A return to epic adventure, ‘Wheel Of Ice, is written by stalwart of SF, Stephen Baxter. Here we have a story specially written to include the Doctor but which tries to take the long view of the universe in much the same way that Baxter seeks out epic themes in his other works.
When the TARDIS is diverted to a part of space with temporal energy problems (when isn’t it?), the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves in immediate danger. They are in a bit of a pickle as surrounded by the rings of Saturn, the TARDIS is pounded by huge pieces of ice. Making contact with a friendly but remote Scottish voice, they are able to summon assistance from the scooter-riding Phee Laws. Young Phee is from the Wheel of Ice. Living on an artificial construction made for the purpose of mining the moon below it, is home to employees of the Bootstrap Company
When Phee takes them back to the wheel they are all struck by how unpleasant conditions are for the employees. Even the children are subject to the onerous restrictions and have very little free time.
As outsiders, the three are subjected to interrogations and suspicions. There has been a series of suspicious accidents and they become likely suspects. Acknowledging they are unlikely suspects, the Mayor of the settlement who also happens to be Phee’s mother welcomes them into her home and they start to aid her investigation.
They meet Phee’s brother and sister. Her brother is unhappy with the current regime and has a rebellious streak. Their little sister is obsessed with the blue dolls that have only been glimpsed by children who no one believes.
There is also the little matter of the alien intelligence reaching back through time, a lurking presence on the moon below but as yet unknown by the Doctor or anyone else on the wheel.
The story is narrated by David Troughton and he has all the right modulation to make us think about his father as the Second Doctor. He does a good Zoe and Jamie but there’s a touch of Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie in one of his characters. He does handle the changes well as this moves from the Doctor’s experience to that of the intelligence and the longer view of the universe.
The title reflects the original ‘Wheel In Space’, where we first meet Zoe and she becomes another companion. It also indicates that the way this is run by the faceless corporation is how things are moving towards Zoe’s time where she will be condemned to a sterile existence working on a space station from an early age. Here she gets to see first-hand how this culture developed and she is not impressed.
There is a good story here for Jamie who gets to have some fun for a change. Poor Jamie chucked back into the Highlands with no memory of his time with the Doctor. He was the Donna Noble of the Second Doctor era. What a shame he didn’t get to play with the toys of time again. I don’t feel that Zoe gets so much out of this and the Doctor seems to scuttle around being infuriatingly vague as usual.
I liked the plot and the grander scheme that Baxter incorporates. There are some interesting characters brought in like Mac. The ‘youth’ character sub-plot feels like something we find for Jamie to do, although it does come together at the end in a reasonably satisfying way.
‘Wheel Of Ice’ really benefits from the audio experience. It opens up passages that I feel might be slightly dry if you had to read them. We benefit from the enthusiasm put into the words by Troughton. There is a lot of back-story for the alien intelligence and a certain amount of exposition rather than action in the main story, too. Entertaining and fun but felt overly long.
(pub: Audio Go/BBC. 8 CD 586 minute story. Price: CD: £ 9.99 (UK), Download: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-44589-803-2)
reader: David Troughton
check out website: www.audiogo.co.uk