Doctor Who episode 209: The Wheel in Space – Episode 6 (1/6/1968)
The story concludes with the Doctor using a bit of the TARDIS to convert the Wheel’s laser into a massive death ray to blow the Cybermen into oblivion. Then he leaves. It’s a brutally effective solution that suggests the moral of the story is brute force works where complicated planning fails. The Cyber Planner’s comprehensive, multi-phase operation to conquer the Earth is useless as soon as the Cybermen come up against someone who, as they repeatedly complain, knows their ways.
The Wheel in Space is a bizarre story. The Cybermen are barely in it – they don’t turn up properly until half way through, we only really see two on screen at once, and they seem completely ineffectual. The way their bob their heads about to indicate which one is talking looks rubbish. It’s almost like at the end the Doctor has to show Zoe The Evil of the Daleks so she gets an idea of what she’ll actually be up against if she chooses to stow away, given the Cybermen have proved to be such an empty threat. To be fair their best plan of all to date has been to freeze themselves until someone clever can come along and wake them up, so this isn’t exactly much more stupid. But it’s such a damp squib of a season finale that they have to show last year’s again to make up for it.
There are some good bits. The Doctor’s guilty admission that Gemma is dead leaves him looking crushed: death hurts in this story. Later, Jamie and Zoe find Gemma’s corpse, eyes staring sightlessly (thanks to a still image, presumably to avoid paying Anne Ridler to play dead). But this is offset against Bennett’s pointless sacrifice: a useless character gets a useless demise, having contributed nothing of value to the story.
Elsewhere, the script features way too many scenes of people pressing buttons and shouting information: it’s tell not show all the way. The direction feels half-hearted: there’s one strikingly eerie sequence of Cybermen spacewalking which is undermined almost immediately when the next shot of them features them flapping their arms like they’re flying through the space air.
Even Troughton seems unusually subdued in the story: banging his head, taking a week off, spending the next episode in bed and the second half of the story looking half bothered: he gets one decent scene in this episode which always gets repeated (‘I imagine you have orders to destroy me?’), but mostly he’s just sort of there. It’s worth remembering that the fifth production block has another ten weeks to go (covering The Dominators and The Mind Robber), and if Troughton’s read the scripts for the next story and been presented with this lacklustre material, no wonder he’s a bit disengaged. This is as tiresome as The Ice Warriors.
Next episode: The Dominators