Friday, 3 June 2011

The Wheel In Space (Episode 1)

Originally Broadcast 27th April 1968
Written by: David Whitaker

In a nutshell: The Doctor and Jamie arrive on an abandoned spaceship, the Silver Carrier. Looking around they encounter a deadly robot whilst mysterious goings on affect another ship that’s about to shoot down the Silver Carrier.

NB. This episode is missing from the BBC archives, this review is based upon the surviving audio book narrated by Wendy Padbury and the BBC website’s photo-novel reconstruction.

Review: David Whitaker, script editor for the show first series, returns to the show after a year’s gap (last writing Troughton’s debut, ‘Power Of The Daleks’) and seems to have lost his way a bit. I think it’s fair to say this story is nobodies favourite but it certainly heralds some very good pieces. Sadly, these aren’t in the writing, as Whitaker seems to have travelled back to writing 1963-4 Doctor Who bringing back his favoured fault locator and food machine, which isn’t really a negative. What is, however, is making the storyline about the fluid link run out of mercury again. Surely the Doctor would store some in the TARDIS after the last time this happened, in the Whitaker-edited ‘The Daleks’ where we spent seven episodes studying the Doctor loosing his fluid link.

Deborah Watling (Victoria) receives an onscreen credit as a scene from the previous episode; ‘Fury From The Deep’ is played on the TARDIS monitor. The writing does include a nice touch here, as Jamie is missing her and there is a genuine sense that something is missing from the TARDIS, something that’s not often felt the story after a companion leaves. This leaves just the Doctor and Jamie as the TARDIS team (new companion Zoe is introduced in this story but fails to appear in episode one), giving a small feel to the heroes. But because of Troughton and Hines chemistry it’s hard to notice, the duo shine in whatever scenes they appear together. There’s a funny scene with the Doctor offering Jamie a lemon sherbet to ‘quench his thirst’ and the Doctor wearing a ridiculous bib when eating his square blocks of food from the machine.

There’s a good mystery being set up here by Whitaker and I must admit I do like his new idea for setting things up. Normally in Who we get scenes with the Doctor and co. cut with scenes showing the supporting artists for this episode and learning their problems before the Doc arrives. Here, however, we just get the Doctor and Jamie but a couple cuts showing mysterious gaseous blobs travelling toward the ‘wheel in space’ setting up a new form of intrigue.

The cliffhanger felt a bit flat, with some of the dialogue sounding really forced as well. I’m not sure how long that build-up to “You’re going to witness an exploding ship” was and the end credit music just seemed to appear from nowhere, signifying the end of the episode. By no means a bad episode, this works well with its small cast (Troughton and Jamie are the only actors for a good fifteen minutes), yet it’s writing relies too much in the past.

The soundtrack now available on CD

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