Wednesday, 21 December 2011

43: The Wheel In Space - Is There Anything Good To Say About It?

Written by: David Whitaker 
Companions: The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon.
Monsters/Villains: Cybermen, Cybermats, Servo Robot.
Brief Synopsis: Using Cybermats, the Cybermen attempt to take over a Wheel shaped space station in an effort to conquer the Earth.
Rating: 2/10.

So the streak of really good stories had to end at some point and here it is. I think The Wheel In Space is the first real turkey from the Troughton era, which after thirteen stories really isn't that bad. I didn't love all the Troughton that went before, but there was at least something charming or some worthy idea in all the other stories that came before and then there's The Wheel In Space. David Whitaker is at it again...

The TARDIS is still floating on the sea. Jamie watches Victoria as the TARDIS dematerialises. They arrive in a new location but the scanner doesn't seem to work. The TARDIS shows them 'nice' places to warn them to go elsewhere. Randomly the fluid link explodes, vaporising the mercury. As they flee the TARDIS, the Doctor opens a hatch and removes a golden rod. The rooms and walls begin to shimmer and fold in on themselves, they make it out of the shrinking TARDIS interior. The Doctor explains that he has removed the Time Vector Generator, which once removed alters the size of the interior making it just a normal telephone box. Much like when on his first visit to Skaro the Doctor needs some more mercury in order to get the old girl working again.

The Silver Carrier.
They discover they are in a rocket and the Doctor offers a hungry Jamie not a Jelly Baby but a lemon sherbet. They discover some track marks on the floor leading through the door and follow. They cannot enter the rocket's control room but the doctor uses a monitor to see what's inside. We can see a small coffin shaped pod and a large mental crate. A small Servo Robot roams the rocket and uses a laser to seal off the Doctor and Jamie. The Robot changes the rocket's course and the Doctor and Jamie are thrown against a wall. They try to get back to the TARDIS, but the door is sealed. 

The Servo Robot.
The coffin like pod opens and reveals a row of small, white spheres. The inner and outer airlocks open and the cabin depressurises. The spheres drift into space, the hatch closes and the cabin re-pressurises as the rocket comes to a halt by a space station, yet another base that will come under siege.

The Doctor uses the Time Vector Generator to create a torch like beam which vaporises the door's seal but the Servo Robot appears behind the Doctor and tries to attack. Jamie throws a metallic blanket over the robot and they close themselves back in the cabin. The robot lasers its way through but Jamie somehow manages to destroy it. The Doctor is knocked unconscious.

The Wheel In Space.
Aboard the Wheel, we meet the gang of assorted minorities we have come to expect to staff each besieged base, including more importantly Leo Ryan communications officer, Doctor Gemma Corwyn, and Commander Javis Bennett. They turn their attention on the rather aptly named rocket, Silver Carrier. The egg-like spheres hit the station and absorb their way inside. Bennett is concerned the rocket will endanger the station and elects to turn the station's x-ray laser on the Silver Carrier to eliminate the threat. 

Jarvis Bennett.
Anne Ridler as Dr. Gemma Corwyn.
Troughton is totally absent from episode two and to be honest we might as well be too. In a nut shell: Jamie alerts the crew of the wheel and they don't destroy the rocket. Jamie and the Doctor are brought aboard the Wheel where Dr. Gemma Corwyn examines the Doctor and Jamie who lies saying the Doctor's name is John Smith. 

So that's where he got the name.
Jamie takes a tour of the wheel guided by the para-psychology librarian, Zoe Heriot who shows him a greenhouse and some interstellar flora, which oddly enough is located right next to the controls for the station's laser gun. 

Wendy Padbury as Zoe Heriot.
This episode feels like such a hiatus that everyone is actually asking, "when the Doctor is gonna be about?" Corwyn gives her report to Jarvis who believes the two travellers are stowaways or saboteurs. Jarvis jumps to conclusions desperately trying to find an explanation, he is expositionally revealed as a man who relies on routine ordinariness, used to emergencies, who can't handle mysteries. Zoe shows Jamie the communications room, and explains the point of the Wheel, which is so dull even Jamie doesn't want to know. Jamie learns of Jarvis' plan to destroy the Silver Carrier, slips away and sabotages the laser. Finally, aboard the Silver Carrier, two large egg like spheres come to life and a silver, three fingered fist bursts out.

Zoe calculates that a star is about to go nova causing a meteorite storm which would threaten the Wheel. We see the Cybermen with the rather groovy added design feature of the tear ducts and also the odd looking Cyber Planner. The voices have changed again and this time they're a bit rubbish.

