Sunday, 7 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Wheel in Space

Part One

"Well, all right. Stick your rod..."

Another Joint Venture recon, so of course we start with another BBC globe. I'm starting to enjoy these! And an interesting combination of writers- David Whitaker (yay!) "from an idea by Kit Pedler".

We start with a reprise from the end of Fury from the Deep with Victoria waving- appropriately, as this story shows she won't have been forgotten. And, just to remind us this is a David Whitaker story, we get the fault indicator! and mercury! how long has it been since we last heard of the fluid link? Things get even odder as the Doctor takes out the "Time Vector generator" and turns the TARDIS into an ordinary police box. "Again", we're told, in contravention of what we were shown in An Unearthly Child. What a very odd beginning!

Fittingly from a story involving both Whitaker and Pedler, we get a food machine scene to help pad out this extraordinarily uneventful episode. There's a nice brief chat about Victoria between the Doctor and Jamie, but otherwise not much happens, and it's only at the very end that we're introduced to the crew of the wheel. Not a promising beginning.

Part Two

"Just you watch your lip or I'll put you across my knee and larrup you."

"Oh, this is going to be fun!"

The story is not looking promising at the start of this episode. Firstly, this is clearly going to be yet another Base Under Siege story, and this is just one too many. Secondly, nothing is happening. it takes ages until the Doctor and Jamie even arrive on the wheel, and Patrick Troughton isn't even in this episode- these absences, which didn't used to happen, are a clear sign that Troughton is starting to get knackered with the pace of production. The clock starts ticking on his era about now.

It's a little jarring to see Jamie who, however much of a TARDIS veteran he may be, is from 1746, operating the Silver carrier's airlock with no problem. But his scene with Gemma where he desperately and unsuccessfully tries to explain his and the Doctor's presence is quite funny- and gives us our first "Doctor John Smith". And then we meet the lovely Zoe!

Oh goody, the TARDISeers are suspected of sabotage again. How original. There's a bit of a twist this time- Jamie really does want to sabotage the big gun so the Silver Carrier isn't destroyed and the TARDIS with it- but it's always just tiresome to see our heroes fall under suspicion from the latest base commander. Can't we just gloss over this bit and start the plot please?

On the plus side, though, I like the new Cybermen design.

Part Three

"Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority."

Er, why is everyone on the wheel suddenly worried about a star going nova? What harm can it possibly do them. But it becomes horribly apparent that this astronomical nonsense is in fact central to the plot. Oh dear.

I'm not sure about the new Cyber-voices- on the plus side they're much clearer, something that had to change, but they're rather characterless. Peculiarly, the Cyber Planner still has the old voice. Oh, and the Cybermats are back!

The Doctor gets a medical, and interestingly there's no mention of a second heart. Gemma would have mentioned it, surely? It's good to have the Doctor back, and very quickly bonding with Zoe.

At last, halfway through part three, the plot starts! Hooray. Apparently the Cybermen are going to get the Cybermats to eat up all the Bernalium rods, so the Wheel's crew need to get some more from the rocket, where they're hiding. So, er, what would have happened if Jamie hadn't stopped it from being blown up? Plus, there are only two Cybermen plus the Planner, and all they seem to do is spout "as you know, Bob" style exposition at each other.

Jarvis is showing himself to be the biggest tit to command a base under siege yet. how long do we have to wait until the Cybermen kill him? Or do anything at all, come to think of it?

Part Four

"The Cybermen are here!"

Just as things seemed about to happen, the plot goes into hibernation again- the Cybermen's plan involves hiding in crates which are destined for the Wheel, thus entailing them doing sod all for ages. How exciting.

So, Jamie, who earlier in the story, operated an airlock with no problem, now turns out not to understand the concept of recorded sound? I can understand a little inconsistency over how much technology would be familiar to someone from 1746 who'd spent a year or so mainly in various time periods in his own future, but surely this is just plain sloppy?

I've been harsh on this story, I know- maybe it's my developing allergy to base under sieges, held in check by the undeniable excellence of the last couple of stories. But this is very slow, and consists mainly of dull characters doing dull things in dull corridors, with very little sense of threat from the extremely lethargic Cybermen and a threat from some meteors which never seems to actually materialise and which is scientifically a load of cobblers anyway.

Still, there are a couple of interesting points. The portrayal of working in space as actually rather dull sort of anticipates Alien. And I like the thematic contrast between Zoe and the Cybermen- Zoe's logical and emotionally repressed, and is coming to realise she'd rather feel things more and be less narrow in her thinking. Her desires are the exact opposite of the Cybermen.

Part Five

""I was trained to believe logic and calculation would provide me with all the answers."

So, Gemma wants to give Jarvis some electro-shock therapy?

At last, the meteors arrive! And, er, it's all very dull. Just lots of people shouting out numbers. And the Doctor sends Jamie and Zoe on a highly dangerous mission to get his Time Vector Generator back! This Doctor's still a manipulative, callous old sod at times.

Part Six

"I imagine you have orders to destroy me."

Some actual footage, on DVD no less, and it's immediately apparent that Jamie and Zoe are on wires! And, er, how exactly are they propelling themselves across space?

If I had a dirty mind, which of course I don't, I would have sniggered a bit at the Doctor's apparent mention of the "sexual air supply". And the Cybermen saying that "Effective penetration should be immediate." Still, such distractions are not actually needed to be able to watch this episode, as things are actually happening at last. We even get a wonderful Troughton scene in his confrontation with the two Cybermen. Unfortunately we also get Cybermen walking through space and flapping their arms for some reason, but at last we get an episode which at least manages to entertain.

How bizarre- the Doctor introduces Zoe to the Ship by showing her some clips from The Evil of the Daleks...

Overall... well, I didn't like that very much. Could you tell? I was surprised to see after I voted about half an hour ago that most people seemed to like it, but I just found it incredibly slow and dull, with the plot not even starting until halfway through. I was close to giving this a 1/5, but some good dialogue and the lovely Zoe just about raise it to a low 2/5.

Awful as this story was, though, it still doesn't prevent this otherwise excellent season from proving my favourite so far, with an average score of a highly impressive 4/5.

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