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The Wheel in Space

Production Code: SS

First Transmitted

1 - 27/04/1968 17:15

2 - 04/05/1968 17:15

3 - 11/05/1968 17:15

4 - 18/05/1968 17:25

5 - 25/05/1968 17:15

6 - 01/06/1968 18:00

Plot

The TARDIS materialises on board a spaceship, the Silver Carrier, where the Doctor and Jamie are attacked by a Servo Robot. Jamie manages to contact a nearby space station known as the Wheel and they are rescued. Meanwhile, the Silver Carrier discharges some Cybermats, which also travel to and enter the station. These pave the way for the penetration of the station by Cybermen, who intend to use its direct radio link with Earth as a beacon for their invasion fleet.

The Doctor sends Jamie and a young woman named Zoe Heriot over to the Silver Carrier to fetch the TARDIS's vector generator rod. Meanwhile he manages to free the Wheel's crew from the Cybermen's hypnotic control and to destroy all the Cybermen on the station.

When Jamie and Zoe return, he installs the rod in the station's X-ray laser, making it powerful enough to destroy the Cyber-fleet. An approaching force of space-walking Cybermen is also vanquished.

Episode Endings

Convinced that the Silver Carrier poses a threat to the Wheel, Controller Jarvis Bennett decides to turn the X-ray laser on it and destroy it completely.

On the Silver Carrier two large egg-like objects start rocking backwards and forwards. One of them becomes translucent and the shape of a Cyberman can be seen within. It punches its fist through the shell of the egg.

Laleham and Vallance, two of the Wheel's crew, space-walk over to the Silver Carrier to fetch fresh supplies of bernalium. There they encounter and are hypnotised by two Cybermen. They are ordered to take the Cybermen to the Wheel and assist them there.

The Doctor and Jamie are investigating the crates of bernalium in a storage area on the Wheel when suddenly a Cyberman appears on the stairs behind them.

Jamie and Zoe are space-walking across to the Silver Carrier to fetch the TARDIS's vector generator rod. Zoe suddenly sees that the approaching meteorite storm is heading straight for them.

The Doctor finds Zoe hiding on board the TARDIS. She wants to join him and Jamie on their travels. He decides to give her a taste of what this might be like by using a thought scanner to 'show' her one of his past adventures. She sees a man - Kennedy - being exterminated by a Dalek.

Roots

Star Trek.

Conquest of Space.

Dracula (coffins=crates).

Dialogue Triumphs

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

Zoe : "Oh, this is going to be fun. I shall learn a lot from you."

Zoe : "You can't disprove the facts. It's pure logic."

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

Zoe : "I don't want to be thought of as a freak. Leo said I was like a robot, a machine. Well I think he's right. My head's been pumped full of facts and figures which I reel out automatically when needed. But, well, I want to feel things as well."

Cyberman : "You know our ways."

Dialogue Disasters

"Leo, did I ever tell you about my nose?"

Double Entendre

Cyberman : "Effective penetration should be immediate."

Continuity

James Robert McCrimmon is very fit, mentally and physically, with a constructive personality. His blood pressure shows that he's not been in space very long [he's just had five consecutive Earth adventures]. The Doctor carries lemon sherbets and gets his pseudonym of John Smith from Jamie, who sees it as a brand name on a medical container. [Jamie has learnt to read since The Highlanders.]

Zoe Herriot is the Wheel's parapsychology librarian (which means that she's received brainwashing-like training in logic and memory), an astrophysicist, an astrometricist first class, and a major in pure maths. History is a weak area for her.

Reference is made to the TARDIS 'fault indicator'. The TARDIS still has problems with its fluid links evaporating, and needs more mercury (see The Daleks). The Time Vector Generator is a rod that makes the TARDIS dimensionally transcendental [it powers the connection between the two dimensions] and is a powerful energy source, able to seal, burn, power or zap things, and giving out huge amounts of radio interference (See The Time Meddler, The Ambassadors of Death ).

The Cybermen (with three fingers) are given orders by a computer device (see The Invasion). They hibernate in egg-like pods. A beam from their helmets controls humans (it can be blocked by a transistor and metal plate on the back of the neck); one from their chest units kills. They can spacewalk, and can be killed by an electric charge, or by spraying plastic into their chest unit. Their bodies are mechanical, and their brains are neurosurgically treated to remove emotion and pain. They need the mineral wealth of Earth, but don't need air.

Their control machine recognises the Doctor as an enemy. They have capsules which turn air into ozone, and can transmit mental pictures, drained from controlled humans, on their communications devices. They are capable of destroying stars. Their mothership holds many smaller ships that need to home in on a transmitted radio beam to land on a planet.

Cybermats in smaller pods can cut into metal hulls and re-seal the holes undetected. They corrode bernalium, and fire a 'sting' from their eyes at a range of ten feet. They're vulnerable to quick setting hyperoxide plastic. They tune into brainwaves to find their targets, but can be confused by oscillating radio signals.

QV

Cyber History

Venus

The TARDIS Scanner

Location

Station W3 within the path of the Perseid meteor stream [inside the orbit of Venus and probably that of Mercury]: Zoe gives the distances to Venus at perihelion and aphelion. W3 relays messages and ships, conducts research and acts as an early warning post [against threats from the other side of the sun]. The date is difficult to establish, although it is almost certainly between The Moonbase and The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Mind Robber suggests c 2000, and in The War Games Zoe says that she was born in the 21st century.

Future History

The kilt is no longer worn by the Scots, but Scandanavian 'kilties' wear them. The Wheel personnel have never heard of Cybermen [obviously, like Zoe, the ones we hear from are not up on their history], or Daleks, and the destruction of a rocket is a 'sight rarely seen by human beings' [a time of relative peace. Bearing in mind previous Earth invasions.]

All space personnel are given anti brain control drugs, and are fitted with a Silenski Capsule that detects an influence on the wearer. Earth Central is in control of the space programme, but some at home, the 'pull back to Earth' movement [related to the Sons of Earth: see The Power of Kroll], have already used force in their quest to suspend it. They still use helicopters on Earth.

Links

Trivia

The Doctor's face creases in pain in Episode 1 as he rummages in his pocket. Following Jamie's apparent concern, the Doctor pulls out a bag of lemon sherbets and offers one to the boy.

Patrick Troughton makes no appearance in Episode 2 as he was on holiday during the week when it was recorded. The Doctor is seen only as an unconscious figure, with Chris Jeffries doubling for Troughton.

Jamie gives the Doctor the alias 'John Smith' - a name he sees printed on the side of a piece of medical equipment on the Wheel.

This story is the first to have an incidental music score as well as sound effects provided by the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop.

Eric Flynn, who plays Leo Ryan in this story, was the son of Hollywood film star Errol Flynn.

Production of this story was affected by a scene-shifters strike at the BBC, which necessitated several last minute changes of studio.

Myth

This story went considerably over budget. (It was one of the few stories of the second Doctor's era to come in under budget.)

Zoe's surname is spelt 'Herriot'. (In David Whitaker's script it is spelt 'Heriot'.)

There is a suspenseful scene in which the two Cybermen menace Zoe in the Wheel's library. (There is no such scene. The photographs that exist of this were specially posed for publicity purposes only.)

Only two Cyberman costumes were used in the making of this story. (A third was put together from stock for the sequence in Episode 6 where a force of Cybermen space-walk toward the Wheel.)

Technobabble

One of the stars in M13 (the Hercules Cluster) is going nova, 'ionised' by the Cybermen, and so diverts a meteor stream at the station! [How does the destruction of a star in a distant galaxy affect things in the solar system (a) so swiftly, and (b) at all?! Have the Cybermen been dosing the base with mind confusing drugs (which might have been influencing Jarvis Bennet), and have they destroyed the star for separate reasons of their own?]

Goofs

The Cybermen's control device refers to them being aboard the Voyager, rather than the Silver Carrier.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Patrick Troughton

Jamie - Frazer Hines

Victoria - Deborah Watling Deborah Watling received an on-screen credit on Episode 1 for her appearance as Victoria in the reprise from the end of Fury from the Deep.

Armand Vallance - Derrick Gilbert

Bill Duggan - Kenneth Watson

Chang - Peter Laird

Cyberman - Jerry Holmes

Cyberman - Gordon Stothard

Dr. Gemma Corwyn - Anne Ridler

Elton Laleham - Michael Goldie

Enrico Casali - Donald Sumpter

Jarvis Bennett - Michael Turner

Kemel Rudkin - Kevork Malikyan

Sean Flannigan - James Mellor

Servo Robot - Freddie Foote

Tanya Lernov - Clare Jenkins

Voice - Peter Hawkins

Voice - Roy Skelton

Zoe - Wendy Padbury from Episode two

Crew

Director - Tristan de Vere Cole

Assistant Floor Manager - Marcia Wheeler

Costumes - Martin Baugh

Designer - Derek Dodd

Film Cameraman - Jimmy Court

Film Editor - Ron Fry

Incidental Music - Brian Hodgson

Incidental Music - BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Make-Up - Sylvia James

Producer - Peter Bryant

Production Assistant - Ian Strachan

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - Derrick Sherwin

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - John Holmes

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Bill King

Visual Effects - Trading Post

Writer - David Whitaker from a story by Kit Pedler

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Dull, lifeless and so derivative of other base-under-siege stories that it isn't really a story in its own right. Despite the detailed Wheel setting, the galloping lack of scientific credibility is annoying, and the Cybermen are so bland and ordinary they could have been any other monster. Generic speed written tosh.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

The Wheel In Space is fundamentally a very straightforward story about the Cybermen attacking a space station. Some commentators have indeed suggested that it lacked the substance to sustain six episodes. 'The four episode length that suited The Tomb of the Cybermen so well should also have been [used for] The Wheel in Space,' asserted Martin Day in Cloister Bell 10/11, dated March 1985. '[Having] six episodes led to all being padded, especially the tedious second episode.' This opinion is not universally shared, however, and overall the story seems quite nicely paced.

The interest level is increased by the fact that, unusually, the viewer is almost always ahead of the Doctor in realising what is going on: the viewer is the first to know that the Cybermen are involved (having seen the Cybermats); that a Servo Robot lurks inside the locked control room on the Silver Carrier; and that the TARDIS is potentially in danger (first from the Wheel's X-ray laser and later from rogue meteorites). The viewer is even the first to learn what the Cybermen's plan is, step by step. This is highly effective in helping to build up tension and anticipation.

'Although Pedler's basic plot [was] fine,' observed Day, '[it repeated an idea] used previously in The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase... - that of [a] vital [base] being captured from which to launch [an attack] on Earth.' This is certainly true, but equally there is no denying that the claustrophobic space station setting is very well used, as Martin J Wiggins noted in the appropriately titled Wheel in Space No. 10, dated August 1980: 'The Wheel in Space is perhaps the ideal story to disprove Jon Pertwee's [theory] that it is always less frightening to see a Yeti in Tibet than sitting on the loo in Tooting Bec. This is in fact a crutch for lazy writers to lean on, and in The Wheel in Space there were many apparently safe places created by skilful writing, made safe because people were doing what they would normally do in them... As with many classic stories, the safe places were slowly cut down until the humans were besieged in their own control room.'

Things do indeed get very tense when the Cybermen start killing off the crew of the Wheel. The death of Gemma is quite nasty and effective, and Leo Ryan's one-man-stand against a Cyberman is also somewhat affecting in its pointlessness. The impact of these scenes, and of the story as a whole, is greatly enhanced by the acting of the guest cast, which is generally extremely good.

