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31 July 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 212: The Wheel in Space, Episode Two

Dear diary,

Something that I’ve seen complained about quite a lot in relation to The Wheel in Space is the idea that the Cybermen in the story are ‘hatched from eggs’. Admittedly, it’s a pretty fair description of what happens in the closing moments of this episode, but what the complaints fail to mention is just how effective it is as a cliffhanger.

Over the last two episodes, we’ve seen several of these eggs (the narration calls them ‘spheres’, but ‘egg’ just sounds better) float across the void of space and attach themselves to the side of the Wheel. We’ve watched the crew try to piece together all the various odd things that are happening to their systems, while we know that it’s being caused by the presence of these eggs. Now we find out that they’re not just some odd space phenomena – they’ve got Cybermen inside them!

Even more effective is that the cliffhanger still isn’t your run-of-the-mill ‘Cyberman bursts through a doorway!’, or ‘The Doctor and his companions turn around to see… a Cyberman!’. It’s left to you to recognise the fist of a Cyberman sticking out from the recently powered-up egg (there’s a sentence you don’t write every day), and then we’ll get the full reveal – I’d imagine – in the next episode. It’s nice, because it’s allowing the threat to build, and I’m less concerned about them spending the entire story stood around looking menacing, which is what I’d been expecting.

I think it’s always a good testament to the quality of a particular episode if you can remove the Doctor from the action (Patrick Troughton doesn’t appear at all in today’s instalment, and the unconscious Doctor is played by a stand-in) and still remain just as interested n the events unfolding on screen. Jamie is left to carry much of the action, heading out to explore the Wheel in the company of our new companion, Zoe. It’s interesting how much of a contrast they’re going for with Zoe, swapping out Victorian companion for a girl from the near-future, with an intellect that could square up to that of the Doctor.

What’s odd is that I don’t especially like Zoe, yet, and I’m not all that sure that you’re supposed to. She’s presented as treating things in a cool, logical manner and not really showing a great deal of personality. When asked to covertly keep an eye on Jamie as she gives him the grand tour, she declares that it could be ‘interesting’ as a project, and when another crew-member expresses fascination at the fact that some of the plant on the Wheel have travelled all the way from Venus, she chimes in to give the exact distance in several different measurements. I think Jamie sums it up best when he dryly responds: ‘Oh. I was dying to know that…’

The entire location of the Wheel feels very fleshed out – certainly more so than that of some other bases we’ve seen throughout this season. Yesterday i complained that none of the crew really stood out of the crowd for me, but today you get the impression of a history to these characters and a string of previous interactions in both their professional and private lives. This feels like a very real world, and I think that’s what’s drawing me in and keeping me interested. There’s discussion of people back on Earth who feel that the space programme should be suspended (although no further context is given) and they spot something is amiss with Jamie because he leaves his water – something that’s in short supply out in space. It all helps to make it feel like the TARDIS has landed our heroes into a place that’s been going for some time, and you get the impression that it’ll keep on going, long after they’ve left (assuming the Cybermen don’t totally wipe them out, that is).

Today’s entry can’t go by without mentioning two new naming additions to the series. Firstly, Jamie is given a middle name – Robert – when he identifies himself to Gemma. Secondly, and probably more importantly from the point of view of the series as whole, we get the first instance of the Doctor being given the alias ‘John Smith’. It’s a name Jamie takes from the side of some medical equipment, and it’s not fooling anyone from the start, but it’s a name that’s going to stick, and is still in use right up to the current series.

I’m almost sorry that we’re likely to move into a regular ‘base-under-siege’ tale from now on, in which the Cybermen attack the Wheel, as I’m enjoying all the build up. I’m hoping that the rich background that’s being painted here is going to hold firm throughout the rest of the story, as it would be lovely to see Season Five (and the format of Season Five) going out on a high. It’s certainly a good strong start…

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