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The Wheel In Space; The Krotons

The Wheel In Space was the last episode in Patrick Troughton's second season as the Doctor, introducing Wendy Padbury as Zoe, and with the Cybermen back again. It has a mixed reputation among fans (and I have to admit that the astronomy is drastically inaccurate, and the plot, as so often with Cyberman stories, makes no sense at all), but I really liked it. In particular, I loved the atmosphere and appeaarance of the Wheel itself, a space station with a multi-national crew including psycho boss, sensible woman who is really keeping it all going, and the other various roles - including Zoe herself, brought up to be logical and knowledgeable, but with the Doctor and Jamie opening her mind to other possibilities. (The crew also includes one of Doctor Who's rare overtly Irish characters, Sean Flannigan, played by James Mellor, who also plays a non-Irish alien leader in the first episode of The Mutants; while we're on the subject, the mysterious but vital substance bernalium is named after Irish-born scientist J.D. Bernal.) To describe this as a mere remake of The Moonbase does not do it justice at all; it is what The Moonbase should have been.

And Zoe! Certainly now my favourite pre-Sarah Jane Smith companion. Her first exchange with Jamie is quite hilarious. Since four of the six episodes are missing, I listened to the CDs with linking narration by Wendy Padbury, who played Zoe; she does it fine, though I was not as impressed with the scripting as I have been for some of the others. (The two surviving episodes are on the Lost In Time DVD set.)

The Krotons was shown to us uncomprehending fans in 1981 as part of the Five Faces of Doctor Who season, along with An Unearthly Child, Carnival of Monsters and Logopolis, one for each Doctor to date. The choice was dictated by the fact that it was then the only surviving four-part Troughton story (Tomb of the Cybermen has since been recovered, thank goodness). Unfortunately, in a season which had palpable hits like The Invasion, The War Games and The Mind Robber, this is one of the misses (see The Dominators and The Space Pirates); which is quite surprising when you consider that the writer was Robert Holmes and the director David Maloney - the same team that was later to produce The Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Oh well, one of those occasions aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus, or in this case Homeri. It's difficult to say quite why it doesn't work; the dodgy production values don't help, especially the egg-box monsters with comically spinning heads (apparently, in a Spinal Tap moment, their costumes were made a size too small); but perhaps it fails most notably on the grounds where The Wheel In Space succeeds, that the Gond society just isn't very believable and they look like actors stuck in a futuristic set. There is, however, an amusing Zoe costume malfunction at the start of episode 4 (at about 0:40 in).

That leaves me only The Seeds of Death to go of the entire black and white era. But we're going on holiday next week, so it will be a while before I finish watching it and write it up. (Non-Who fans on the f-list breathe a sigh of relief at this news.)

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