Doctor Who Story Number 43 – The Wheel in Space

Written by David Whitaker from a story by Kit Pedler
Directed by Tristan de Vere Cole

Having left Victoria on Earth, The Doctor and Jamie arrive on an abandoned space ship.  The only crew, a solitary robot.  What happened to the humans on board?

“That’s marvelous isn’t it. ‘The Doctor told me to protect it’.  But don’t give them a reason and leave me to get you out of trouble.”

If fan consensus is anything to go by, I’m not supposed to like this story.  And yet, there is something undeniably appealing to me about 1960s Cybermen stories.  The Cybermen of this era are the best because they are cold and emotionless.  Sure, sometimes their plans were convoluted and didn’t make sense, but the same could be said of Series Six and people seemed to enjoy that.  Okay, possibly an unfair shot there, but still, I would take a 1960s Cybermen story over just about any televised appearance they have made in the intervening years.

By no means do I think this story is perfect.  It is slow, which at times conveys an ominous atmosphere and at times boredom.  I wasn’t too big on the space corridor that The Cybermen pranced along, but I’m sure none of the actors involved knew how to convey walking along a space corridor.  It still looked silly.  Indeed, the faults of this story probably do work better in audio than visually, but I was grateful for both the episodes that still existed.

There were some great images in this story, which is not to say that they were conveyed well on screen.  I’m using the word “images” the way my college poetry teacher did, which basically means a striking picture in your mind.  The images that stick with me from this story: An abandoned ship with a solitary robot keeping it running, metal spheres (which are Cybermats) ejected into space that eventually burrow into The Wheel space station, Cybermen stored in giant, metal eggs for deep space travel.  No, we never saw The Cybermen like this before nor do we see them like this again, but at least it was something new and different.  I loved the episode where Duggan finds a Cybermat, whom he nicknames Billybug, and thinks it is a cute life form of some sort.  He puts the Cybermat in the closet, only to discover later that it has been consuming metal.  I loved the interactions between Zoe and Jamie as she constantly puts him down, which The Doctor likewise does to her.  There is a definite hierarchy of intelligence between the three, and The Doctor sees it his duty to break Zoe’s dependence on pure logic.  In the end it works since she does something decidedly illogical: she stows away on The TARDIS.

I realize many male viewers enjoy the cat suit Zoe from The Mind Robber, but for some reason I think she looks better in space gear. Not sure what this says about me.

I had been dreading this story because I had heard so many bad things about it (largely that it was bad), but in the end I enjoyed it.  It was a fitting end to a season that went from one base under siege to another.  It also provided a nice bookend, starting and ending the season with Cybermen stories much like Troughton’s first season started and ended with Dalek stories.  But on the whole, I have to say I wasn’t really taken with this season.  It felt incredibly repetitive as all stories save one repeated the same scenario with slightly different details.  Almost all the stories felt too long.  It felt as if I was reading old issues of Ultimate Spider-Man where you would get to the end of the year and find that despite having twelve issues, you only had two stories.  This season had, what, 40 episodes and only seven stories?  This was honestly the first season where I thought about just letting the project drop and never returning to the blog.  Sure, I love Troughton, but this season felt a bit stagnant to me.  No wonder the ratings were beginning to drop and producers started thinking about changing the format.  As for me, I have The Dominators to look forward to.  However, I think I need some time to purge a bit after this season . . . and to wait until I have money in the DVD budget.  Hopefully the wait won’t be too long.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who Story Number 43 – The Wheel in Space

  1. “If fan consensus is anything to go by, I’m not supposed to like this story.”

    Consensus among ‘Dr Who’ fans, perhaps. Certainly there is more action in ‘Invasion’, the subsequent Cybermen serial, and more lurking menance in the earlier ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’.

    But among Troughton fans, you won’t hear a bad word said about any Cyber adventure.

    ‘The Dominators’ might get criticised for its poorly realised monsters, the rather silly looking Quarks; but the Cybermen get better with each appearance, after the slightly iffy costumes in their first serial in the Hartnell years – where they actually looked as though they were not made of plastic and metal.

    Season 5 stories don’t attract much criticism among the cognoscenti. This is generally regarded as the best of the Troughton seasons. Cybermen, Yeti, Ice Warriors, more Cybermen… And the georgeous Victoria Waterfield. ‘Wheel in Space’ even has the lovely Zoe,

    A season which both starts and ends with the Cybermen has a lot going for it.

    1. Honestly, I haven’t found any Cybermen stories that I enjoy as much as those in the Troughton Era. ‘Earthshock’ comes close, but I still prefer the 60s Cybermen.

  2. Remember always, when watching ‘The Wheel in Space’, that we are in 1968.

    Which big budget, internationally famous science fiction movie, featuring a huge Wheel-shaped space station, was released in that year?

    Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clark’s vision of life in the year 2001 had a big influence on the BBC design department’s vision for this ‘Who’ serial, and even influenced the very title of the serial, in which the writers make a specific wheel reference.

    As a tv viewer in 1968, the design elements of this serial were intended to make you think of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

    Hence this serial had a bigger impact at the time, in that context, than might appear from watching it today without the knowledge that the production was, in part, trading on the reputation of that year’s biggest sci-fi blockbuster.

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