Monday, 23 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Wheel In Space

This is the first appearance of the "teardrop" eye design,
which would persist for most future versions.
Doctor Who - Season Five, Story Seven - The Wheel In Space
Written 30/9/15

Last week, I reviewed a story which had been recovered in its entirety, meaning that thanks to animation in The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase, I haven't encountered a single episode that didn't at least move. The Wheel In Space is the single exception to the Cybermen's completeness today, with four of its six episodes consigned to the scrap heap, leaving only telesnaps (essentially screenshots of the episode at different intervals) and audio. In order to watch these lost episodes, fans have compiled these two elements into creating Reconstructions, which mix the audio with a slideshow of telesnaps relevant to the action, and CGI where possible. Given all this effort has gone into making this story watchable here and now, what's the story actually like?
      The Wheel In Space is the final story of Season 5, and it's fitting that in a season where six out of the seven stories all follow the Base-Under-Siege plot structure, The Wheel In Space is not the exception - the difference being that the story plods along for six episodes as opposed to four. This structure seems fairly unnecessary, and the first episode ends up being fairly tedious as Jamie and The Doctor are stuck on a small spacecraft, with The Doctor ending up concussed and Jamie having to fight a "Servo" robot which then doesn't appear in the rest of the story. The following five episodes take The Doctor and Jamie to the titular wheel, a space station above Earth which uses its x-ray laser to deflect asteroids. As it turns out, the Cybermen have used a complicated plan involving exploding a sun in order to sabotage the base, aiming to use it to guide an invasion fleet towards Earth and conquer it. The Doctor manages to fix the laser and destroy the invading ships.
     The script was originally by Cybermen co-creator Kit Pedler from before he left the program and was edited into the six-part format by David Whittaker. Pedler's influence on the script is clear - this is a Base-Under-Siege story, with all the same archetypes as before. There are a few decent roles for women in this story, placing them in particular positions of authority, but there are still several misogynistic moments and when all's said and done the only female character who doesn't die is the new companion, Zoe. It gives the story something of a forgettable feeling, which is a real shame given the season began on such a strong Cyberman story.
Episodes 3 and 6 survive, and they are welcome.
     Zoe is an interesting companion, and her characterisation is very thoroughly explored here. Like the Cybermen she faces, Zoe (apparently) has a problem expressing emotions, going through life very logically. As opposed to Victoria, who left in the previous serial (the show is much quieter now, much less screaming), Zoe is from Earth's future, and thus forms a nice contrast to Jamie's more antiquated outlook on the world. Her intelligence and cunning help The Doctor to discover the threat here, and in later serials would be used to outsmart enemies in ways The Doctor couldn't. She's the saving grace of this serial, often providing some of the scenes with interesting moments that the usual collection of Base-Under-Siege archetypes cannot.
     Watching the recons was a novel experience, and now I've dipped my toes in I'm much more likely to go and watch some of the stories that have missing episodes. I will say that I enjoyed The Wheel In Space - it's Doctor Who, and it's the Cybermen, what's not to love? But a lot of the story did stretch on, and the characters struggled to break outside the archetypes which this story format forced them into. Base-Under-Siege can create a lot of interesting stories if they're actually trying to say or do something beyond the surface of that format - Dalek being the most notable example. The Wheel In Space doesn't live up to the story which began this season, and it would soon be dwarfed by the next Cyberman story, which finally moved from this mold.


NEXT WEEK: Cybermen Month comes to an explosive end with the eight-episode adventure, as 1970s London is struck by The Invasion.

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