
  • The people needed to use a device on their hearts to complete the revival - how would this have worked if no-one was around to help them with it? It's not part of standard procedure; the system had already malfunctioned due to the Wirrn's interference.
  • The Wirn falling out at the first cliffhanger interrupts the Doctor talking - but he's not talking at the start of episode 2. Or we just don't hear him.
  • When Sarah is trapped in the control room, why is the switch for the door on the opposite side of the room? (Why not? All functions for the room are controlled from the console.)
  • Once the auto guard has been switched off, the Doctor and Harry test it by sticking their heads out! (That's where their eyes were located. They heard it deactivate and were cautiously looking to verify.)
  • Humanity in the future is divided into functional groups, like insects, but Rogin wakes up as a fully fledged Holmes wide boy.
  • The slime trail which the Doctor and Harry chance upon is clearly visible to the audience from the start of the scene.
  • One of the frozen humans can be seen blinking.
  • Sarah's knickers are visible in episode one.
  • Can all of the Wirrn really fit into that small cockpit?
  • Why doesn't the Doctor want to wake everybody up and take them to Earth in the TARDIS? His reasons make it sound like he's just making the game more interesting.
  • Several of the cyrogenic cells are empty, but there are no slime trails leading to them. With space at a premium it doesn't make sense to have empty cells, but the lack of slime trails means the Wirrn didn't take the bodies either. So where'd they go?
  • Why is the table screwed down to the floor? None of the other furniture is. Plus as the Doctor and Harry start to move the table there's no mounting in the floor where the screw was.
  • In the human-preservation chamber there are at least two levels of cells, but there are no ladders. How do the people get down when they wake up?
  • Given how readily the Doctor used his sonic screwdriver as a thermal lance in the previous episode, and how readily it went through reinforced metal, why doesn't he cut a quick hole here to get some air?
  • The space station noticeably "wobbles" as it orbits above Earth in the opening shot.
  • The empty chamber that held Dune is tinted or stained orange-yellow here, but it was the same colour as the others in the previous episode. 
  • When Vira climbs out of the cryogenic capsule, the styrofoam comprising the capsule sqeaks.
  • Without space-faring technology, how do the Wirrn launch themselves into space, and how do they avoid burning up during planetfall? While I'm not sure how they reach escape velocity, re-entry could likely be accomplished by spinning a durable chrysalis/coccoon, or a mixture of spun, silken material and debris, similar to the approach of the Caddisfly larvae.


  • BFA: Wirrn Dawn is set during the war between the Humans and the Wirrn.

DVD, Video and Other Releases

DVD Releases




  • Editing for DVD release completed by Doctor Who Restoration Team.
  • Viewers have the option of replacing the model shots with new CGI effects.

Video Releases

to be added

Laserdisc releases

  • Released on Laserdisc in 1990.

Audio release

Excerpts from Dudley Simpson's score, arranged by Heathcliff Blair, were released by Silva Screen in the early 1990s on their compilation CD Pyramids of Mars: Classic Music from the Tom Baker Era (FILMCD 134)


Main article: Doctor Who and the Ark in Space

External Links

  • BBC Episode Guide to The Ark in Space
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide: Detailed Synopsis - The Ark in Space
  • A Brief History of Time (Travel): The Ark in Space
Season 12
Robot  • The Ark in Space  • The Sontaran Experiment  • Genesis of the Daleks  • Revenge of the Cybermen

This article uses material from the "The Ark in Space" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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