Thursday, 3 March 2011

Attack on the Cybermen 04 - The Wheel in Space

I might have been a bit hasty in my last blog where I said that Tomb should have remained lost forever.  I think I should have saved that comment for the next cyber story, The Wheel in Space.  Having just put myself through the six episodes (over the course of three days, I just couldn't face it in one sitting) I've come to the conclusion that if you want to have an example of really bad Doctor Who then you should probably select Wheel. On so many levels it's a complete and utter failure.  In a rare mood of charity I will perform a partial defence of the story.  It's six episodes (always difficult to pull off without using the 4+2 format) and only two of them survive.  One of these is episode three (that's the padding episode in a story that's largely padding anyway) and all six episodes seem to have windows with very little dialogue that have lost their impact by being audio only.  But even taking this aural aspect into account, the story still sucks.

I could be verbose and highlight just how dull this story is, I could go into great detail about how slow moving and padded it feels or how it could probably have been condensed into a three parter without dropping anything significant but, quite frankly, I'm not sure I want to waste my time on that.  I could also say how little the Doctor actually does (unlike in Tomb where he's indirectly responsible for all bar one death, in this one he does so little that he's not really responsible for anything) but instead I'll try and focus on the two really REALLY awful things about this story, namely the science and the cybermen. Seriously, it's as though the presence of cybermen instantly drops the plausibility of the science down several powers of ten.

Firstly, we have the return of the cybermats (though sadly not the really cute small ones, just the adult versions).  This time around they seem to have picked up the trick of being able to pass through solid objects.  It might just be the fact we don't have the footage but I've always understood it that the eggs that they're launched from the Silver Carrier in somehow pass through the hull of the Wheel. There's an associated pressure drop (oh the memories of The Moonbase) but it's not something I've ever really seen picked up on.  It's one of those talents that make you think "so why don't the cybermen do this at the end?".  The cybermen's return was signalled in the trailer, even if it's not really suggested until episode two which does remove some of the mystery from the story.  What wasn't signalled in the trailer was the absolute insanity of their plot.  The cybermen ionise a star in the Messier 13 cluster which somehow causes it to go nova.  I'm not entirely sure how this works as it's usually gravitational collapse of an absolutely massive star that causes this.  To go nova, a star usually burns its way through its hydrogen supply to become a red giant and then burns its helium to the extent that it implodes so violently that the energy released is approximately the same as that released by an entire galaxy (only for a few days mind you). You could almost see that as a valid threat if it weren't for one absolutely tiny problem.  The Messier 13 cluster is just over 25,000 (twenty five thousand) light years from the Earth.  The whole cluster is barely visible with the naked eye from the earth, so if one star in it goes nova then we'll see a glow in the sky but not much more.  Still, somehow the energy from this star that's been forced to go nova diverts a cluster of meteorites into the path of the wheel.  If the star going nova explodes with such force that it can effect the path of meteorites 25,000 light years away from it, then I think the wheel has got other issues to worry about along the lines of it getting smashed to pieces itself.  Still, not to worry.  The cybermen have engineered the Silver Carrier to be 87million miles off course and carrying a handy supply of the fuel rods for the wheel's X-ray laser to replace the rods that the cybermats ate.  All this so that two cybermen can be smuggled on board the wheel to repair the laser and then provide a homing signal for the smaller cyberships to... sorry I think at that point my brain completely gave up and went on holiday.

The cybermen, by the way, are now in a three fingered design but with blunted tips which must be hell to try and pick anything up with.  They still have their chest units (which glow to kill people in this one) but the purpose of the rather cumbersome devices eludes me (especially as, in Tomb, the cybercontroller didn't wear one).  One cyberman is killed off by having his chest unit covered in the spray plastic that Jamie uses to damage the laser.  However, the other cybermen are seemingly quite capable of space walking (and, of course, we saw the cybermen on the moon's surface in Moonbase) which suggests that these units aren't there to enable them to breathe.  Their exact purpose will be questioned further in future stories.

Where I REALLY object to this story though is that no-one seems to know who the cybermen are, inspire of every kid knowing about them in The Moonbase.  We later learn that Zoe's a 21st century girl, so how come everyone knew about them in 2070 but not in this story?  It's a kick in the teeth for the cybermen who, so far, only really have the claim to fame that they were Earth's first contact.  I still don't find the cybermats particular menacing (even if episode three has one of the weirdest attack scenes ever in Doctor Who's history when they gang up on Kemel) and the "metal plate + transistor = protection" goes completely over my head.  Sadly we've got that again in The Invasion so I'll deal with it then.

The Wheel in Space is a total mess and, most offensively, it's a tedious slow mess.  This could so easily have been a snappy three parter but no, it's six episode of dull dialogue (where there even is dialogue not long shots of people in corridors) and a plot that makes absolutely no sense.  There's no threat of cybertisation and the cybermen are just generic baddies in this with nothing to make them particularly memorable.  What's more it presents us with a future where we still record onto tape, giant lava lamps make up essential parts of space wheels and people wear outfits that look like they're made from sleeping bags.  Perhaps man kind really shouldn't go into space after all...

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