The most convoluted Cyberman plot to date VS. The least professional space station crew ever
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The Doctor and Jamie, now sans Victoria, spend a whole episode battling a homicidal servo robot aboard a spaceship before going to the titular space station, The Wheel, and forgetting all about it (the robot, that is).
Why did the robot try to kill them? What was it doing there in the first place? We don’t find out. But we do soon learn that it wasn’t the only metallic murder machine this serial had in store for the Doctor. Before too long, Cybermen are actually hatching left and right, and the station is swarming with Cybermats to boot!
Thankfully Doc and Jamie team up with soon-to-be TARDIS companion, Zoe Heriot, and a host of amazing characters to battle the silver menace.
Have a listen to this synopsis/review – yep, it’s another mostly lost serial, and thus also another Ponken solo mission – and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes!
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Hello once more, Podcast Land! I’m here to finish off Season Five of Classic Who with my massive Maxi Review of “The Wheel in Space”. As always, let’s get a fact file running!
The working title for this story was The Space Wheel.
This story marks the first appearance of the teardrop motif on the Cybermen’s faces. This image would become iconic for the race, appearing on later redesigns before being retired in Earthshock and renewed in Rise of the Cybermen. Unlike future appearances, the “teardrops” appear on the center of their mouths’ bottoms as well as on the corners of their eyes.
This story is the first to have an incidental music score as well as sound effects provided by the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop.
Only episodes three and six of this six-part story exist in the BBC Archives. Episode six was transmitted from a 35mm black & white film telerecording and retained in the BBC Film Library (although episode five was not). This was because all studio material was telerecorded on film instead of being recorded on videotape, no VT copy of this episode ever existed. A private collector obtained a 16mm black & white film telerecording of episode three and returned it in 1983.
The incorporation of the repeat screening of The Evil of the Daleks into continuity remains a unique circumstance in the history of Doctor Who, and indeed perhaps television in general. Although “clip shows” are common, in which flashbacks to past episodes are featured and are sometimes (in science fictional contexts) incorporated into the plot, this was a case where the production team actually incorporated a “reliving” of the events of a complete story into the continuity of the series.
The spacesuits worn by Jamie and Zoe, previously seen in The Tenth Planet, later turned up as costumes in Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (most famously worn by Bossk the Bounty Hunter).
And now, on to the review! It’s a dusey!
Cumbersome, retro but with one or two neat features – yes, it’s the Servo Robot, a sort of waddling Smeg fridge reject that is, to my mind, emblematic of this entire bargain-basement serial.
At the end of season five fresh ideas and money fall short, and we witness an uneasy alliance between scientist Kit Pedler and fabulist David Whitaker. Pedler developed the wheel-shaped space station and technical, astronomical ideas, but these alone couldn’t sustain six episodes. It was down to Whitaker to flesh out some drama, albeit with a clunkingly tortuous plot.
As he recalled in 1978, “That was a characters’ story” – most of whom don’t appear until the end of episode one. Before that, the opener dwells on the travellers’ exploration of an unfamiliar environment – an effective Who formula (cf the first Dalek story, The Ark in Space, even the start of 2008’s Silence in the Library). Here it’s a deserted rocket. And tension mounts in this lost episode as the Doctor and Jamie pass through sliding doors and eventually encounter the lumbering Servo Robot.
But surely this isn’t the hidden menace that made the Tardis overload? Anticipation is well maintained, yet anyone who caught BBC1’s trailers or RT’s short preview knew full well the Cybermen were secreted aboard. For their fourth outing in two years, they undergo another redesign – silvery wetsuits, “hydraulic” limb connections and a teardrop effect at the eyes. Unfortunately, the budget would only run to two (maybe three, it’s disputed) new costumes.
Their invasion strategy – convoluted even by Cyber standards – has been concocted by a Cyber-Planner (a device that looks like it was knocked up on Blue Peter). The Cybermats return and this time the threat they pose is made clear. After their “eggs” have magically popped through the Wheel’s hull, the little critters sap fuel and zap crew.
