THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Ark in Space
The Tomb of the Cybermen
BBC
The Wheel in Space

Episodes 6 The hidden menace aboard the Wheel
Story No# 43
Production Code SS
Season 5
Dates Apr. 27, 1968 -
Jun. 1, 1968

With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by David Whitaker, based on an idea by Kit Pelder.
Script-edited by Derrick Sherwin.
Directed by Tristan de Vere Cole. Produced by Peter Bryant.

Synopsis: The Cybermen return, hoping to gain control of the Wheel, a newly constructed space station.

Note: Episodes 3 and 6 are available on Cybermen: The Early Years. Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of the remaining episodes are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.


Reviews

A Review by Jennifer Cole 3/5/99

I simply have to review The Wheel In Space in order to set the record straight. Often touted as one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time, here is actually an above-average tale that sees some worthwhile moments. In comparison to other cyber-tales of the period, it scores over The Moonbase by having a (slightly) more complex plot. Yet the main reason why it seems to be slated is that it only has two Cybermen in it. What a shallow viewpoint!

For all the action scenes, camera trickery is used to make the cybes look bigger in number, and it is frequently stated in the script that they are just an early boarding party, nothing else. This is a laudable effort to get around the unfortunate budgetry problems that plagued all Doctor Who stories.

Psychologically, the cybermen are as scary here as they are in any other tale -- and not revealing their presence until half-way in adds to the effect. Acting is pretty good, and Jamie and the Doctor have six episodes as a double-act, something never seen before or since -- surely a recommendation? Zoe is good, but would the Doctor and Jamie really put up with such a precocious brat? Thankfully she calmed down after this story. In conclusion, this review is to say don't believe in the hype -- watch The Wheel In Space for 2 1/2 hours of enjoyable entertainment.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 2/1/02

The Wheel In Space has a reputation that it certainly doesn`t deserve. For starters, it wins out over The Moonbase because the Cybermen are kept to minimal numbers making their presence all the greater; as such it has more impact as the viewer knows they are waiting, but doesn`t know when they will strike. Secondly it introduces us to Zoe as played by Wendy Padbury; she just about carries it off bringing with her a stark contrast to Victoria, her predecessor. In fact Zoe`s coldness is akin to Sara Kingdom and is something that could also be seen in Liz Shaw.

While the plot is basically a base under siege tale, the precision with which it is carried out by the Cybermen is what makes the story for me. Admittedly, there is some padding, with The Doctor absent for at least one episode, but the opening part has a strong feeling of isolation. Is The Wheel In Space recommended? - absolutely; one of the stronger Cybermen tales.


An overlong runaround by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/1/02

Based on the Joint Venture reconstruction of Episodes 1,2,4 and 5.

Season 5 ends with another story that has been dragged out beyond its natural length to the point where it becomes tedious to follow. It is let down further by the poor handling of the Cybermen, who are absent from the first two episodes and then only two are seen until a brief scene in the final Episode 6.

At first the story starts well and it is refreshing to see the TARDIS go away from Earth after thirty consecutive episodes set there. The initial episode is a demonstration of how a tiny cast (in this case Troughton and Hines + the extra in the robot suit) can carry an episode almost completely by themselves given competent writing and direction. Although the robot itself isn't the most memorable of creations by any means, there is a real sense of tension aboard the Silver Carrier, helped by Brian Hodgson's incidental music, and the viewer is left wondering just what is happening.

The story starts to fizzle out once the focus of events switches to the Wheel itself. The characters are individual but unfortunately they are for the most part weak, such as in the destabalised Jarvis Bennet or the fawning Tanya Lernov. With the Silver Carrier still in space there is scope for padding as characters move between it and the Wheel and this just drags the story down further. Although some of the characterisation is good, the whole thing feels like 'A Day on the Wheel' and there is little actual excitement in the story.

Both the Cybermen and the Cybermats return in those story, although the latter contribute very little since the Cybermen could have simply taken over the original humans arriving on the Silver Carrier. The Cybermen have been redesigned for the story and are far less effective, with their heads clearly showing as masks over wetsuits, whist the replacement of the dark taping around their eyes with tear drops makes their faces look like bland robots rather than a human skull. Their movement when speaking seems unnatural. Since there are only two Cybermen for all but one scene they lack the effectiveness in numbers that they had in their previous stories.

This story sees a new companion arrive in the form of Zoe. Although well played by Wendy Padbury, she doesn't immediately stand out and is rather shoe-horned into the 'second companion' role in the story to build her up for the ending. The idea of the Doctor being able to project thought patterns to show his companions what they might meet is a good idea and thus makes the repeat of The Evil of the Daleks that followed this story originally a part of the ongoing narrative.