The story is not without its faults, however. As Day pointed out, 'The Cybermats... look so sweet scuttling around chomping the bernalium rods it's difficult to take the damn things seriously...' And '[The sets are] boring in the extreme, but then making an original-looking hi-tech setting is rather difficult...' The voice of the Cyber Planner (apparently a sort of super-evolved Cyberman, but represented here only as a kind of flashing computer bank) is the same as that of the Cybermen in The Moonbase and The Tomb of the Cybermen, and remains very effective, but the one used on this occasion for the Cybermen themselves is awful - squeaky and very human-sounding - and also changes slightly between film and studio sessions (apparently because the appropriate equipment was unavailable for the former).

The biggest flaw, though, is that the Cybermen's plan, despite being logical and well worked out, is so convoluted that it seriously strains the viewer's credulity. It goes something like this. The Cybermen first attack and take over the Silver Carrier, refuelling it and setting it on course for the Wheel with a cargo of numerous small egg-like objects. The latter drift over to Wheel and hatch Cybermats which proceed to consume supplies of the metal bernalium. The Cybermen then ionise a star and thereby create a shower of meteorites on a collision course for the Wheel. They have predicted - correctly, as it turns out - that the Wheel's crew, powerless to destroy the meteorites without the bernalium vital to the functioning of their X-ray laser, will discover that there is a further supply of the metal on the Silver Carrier and send people over to get it.

Two larger egg-like objects on the Silver Carrier have meanwhile hatched Cybermen, who proceed to hypnotise the men from the Wheel and hitch a lift over to the station hidden in the crates of bernalium. Once on board, they intend to cut off the air supply and kill the humans so that the Wheel can be used as a beacon for their fleet to home in on. One has to wonder why they go to all this trouble just to get on board the Wheel when simply invading it by force would presumably be very much easier. After all, the Cybermats manage to get on board with little trouble, so an attack by a Cyber-fleet should surely be a walkover. And in any case, the question remains: if the Cybermen want a beacon, why don't they just set up one of their own?

Perhaps it is best not to dwell on these plot problems, as in other respects the story is a very enjoyable one. Wiggins preferred to focus on the atmosphere and tension created by writer David Whitaker and director Tristan de Vere Cole: 'What was interesting about the use of the Cybermen in The Wheel in Space... was their apparent ubiquity, and the way in which this was used to increase the tension - anywhere you went, there was danger of finding one...'

The story also makes a promising debut for new companion Zoe Heriot, brought to life with infectious enthusiasm by Wendy Padbury. Her initial lack of emotion and reliance on logic show how people can easily fall into the trap of acting like Cybermen without the need for physical conversion - the difference in Zoe's case being that, as a result of her contact with the Doctor and Jamie, she comes to question and change her outlook on life.

Certainly viewers at the time were well disposed toward the story, if the BBC's Audience Research Report on the final episode gives a good indication: 'The overall response to The Wheel in Space was favourable. There were, certainly, those who thought the whole thing ridiculous in the extreme and who could not imagine either children or adults finding much in it to appeal to them. Another group enjoyed it fairly well but felt that invention was, perhaps, beginning to flag. The stories were becoming repetitive; the series needed new ideas and new antagonists for Doctor Who rather than Daleks, Cybermen and the like. This was a rather tame adventure, it was said, and there was too much use of pseudo-technical jargon that would be over the heads of most younger viewers. Whether they took it seriously or not, however, the bulk of the sample enjoyed Doctor Who's encounter with his old enemies, two or three going on to say that they preferred his science fiction adventures to the historical ones. It was pleasant to escape now and then to the world of fantasy, viewers remarked ("the 'impossible' always appeals to me and this was no exception") and this particular story had proved both interesting and exciting, even those who watched with tolerant amusement rather than absorbed interest often saying that their children "lapped it up".'

Sandwiched between the horror classic Fury from the Deep and a repeat of one of the best Dalek stories, The Evil of the Daleks, The Wheel in Space is sometimes unfairly overlooked. While perhaps not quite deserving Wiggins' description - 'well written, well performed: a classic' - it provides a satisfying end to an excellent season.

< Fury from the DeepSecond DoctorThe Dominators >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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