The humans are the usual international mix, led by yet another unhinged incompetent (Bennett). His No 2 Leo Ryan is played by Eric Flynn – son of Errol, no less. But don’t expect any derring-do; he sits around indulging Tanya, the daft Russian, as she twitters on about her hypersensitive nose. The most engaging character is Gemma Corwyn, a mature, sympathetic widow whose murder by the Cybermen should be more distressing but is skated over.
Wendy Padbury charms as Zoe, the perky new companion devised by script editor Derrick Sherwin. Practically brainwashed in logic and astrophysics (A cute computer, if you will), this “proper little brainchild” provides a counterpoint to the Cybermen and is upset when Leo calls her robotic. “I don’t want to be thought of as a freak,” she says. “I want to feel things as well.”
Zoe doesn’t hit it off with Jamie (who’s sorely missing Victoria) and she giggles at his kilt. “You’re wearing female garments!” “You watch your lip,” snaps Jamie, “or I’ll put you across my knee and larrup you.” “This is going to be fun!” she says. A new dynamic is created. Each pokes fun at the other’s level of education, but they start to bond after a space walk in the path of meteorites.
This is actually one of the most extraordinary moments in Doctor Who. Plot-wise it gives Jamie and Zoe a brave task and “exciting” cliffhanger, but how callous of the Doctor to send them into such danger. He barely excuses himself, saying, “I am much too busy” and “Zoe calculated the risk.”
Still, the bowling ball meteorites look less than threatening. They join other risible effects such as a bottle-top Cybership and the silly Cyber spacewalk that ends with 2D cut-outs fluttering into the distance.
In place of incidental music we have a chillingly electronic score from the BBC’s own Radiophonic Workshop. As Brian Hodgson said in an RT interview, “Sometimes it was because they’d run out of money.” But this treatment certainly enhances many late 60s productions.
Points of note. The Wheel in Space was the only story recorded in Lime Grove, Riverside and Television Centre – all three of the show’s 1960s studio homes. It marked the last contribution from voice maestro Peter Hawkins, who’d worked on every Dalek and Cyberman story prior. And here Jamie first gives the Doctor his alias “John Smith” (39 years on this would even make it into a story title: Smith and Jones).
Season five ends somewhat flatly, but viewers in 1968 were treated to a re-run of The Evil of the Daleks – meaning an almost uninterrupted two-year run of Doctor Who (with a new introduction by Pat and Wendy at the start of episode 1).
But that really doesn’t make it better, does it? Of all the Cybermen serials of the 60’s, this is maybe my least favorite. The Cybermen look cool (too bad this is the only appearance of these costumes in the series) and Wendy is fantastic as Zoe, and let’s not forget Pat’s little line fluff in Episode 6 (he said sexual air supply instead of sectional air supply, soundbite that if you haven’t already). So, what do I give this serial? Well, I give it a 2.63/5. This serial just didn’t have enough money going into it, making it look a little cheap. and the serial did lack in places. But the positives I listed above give it stability. So, I feel this is a fair rating.
And that’s it for Season Five of Classic Who. As I did with Season 4, I’ll give a recap of previous scores for the last season. (Head over to the “Evil of the Daleks” review for that)
Tomb of the Cybermen – 4.0/5
The Abominable Snowmen – 3.8/5
The Ice Warriors – 2.53/5 (formerly 3.5)
The Enemy of the World – 4.0/5
The Web of Fear – 4.0/5
Fury from the Deep – 3.6/5
The Wheel in Space – 2.63/5 (If you needed a reminder, here it is.)
Next time, the new TARDIS Crew faces off against the deadly Dominators as Season 6 kicks off. I haven’t seen that serial yet, so if I see it, I’ll be sending along a review for that, if not, I’ll have a review of the serial that follows. So, I’ll see you soon!
The Wheel in Space
This is the 2nd classic who episode in a row that I have never watched or telesnapped. Unfortunately for me it is undoubtedly the last new classic tv who for me as well. I’ve been watching in order until now and I know I’ve seen everything after this at least once. My only hope now is that some more missing footage will be recovered. This makes me somewhat sad.
The episode was a little plodding and simple, but in general it worked okay and held my interest at a constant level. The production design was exceptional this time, from the autopilot robot to doorways on the ship to the lava lamp infested environmental control room, there was much thought put into the props and sets. The one exception to this was ironically the cybermen themselves, who seemed more jump-suity than hybrid-mechanizey this time. What was there was nice but overall it was less to look at, and that’s part of the reason they were far less intimidating this time around.
