2 out of 5
Directed by: Tristan DeVere Cole
Firstly, the versions of the reconstructed episodes of Wheel In Space that I watched were not very great. Assuming the stills that exist from the serial are minimal, there’s no assisting narration (every reconstruction I’ve watched up to this point has a scroll of text at the bottom to explain actions that can’t be intuited from dialogue) and there’s a lot of just waiting around in general, meaning we get a still image and sound effects for a big chunk of the runtime.
That latter point is the secondly, though: while the episodes that still exist show off some good effects, and help to confirm that the actors were mostly pretty solid, the serial is very much a non-starter, built around the laziest of Doctor Who tropes – the Doctor has amnesia for a good chunk of it; no one believes the Doctor when he starts spouting sense; entire episodes are padded around “go here to get this and come back and we’ll discuss it before the next fetch quest” – resulting in much of the actually relevant matters barely filling up one episode’s worth of runtime. Otherwise, when Jamie and the Doc TARDIS onto a runaway ship in space, we’re first waiting around (exacerbated by those stills) for some kind of security droid to do its sweeps on the ship, then, when Doc conveniently hits his head and falls unconscious, we’re waiting around for Jamie to fret through his communications with a nearby station – the titular ‘wheel’, so named for its, eh, wheel-like structure – and then we’re waiting around for Doc to wake up, and for him to regain his memory… Meanwhile, the Cybermen emerge from hiding on the former ship, and start enacting their dastardly plans to, uh, not be effective villains.
There’s your thirdly: the Cybermen suck. Up to this point, the Cybermen have never been very menacing, reminding me of the South Park underpants gnomes: they tend to bumble around with “world domination” as their end game, but some convoluted nonsense inbetween that’s missing some steps. Here, they’ve hijacked the ship so they can get to the wheel so they can send out their “Cybermats” to hypnotize people into bringing them onto the ship so that they can…
Enough. Troughton has to exposit this nonsense in a dump in the final episode, and you’re waiting for the punchline.
On the plus side, the station has good gender representation, with several female scientists (including one who will become the new companion…) who seem to stand on equal footing with the men. And, as mentioned, though the show still has its shoestring budget, the episodes we have show that director Tristan DeVere Cole tried to go for it with some space sequences, and I found them effective. I would give this one star, but I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that the reconstructions make it seem like more of a drag than it is.