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21 December 2013 @ 07:22 pm
The Randomizer: Wheel in Space  
Another day, another tele snap reconstruction, in this case enlivened by the existence of episodes three and six.

The Wheel in Space has something of a reputation for being a bit dull which I felt was undeserved after watching this. Being able to actually watch episodes three and six did help massively, it must be said. Having pictures that actually move does a lot to bring interest to things, though in this case Loose Cannon were clearly having a lot of fun animating cybermen and robots and so forth, so even the tele snap only episodes were enlivened by little bits of movement. In fact, it was interesting how much more engaging the existing episodes were - an observation more recently born out by people's reactions to the rediscovered Troughton stories. However even episode 1, which is pretty much a two-hander involving only the Doctor and Jamie, passed entertainingly enough.

If anything I'd say that The Wheel in Space's main problem is a tendency to throw away its characters as if it doesn't quite know what to do with them. Jarvis goes conveniently mad before he can cause much trouble; Gemma is killed off before she really gets to assert herself in control; and poor old Duggan, the more idiosyncratic and humanised face of the crew, is rapidly taken over and then killed. Only the somewhat bland romantic partnership of Leo and Tanya get to survive but they never seem as interesting as the characters who get bumped off along the way. I'll note, in passing, the Troughton era's interest in obviously international groups of people under siege. It isn't something that I'd ever really thought of before seeing Wheel in Space, but the Troughton base-under-siege stories very much liked to have a range of accents on display which I think has been unusual since.

Something else that is very much of its era, is the stylised uniforms worn by the Wheel's crew. It is difficult to judge in the light of modern tastes, but they look very much more high-concept and designed than subsequent attempts to costume the casts often look (with a few notable exceptions - e.g., Robots of Death) and reminded me of a comment Tansy Rayner Roberts made about the costuming in The Ice Warriors.

Just as the characters felt somewhat wasted, the Cyberman threat never seems that serious. In fact, in general, the Doctor appears to have the upper hand once he has determined the nature of the actual threat. It's almost as if most of the build-up is for the reveal that it's the Cybermen and, after that, the story is mostly interested in wrapping itself up as quickly as possible. On the whole I wasn't so much bored as mildly frustrated by the story.

On the whole this felt like a pretty solid story. Nothing special perhaps and with wasted characters and set-up along the way, but engaging enough to keep us watching

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/108118.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on December 22nd, 2013 12:23 pm (UTC)
I find it a rather mediocre story, although I liked the novelization a lot as a child. There's a nice science fictional idea in there about a future society divided over whether to explore space, with some people trying to sabotage the space programme. Sadly this idea vanishes after episode two, leaving another Troughton base under siege story. It probably didn't help that I was watching Doctor Who in order last time I watched/listened to this - there was definitely a feeling of diminishing returns in the second half of season five. I've argued that the difference in visual style between stories in season five helped differentiate them in a way that isn't always possible to see now so many episodes are audio only (although easier now than a few months ago!), but I suspect this story still looked bland. Probably better watched in isolation than at the end of a long, similar season, but I have yet to feel like watching it again. I like the retro design of the robot and rocket-ship in the first episode though, and Zoe remains a favourite companion (hey, she's a librarian!).
louisedennis: Doctor Wholouisedennis on December 22nd, 2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
Yes, I can imagine it would work very differently when surrounded by a load of very similar stories.

Zoe is certainly a nice change from Victoria being much more proactive about her adventures. Given actresses from the era tend to complain that all their characters ended up being the same, I always find it striking how different they can be.