THIS STORY TAKES
"FURY FROM THE DEEP"
TRISTAN DE VERE COLE
'LOST IN TIME' DVD
RELEASED IN NOVEMBER
AND 'THE WHEEL IN
SPACE' AUDIO CD
RELEASED IN MAY 2004.
measures to escape a
the Doctor and Jamie
arrive on a rocket,
in space, and soon
guard. When a blow
to the head then
renders the Doctor
only hope of rescue
lies in contacting the
Wheel space station
which is orbiting
In fact the rocket has
other occupants, who
are sending out
spheres to penetrate
the Wheel’s outer
dangerous cargo do
the spheres bring to
the human crew of the
Wheel, and what is
the intention of those
who are sending
ALL BUT EPISODES THREE
AND SIX ARE MISSING.
The Wheel in Space
27TH APRIL 1968 - 1ST JUNE 1968
The Wheel in Space is one Cybermen story too far. By the end of Doctor Who’s fifth season, the Cybermen were being criminally over used. The Tomb of the Cybermen was in many ways a triumph, but The Wheel in Space is far too similar to The Moonbase to be compelling in its own right. However, this does not mean that this serial story is poor – far from it, in fact – it just means that if you are familiar with The Moonbase then this serial does not really offer much that is new or exciting.
David Whitaker’s second contribution to the season is longer than any previous Cybermen story, which is something of a double-edged sword. The slow build-up means that the Cybermen’s appearance at the end of the second episode has a lot of impact as it is quite unexpected, but the first episode especially comes across as little more than an obvious money-saver and drags terribly. Until the last couple of scenes (which I would suspect were filmed alongside the second episode to keep costs down) the episode only features Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, and a very Flash Gordon-looking Servo Robot. The episode is almost completely independent of the main story; the TARDIS malfunctions, marooning the Doctor and Jamie on a rocket in space. It takes nineteen minutes for us to get our first glimpse of the Wheel and its crew, and even then, nothing much really happens in terms of plot until well into the Doctor-less second episode.
Like in his script for The Power of the Daleks, Whitaker succeeds here in creating very believable human characters which often outshine the monsters. Whereas in The Power of the Daleks we had memorable characters like Lesterson, Bragen, and Janley; here we
have Bennett, Gemma, Leo, as well as the lovely Tanya (Clare Jenkins) to name but a few. Michael Turner’s troubled Commander Bennett and Anne Ridler’s Doctor Gemma Corwyn were the standouts for me. Gemma is particularly good; I like how she is a scientist - a woman of both reason and logic - yet she instinctively trusts the Doctor. This works especially well in the context of introducing Zoe Heriot, the new companion, who is every bit the scientist that Gemma is, but has absolutely no idea at all about life – no common sense, no instinct.
“I’ve been created for some false kind of existence,
where only known kinds of emergencies are catered for. Well what good is that to me, now?”
Zoe (Wendy Padbury) has been born and raised as an astrophysicist and has known no other life. In a sense, when we first meet her she is no better than the Cybermen – she is quite literally “…all brain and no heart”. For Zoe, the events of this story are a steep learning curve. There are hints at a personality underneath her intellect, but it only seems to be Jamie that can draw it out of her. For example, the first thing she does when they meet is mock his kilt, calling it “female” attire. Jamie’s beautifully sexist reply is a classic – he threatens to put her across his knee and spank her! As if that were not enough, Zoe cheekily replies “this will be fun!” It seems that Zoe came along at just the right time to get Jamie over Victoria’s departure...
However, not all of the characters are as well thought out. Something I liked about The Moonbase was its cosmopolitan crew; they were not all white middle-class Englishmen.
The Wheel in Space probably started out with similar intentions, but the end result borders on farce – talk about cod foreign accents! Tanya Lernov’s Russian accent is forgivable, but Chang the Chinaman? Flannigan the big, bearded Irishman? A token Yankee? The stereotypes are so bad that they border on out and out racism!
The Wheel itself is also rather amusing. Whitaker and Pedler may have had the vision to invent Deep Space 9 twenty-five years early, yet they still thought that in the far future humanity would be using tape recorders! I like it, though. Tapes must make a comeback! Retro charm.
Episodes 3 and 6 of this serial still exist today, and whilst with two thirds of the story missing there is not really enough there to be able to follow the story fully, in conjunction with John Cura’s telesnaps and the BBC Radio Collection soundtrack one can still enjoy The Wheel
in Space. The extant third episode focuses heavily on the Cybermats and the Cybermen’s infiltration of the Wheel, whilst the sixth sees the Doctor resolve the situation by destroying the Cybermen’s space ship with the Wheel’s big laser cannon. On screen, I will admit, the plot works better than it does on paper, but, let’s face it – it’s pretty poor stuff. At the end of the day the Cybermen have been unimaginatively blasted out of existence, questions like ‘why did the Cybermen even want the Wheel’ left unanswered. Oh wait, I forgot - they wanted the Wheel because of their “overriding ambition to invade the earth”. Sorted.
Whilst the plot may not win any awards (except maybe one for rigidly sticking to the 1960s Cyberman story plot formula), Tristan de Vere Cole’s direction should. When watching telesnap reconstructions, the one thing that is very hard to judge is the direction, but in viewing the existing episodes of this story I have to take my hat off to the director. The final episode in particular features some beautifully shot scenes – Jamie and Zoe floating in space, the Cybermen marching towards the camera with the ‘mirror effect’ on them… Wonderful imagery.
The Wheel in Space famously ends with Zoe stowing away on board the TARDIS, determined to cast off her institutionalised innocence. To give her a taste of what she could be letting herself in for, the Doctor uses a strange looking machine (conveniently located inside a TARDIS roundel) to weave his thought patterns into a sort of story for her… A seven-part story in fact, with cliffhangers, opening and closing titles and everything… Cue Doctor Who’s first ever repeated serial, The Evil of the Daleks, nicely woven into the series’ continuity...
And as Zoe is still in the TARDIS at the start of The Dominators, I can only assume that the Daleks didn’t put her off...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
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