Whitaker invents a completely contrived, bogus reason for Jarvis Bennett to want to destroy the rocket. It makes no sense at all, and is too obviously just an excuse for the first cliffhanger. As this story progressed, I cringed and grew apprehensive each time Jarvis was present in a scene, knowing it would go to the dogs, and it pretty much always does. Though the other characters do ask the question of how Bennett ever got command, and there is an answer, it's completely unconvincing. Jarvis is a character type who might buy, inherit, or schmooze his way into a high position, and then not really be up to it - which could work in a historical story. Going into space, with his total lack of thinking ability, he'll be lucky to get higher up than the janitor, let alone the top position on any particular crew.
Episode two is Doctor-less, yet if we must have Doctor-less episodes, at least we're not in danger of marring a classic in this story. An unconscious Doctor is much better than one missing in action, as his companions need waste no time "looking" for him aimlessly and can keep the main plot rolling. Episode two is still strong with Jamie meeting Zoe for the first time, in a series of scenes that work quite well. Thankfully, Zoe is a considerable exception among the new characters, sporting extra abilities and enthusiasm which do her credit. Her character is both useful and entertaining, able to jump with both feet into the exploration and adventure that Doctor Who is all about much better than Victoria did.
Episode three aptly demonstrates the poor dynamics at work in the interaction among the crew of the Space Wheel. Leo Ryan acts like a pathetic cheeseball throughout, firstly with the all too obvious and obnoxious way he drools towards Tanya Lernov, and later when he takes his own moody bad temper out on Zoe for no good reason. Defence Officer Bill Duggan discovers alien robots invading the storage cupboards in the Wheel's main weapon room, and through some brain aneurism thinks it's best to keep that to himself. What kind of a defence officer is that? Jarvis Bennett refuses to listen to anyone else's opinion, keeps his head firmly planted in the ground, and fails to prove that he has a single shred of command ability at any point in the story. Gemma seems to be the only person with a head on her shoulders, but even she fails to make any sense out of the plot. She can recount it, but can't actually link together any of the separate random events that she details in her dissertation to Jarvis - there's nothing in all of that for any of the characters or the audience to sink their teeth into, and no developments spring forth. Whitaker's non-plot stumbles in through one space port and just as quickly evaporates out of the other. You could actually increase clarity by cutting that distracting scene. And then there's the Armenian guy played by Kevork Malikyan. The director lets him get away with giving a performance geared for the stage, and with the camera getting unbelievably close, it ends up looking way over the top on screen.
This third rate drama is saved by the fact that Pat Troughton and Frazer Hines are present to play the Doctor and Jamie, who are as entertaining as ever. Wendy Padbury's enthusiasm for working with Troughton spills over into her role, and the three of them are extremely watchable, as they begin to investigate the mysteries at hand, and discover evidence of the Cybermen being behind it all. Pretty much from the moment she meets Troughton's Doctor, Zoe seems to be less a member of the Wheel's crew, and more a proper TARDIS time-traveller. She is certainly a character of a higher calibre than any of the guests from the Wheel. Still, many of Whitaker's lines for Zoe display his lack of scientific knowledge: rockets do not burn set amounts of fuel based on how far they travel, they only burn fuel when speeding up or slowing down. Zoe's calculations seem to be based on a false assumption more than anything else.
One Lump or Two?The Doctor has had a concussion, and so gets a full examination from Gemma. I suppose we must excuse her for not noticing that the Doctor has two hearts, as none of the writers have come up with the idea yet. In fact, she doesn't seem to notice anything at all alien about the Doctor, or if she did, it doesn't faze her in the least. We do see the first use of the "John Smith" alias, given to the Doctor by Jamie, which apparently stemmed from an inventor or manufacturer's name written onto one of Gemma's instruments.
The entrance of the Cybermen in episode three is well-done, but the poor Cybermen are not very impressive afterwards. The cyber-planner is an ill-conceived idea - enemies who design their leaders without any ability to move just don't seem very bright at all. Then the silly cyber-planner takes the best cybervoice that we have grown to know from Peter Hawkins, while Roy Skelton has to do the rest of the cyber army without a proper buzzing pallet. Something's missing, for sure. The wobble that he adds to the voice to make up for the missing pallet makes the Cybermen sound unconfident and weak, which is not good. The acting of the extras encased in cyber-costumes or space suits is not very riveting.
Musically, only one mood seems to be prominently given voice throughout the episodes: that the Cybermen are cooking up something creepy. Well, that's very good. But can that cover all the bases? It often seems to leave a sort of sleepy, hypnotic haze over the story. Lullaby time again.
Episode Six is an improvement over number three, mostly because there are more action and special effects sequences which director Tristan de Vere Cole did fairly well on. The Doctor is up and about, being heroically busy. Leo Ryan can't think about anything but blasting meteorites, continuing to sound like a gruff, uncaring simpleton. And who really cares if Zoe calculated a risk before taking it? Danger is danger, and the Doctor has asked his friends to do it instead of jumping in himself. Sounds cowardly..... but at least the Doctor confronts some Cybermen this episode and sorts out the possessed crewmembers. Good job.
"You know our ways."Yes, the good guys pretty much have to know the Cybermen's ways if they're going to make any sense out of this plot. This is the main drawback of "The Wheel in Space" - the Cybermen's plans are not so much investigated and discovered as they are theorized and predicted, based on the most illogical pieces of "evidence". This approach really does not work well this time, as it has not been properly thought out. The Cybermen are not anywhere near as interesting here, because they are such known quantities. Contrast this with their excellent debut "The Tenth Planet" (story no. 29), in which Cybermen were culturally explored and treated with first contact etiquette (even despite the fact that the Doctor had historical fore-knowledge about them), and you will find that bringing back a character, or species of character, is not as important as bringing back the dynamics of interaction that made that character a success. Perhaps this is why Robert Holmes always preferred new villains to old ones: their freshness allows the Doctor and friends to continue to explore them and ask questions about them.....
The cyber spaceship seems pretty lame, unable to defend itself, and yet with the ambition of taking over the Earth. Yeah right. How far would the Cybermen's plans really have gone if (1) the crew of the Wheel weren't such incompetent nerds and (2) the Doctor and Jamie had not appeared and protected the rocket on account of the TARDIS being parked there?
"You won't explain?"Whitaker's dialogue gets lamer and lamer. Why is Jamie scrounging for excuses instead of telling Zoe that he's leaving in the Doctor's time machine? Why? What is it about secrecy that Whitaker feels all of his characters should instinctively pollute their relationships with it, thus lowering their integrity and making for less watchable scenes? The TARDIS is not aptly demonstrated here, nor is the concept of Doctor Who adventure really sold to a fresh audience. The clip of "The Evil of the Daleks" (story no. 36) is more "murderous monster spectacle" with cheap special effects than anything enticing one to explore the universe. How Zoe slips into the TARDIS and gets as far as the tickle trunk is a strain on credulity, especially as Jamie is going the same way at the same time and yet she somehow butts ahead of him without him knowing! (Then again, the whole console room layout seems to be flipped from left to right in this episode.) Still, it's another example of secrecy at work again beyond the level of good taste.
Rankings for Season Five
Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page: