Doctor Who: The Wheel Of Ice - Substitution Of The Cybermen? - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: The Wheel Of Ice - Substitution Of The Cybermen?

Christopher Morley has been here before.

The Past Doctor Adventures novel range returned in August of 2012 with Stephen Baxter, co-author of the Long Earth series with Sir Terry Pratchett as well as several works of science fiction in his own right, penning The Wheel Of Ice for the Second Doctor. In a sense we've been here before - on one level you could be forgiven for thinking he'd just scribbled out chunks of The Wheel In Space and made a few changes - in place of the Wheel as seen in space by the Saturday tea-time viewers of 1968 he gives us... another Wheel. In space, too. Fancy that.

And where the original Wheel & its crew were stalked by Cybermen, its literary equivalent is menaced by the Blue Dolls, who are themselves the creation of Arkive, a sort of repository for the memories of a long-extinct & unnamed alien species. The Doctor speculates that it could be the Kystra, a trading species - the preservation of history turned into a quest for resurrection, beginning in the Eocene period, after the machine sends out what Baxter calls an allohistorical lure - an object which could in theory have changed the course of history for a certain reptilian race the Doctor won't get to know better until his next incarnation (though he does state here that he has heard legends of the Silurians existence).

The aim is to persuade them to help in the construction of a time machine so Arkive can travel back to save its creators. Though the small matter of a very special stone missing its intended target by about 50 million years will eventually lead to a little help from human colonists of the sort whose drilling probably woke those who'd been asleep under their feet at Wenley Moor - onwards then to Mnemosyne, one of Saturn's moons as handily in part formed by Arkive itself after a supernova drives it into a gas cloud.

That's the science bit, then! Only to be expected from one of the country's best known authors of hard science fiction, as well as showing off degrees in engineering & maths within the pages of The Wheel Of Ice.

In light of which it may surprise you that what he does with the Doctor is essentially place him in a base under siege format, the type so beloved of Innes Lloyd. Which would perhaps be forgivable if Stephen hadn't riffed so heavily on what's come before!

As an exercise in straightforward nostalgia, then, it succeeds. But while Baxter gets the basic character of the man he calls “top Who” in his introductory dedication to the late great Patrick Troughton, he doesn't really give him or Frazer Hines' Jamie or Wendy Padbury's Zoe anything much new to do!

Of course, Ms Heriot had come aboard the TARDIS following the destruction of her Wheel. In light of which she may well be forgiven for experiencing a little deja vu following her decision to step through the doors of the old police box given what's to come in The Wheel Of Ice!

But as pointed out in an AV Club review of Stephen's Troughtonian tribute,
“The book fits his serious approach to emphasizing the science in “science fiction” particularly well—although the Second Doctor era was hardly rigorous about that sort of thing, its enthusiasm for futuristic ideas like space travel was based in part on the idea that someday, humanity’s real future might look like the one it was showing us.”
The Doctor's dealings with the humans he meets here are something of a damp squib in comparison to the hastily abandoned first act of Arkive's attempts at dealing with those it sees as having stolen its moon. The enemies of its world are little more than caricatures of ones the scruffy little Time Lord has already faced and, in all honesty, feel a bit tacked-on.

But at least Baxter was honest about his influences, as a Q & A around the release of the book revealed!
"I drew on the Troughton stories I remembered liking most: space age stories like The Wheel In Space, stories of isolated colonies under threat, with tensions in the camp. “
And perhaps you can forgive his leaning on the old favourites after all.
"I was still very young when he debuted. None of us anticipated the first regeneration I think, and the first couple of episodes were unforgettable just for that. Troughton was bonkers, funny, loveable, but he combined all that with fierce intelligence and authority when he needed it.”
As a warm up for what is quite a prescient narrative, given the future direction of the series, then, The Wheel Of Ice ticks all the boxes should you like your Troughtonesque tropes wrapped in a neat formulaic hypercube. Or indeed if you're a fan of Baxter's other work looking to see just why he loves the scruffy little fellow with the recorder equally as much as mind-bending science.

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