Chapter 130. Doctor Who – The Wheel in Space (1988)

Synopsis: The Doctor and Jamie have little time to come to terms with Victoria’s departure before they’re forced to make an emergency landing aboard a deserted spaceship. Soon, they are brought to ‘The Wheel’, a space station, where Jamie’s lack of basic awareness of life in space draws suspicion, in particular from the very brilliant and very young Zoe. Elsewhere on the Wheel, someone – or something – is wrecking equipment and resources. The Doctor identifies the culprit as a Cybermat, which means its masters the Cybermen must be close by.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Goodbye to Victoria
  • 2. The Unseen Enemy
  • 3. Hunted
  • 4. Command Decision
  • 5. Under Suspicion
  • 6. Birth of Terror
  • 7. Menace
  • 8. The First Death
  • 9. The Trap
  • 10. Trojan Horse
  • 11. Takeover
  • 12. Into Danger
  • 13. Cybermat Attack
  • 14. Meteor Storm
  • 15. Poison in the Air
  • 16. Perilous Journey
  • 17. The Invasion
  • 18. An End and a Beginning

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts scripts by David Whitaker, based on a story by Kit Pedler, for a production broadcast from 1968. With only 23,000 copies circulated (due, it’s believed, to a warehouse fire), this novel is the rarest of all and tends to be the one book that completists struggle to find without paying huge amounts of money.

Notes: The book begins as on TV with Victoria waving off Jamie and the Doctor from the shore as the TARDIS departs. Jamie is ‘stripped to the waist’ for his medical examination by Gemma Corwyn (on TV, he just unbuttons his shirt). Gemma already suspects Jarvis is becoming paranoid very early on, thinking that he ‘was a man for procedures, routines’ and that ‘the unknown would always be his greatest fear’. Zoe is ‘a very small girl, or rather young woman’ with an ‘appealing rather pixie-like face’ and ‘shortish black hair’.

Here’s how the Cybermen are introduced:

Two massive silver figures now sat at the rocket controls. Approximately man-shaped, they were much bigger than any man, a good seven feet tall, perhaps more. They seemed to be formed of some uniform silvery material, something with the qualities of both metal and plastic. Faces, bodies, arms and legs and the complex apparatus that formed the chest-unit, all seemed to be of a piece, made from the same gleaming silvery material. Their faces were blank, terrifying parodies of the human visage, with small circles for eyes and a thin letter-box slit for a mouth. The heads rose to a sort of crest into which was set what looked like a kind of lamp. Two strange handle-like projections grew out from the head in place of ears. 

The Doctor, had he been there would have recognised them instantly. They were Cybermen. 

The Cyber Planner is ‘a creature of pure thought’ with ‘no physical functions as such, and was, in fact, no more than a vast living brain’. The eyes of the Cybermats glow red [consistent with Gerry Davis’s description in Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen]. As on TV, the Cybermen are originally from Mondas (so much for the Telos conspiracy theories – Terrance gets the last word!). As the Doctor shows Zoe the kind of adventure they might face and Jamie recognises it as the one they had when they first met Victoria. He wonders how his old friend is doing but struggles to remember her face as he watches Zoe become enthralled by the Doctor’s retelling of a story that we won’t be seeing as a novel for a little while yet.

Chapter 12 is a near miss with ‘Into Danger’ while the final chapter sees another outing for a Dicks’ favourite ‘An End and a Beginning’ – hurrah!

Cover: Back to the Sid Sutton neon logo again, for the final time, as Ian Burgess gives us a Wheel in Space-styled Cyberman with a backdrop of the wheel (an original design by Burgess, not based on the station as seen on telly). It’s so nice to get the proper Cyberman helmet on a cover, even if, on closer inspection of the body, the photo reference is actually from Tomb of the Cybermen!

Final Analysis: I’m running out of ways to say ‘Terrance Dicks is as reliable as ever’. His methodical approach provides decent descriptions for each character as they’re introduced: ‘a big, handsome fair-haired giant of a man, cheerful and confident, sometimes to the point of arrogance’; ‘a slim attractive young woman with a bell of fair hair framing her sensitive face’; ‘a pleasant-looking sensible woman in her mid-thirties’; ‘olive-skinned, brown-eyed and curly-haired’; … and so on. As ever, he provides elegant foreshadowing and explains the motivations and feelings of the characters, covering things that might have been conveyed on screen with a facial expression (though as two-thirds of the telly episodes are missing, it’s hard to know for sure). This even extends to the servo-robot:

The robot abandoned the problem of the TARDIS’s presence on board. Since it was impossible it could not have happened so it was not a problem.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 130. Doctor Who – The Wheel in Space (1988)

  1. Currently, the hardback is going for £555 on Amazon and the paperback in mint condition for £348 (or £100 for a scuffed one). I’m so grateful to John Fitton for his Target subscriptions as I got this one when it came out and it’s in fine nick (if only I’d been able to get The Dying Days the same way, my local Bookends ordered it but never received it).

    Liked by 1 person

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