Doctor Who episode 206: The Wheel in Space – Episode 3 (11/5/1968)
The episode relies on people behaving very stupidly. For a start, Jamie doesn’t attempt to explain why the Silver Carrier shouldn’t be blown up, he just goes off and wrecks the Wheel’s single means of defence. For all his protestations, he absolutely is a saboteur who’s placed everyone’s lives in danger. Then Duggan, the highly skilled engineer, finds a Cybermat, gives it a cutesy nickname like he’s Vicki (maybe the presence of Bennett reminded Whitaker of her and Sandy), hides it with the critical technical elements of the x-ray laser, and then acts surprised when it all goes Pete Tong.
It’s perplexing what point Whitaker’s trying to make with this. You’d expect Jamie to act on intuition and instinct, which means he makes a nice contrast with the ever-logical Zoe. But as this is a Cyberman story, normally human intuition is shown to be superior to machine-like logic – after all, in their last appearance the Brotherhood of Logicians were the bad guys.
However, that’s clearly not the case here. While Zoe’s logic ‘merely enables one to be wrong with authority’, Jamie’s shown to be equally wrong. There’s a very funny moment when we cut from him declaring, ‘The Doctor told me to do it’ to a recovering Doctor sighing heavily and repeating Jamie’s words back to him. Then later, the Doctor trounces both Jamie’s guessing games and Zoe’s logic to reveal the truth behind what happened to Rudkin, suggesting common sense trumps logic or elaborate theories. Only he, and Lernov, who seems to operate entirely on female intuition, seem to be getting anything right.
I think the problem with the story is that so far there isn’t one. Halfway through, and the main characters have only just become aware that the Cybermen are present. There is some contrived peril about meteor showers, and Commander Bennett is suffering from a severe case of dyspepsia and a hatred of mysteries, but so far there’s no real sense of forward momentum. The Doctor spends the whole episode sitting in bed while the Cybermen exchange polite buzzing sounds with a balloon in a ring modulator.
At least Zoe is fun: her imperturbable perkiness in the face of oblivion is shown to be a source of irritation to her colleagues, and Corwyn’s impatience with her is quite funny and a little bit sad. She seems to be quite happy, thought, to spend time with the Doctor and Jamie, who at least listen to what she has to say and treat her as a person rather than a walking computer.
Next episode: The Wheel in Space – Episode 4