The Doctor and Jamie arrive onboard an abandoned spaceship and are attacked by a Servo robot. Signalling a nearby space station, known as the Wheel, they discover that the Cybermen are lurking, plotting an attack on Earth.
The downside of watching this on the same day as watching the newly animated The Evil of the Daleks was that it perhaps reinforced how poor a story this was. It is not helped, of course, by the fact that the vast majority of the story no longer exist and so we can only experience them through telesnaps, and but even so, The Wheel in Space drags. It is 25 minutes shorter than Evil, but yet when I was watching it I found myself looking at the clock a lot more.
All of this is surprising considering that both stories come from the pen of former script editor David Whitaker – who also wrote The Crusade, which I watched recently and absolutely loved. So it would be all too easy to lay the blame at the door of Kit Pedler’s story idea, but I think it’s all too easy in these co-written stories to state that the bad bits were all Pedler and the good bits all Whitaker. Each has to take their fair share of the blame for this one. Ultimately, the biggest problem with The Wheel in Space is that it is just a bit drab and lifeless. When the opening sees the Second Doctor and Jamie exploring an abandoned spaceship, pursued by a Servo robot, these should be moments that find you worrying for the Doctor and his companion’s safety, but instead there’s no impending sense of peril here and that is something that is sorely lacking in this story. Perhaps the story suffers from coming at the end of a season that is almost entirely made up of base under siege stories, and is the second story in a season to feature the Cybermen in a story of this formula. There are some good ideas in here though, and I particularly liked the idea of the TARDIS’s interior dimensions collapsing, turning the TARDIS into a simple police box. However, the story struggles with some lacklustre direction from Tristan de Vere Cole makes this a really woeful serial.
This is a bit of a weird story for the Cybermen as they feel as though they could almost be something new rather than relying, and ultimately damaging, their reputation. The whole mind control thing is an ability I don’t recall seeing before and am pretty certain we don’t see again, but I’m happy to be proved wrong if anybody knows differently. Having seen the Cybermen emerge from their tombs at the beginning of the season, seeing them ‘hatch’ onboard the rocket feels like a step in the wrong direction and just feels muddled. It also feels as though they skulk around in the shadows too much and are far too easily dispatched after their spacewalk sequence, which feels too short and poorly executed in a story with too little action. The Cybermen do get their moments of menace, probably best shown by the way they deal with Bennett – which would be more effective if you could not see the actor’s harness – and the death of Gemma. This certainly doesn’t go down as one of the best Cybermen stories, though, and I’m hoping for better things when they show up in The Invasion.
The guest cast here do a solid if unremarkable job here, but the standout character is Dr Gemma Corwyn, played by Anne Ridler, who feels the most three-dimensional of the crew of the Wheel. Ridler makes her into the more understanding second-in-command, who falls into the traditional role of the one who seems to believe the Doctor more than the others. In fact, Ridler’s character made such an impact, I was disappointed when the story took the step of killing her off before the end. I think that the majority of the rest of the cast are quite disposable otherwise, which is perhaps understandable given the number of them and at times I found it difficult to keep track of who was who. This story also features another example of a base leader elevated beyond his position in the shape of Bennett, whose mental breakdown I still found quite effective, even if I got the feeling of seeing it all before.
The Doctor feels largely absent from the opening part, and combined with Troughton being on holiday whilst the second episode was being filmed, it does feel as though it takes some time to really see the Doctor in action. He barely gets out of bed before Episode 4, and his absence from the story really shows. Troughton is an effective presence when he does get involved, but even he cannot save this story. I really like the introduction of Zoe, a new companion joining the Doctor and Jamie going into the third season, and especially the dynamic between her and Jamie. They are equally bemused by each other, and I really like the idea of having companions from the past and the future. I also found the idea of having the story start with a farewell to Victoria strangely nostalgic for the original run of the show, and it was a nice touch for a companion departure to have a knock-on effect at this stage of the show’s history, especially considering how the departures of Ben and Polly was handled in The Faceless Ones. I also found it interesting that at the end of the story, the Doctor shows Zoe a clip from The Evil of the Daleks, almost like saying ‘don’t worry, not all our adventures are like this one!’
Verdict: The Wheel in Space is a lacklustre season closer, with some unmemorable characters and poor pacing. 3/10
Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield (Episode 1 only)), Michael Turner (Jarvis Bennett), Anne Ridler (Dr. Gemma Corwyn), Eric Flynn (Leo Ryan), Zoe (Wendy Padbury), Freddie Foote (Servo Robot), Clare Jenkins (Tanya Lernov), Donald Sumpter (Enrico Casali), Kenneth Watson (Bill Duggan), Michael Goldie (Elton Laleham), Derrick Gilbert (Armand Vallance), Kevork Malikyan (Kemel Rudkin), Peter Laird (Chang), James Mellor (Sean Flannigan), Jerry Holmes and Gordon Stothard (Cybermen) & Peter Hawkins and Roy Skelton (Voices).
Writer: David Whitaker (based on a story by Kit Pedler)
Director: Tristan de Vere Cole
Behind the Scenes
- The working title was The Space Wheel.
- This story was originally intended to be a Daleks vs Cybermen story, however, Terry Nation did not approve this idea. However, intriguingly, he did give a concession to the production team to allow for future Dalek stories, so long as he was given first refusal to write the script on any Dalek storyline, which remained in effect until his death. A Dalek vs Cybermen showdown would not be seen on screen until Doomsday.
- Kit Pedler’s idea did not contain the idea above, and was teamed with David Whitaker in order to bring forward to script stage.
- Director Tristan de Vere Cole and producer Peter Bryant clashed on set, reportedly because the director preferred to speak to the writer and script editor about making changes rather than the producer. de Vere Cole never worked on the show again.
- Only Episodes 3 and 6 exist as telerecordings, the rest are currently available as telesnaps. An animated mini-episode was released as part of the 25th anniversary event for Missing, Believed Wiped.
- Patrick Troughton was on holiday during production of Episode 2, so makes no appearance. Anne Ridler was not rehired for Episode 6, so the deceased body of Corwyn is represented by a double and photographs of Ridler were used for the close-ups.
- Several of the characters were renamed to give the base a more international feel. Nell Corwyn became Gemma, Tanya Lerner became Tanya Lernov, Tom Stone became Leo Ryan, Harry Carby became the Italian Enrico Casali and Ken was switched to Chang.
- This is the last missing story to have tele-snaps and the last story to be telesnapped in its entirety.
- Anne Ridler would go on to voice Jacqueline Schaeffer in the Big Finish audio play Master.
- Clare Jenkins had previously appeared in The Savages and would reprise her role as Tanya in The War Games.
- Donald Sumpter would go on to play Commander Ridgeway in The Sea Devils and Rassilon in Hell Bent, as well as appearing in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode The Eternity Trap.
- Kenneth Watson also appeared in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.
- Michael Goldie had previously appeared in The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth.
- James Mellor would go on to appear in the Third Doctor serial The Mutants.
There aren’t many standout scenes, but I did enjoy the scene where Jamie interrupts Zoe recording
Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.The Second Doctor
Previous Second Doctor Story: The Web of Fear