Season 5 – Story 43
“This isn’t just an attack by an alien race on a space station. The Cybermen have another purpose” – the Doctor
A faulty Tardis strands the Doctor and Jamie aboard Silver Carrier, a 21st-century supply rocket 87 million miles off course. It’s deserted apart from a hostile Servo Robot, which dispatches a stream of spheres across space to penetrate the hull of Station Three, aka the Wheel. They contain Cybermats – an early phase in an elaborate invasion plan devised by the Cybermen. The travellers must convince the crew of the Wheel of the danger facing them and, ultimately, the Earth. They befriend a young astrophysicist, Zoe, who stows away on the Tardis hoping to join their adventures.
Episode 1 – Saturday 27 April 1968
Episode 2 – Saturday 4 May 1968
Episode 3 – Saturday 11 May 1968
Episode 4 – Saturday 18 May 1968
Episode 5 – Saturday 25 May 1968
Episode 6 – Saturday 1 June 1968
Filming: March 1968 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: April 1968 in Lime Grove D (ep 1), TC3 (eps 2 & 4), TC1 (ep 3) and May 1968 in Riverside 1 (eps 5 & 6)
Doctor Who – Patrick Troughton
Jamie McCrimmon – Frazer Hines
Victoria Waterfield – Deborah Watling
Zoe Heriot – Wendy Padbury
Jarvis Bennett – Michael Turner
Leo Ryan – Eric Flynn
Dr Gemma Corwyn – Anne Ridler
Tanya Lernov – Clare Jenkins
Enrico Casali – Donald Sumpter
Armand Vallance – Derrick Gilbert
Bill Duggan – Kenneth Watson
Chang – Peter Laird
Elton Laleham – Michael Goldie
Kemel Rudkin – Kevork Malikyan
Sean Flannigan – James Mellor
Servo Robot – Freddie Foote
Cybermen – Jerry Holmes, Gordon Stothard
Cyber voices – Peter Hawkins, Roy Skelton
Writer – David Whitaker from a story by Kit Pedler
Special sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Designer – Derek Dodd
Story editor – Derrick Sherwin
Producer – Peter Bryant
Director – Tristan de Vere Cole
RT Review by Patrick Mulkern
Cumbersome, retro but with one or two neat features – yes, it’s the Servo Robot, a sort of waddling Smeg fridge reject that is, to my mind, emblematic of this entire bargain-basement serial.
At the end of season five fresh ideas and money fall short, and we witness an uneasy alliance between scientist Kit Pedler and fabulist David Whitaker. Pedler developed the wheel-shaped space station and technical, astronomical ideas, but these alone couldn’t sustain six episodes. It was down to Whitaker to flesh out some drama, albeit with a clunkingly tortuous plot.
As he recalled in 1978, “That was a characters’ story” – most of whom don’t appear until the end of episode one. Before that, the opener dwells on the travellers’ exploration of an unfamiliar environment – an effective Who formula (cf the first Dalek story, The Ark in Space, even the start of 2008’s Silence in the Library). Here it’s a deserted rocket. And, as I vividly recall from childhood, tension mounts in this lost episode as the Doctor and Jamie pass through sliding doors and eventually encounter the lumbering Servo Robot.
But surely this isn’t the hidden menace that made the Tardis overload? Anticipation is well maintained, yet anyone who caught BBC1’s trailers or RT’s short preview knew full well the Cybermen were secreted aboard. For their fourth outing in two years, they undergo another redesign – silvery wetsuits, “hydraulic” limb connections and a teardrop effect at the eyes. Unfortunately, the budget would only run to two new costumes.
Their invasion strategy – convoluted even by Cyber standards – has been concocted by a Cyber-Planner (a device that looks like it was knocked up on Blue Peter). The Cybermats return and this time the threat they pose is made clear. After their “eggs” have magically popped through the Wheel’s hull, the little critters sap fuel and zap crew.
The humans are the usual international mix, led by yet another unhinged incompetent (Bennett). His No 2 Leo Ryan is played by Eric Flynn – son of Errol, no less. But don’t expect any derring-do; he sits around indulging Tanya, the daft Russian, as she twitters on about her hypersensitive nose. The most engaging character is Gemma Corwyn, a mature, sympathetic widow whose murder by the Cybermen should be more distressing but is skated over.
Wendy Padbury charms as Zoe, the perky new companion devised by script editor Derrick Sherwin. Practically brainwashed in logic and astrophysics, this “proper little brainchild” provides a counterpoint to the Cybermen and is upset when Leo calls her robotic. “I don’t want to be thought of as a freak,” she says. “I want to feel things as well.”
Zoe doesn’t hit it off with Jamie (who’s sorely missing Victoria) and she giggles at his kilt. “You’re wearing female garments!” “You watch your lip,” snaps Jamie, “or I’ll put you across my knee and larrup you.” “This is going to be fun!” she says. A new dynamic is created. Each pokes fun at the other’s level of education, but they start to bond after a space walk in the path of meteorites.
This is actually one of the most extraordinary moments in Doctor Who. Plot-wise it gives Jamie and Zoe a brave task and “exciting” cliffhanger, but how callous of the Doctor to send them into such danger. He barely excuses himself, saying, “I am much too busy” and “Zoe calculated the risk.”
Still, the bowling ball meteorites look less than threatening. They join other risible effects such as a bottle-top Cybership and the silly Cyber spacewalk that ends with 2D cut-outs fluttering into the distance.
In place of incidental music we have a chillingly electronic score from the BBC’s own Radiophonic Workshop. As Brian Hodgson told me in our RT interview, “Sometimes it was because they’d run out of money.” But this treatment certainly enhances many late 60s productions.
Points of note. The Wheel in Space was the only story recorded in Lime Grove, Riverside and Television Centre – all three of the show’s 1960s studio homes. It marked the last contribution from voice maestro Peter Hawkins, who’d worked on every Dalek and Cyberman story. And here Jamie first gives the Doctor his alias “John Smith” (39 years on this would even make it into a story title: Smith and Jones).
Season five ends somewhat flatly, but viewers in 1968 were treated to a re-run of The Evil of the Daleks – meaning an almost uninterrupted two-year run of Doctor Who.
Radio Times archive material
[Episodes 3 & 6 available on the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: Lost in Time. Complete soundtrack on BBC Audio CD]