Monday, 3 December 2012

Story 43 - The Wheel In Space

In which the Doctor and Jamie experience problems with the TARDIS fluid links. With the ship being flooded by toxic mercury fumes, the Doctor lands the vessel and removes the Time Vector Generator - rendering the interior the same size as the external shell. They have arrived on an apparently unmanned spacecraft - the Silver Carrier. The control room is sealed. Within, a squat Servo Robot is running the ship. They see that they are floating near a large wheel-like space station. The Doctor uses the generator to signal to it. The robot makes a rapid course correction - causing the Doctor to hurt his head and become concussed. It also sends a number of small egg-like spheres to float through space and attach themselves to the Wheel's hull. There are momentary drops in pressure. The crew of the station were monitoring the Carrier which had previously been reported missing far from here. They were about to blow it up as a hazard to the station, but the signal prompts a rescue mission - and the Doctor and Jamie are brought aboard the Wheel. When Jamie learns that they are still going to blow up the Carrier, he sabotages the X-Ray laser in order to protect the TARDIS.

In command of the Wheel is the abrasive Jarvis Bennett. He suspects the newcomers of being part of an anti-space race group. The Doctor is recuperating in the sickbay under the care of Dr. Gemma Corwyn. Jamie meets a young astrophysicist and astrometricist who works in the Wheel's parapsychology library - Zoe Heriot. She is not popular with some of the crew as she relies so much on logic and can be unemotional. Engineer Duggan encounters what he thinks are "space rodents". They devour vital bernalium rods. A crew member is then killed by them. The Doctor and  Jamie identify the creatures as Cybermats - and realise that their masters won't be far away. Two men space walk to the Silver Carrier to obtain new bernalium supplies - and are mentally taken over by Cybermen who emerge from large pods where they have been hibernating. The men are ordered to help get the Cybermen onto the Wheel.

The Cybermen plan to use the station as a means of launching an attack on Earth. The crew destroy the Cybermats with a sonic blast. A Cybership is approaching. In order to destroy it, the Doctor requires the Time Vector Generator to boost the power of the X-Ray laser. Jamie and Zoe must make a hazardous space walk to obtain it. The Cybermen kill Bennett and Corwyn and take over other crewmen. An attempt to poison the air supply fails. The Cybermen are killed when the Doctor electrocutes one, and quick setting plastic is sprayed into the other's chest unit. A forcefield repels a force space-walking towards the Wheel, and the boosted X-Ray laser destroys their spaceship. The Doctor and Jamie are about to depart in the repaired TARDIS when Zoe is found to have stowed away. She is fed up being a walking computer and wants to experience life properly. To give her a taste of what she might encounter, the Doctor uses a mental imaging device to show her his last meeting with the Daleks...

This six part adventure was written by David Whitaker, based on a story by Kit Pedler, and was broadcast between 27th April and 1st June, 1968. It marks the end of Season 5, and is significant for the introduction of new companion Zoe - played by Wendy Padbury. This is the first story to have incidental music, as well as sound effects, provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Only episodes 3 and 6 survive in the archives, though the soundtrack exists for the missing parts.
It has often been said that this story struggles to sustain itself over 6 episodes, and I would certainly agree. It would have made for a much tighter 4 parter.
The Cybermen have undergone a significant redesign since their last appearance at the beginning of this season. The bodies are now silver sprayed wet suits and the helmets feature the tear-drop pattern to the eye holes, and the mouth. The chest units are actually the old ones but fitted upside down. The Cybermats have also had a slight redesign - losing their antennae and having simpler eye pieces.

It is a good story for Troughton and Hines, and a very good introduction for Padbury. The rest of the station crew you can pretty much take or leave - only Anne Tidler's Gemma and Clare Jenkins' Tanya Lernov making any real impact. Lernov's love interest, second in command Leo Ryan, is played by Eric Flynn. The rumour that he was Errol's son was just that - rumour. Jarvis Bennett is played by Michael Turner. Bennett is so pig headed and argumentative that you wonder how he ever managed to become commander.
Another big let down is the special effects - in particular the rather rushed climax. The Cybermen who have been space-walking towards the Wheel, when repelled by the forcefield, appear to be paper cut-outs. The destruction of the Cybership is a real blink and you'll miss it moment. Meteorites are balls of kitchen foil.
Episode endings for this adventure are:

  1. Bennett order that the Silver Carrier be blown up before it can threaten the Wheel. 
  2. Two large spheres on the Carrier begin to glow. Cybermen can be seen within each, and they start to smash their way out.
  3. Two crewmen who have been sent to the Carrier have been taken over. The Cybermen order them to take them to the Wheel.
  4. The Doctor and Jamie are investigating the bernalium crates in the hold and find they have a false bottom. A Cyberman appears behind them.
  5. Jamie and Zoe are walking in space when a meteorite shower approaches.
  6. Zoe watches in astonishment as the Doctor shows her a clip from Evil of the Daleks...

Overall, a very disappointing Cyberman adventure. Over long and with characters you can't always care much about. The Cyberman plot is complicated to say the least.
Things you might like to know:
  • This story marks the first time that the Doctor will go under the name of John Smith. He's unconscious at the time, and Jamie gives Gemma Corwyn the name after reading it on a piece of lab equipment.
  • Debbie Watling gets a credit at the end of  Episode 1 purely as she appears in the brief reprise from the end of the previous story.
  • The production team originally planned to have a Cybermen versus Daleks story in this slot. Terry Nation vetoed the idea as he was already working on Dalek plans of his own. We would have to wait until 2006 to see the Cybermen meet the Daleks.
  • The spacesuits in this story had previously been used in The Tenth Planet - and would later feature in the first two Star Wars movies.
  • Coincidentally, the person who played Craddock in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Michael Goldie), and the person who played him in the movie version (Kenneth Watson) are both Wheel crew members.
  • With the season over, The Wheel In Space was followed by a repeat screening of Evil of the Daleks which was tied into the plot of both this story and the next - making it the first, and perhaps only, ever canonical repeat.

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