There are two notable additions to Dr Who lore in this story. The first is obviously Zoe, who, like Jamie will have a very long and welcomed run on the show. Zoe is the exact anthesis of Victoria, and in this episode we even see Jamie taking on his old role of not knowing what things are because he’s from the past. Zoe has no experience however, and that will often leave her in the dark as much as anyone.
The second addition is that of the Cyber Controller. Although it is never referred to as such here, this element will be reused on and off for decades to come, making the Cybermen a completely unified and powerful fighting force. In this episode however it thinks too much for them and makes them a little dumb, seemingly unable to make decisions on their own without calling home to mama.
As mentioned already, the story takes a long time to get going, 4 1/2 episodes in fact, and things don’t really start happening until late in episode 5. I’m also not sure why such an elaborate ruse was needed. Surely if the Cybermen pulled up in a space ship and turned the distress beacon on the wheel would have undoubtedly sent a search party over and we could have been spared three episodes. And what was the reason for the attack in the first place? Something about half their ships not being able to find earth? Um isn’t it just to the left of where your own home planet blew up? That’s more than a little silly and thus earns the retro-rewrite of the week award. The base being used as a transfer point for goods going back to Earth would have been a much better reason, not to mention their ability to monitor almost all Earth communication.
The recon I watched did a wonderful job of animating cybermen and the autopilot alike. There was a lot of work put into it and it really helped with so much of the missing footage. This week’s most-missed footage thus goes to the fire in the tardis at the beginning of episode 1.
This brings me back to my original point. While interesting, the story wasn’t very exciting, and thus earns a 2.7 out of 5.
Re: the cybercontroller….oops!
The Wheel in Space introduces us to Zoe, my favorite of Troughton’s female companions and one of my favorite classic companions in general. One thing I realized only recently that ups my opinion of her is that Zoe is, with the possible exception of Susan, the first companion to join the TARDIS entirely of her own volition. She wasn’t kidnapped, taken by accident, or invited because she had nowhere else to go. She realized she was missing out on something awesome, wanted in, and stowed away by herself.
This serial also introduces us to John Smith, the pseudonym the Doctor would carry into the modern era as recently as the Human Nature/Family of Blood two parter this review will likely be sandwiched between.
The serial had some good side characters, with Gemma and Jarvis giving us both ends of the commanding officers spectrum of trusting ally and belligerent obstacle. I also liked the flirtatious two officers that were our Greek Chorus.
My only actual issue is I’m not entirely certain what the Cybermens’ plot actually was. I think it was control the Wheel so their ship had easy passage or have it aid them?
Still, it’s not the first nor last time a Doctor Who plot was incomprehensible, so it’s not a serious markdown since it was entertaining otherwise. I give Wheel in Space a 3.9.
One last question: Is this the first time the Cybermen have been associated with silver, Having arrived via the Silver Carrier?
Steven Taylor would’ve been first to board the TARDIS “of his own volition”, depending on what you mean by “taken by accident”.
Hello, I originally watched a version of this serial that was just telesnaps. I can’t tell you how thankful I am to whoever did the animation in this one. I feel like this is a fun serial to watch and is quite memorable. I thought it was nice that we started up right where the previous serial left off, but didn’t need the goodbyes again. The Doc’s solution to the Tardis problems was an interesting one, but not very original. This will be repeated a number of times to come as well. I wonder if you noticed the Doc offers Jamie a Jelly Baby, I mean a Lemon Sherbet. I guess the doc always carried candies, but the 4th Doc is just more of the sharing type. The twist and turns throughout the serial where all, in my opinion rather predictable for anyone who has watched any Doctor Who. I hate that the blonde (I wasn’t enthralled enough to remember any names, but Zoe’s) “smells trouble” and it’s right. I also didn’t believe the dynamics between the coworkers on The Wheel. I feel like their ship really needed an HR department to prevent the people who were obviously dating from working together, pull the idiot in charge out of his position, and stop everyone from psychologically abusing Zoe. All that said I did still like the serial. Zoe and Doc’s chemistry and intellectual one-ups-menship (poor choice of word/phrase, I know) was something unseen with a female companion since Barbara left. Jaime, for much of the serial, seems to be just keeps trying to one up Zoe’s smarts, but it creates an interesting dynamic. They’re not as flirty as Jamie and Victoria, but more like fighting siblings.
I give it a mediocre 2.1. Not great, but at least it sets us up for the DJZ dynamic that we get next season.
Also one little bit of Trivia I forgot: Wendy Padbury, who plays Zoe will go on to be the Theatrical Agent for Nicholas Courtney and Colin Baker. She also is given credit for discovering Matt Smith.
The Doctor and Jamie lamented leaving Victoria behind as the TARDIS landed and warned of danger. Mercury promptly vaporized and the Doctor removed the TARDIS time vector generator as they fled. The found they were aboard an apparently abandoned rocket adrift in space, where a servo robot separated them from the TARDIS and the control room before maneuvering the ship near a space station, the Wheel, and launching several small objects when a countdown ended. The Doctor hit his head as the rocket moved, and rested after he and Jamie took refuge in a cabin and ate. Fortified, Jamie attacked the servo robot, covering it with a blanket before destroying it with the time vector generator. On the Wheel, the crew identified the rocket, noting it was far off both course and well behind schedule. Jarvis, the commander, decided no one aboard the rocket could be alive and prepared to destroy it.
Jamie signaled the Wheel with the time vector generator, which overwhelmed the station with static, prompting a space walk to retrieve him and the Doctor. The Wheel’s doctor, Gemma, realized Jamie had lied about his experience aboard the rocket and was an inexperienced space traveler. She also suspected the unconscious Doctor’s name was not really John Smith. She told Zoe to show Jamie the Wheel and suggested to Jarvis rocket’s passengers might be saboteurs. Earlier, small, unidentified objects launched from the rocket had reached the Wheel and caused small, temporary pressure drops. This fact and Doctor Gemma’s theory about the rocket passengers affirmed Jarvis’ idea the craft was dangerous. The commander intended to blast it from space with the laser, which Jamie damaged, unaware a meteor storm, against which the laser was the Wheel’s only defense, approached.
Cybermen aboard the rocket emerged as botanist, Duggan, discovered what he thought was a space bug. He kept his discovery secret until he realized it damaged the station’s Bernalium. Another crewman encountered several bugs and they killed him. He buried one in plaster though. When the Doctor recovered, he was disappointed to learn Jamie’s actions had put them both under arrest. He couldn’t specifically recall his experiences, but remembered a he’d felt vague sense of menace aboard the rocket, which Zoe reasoned must have been piloted to the Wheel. They x-rayed the buried bug she’d brought to show him, and found it was a Cybermat. Their discovery meant Cybermen were aboard the rocket. The men Jarvis sent there were attacked as the Doctor warned the skeptical crew about Cybermen.
Bernalium rods discovered on the rocket were brought to the Wheel and the Cybermen hidden among them killed and incinerated the crewman who retrieved them. Cybermen completed repairs on the laser to protect the Wheel from the fast approaching meteor storm. Jarvis ignored Zoe’s calculations, quantifying the approaching meteor storm’s speed and intensity. The Doctor and Gemma worried Jarvis would not cope well with the developing, unusual situation. Cybermen controled Duggan and sent him to cut off communications with Earth. Jarvis toured the Wheel, imagining everything running wonderfully and gave the Doctor and Jamie their freedom. Upon hearing the Bernalium had been brought over from the rocket, the Doctor realized Cybermen were aboard the Wheel could control the crew hypnotically. Gemma explained how they might determine who was being controlled and the Doctor explained how to guard against the effect. They realized Duggan was controlled as he destroyed the radio and died. The Doctor and Jamie hunted Cybermen and hid upon finding them in the loading bay removing a crate of Bernalium. Cybermats attacked and a high pitched tone destroyed them. Cybermen told the Cyberplanner the Cybermats were destroyed, but the laser worked again. The Cyberplanner realized someone on the Wheel understood them. Jarvis withdrew mentally and the Doctor advised Gemma to take command. Cybermen moved to take over the Wheel, killing crewmen as meteors bombarded the station. Protected by a force field, the crew in the control room used the laser to defend the Wheel. The Doctor explained how the Cybermen came aboard and realized they would need the time vector generator, which was still on the rocket. He sent Jamie to retrieve it and Gemma assigned Zoe to guide him as they faced flying debris and radiation. The station went on shooting up oncoming meteors as their space walk began.
