The Wheel in Space
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - The Wheel in Space

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1988
ISBN 0 426 20321 6
First Edition Cover Ian Burgess

Back cover blurb: When the TARDIS rematerialises inside a rocket the Doctor and Jamie are alarmed by the presence of a hostile Servo-Robot. They discover that the rocket is drifting in the orbit of a giant space station - the Wheel in Space. Once inside this magnificent space ship they are bewildered by its complexity and sheer size. The technicians and programmers are highly trained, but who are they working for? Suspecting the worst, the Doctor is still horrified to find the deadly Cybermen in control. What evil plan are they plotting? Who or what are the Cybermats? Can the Doctor trust anyone on board to help him stop the Wheel as it spins relentlessly through space?


The emptiness of Space, and story... by Andrew Feryok 9/9/04

DOCTOR: That's marvellous isn't it? 'The Doctor told me to protect it.' You don't give a reason. Just leave me to get you out of trouble.
- The Wheel in Space, Episode 3

Wow! I previously reviewed Doctor Who and the Cybermen and these two books could not have been any different from each other! Unlike Gerry Davis' novel, which attempted to embellish the original story a little, Terrance Dicks doesn't even try here and just gives us the script in paragraph format. I should know since I read the script before reading the novel! Dicks makes absolutely no attempt to embellish the story. It would have been interesting if he had tried to expanded a bit of what life is like at this point in time and what it is like to live in space aboard this lonely out-post. Oh well.

The story itself was pretty bad to begin with, some few exceptions aside. The first two episodes are wonderfully claustrophobic as the Doctor and Jamie are forced to land on a space rocket and explore it, little knowing that they are being watched by a psychotic service robot! This also happens to be one of the few sections which shows what life is like in the future as they explore a bedroom and the Doctor introduces Jamie, and the reader, to food cubes. I don't know about you, but I don't think I'm looking forward to food in the future if it's been reduced to tiny cubes that you pop in your mouth. Where is the fun in that?

Once we reach the space station, things slow down considerably. The Doctor has amnesia, Jamie is framed for sabotage, the Doctor and Jamie meet Zoe, Cybermats attack, Cybermen invade a storage room of the wheel, and then finally begin thier invasion. This is all spread out amongst Episodes 3, 4, and 5 and it's not terribly exciting. The Cybermats are hardly threatening, the Cybermen look, sound, and act more like robots than they have ever done before, and watching commander Jarvis go mad, as he's unable to handle the situation, is nothing new either. We've seen it happen, what, 4 or 5 times already this season. The only difference is that Jarvis seems already a bit unhinged as far back as when the laser gets sabotaged. Of course, he's afraid of terrorists, but you have to wonder why he would ever get placed in such a vital position if such things were going to so easily send him into total instability!

Despite The Wheel in Space's many awful aspects, there are also many good aspects. As I mentioned, the first two episodes are wonderful as they are carried solely by the personality and character of the regulars. The final episode 6 is also wonderful as the Doctor helps repel the Cybermen from the wheel. It features two classic scenes: one in which the Cyber Computer tries to identify the Doctor with the help of a crew member, and keeps asking "name" and the hypnotized crewman helplessly repeats "I don't know". Also, the scene in which the Doctor confronts two Cybermen and introduces them to his electrified doorway is classic and it is easy to see why they reused his "I see you have orders to destroy me" line in Earthshock. Jamie and the Doctor's first meeting with Zoe is also fun, livening up the otherwise slow middle section. Zoe is a wonderful character who immediately shows good chemistry with the regulars. With them, she isn't made to feel like a "walking computer" as the rest of the crew have dubbed her. She can actually relax around them and have fun adventures. It is no wonder she enthusiastically stows away on board the TARDIS at the end. Just take one look at the telesnaps and you'll see how bored she looks sitting at her desk at the wheel's library when we first meet her. This is a character born for things better than a lowly space wheel.

Overall, The Wheel in Space is a slightly below average story. It's beginning and conclusion are excellent (although the blowing of the Cybermen out of the airlock at the end is suspiciously similar to The Moonbase's ending!). And segments of the middle, mainly concerning Zoe, are interesting, but most of it is pretty dull and mostly a slog to read through. Whether you read the script or the book won't make much difference since they are practically the same. Definitely check out the surviving Episode 6 on the Cybermen: the Early Years tape. it's a superb example of Troughton's tenure. But you can easily skip over the surviving Episode 3. I guess we should be grateful that anything survives of Patrick Troughton these days. But there so many better episodes that we could have than The Wheel in Space Episode 3. 4/10

PS: the scene where Jamie calls the Doctor "John Smith" in the hopsital, while he has amnesia is histerical, particularly Troughton's dazed reaction to it!