Doctor Who #208: The Wheel in Space Part 3

"Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority."TECHNICAL SPECS: This is one of two episodes from this 6-parter that still exists. It can be found on the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. First aired May 11 1968.

IN THIS ONE... The Cybermen send Cybermats to eat all the metal that goes into the Wheel's guns, but the Doctor's awake and on to them.

REVIEW: The science and story logic continues to grate, but there are a great more many things to like about Part 3. So let's get the crappy plot stuff out of the way first, shall we? Annoyingly, it looks like the Cybermen in the eggs were on the Silver Carrier, and the ones sent over to the Wheel carried Cybermats. The choreography is confusing, especially with the missing episodes. The plan is to have the Cybermats turn the station's bernalium stores into bernalium turds so that the Wheel personnel can't power their guns. That should have been enough to make the station ripe for invasion, but there's a further wrinkle - they have bernalium aboard the Carrier and lure the Wheelers there so they can take them over. Meanwhile, there's a star going nova and sending a "meteorite" shower there way within the week (Kit Pedler, Scientific Adviser, ladies and gentlemen), which gives base personnel a reason to seek the bernalium in the first place. It's not clear if Jamie's sabotage of the x-ray gun was part of this entirely too convoluted plan or not, and we'll have cause to discuss the Cyber-plan again in the next few episodes. If I remember correctly, it gets worse. I'm also none to keen about the Cyber-Planner, which looks like a microphone or some kind and premieres a new kind of Cyberman leadership, Cybermen without the "men". Why not a Controller, like in Tomb?

But the nonsense isn't limited to the Cybermen. Bill finds a Cybermat, thinks it a "space bug", and rather than report it or quarantine it, he thinks of making it a pet and hides it in the pantry. Later, the cute little space bug eats all his bernalium and kills Rudkin, in what must be the most over-the-top death in recent history. Kervork Malikyan overacts through the entire thing, much too terrified of what another crew member thought was merely "cute", and playing it like he's the hunchback of Notre-Dame. No really, what is that? You also have silly, anachronistic wooden crates of bernalium, and the oh-so-convenient way the quick set plastic is the only labelled bottle on the shelf, making it super-easy for Jamie to gum up the station's works.

As often happens, it's up to the main cast to save the episode, and it does. It's amazing how quickly Zoe and Jamie became a comedy team, both vying to impress the Doctor. She's the logical one, and he's the practical one, and both have viable theories about what's going on. The Doctor, who is a bit of both, tempers their advice with wisdom, thoroughness and experience. It's an excellent new dynamic, one that is made funny by the fact that Jamie and Zoe don't so much care about being right as they are to make sure the other ISN'T. Their scenes together are perfect. Zoe shows here why she'd make a good companion, with a bouncy personality and good detective skills. And in no way is she like Victoria, cheerful in the face of danger. Well, I don't know about you, but I was just about fed up with the opposite. There are also some great lines from the Doctor in this one (see above), and I love that dissolve between the Doctor and the Cybermen (also above), reminding us of what the Cybermen are all about - turning YOU into THEM.

THEORIES: When Zoe laughs at being right with no care for the danger represented by her findings, Leo angrily calls her a "brainchild", "all brain and no heart". Are we to understand she was genetically engineered? Does humanity in this era (the late 21st-century) breed people for certain purposes? Or indeed, if "brainchild" is what they're called, to be living computers? It's an interesting notion, one that speaks not only to her intelligence, but to a certain level of emotional immaturity. Of course, the next episode speaks of special training done at "the city" by parapsychologists, which doesn't eliminate the possibility of genetic tampering. Zoe was, at the very least, manipulated psychologically and trained to use her brain in such a way as to suppress her emotions.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The principals are so watchable, you want to forgive the Cyberman-sized plot holes in the story. Perhaps it helps that it's been a while since we've had a complete episode on video, but I think I'm on secure ground saying Part 3 is an improvement over the two previous efforts.


Anonymous said...

I've suggested in the past that 'meteor showers from detonating stars' only works if Wheel is set in a mediaeval cosmology where the stars are little lights on the inside of a crystal globe surrounding the Solar System. Given David Whitaker's fondness for alchemical themes, maybe that was his preferred model of the Universe.

Siskoid said...

Definitely part of what's going on here. The TARDIS works by the power of MERCURY (of course, that's Terry Nation's fault). Evil of the Daleks had the most alchemical science, but even the way the Cybermats corrode metal in this story is referred to as "draining the life out of it".

There's a good essay on the subject in About Time vol.2.

Boosterrific said...

If this episode is on Lost in Time, maybe the first episode in this serial was so familiar to me because I've seen later episodes. Who knows; stranger things have happened.

Siskoid said...

On the DVD, Wheel's 2 surviving episodes are on the same menu screen as Pirates' 1. So you might have watched them all back to back and been left with this impression. Makes sense to me.


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