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The Wheel in Space

by Terrance Dicks

Book review by Paul Scoones

Hot on the heels of The Underwater Menace comes another Troughton tale! This means there are now only three to go - the commissioned but unscheduled The Space Pirates, and the two Dalek stories. None of these fall within Season Five, so The Wheel in Space makes this the first 1960s season to have a complete set of novels.

I'm no great fan of Terrance Dicks' style, but he has written four or five great novels, including his earliest, and more recently Inferno. All too often, unfortunately, his books are rather routine and bland; they seem to have been written over a weekend by feeding the script into a word processor and then adding the odd descriptive passage. Thankfully his 61st novel for the series has a good deal more care taken over it, even if it is not quite up to Dicks' best.

Rare for a Dicks novel, the characters almost come alive on the page, even though it's almost a cliché to say so. I can say with confidence that he has captured the feel of the story as I have seen a couple of episodes of The Wheel in Space on video. At several points in my reading of the book I felt as though I were watching it on the screen, such was the level of narration.

The six-part story itself was not particularly complicated - Troughton's stories seldom were. The late David Whitaker's penultimate Doctor Who script concerns the attempted invasion of a space-station (the `wheel' of the title) by as many Cybermen as the BBC could budget for 1968 - namely two. To be fair though the marauding pair were only the spearhead of a massive invasion fleet, seen off in the nick of time with the aid of the repaired Wheel laser, sabotaged in the first place by Jamie!

The story is also notable for the introduction of the precocious Zoe Herriot. Interestingly enough she comes across in her debut story (well the novel at least) as rather more computer-minded than in her successive adventures. Oh well, that's character continuity for you.

Few will agree with me, but I was also rather relieved to learn that the Cybermen don't actually appear throughout the story - they're confined more or less to the last half - as necessarily emotionless and identity-lacking beings; they don't exactly make very good sustainable dramatic characters. Indeed the action focuses on the characters that inhabit the Wheel - the stressed Jarvis Bennett, brave Leo Ryan, sensible and cautious Dr Gemma Corwyn, bemused Bill Duggan and the sensitive Tanya Lernov among others. Like a good many of the effective Doctor Who plots, the drama is derived from a group of humans trapped in a situation and under pressure; the threat must be resolved from their own survival. Consequently The Wheel in Space is a strong human story, but it takes a long time to get going, and, I feel, would have worked better as a five or even four-part story.

Like Nigel Robinson with The Underwater Menace, Dicks has followed the script faithfully, even keeping in the brief departure scene linking it with Fury from the Deep, and the closing scene where the Doctor begins his mind-projection for Zoe, which leads into a repeat of The Evil of the Daleks. This means that Dicks has now written two introductions for that story, the other being at the end of The Faceless Ones. However there is still no word on whether or not that Dalek classic will ever see print - we live in hope! Anyway top marks to Dicks for a good and faithful rendition of the script - if his three remaining Doctor Who novels are as good, they're well worth waiting for.

This item appeared in TSV 10 (December 1988).

Index nodes: The Wheel in Space