Our Cybermen themed fortnight continues with Christopher Morley taking a look back at the 1968 Second Doctor story, The Wheel In Space.
We come now to another turning point in the Second Doctor's era- The Wheel In Space seeing him gain a new companion in the form of Zoe Heriot as well as giving him cause to use his well-known 'John Smith' alias for the first time- he's recently done so once more in The Caretaker eleven incarnations later, also dusting off ' when I say run, RUN!!!' in Kill The Moon. His younger, more musically inclined self & Jamie find themselves aboard the Silver Carrier- 'Sexy' having brought them there following Victoria Waterfield's departure in Fury From The Deep.
The moptop & the Scot are quickly attacked by a servo robot, McCrimmon luckily managing to get in touch with the Wheel- the space station of the title, which may well have inspired the similar concept at the heart of Stephen Baxter's Past Doctor Adventures novel The Wheel Of Ice, also featuring the Second Doctor. The Wheel In Space is also notable behind the scenes as the first Classic Who story to feature both an incidental music score & 'special sounds' supplied by the Radiophonic Workshop.
Who did the honours? Why, twas one Brian Hodgson! He'd joined the Workshop in 1962, a year before Doctor Who first hit our screens & quickly became the go-to guy for sound effects like this...
...the electronically treated sound of a house key being scraped down a piano string. Of course, it would soon be used like this...
It was also he who came up with the idea of using ring modulators to alter the voices of actors portraying Daleks/Cybermen, which of course is what allowed Peter Hawkins & Roy Skelton to shine!
Having made it to the Wheel, the two friends still beloved of fans to this day soon discover they're not alone in travelling to the space station. The Silver Carrier quickly sends along a few Cybermats too- the Cybermen having taken control of the ship!
The pesky little bleeders are sent to act as a prelude to the planned invasion of the station by their masters, who want to use its radio link to Earth to broadcast a signal to the Cyber-fleet so it can make its way to our beloved planet. Luckily the Doctor is in just the right place to stop them, though he has to be tended by the resident medic, Gemma Corwyn, before he can do too much- having been initially knocked unconscious. Meanwhile Jamie gets a tour of the Wheel from the lovely Zoe...
Once he recovers from his ordeal the Doctor is convinced there's something very dangerous aboard this here ship. He's right, too! The Cybermats have a mission, namely to work on royally mucking up the bernalium rods in the stores of the Wheel. These are essential to the X-ray laser, the only mode of defence for the place. Basically if it doesn't work, its not good news. The Cybermen are convinced that this will force the crew of the Wheel to raid the Silver Carrier in search of the bernalium, which can then be used to unknowingly deliver the Cybermen into the Wheel! Yikes. At least one of the engineers, Bill Duggan, is quick on the uptake. He's noticed that bernalium's been going missing as well as spotting a few Cybermats into the bargain. What a guy!
Alas he's too slow to actually do anything about it, leading to the death of his crew-mate Kemel Rudkin. His punishment is swift- he's demoted, with tighter security imposed in the wake of Rudkin becoming an ex-Rudkin. The Doctor finds an ingenious new use for the laser at least, putting it to work to scan inside a mysterious pod that just won't open. He finds a Cybermat, not entirely surprisingly. Corwyn seems to be the only one prepared to believe his claims that this is not exactly brilliant news- Commander Jarvis Bennett, the man supposedly in charge of operations, seems to be going a bit mad. He'd earlier been considering using the laser to blow up the Silver Carrier, & Corwyn is starting to fear for his sanity.
So what’s his latest act of complete lunacy? He's ordered two of his crewmen, Laleham & Vallance, to go & have a poke around the Silver Carrier. Which has Cybermen aboard. And we all know what happens when you face them unprepared, don't we? You get converted & used for their own ends. The two are quickly put to work preparing bernalium crates with hidden passengers for transport aboard the Wheel....oh dear. Of course, with the Wheel's crew getting desperate for a power source for their laser it was bound to happen really!
Duggan's day gets even worse when he becomes the third Cyber-stooge, having taken delivery of the bernalium from Laleham & Vallance. He's quickly given orders to take out the Wheel's communication system, which he does before being rewarded for his efforts by being killed. Its not looking too good for the Doctor & Jamie as they're backed into a corner by one of the Cybermen, though they do at least manage to escape & finally conclude that this whole business is a bit shady. Our man with the recorder also deduces that the late Duggan was under some form of mental control, & instructs Corwyn in how to operate a basic transistor set-up to cancel it out for the remaining affected members of the Wheel's crew.
A sonic wave comes in handy to counter the Cybermat problem, too! The Cybermen are busy repairing the laser ready to use to deflect meteorites headed for the Wheel- they need it to stay in one piece as a base for their fleet, seeking to raid Earth for its mineral wealth. Sadly Corwyn is killed in her efforts to stop the nasties from Mondas tampering with the crew's oxygen supply, though her death does at least metaphorically finally slap a bit of sense into the mad Commander Bennett. Once he sees what's been going on while he'd taken leave of his senses, he goes all out for revenge & is predictably next to die.
Jamie & Zoe's earlier errand for the Doctor- nipping back to the TARDIS to find him a time vector generator- pays off in spectacular fashion when our bow-tied hero uses said device to boost the X-ray laser & use the resulting power to destroy the approaching Cyber-ship. Huzzah! A Herculean effort by all concerned. As a reward they help themselves to some mercury to fix 'Sexy''s damaged mercury fluid links- while Ms Heriot, having seen her home destroyed, opts to travel with them in the spot formerly filled by Victoria. Onwards ( for them) to another Hodgson-scored triumph in the shape of The Dominators!