The Cyber Planner.
Finally the Doctor wakes up. The small pods sent to the Wheel contained Cybermats, sent to consume Bernalium rods in the Wheel’s stores. The Bernalium is essential to power the X-Ray Laser. An engineer called Duggan finds a Cybermat, but totally ignores it, thinking maybe it's space fauna?

Corwyn introduces the Doctor to Zoe who using logic has deduced that the rocket could not have drifted so far off course but must have been piloted. The Doctor responds, "Logic merely enables one to be wrong with authority." The engineers discover that all the Bernalium is gone, and Kemel Rudkin (an insignificant engineer) is killed by a Cybermat. No one seems to care much. The Doctor x-rays an unopened pod and identifies it's contents as a Cybermat however Jarvis is disbelieving and his behaviour becomes stranger and stranger. Two men from the Wheel are sent to investigate the rocket but are taken over by two Cybermen, who order the two humans to take them to the Wheel.

The Doctor warns Jarvis of the Cybermen but strangely they have never heard of the Cybermen. This story is meant to be set in the 21st century. Even if it were the late 21st century it couldn't be more than 130 years since the Cybermen attacked the Moonbase. They've clearly got rubbish memories.

Laleham and Vallance, the two controlled humans successfully bring the Cybermen aboard the Wheel in crates of Bernalium. Engineer Chang (another insignificant engineer, who is Chinese) is sent to the loading bay to get some Bernalium from the crates when he is attacked and killed by the two Cybermen with a shot from their chest units. Laleham and Vallance are sent with the Bernalium in Chang's place. Duggan (a slightly more significant engineer) is taken over too and sent to smash the communications desk. He succeeds but is shot dead by Leo Ryan.

The Doctor gets Corwyn to coordinate the use of basic transistor systems attached to each of the crewmen to block the Cybermen's control technique. Jamie and the Doctor go to investigate the crates only to find the Cybermen. They escape but encounter two Cybermats. Leo Ryan uses a sonic wave which disables and destroys all of the Cybermats aboard the Wheel. They show Jarvis an inactive Cybermat, but he still refuses to accept what is happening.

Zoe expresses a lack of belief in her logic based background, noting, "What have I got left? A blind reliance on facts and knowledge." A Cyberman kills another crew member. Laleham and Vallance try to kill Flannigan (an Irish Engineer), Vallance tries to shoot him but kills Laleham. A Cyberman emerges and takes over Flannigan.

The crew begin to defend the wheel against the Meteorites, with the recently repaired laser. The Doctor realises that the Cybermen made the star go nova in order to gain access to the Wheel and use it to conquer Earth and harvest it's mineral wealth.

Stupidly/conveniently Jamie left the Time Vector Generator aboard the Silver carrier, so he and Zoe make a space-walk to recover it. Gemma hides as she sees a Cyberman order Vallance to poison the wheels oxygen generators turning the oxygen to pure ozone. Dr. Corwyn warns the Doctor via video link and he witnesses her being cut down by a Cyberman. Meanwhile in space the meteorites are heading straight for Jamie and Zoe

Shocked at Gemma's death (it's good to see someone is), Jarvis goes to confront the Cybermen but is strangled, thrown and shot. The Meteorites are destroyed, Zoe and Jamie make it to the Silver Carrier and find the Time Vector Generator.

Vallance tries to poison the oxygen but they have switched over to the emergency oxygen supply. A massive Cybership arrives at the Wheel. 

The Cybership.
Jamie and Zoe return with the Time Vector Generator and step over Gemma Corwyn's body except it isn't her body as the BBC didn't employ Anne Ridler, so they just show still photographs of her lying there. The pair find Cyber controlled Engineer Flannigan, who tries to overpower them but is ambushed by Leo Ryan and Enrico Casali (an Italian engineer) freeing him from his conditioning.

The Doctor takes a secret route to the power room through the air tunnels and picks up some mercury, and some radio spares they need. 

The Doctor is confronted by the two Cybermen and learns that the Cybermen want the Wheel in order to enable their ships to enter the atmosphere by homing on a radio beam (ummm... right! Technobabble much?) He manages to electrocute one of the Cybermen, and Jamie brings him the Time Vector Generator which he uses to boost the power of the 
x-ray laser to destroy the Cyber ship. 

In the hangar bay Jamie frees Valance while Flannigan immobilises the remaining Cyberman somehow using a fire extinguisher. The laser destroys the Cybership and the force field is reactivated sending a few Cybermen at the airlock drifting into space. 

The Cybermen do a sort of funny space dance...
And... It is so anti-climactic. All this slow, dull build and everything is resolved in two seconds.

Leo Ryan, the new Commander.
Leo Ryan takes over as commander and reports to Earth. No one seems that fussed that loads of people have died, they all look pretty happy to be honest.