The direction and camera work both shine in the story, with the shot of the Doctor walking across a room and turning to see the two Cybermen standing behind him one of the most memorable in the series' history. However the direction fails to make up for the basic weakness of the story. Had David Whitaker either initiated the story himself or had it been shorter then it could have been a lot stronger but as it stands it is a rather weak runabout. 5/10

This Joint Venture reconstruction is up to the team's usual standard, topped and tailed by little extras such as the text of original Radio Times promotional article and a brief reconstruction of the opening minutes of the repeat of The Evil of the Daleks. This strongly fills the gap of the missing episodes and is highly recommended. 9/10


A Review by Finn Clark 1/5/06

"Oh dear, a six-parter," I thought. I watched the two surviving episodes and my suspicions appeared to be confirmed. Part three barely feels like a part two, while part six feels like a part three. I was taken aback by the destruction of the Cybership and the spinning away of the Cybermen into space, which would be an unsatisfying ending for one episode, let alone the climax of a six-week epic! I was ready to bash this thing to matchsticks...

...but then I read the scripts. It makes such a difference to see the whole story. If you put the surviving episodes in context, you can see the structure. It's still creakingly slow, but tension does build over the six weeks. (...Finn says provisionally, not having heard the audios or seen the reconstruction.) As in The Seeds of Doom, the traditional "four and two" six-parter pattern is turned on its head with a claustrophobic prologue on the Silver Carrier leading into the main story on the Wheel. A doom-laden atmosphere builds up and I'm prepared to bet that episode five was downright scary. The New Zealand censor clips look intense and Gemma Corwyn's murder is sinister even on the page, going so far as to get its own cliffhanger.

I decided that I like the script and even admire the production. It's a solid piece of work from everyone: designers, actors and direction. Check out the Cyber-murder in part six. They're repeating the "lift someone over their head" trick from Tomb, but this time they get it right. You can't see the Kirby wire! In fact the whole sequence looks brutal. That's a better directed and scarier Cyber-murder than anything from the colour era.

The model work is great, but the spacesuits are fantastic! Those may be the best-looking spacesuits in all of Doctor Who. I also love the new Cybermen. Leaving aside the fact that they're so bloody big, this is where they got their teardrops! I adore the teardrop. I'm absurdly pleased that the new Russell T. Davies Cybermen have teardrops. I don't think anyone will ever invent a more perfect visual metaphor for the tragedy of the Cybermen, or incidentally execute it better than the DWM comic strip did with That Shot of Junior Cyberleader Kroton. It's a beautiful accident of design.

On the downside, again a director thinks that Cybermen need to move when talking. Earthshock somehow got away with it, but here it looks almost as stupid as it did in Attack of the Cybermen. (Hell, if you must indicate which one's speaking, add a visual effect like the glass jaw or the Tomb/Moonbase mouth flaps.) The difference is that 1980s Cybermen did little boogies, but their Wheel predecessors incline their upper bodies as if bowing Japanese-style.

The Cybermen are famously absent for much of this story, but the Cybermats and possessed humans take up the slack nicely. I liked the Cybermats, which look far more effective than they deserved to. As in Tomb, it's one of television's miracles that the Cybermats didn't make the entire nation fall about laughing. Doctor Who has made a pig's ear of far less unpromising ideas. Unfortunately their victim in part three takes up the comedy slack by being terrified even before the cuddly toys have blasted a crowbar from his hand. His actual death is effective, though.

The accents are interesting, though. We had 'em in Moonbase and we have 'em again here. The Troughton-era 21st century was self-consciously international. I want to blame Star Trek and its cosmopolitan crew, but unfortunately it only reached the UK three years after its debut in 1966.

As an aside, that's an amazing combination of writers! Dr Kit Pedler rewritten by David Whitaker, the man who reinvented Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently badly-written science is indistinguishable from magic." Thus we have the fluid links coming back in a story with hard sci-fi and painstakingly crafted spacesuits. Forget the sexual air supply. That's just a goof, albeit a rightly famous one. More startling is a throwaway line: "Reinforce the anti-matter field around the Wheel." Reinforce the WHAT??? We're only in the 21st century! It wasn't not my imagination either, since the scene continues with: "Switch on the anti-matter field projectors." However David Whitaker obviously meant this to mean just a matter-repelling field, while it's not as if anti-matter got a rigorous scientific treatment in stories like The Three Doctors and Planet of Evil.

