The Fourth Doctor and Leela visited Nerva at the very beginning, when it was a space dock orbiting Jupiter. They became involved in events surrounding an infection by the Drelleran in revenge for the actions of Lord Jack Corrigan. (AUDIO: Destination: Nerva)
The original purpose of the space station was as a beacon (hence the name) to warn spacecraft about the planetoid Voga, which in turn orbited the planet Jupiter. Nerva was at that time operated by the Interplanetary Space Command, which had its headquarters on Earth. Nerva served this function for thirty years.
After the Cyber-Wars, Nerva had a transmat link to the breathable interior of Voga. Nerva was apparently struck by a plague that wiped out nearly all of the fifty-strong ISC crew. Only three of the crew (Commander Stevenson, Lester and Warner) and one observer named Kellman survived. It was soon discovered that the plague was in reality an infection spread by invading Cybermen, who planned to destroy Voga, an attempt which failed. (TV: Revenge of the Cybermen)
In 6087, Nerva Beacon was moved to Earth orbit, where it served as a cryogenic storage facility, nicknamed "the Ark". Scientists had foreseen the Earth would become uninhabitable for five thousand years due to solar flares. Under the leadership of the Earth High Minister, they chose Nerva as a "lifeboat" — to quote Harry Sullivan's description. The rest of humanity was evacuated in Thermic shelters, but they were apparently not expected to survive long enough to repopulate.
DNA samples of Earth's flora and fauna were stored on board and the bodies of selected human volunteers were placed in suspended animation. These people were genetically screened so the genetic pool of the survivors would be cross-matched, balanced and compact-evaluated. For this reason regressive humans, typified by 20th century humans, were not allowed.
The power for the station was by this time provided by solar stacks and the transmat link now connected the station with Earth rather than Voga.
Due to a Wirrn infestation, a massive system failure occurred and the humans overslept. By the time they woke, ten thousand years had passed. The awakening humans had to fight off the Wirrn, but retook the station and recolonised the Earth. (TV: The Ark in Space) By another account, at this time the station was called Terra Nova. (PROSE: Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment)
During those thousands of years, Nerva Beacon had become a legend: the lost refuge of mankind, sleeping while the rest of humanity was expanding their empire into the rest of the galaxy. (TV: The Sontaran Experiment)
Behind the scenes
- The Ark in Space Special Edition DVD release featured optional CGI effects.