Inside the TARDIS the Doctor puts the mercury into the console using a funnel, noting, "I've even got some left over." So hopefully that won't happen again, ay David Whitaker?

The Doctor spies Zoe hiding in a crate, attempting to stow-away. She says wants to go with them. For some reason unlike every other time before or after when he just let people join him the Doctor decides to test Zoe's resolve, and uses a mental device to project images from his mind to show her of his and Jamie's encounter with the Daleks in their search for the Dalek Factor. This was used as a clever segue in to the first ever repeat of Doctor Who, with The Evil of The Daleks.

The Wheel In Space just doesn't really have much going for it; it's heavy on pointless technobabble, the direction is very flat, but more-over the story is dull. I always try to find some positive points in each story; the best bits I can take from this one are: the precursor to Jelly Babies in the form of Sherbet lemons, the origin of the Doctor using the pseudonym John Smith, the establishment of the Cybermen's groovy tear duct eye design and the introduction of Wendy Padbury as the new companion, Zoe Heriot; she doesn't get much to do in this story but she'll stick around and prove herself in time to come. Those few moments aside, there really isn't much on offer here. I think I might go as far as to say this is Troughton's worst story, but you know what? Even after watching this claptrap I think Troughton may be becoming my favourite Doctor...

Not the best end to the season and in my case this year. The Wheel In Space aside It's been a cracker of a season. We saw the Cybermen return twice, we met for the first time, the Ice Warriors and the Yeti, again twice. We also saw a Mexican Doctor doppleganger and of course the infamous Weed creature! We said goodbye to one companion but also gained one. We saw just 13 episodes out of 40, with 27 missing ones. All in all it and even with all of the missing episodes this probably should be the best season yet, shame it had to fizzle out right at the end. My favourite for this season is tied between The Web Of Fear and Fury From The Deep. My least favourite is this story, The Wheel In SpaceOut of a possible 70 I scored this season 49/70, giving it a high average score of 70/100 beating Season 4 by just 1 point.

I will be drawing the Winner and runner up for The Great Big Doctor Who Christmas Give-Away tomorrow, so get your entry in while you still can by clicking here and leaving a comment.

                                          CLICK HERE TO ENTER

Join me next time, and indeed next year for The Dominators.


Anonymous said...

Although, as you quite rightly say, Zoe doesn't get to do much in this adventure, her character is, nevertheless central to the stories themes, in that basically, a parallel is being drawn between Zoe and the Cybermen. Here's an example from episode four:

GEMMA: Do you ever feel anything emotional, Zoe?
ZOE: Emotional. You know that's the second time I've been asked that in the last couple of hours. Leo Ryan said that I was "all brains and no heart."
GEMMA: (Understanding.) Yes, it's your training. I wouldn't worry about it.
ZOE: But I do. I don't want to be thought of as a freak. Leo said that I was like a robot, a machine. I think he's right. My head has been pumped full of facts and figures which I reel out automatically when needed, but I want to feel things as well.
GEMMA: (Pleased.) Good. Unfortunately the parapsychologist at the city tends to ignore this aspect in his pupils. Some of them never fully develop their human emotions.

Equally, it is also suggested that suppressing healthy emotions leads to fetishism and sadomasochistic behaviour. The Cybermen are said to have had their "brains treated neurosurgically to remove all human emotion” and as a result they have become “ruthless inhuman killers.” Their bodies are also clad in rubber, with arm and leg braces held in place with tightly fastened straps. Zoe also exhibits callous and 'deviant' behaviour; she describes Jarvis Bennett's mental collapse as “inconvenient,” and later, when Jamie threatens to put her across his knee and “larrup” her bottom, she responds with, “this is going to be fun! I shall learn a lot from you.”

This also casts light on the real motives as to why the Cybermen want to invade the Wheel. The Doctor says “they have an over-riding ambition to invade the Earth, plunder its mineral wealth. Somehow they can see a way of doing it through this Wheel,” and later he concludes that the Cybermen need a radio beam from Earth to allow them to land an invasion fleet. Although quite why they need to invade the Wheel to achieve this is never explained.

A more plausible explanation for their actions is provided by the nature of the Cybermen themselves (or at least in how they are presented in this story), the character of Zoe, and the various publicity photos of Zoe being menaced by two Cybermen with clenched hands (see, for example, the photo at the head of the above article).

Ultimately, the most likely reason the Cybermen attacked the Wheel was not to invade and capture the Earth, but rather to capture and invade Zoe. In other words, they wanted to grab hold of the annoying little prig and give her a damned good fisting.

I think if viewers keep this idea in mind the next time they watch “The Wheel in Space,” then they will find the story a great deal more entertaining.

Anonymous said...

I like anonymous' Fetish Theory for why the Cybermen were invading the Wheel/Zoe!!