‘Doctor Who – The Lost Stories: The Ark’

❉ A marvellous production with brilliant performances, an atmospheric score and great writing.

This version of the story that became The Ark in Space succeeds right from the word go … A lot of this is down to the incredible vocal talents of Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor, who recreate their predecessors’ likenesses with incredible accuracy. Even Tom Baker sounds astoundingly like the 1970s incarnation we all know and love.

After last month’s disappointing Daleks! Genesis of Terror, Big Finish are back to form this month with their atmospheric version of the previously un-produced ‘lost story’, The Ark. Adapted by Jonathan Morris from John Lucarotti’s original scripts, the story that became The Ark in Space is one of the most beloved from the original run of Doctor Who, and anyone trying to present an alternative version would rightfully be intimidated.

Thankfully, the new version succeeds right from the word go, with Tom Baker’s delightfully terrifying reading of the title with genuine murderous venom in his words. People hoping for an entirely new take on the story right away might be disappointed by this first part, for obvious reasons it follows much the same flow as the television version but what it does adapt, it does a lot quicker, and lays the foundations for things to go in a very different direction later on.

Key to the changes early on are mainly based in the dialogue – a line cut from the finished version sets in stone this is Harry’s second adventure where the TV version left it ambiguous, the clichéd nature of having Sarah Jane make them tea is pleasingly challenged (although possibly an addition not in the original) and in terms of structure, it moves much faster than the televised episode – the business with the Doctor’s hat and the security detector is completely absent, so the Doctor and friends are up to reviving and befriending the humans by the end of part one, which of course only happened into part two in the TV version.

But, on the flip side of that, it’s also pleasant to hear new takes on the established dialogue we’re all familiar with. Thanks to regular repeat runs on Horror Channel (now known as Legend) and Twitch to name just two recent examples, even the youngest of us are already very acquainted with The Ark in Space, and it gives a special thrill to hear famous lines such as Sarah Jane’s “spit in your eye” retort with a slight slant, and of course a lot of this is down to the incredible vocal talents of Sadie Miller and Christopher Naylor, who recreate their predecessors’ likenesses with incredible accuracy. Even Tom Baker, who had a rare performance blip last month with Genesis of Terror, is pleasingly back to normal and sounding astoundingly like the ’70s incarnation of his Doctor that we all know and love.

Christopher Naylor, Tom Baker, Sadie Miller © Big Finish Productions.

Also pleasing is the 1970s soundtrack by Nicholas Briggs and sound design by Mark Hendrick. It’s no easy feat to make something sound exactly like it would have done 50 years ago, but this release manages it with astonishing accuracy.

Where the story really shines though, obviously, is where it differs from its finished material. It’d be too spoiler-y to give away too much of what happens in the later parts, but focusing on part one alone, it’s obvious from the off things are going to change. From the subtle, such as the Doctor using the sonic screwdriver much more liberally than in this actual era, to the major – the implication the Doctor went looking for the Ark on purpose and may even have helped humanity onto the Ark – it’s enough of a change to make this worth buying unlike last month’s release, and an interesting take on the Fourth Doctor more akin to his Seventh incarnation.

The release still carries the original titles Lucarotti gave it before he learned individual episode titles had been discontinued during the Hartnell era. Although each only one word, they neatly epitomise the developments in each episode and are effectively a keyword which might be bandied around like in tone meetings for the modern series. With dust littered around the space station, and flora and fauna playing a key part, it’s clear Lucarotti was interested in nature, and while there’s nothing in here to link it to the man who wrote the Hartnell historicals, there’s evidence of more of the man coming through than in the sterilised sci-fi of Bob Holmes’ final version.

Christopher Naylor, Tom Baker, Sadie Miller © Big Finish Productions.
Sadie Miller, Tom Baker, Christopher Naylor © Big Finish Productions.

Of course, not every part of the play can be a success, and where this story is let down is in its realisation of the human cast. Again, as familiar as we all are with The Ark in Space, any replacements for what we’ve been used to will be harshly judged, and although the Wirrn stand-in villains are effective, the human cast are sadly ineffective stand-ins with none of the personality of their TV originals, and although the point is kind of that they don’t have the warmth and personality of humanity, their voices lack the age and gravitas of the original versions. The CD extras reveal that this play was recorded with Genesis of Terror, and possible a few others, to save money, and although that’s understandable, some of the budget limitations do transpire in the finished product.

However, that isn’t to tarnish what’s become a marvellous story. Although side-steps of beloved originals won’t be for everyone, and there’ll still be some who want fully lost stories adapted rather than just alternate versions, The Ark is an intriguing offering with brilliant performances, great writing, and another chance to hear one of your favourite Doctor Who stories like you’ve never heard it before.

(Just don’t leave it in your earphones if you’re golfing)


Adapted by: Jonathan Morris
Written by: John Lucarotti
Producer / Script Editor: Simon Guerrier
Senior Producer: David Richardson
Director: Samuel Clemens
Executive Producer: Jason Haigh-Ellery, Nicholas Briggs.

Duration: 120 minutes approx.
Released: June 2023, exclusively from the Big Finish website.

❉ ‘Doctor Who – The Lost Stories: Doctor Who And The Ark‘ was released June 2023 and is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 July 2023, and on general sale after this date.

❉ Ezekiel Thorp can be found on Twitter: @Praxeus_stan, where he continues to tweet about old magazine covers and anything else that takes his fancy.

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