203-208. The Wheel in Space


Following directly on from Fury from the Deep, the Doctor and Jamie leave Victoria behind as they begin their new adventure at The Wheel in Space.

I watched this adventure in various ways.  There are two episodes that exist which are, obviously, the best way to watch the story.  The other episodes are either telesnap reconstructions with animation and surviving footage from Loose Cannon, or rough cartoon-style animation which is a struggle to watch.

I understand that The Wheel in Space doesn’t have a great reputation in some circles, but I’m not sure why that is.  The only issue I had with it was, as seen through modern eyes, at six episodes long it does have slow moments.  But that’s a relatively minor thing.  If you’re not watching it in one sitting like I did, you probably wouldn’t even notice it.

The adventure is a perfectly good one.  I particularly appreciated the well constructed plot with the Cybermen being particularly cunning and devious.  Their intention is to get onto the “Wheel” (effectively a space station) with the purpose of using its communications beam to invade Earth (the invasion Earth bit is a little woolly, but it’s little more than a macguffin of no significance beyond it being their end goal).


Their plan is nicely realised with them working on a way of infiltrating the station.  They have to bypass the station’s weapons, and then have to deal with the station’s deflection shield.  They do this by the use of a cargo ship which they use in trojan horse style.  Their plan unfolds a piece at a time.

It’s surprising how far into the story it is before the Cybermen even get onto the Wheel, and this is one of the strongest parts of the slowly growing plot.  It’s not all “in your face” in the first episode with everyone coming up with ways of not being defeated until the final episode.  As such, each episode gives us a little something extra.

Having just left Victoria behind, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is down to one companion in this episode – Jamie (Frazer Hines) – with this adventure seeing the introduction of new girl Zoe (Wendy Padbury).  Surprisingly, we don’t meet Zoe until some way into the adventure.  She’s not what you would call a traditionally introduced companion.  She accompanies Jamie a couple of times, but she doesn’t make a massive impression at this point.  By the end of the story, though, it’s clear that the Doctor and Jamie like her.

Zoe joins the TARDIS crew by virtue of sneaking on board behind them, and hiding in a box before the TARDIS takes off.  The Doctor notices this, and Jamie objects saying she can’t just join them for their travelling.  In much the same way that the Doctor had previously said it was Victoria’s choice if she wanted to leave, here he contradicts Jamie and says it’s Zoe’s decision if she wants to join them.  By way of showing her what she’ll be up against, he uses a mental visualiser to show her a recent encounter with the Daleks (back in the 60s, this was a way to feed a repeat story into the series continuity).


The Wheel in Space is structured quite competently so that the six episodes don’t feel like they drag, as can sometimes be the case.  The first episode is solely supported on the shoulders of the Doctor and Jamie.  They’re on the cargo ship/shuttle, they encounter no one except a service robot – an encounter that doesn’t go too well. The Doctor ends up wounded, which allows Troughton to bow out of the following episode (must have been time for a holiday).

When the Doctor returns in the third episode, he’s pretty much bed-ridden which gives a fresh twist in that Jamie has to bring his findings to the Doctor.  Due to a misunderstanding of the Doctor’s instruction, Jamie sabotages the Wheel’s main defence laser, which doesn’t go down too well with the personnel or their increasingly erratic leader.

The Cybermen are able to get a couple of their Cybermats on board the Wheel, because they’re small enough to go unnoticed.  Unlike in a previous adventure, these Cybermats are filmed in such a way that they are a menace – terrifying, in fact.  I can see these being a real “behind the sofa” moment for the children back in the 60s.

Unaware that the laser has already been disabled by Jamie, the Cybermats continue their mission to eat through the station’s fuel rods – the ones that are used to power the laser.  The Wheel doesn’t have enough left to survive.  When personnel check out the ship that Jamie and The Doctor were rescued from, they discover a crate of the very fuel rods they need.  A crate just large enough to house a couple of Cybermen!

Now the adventure really takes off..!


All in all, this is a well constructed, if somewhat low-key (in a good way) adventure.  The motives of the Cybermen aren’t really known until right at the end, which is surprisingly effective because it prevents the Doctor from being a “know it all” about their plans and how to stop them (which might be the case these days).  The Cyber-voices are a little hard to understand, but you get the gist of what they’re talking about.

The presentation of the episodes is mostly good.  The cartoonish animation for a couple of the episodes is very difficult to watch, but the telesnap episodes are perfectly adequate.  The latter is boosted by the inclusion of discovered clips, and scenes borrowed from existing episodes, but also with some rather fantastic CGI animation – of the Cybermen, the humans in spacesuits, and the service robot in episode one.  This additional CGI knocks the spots off the cheap/tacking-looking animation we’ve seen recently on the official DVD releases.  If the entire four missing episodes were constructed using this kind of CGI animation, this would be one fantastic six-part adventure.

In short, The Wheel in Space is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.  Well-constructed plot by the Cybermen, Jamie given some time to himself without other companions around, the introduction of a new companion, plenty of interesting characters on the Wheel, and some really quite frightening Cybermats.  What more could you ask for?

Next time … The Dominators.