Doctor Who #211: The Wheel in Space Part 6

"Request official permission to assume responsibility."TECHNICAL SPECS: The second of 2 episodes from this 6-parter that still exists, it is featured on the Lost in Time DVD boxed set. First aired Jun.1 1968.

IN THIS ONE... The Cybermen are defeated and Zoe joins the crew, though the Doctor wants her to watch The Evil of the Daleks first.

REVIEW: Part 6 tries to be a big action finale, but it's let down by its shoddy production values. It's both ironic and too bad that because of the way the show was made back in the classic era, season finales so often suffered from budget problems compared to the stories preceding them. So the big effects pieces are puzzling rather than exciting, like Zoe and Jamie, astronauts on a wire, getting separated in space by an explosion, only to appear together safe and sound aboard the Silver Carrier. The Cybermen army swindles from 6 to 3 as their dreamy spacewalk (what the hell is going on there) becomes a silly sequence in which they bat their arms like birds before being blown into space in fun, but ultimately comical fashion. The Cyber-ship is a hugely disappointing model, made worse by the jerky motions of the camera. And the TARDIS isn't off the hook either, with a sequence showing the Doctor pouring mercury down its pipes with a funnel. All so cheap and silly. The exceptions are Jarvis being hoisted up by a Cyberman (shown on a small screen which hides the wires), the Doctor's electrocution of a Cyberman (those overlaid effects are always rather good), and his looking in the right direction when he speaks to someone on a monitor screen (simply, but effective staging).

Of course, I try not to judge the show too much on its effects, but it's easier to excuse them when the story is strong. It isn't. The Cybermen are as inefficient as ever, doing all sorts of things to Jarvis before finally remembering they've got a great big laser in the center of their chests. Their large ship, only destroyable with the help of the Doctor's magic Time Vortex Generator, puts in question the need for the Silver Carrier deception. And the reasoning behind their need for a radio signal to get from one place to the other - and thus the need for the Wheel's relay function to even think about invading Earth - is complete nonsense. I soon enough found myself begging for the silver giants to shut up, if only to stop them from rocking backwards and forwards. The Cyber-miming grates on my nerves. The base personnel can't tell the usually demonstrative Flannigan isn't being himself, and Jarvis as representation of the lack of resilience of the bureaucratic mind doesn't really arc. In any case, it's a theme the show's been playing with all season. I think we've run out of permutations. Oh, spare me the romance between Tanya and Leo.

Once again, it's up to the main cast to save the day. And they're good here. The Doctor lures a Cyberman into his electrical trap by acting harmless, which is classic 2nd Doctor. Jamie shows some affection for Zoe, a bond strengthened by their shared jeopardy, but tempered by their being worlds apart. Zoe, overly inquisitive about the TARDIS, finds herself aboard (not clear how she gets into that big chest on the far side of the room... was it reasonably empty?) and the Doctor is quite willing to give her a room. Zoe is probably the companion who gets into this with her eyes most open, because the Doctor shows her an archive adventure involving the Daleks before she makes her final decision. It's more of that meta-textual thing that's been going on since Derrick Sherwin became script editor, of course, and a cute way to spin the series into summer repeats. And if Zoe is witness to The Evil of the Daleks (lucky girl, I just sat through The Wheel in Space, grrr), well maybe she thinks it won't be all that dangerous. After all, the Daleks are dead and gone... right?

THEORIES: That last bit of business has the Doctor put on a psionic crown of sorts to project his memories onto the scanner. His memories, but he's also "going to weave them into a complete story", which apparently includes events he wasn't present for. Here we may get the first hints of what will become the Gallifreyan Matrix. This store of knowledge, technically introduced in The Deadly Assassin, has long been the subject of speculation. It is said to contain the minds of dead Time Lords, and is used to "recreate" events much in the same way as this during the Trial of a Time Lord season. My own theory about this is that the TARDIS records events in its Time Lord's life, including events related to any particular, relevant space-time event (like villains plotting, companions getting separated, etc.). Perhaps it does this in post, remotely sensing relevant events after they've happened, through the medium of the vortex. A TARDIS probably uploads that information to the Matrix each time it lands on Gallifrey, adding to the great fount of information, and the telepathic link between it and the Time Lord is part of that knowledge. What we're seeing here may be an echo of that, as the Doctor instructs the TARDIS to act as an isolated Matrix viewer able to show its own recorded events.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization has one of the lowest print runs, and is thus one of the rarer Doctor Who books. I'm unaware of any important changes made to the story.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Overly ambitious in its effects sequences, Part 6 nevertheless manages a couple of good moments, mostly involving the main cast and its adoption of the enthusiastic Zoe.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - The two surviving episodes are the ones with all the Cybermen in it, but they really are underused over the course of the entire story, which feels like a convoluted, improvised affair, padded beyond redemption. The only reason to look at it is that it's Zoe's first story, and she's really the best thing about The Wheel in Space.

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