The Wheel. A ring of ice and steel turning around a moon of Saturn and home to a mining colony supplying a resource-hungry Earth. It’s a bad place to grow up.
The colony has been plagued by problems. Maybe it’s just gremlins or just bad luck. But the equipment failures and thefts of resources have been increasing, and there have been stories among the children of mysterious creatures glimpsed aboard the Wheel. Many of the younger workers refuse to go down the warren-like mines anymore. And then sixteen-year-old Phee Laws, surfing Saturn’s rings, saves an enigmatic blue box from destruction.
Aboard the Wheel, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find a critical situation — and they are suspected by some as the source of the sabotage. They soon find themselves caught in a mystery that goes right back to the creation of the solar system.
A mystery that could kill them all.
Although this review is spoiler-free, there is one link that you may wish to avoid.
Quite apart from the beautiful cover, there is an awful lot to enjoy here. This is the first original novel featuring a Classic series Doctor since 2005 (I don’t count Shada because it’s effectively a novelisation, albeit a good one) and it continues the trend of picking established, non-Who writers to bring us their ‘take’ on the show.
Stephen Baxter was an excellent choice and he is clearly relishing not only writing for the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe but also establishing his fan credentials by weaving in throwaway and not-so-throwaway moments that are guaranteed to get the fans bouncing up and down in their seats, whilst at the same time not alienating a new audience.
Baxter’s characterisations of the TARDIS team are almost entirely spot-on. He clearly adores the Second Doctor and for 99% of the time gets him absolutely on the nose. On one occasion he slips in a Hartnell-ish “my boy, hmmm?” but aside from that I couldn’t fault him. Jamie’s dialogue is given the full Target, with lots of “Dinna ye know that?” and “Och, don’t be daft”. We don’t get any “great hairy beasties” but as there aren’t any, I’ll let him off. In fact, he’s so instantly recognisable Frazer Hines practically leaps off the page at you. Zoe gets some excellent treatment here, finding herself in a time not that far from her own, witnessing the beginnings of her civilisation. She struggles to cope with a society so close to hers but not quite, and a significant portion of the story is told through her eyes.
The story itself is a twist on the Troughton-era base-under-seige formula and appears to be set between The Space Pirates and The War Games. Within The Wheel are the kinds of characters you would expect to find in an adventure of this type and an alien/monster/creature that, although pleasingly original, still feels like something we could have seen in 1969. In fact, Baxter has created almost the perfect Doctor Who novel: it stays true to the era in which it is set; it’s understandable for an intelligent child but not dumbed down for adults; it feels like something we could have seen on TV, even though the production designer would have had a heart attack and – most importantly – it never feels cliched or corny.
I enjoyed this book a lot and, for me, it treads a fine line that the old PDA’s always struggled with. It’s a book anyone can read and not feel left out. It works as good Doctor Who (rather than simply a good pastiche) and as a solid science-fiction tale. Highly recommended.