The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter reviewed

Following on from the less than universally popular Michael Moorcock novel The Coming of the Terraphiles (which I liked and reviewed here), we have another Doctor Who story written by a well-known author, in this case Stephen Baxter. Ahead of reading this I was somewhat concerned that Baxter might not be able to soften his style and we would get a well written, pure science story in which the characters of the Doctor and his companions would appear un-authentic.

This also tackled a classic Doctor rather than the modern era; again I was somewhat intrigued by this; I remember this TARDIS crew but of course most fans will not. I have assumed that the average fan reading this is either open-minded about the early series or has seen much of what is available, or at least knows who the characters are!

Taken all this into account I review the story as a Doctor Who story first, a Second Doctor story second and finally fret about a few details of no real consequence!

The Story

A temporal anomaly causes the TARDIS to become adrift just off the rings of Saturn. They are rescued and find a human mining colony on a moon struggling to complete its objectives which soon becomes a classic base under siege as mysterious blue dolls are identified as the causes of sabotage (after the obligatory blaming of the TARDIS crew).

The society is disaffected and Jamie soon befriends the disaffected youth of the colony who happen to find a set of bagpipes for Jamie to play as they lead him astray when they run away from the authoritarian measures being introduced to ‘restore discipline’.

Zoe meanwhile is left with the youngest members of a family and her growing friendship with the Glaswegian robotic entity that built the original colony from bits of discarded space vehicles and other materials.

An amulet also adds to the mystery; it was found in a fossil yet is clearly a temporal anomaly which in its own way influenced the establishing of the colony.

Add to all this is a company executive whose family were ruined socially by the T-mat and its role in the Seeds of Death (a good nod to a TV story). Meanwhile the blue dolls have pilfered large amounts of technology and are now being superseded by more violent blue soldiers all being produced deep in the heart of the moon! We then get a tremendous set of scenes of the colony under attack, the errant youth suffering from moon-quakes and all this as the Doctor realises that at the heart of the moon is an alien something left over from the deep past!

Needless to say all ends well!


This does (mostly) come across like a Doctor Who story though one in which the Doctor uses a lot of up to date science that wasn’t around in the Troughton era. Some initial lack of polish is soon forgotten (e.g. Pedleron radiation a nice nod to Kit Pedler though it is). The elements of classic base under siege are well embraced and where this scores for me is in the treatment of Jamie and Zoe (see next). Its title resonantes with Wheel in Space that this does presage to an extent (even to the resemblance of the blue soldiers to cybermen being noted).

Jamie and Zoe

For me the story scores best in the way it takes Jamie and Zoe and explores their characters through their interactions with the younger members of the colony. This is the mark of a good author and will provide an endearing memory of this story.

Some details

Several references to UNIT – given most of the Doctor’s adventures with UNIT are from later Doctors this didn’t convince.

Too many cheap Scottish references – bagpipes and the Glaswegian robot.

The blue dolls sound very similar to the dolls described in the Big Finish Companion Chronicle The Doll of Death.

The time lure was a nice idea but rather petered out. It seemed to be an important part of the plot and then it wasn’t. In some ways the opposite of a plot device in Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.

And finally…

[pullquote]a flag-bearer for the whole concept[/pullquote]

I liked this and recommend it to any readers of Doctor Who that want a step up from much of the more ephemeral material being produced. This is a good flag-bearer for the whole concept of ‘top authors write for the Doctor’. It was nice to have this crew back again as well!

Enough of me, what did you think? Hit or miss?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I personally really enjoyed it. There were a few issues, but really, it was a great read. I know there’s an audiobook, but I wonder if Big Finish could adapt it into a drama?


    1. Tony Jones says:

      There’s a thought – not sure who owns what copyrights but maybe someone should suggest it to them!


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