Yet again in Doctor Who, a commander goes insane. I guess it's saying something about the show's attitude towards authority, but couldn't they introduce extra screening for these people at the interview stage or something?

Personally I think this story suffers more than most from being incomplete, though I'm prepared to be contradicted by someone who's heard the audios and/or seen the reconstructions. Cyber-fans are lucky that all their stories are well-represented, though. Of their five 1960s stories, one is complete, two are nearly complete and the other two both have two surviving episodes. These ones don't stand up very well as individual instalments but at least they look pretty, with Troughton on good form ("Hello, I think I've got company" before a lovely Cyber-confrontation). I hadn't known what to expect from this, but in the end after some thought I decided that was impressed.


A Review by Brian May 23/1/09

The Wheel in Space is an impressive production. The visuals are fantastic for the day; the BBC Radiophonic Workshop creates atmospheric sounds; the design and direction are top notch.

It's a pity the story is so tedious!

The Discontinuity Guide calls it "generic speed-written tosh", which is true when you examine it fundamentally. Monsters and a base under siege, a very overused combination in recent stories. But David Whitaker should be commended for his efforts to make something interesting out of it, not in the overall story but in the details. The day to day procedures of life aboard the Wheel are realistically depicted; the viewer can believe this installation and its occupants existed before the Doctor and Jamie and arrive, and will continue to function after they leave. There's a convincing backstory to the Wheel and its society, and the more I listen to Zoe talking about her conditioning, which is tantamount to brainwashing, the less I like the Earth she comes from. In retrospect it could well be Blake's 7 rather than Doctor Who.

The crew are credible, interacting in a naturalistic way. The intimacies we see are nice: the bond between Jarvis and Gemma is far more interesting than the more overt romance between Leo and Tanya. The Wheel is a haven of gender equality and racial diversity, even if some of the non-whites are only extras. Of course, there are lots of dodgy accents, Peter Laird as Chang especially. While Clare Jenkins's cod-Russian is highly amusing, reminiscent of many a contemporary British spy film, Laird's attempt at a Chinese accent is dreadful to the point of being offensive.

The Cybermen's plan is quite clever, in spite of it being daftly convoluted. But at least it's another attempt to give some life to the proceedings - despite the gaping plot-hole in the fact that the Silver Carrier's destruction is only prevented when Jamie signals the Wheel. It would certainly have been more disappointing had it just been the Cybermen storming the space station. That certainly wouldn't have filled six episodes.

But neither does the story as it stands, unfortunately, despite Whitaker's efforts. For every great piece of character interaction - for example Leo and Tanya, Jarvis and Gemma, the Doctor and Gemma, Jamie and Zoe - there are endless corridor scenes, talkfests and the indecipherable communications between Cybermen and Cyber-Planner. The padding is extreme, and there's a zero excitement factor. Before I caught episode one, I knew it was mainly the Doctor and Jamie aboard the Silver Carrier. Great, I thought! I was anticipating a nice character-based instalment along the lines of The Ark in Space part one. Alas, no. The Doctor and Jamie have virtually no dialogue, and except for the admittedly creepy atmosphere of the ship, it's a clunker. The final episode is completely unexciting, the climax a total non-event. I'm not sure why this particular episode was retained by the BBC - unless it was to showcase the visuals.

As I said before, they're excellent. The model of the Wheel rotating is very good. The meteorites are a bit naff, but they're the only flaw. The shot of the Cyber force walking through space at the end is also very well done, despite their odd balletic movements. The revelation of the Cyberman in the spherical cocoon and the hand bursting out is another memorably striking image, and it's only thanks to the recovery of episode three that we can appreciate this last one in full. While this model of the monster is not among the best, they're shot well. The cameras always emphasise their height and strength - Jarvis being attacked by one in episode six is quite a violent moment. Duggan's death is also very graphic. It actually looks like he's being electrocuted and I can understand why it would have been censored (ironically, the only reason it exists today!) I've also made mention of the soundtrack. The hums, clicks and whirrs, plus the use of sound effects in place of incidental music, all work well to establish a genuine sci-fi feel.

But again I must say alas. The Wheel in Space remains six episodes of tedium - in spite of the great look and sound; in spite of the good acting (Eric Flynn, Anne Ridler and Donald Sumpter are excellent, while Wendy Padbury makes a very strong debut as Zoe); and in spite of David Whitaker's admirable success with the smaller things. None of these can hide the fact that the story is overlong and boring to boot. 4/10