The Doctor persuaded the crew to use their emergency air supply, preventing Cybermen from poisoning the air after killing Doctor Gemma, who warned the Wheel crew of the impending danger. As his crew defended the Wheel, Jarvis left the control room to be killed by a Cyberman. Jamie and Zoe reached the rocket, found the time vector generator, and tapped into Cybermen communicating with the Cyberplanner. As Cybercontrolled crewman reviewed Wheel personnel, Cyberplanner analysis determined the Doctor was familiar with Cybermethodology and ordered him lured to his destruction. Meanwhile, spares from the power room were needed to repair the radio and the Doctor volunteered to get them after warning the crewman who offered to help him was Cybercontrolled and would need to be seized and freed. Cybermen ordered their man to get inside the force field and destroy it. In the power room, the Doctor found the mercury he needed, collected the spares for the radio, and built a protective force field. Jamie and Zoe returned to warn the Doctor Cybermen were after him, but he knew. Before destroying one of his would be killers, he verified they needed the Wheel to guide an invasion fleet from their mother ship to Earth with a radio beam. Alone, the Doctor installed the time vector generator Jamie brought in the laser, boosting its power. Jamie and the recovered crewman battled Cybermen space walking toward the landing bay from the rocket as the laser destroyed the Cybermothership and the invasion fleet aboard it. Then, another force field repelled the space walking Cybermen. The Wheel reported their situation to Earth as the Doctor and Jamie prepared to go. They found Zoe stowing away and, to help her understand what she would face by coming along, the Doctor proposed to project a story about the Daleks on the TARDIS scanner screen.
Writer David Whitaker had to pad Kit Pedlers’s thin Cybermen story idea to fill six episodes. His efforts were particularly apparent in the first episode, which began with a touching review of Victoria’s departure from the TARDIS, but primarily focused on the Doctor and Jamie matching wits with the servo robot aboard the rocket. Vaporizing mercury had been a problem aboard the TARDIS before, and while I liked the continuity and realize the plot element was padding, it seemed unnecessary. Other elements of continuity were characteristics of the Cybermen plot which were featured prominently in past serials. In “The Tenth Planet” Cybermen needed human help because of radiation. On “The Moonbase” they needed Cybercontrol to operate the Gravitron, which controlled the weather on Earth. Cybermats, which first appeared in “Tomb of the Cybermen,” were used more effectively in this story to thin out the crew of the Wheel and maintain the secrecy of the Cybermen’s plan. Employing these familiar elements again was fantastic, and might have been played up to enhance the Cybermen’s menace, but were glossed over instead as part of the Doctor’s knowledge. The central idea from the past two Cybermen serials, converting humans into Cybermen, was missing here. Perhaps this was the danger of which the TARDIS tried to cryptically warn the Doctor and Jamie as they arrived on the rocket. Regardless, they could easily have discussed the elements of the Cyberman’s strategem as they put it together, reminding the audience of each as it was encountered and ratcheting up the tension as the Wheel was besieged. Such an approach might have eliminated some of the story’s padding which made the final episode seem particularly fast paced and perhaps even rushed.
While not all of the continuity used in this story was as effectively as it might have been, the powerful time vector generator was a wonderful plot device both the Doctor and Jamie used to solve problems. In the future, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver would become a similar magic wand. It was introduced in the previous serial, “Fury From the Deep”. Cybermen. Continuity, and the time vector generator were the keys to this serial, but it’s most pivotal aspect was Zoe’s introduction. The pretty, petite librarian used logic and facts to make decisions like stowing away aboard the TARDIS at the end of the serial. Her decision facilitated the welcome rebroadcast of “Evil of the Daleks”. That seven part serial was the first to be repeated in the history of DOCTOR WHO since the first episode, “An Unearthly Child” was revised and rebroadcast in 1963.