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The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter
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Although this was published in 2012, it is a story of the second Doctor with companions Zoe and Jammie. The story is reminiscent of the Doctor Who adventure in which Zoe first appears, The Wheel in Space, which aired in 1968. The recordings of it, unfortunately, were ‘misplaced’ by the BBC and it now exists only in fragments. It, too, takes place in the future, in space, and features the rare element ‘bernalium.’

In Baxter’s tale of the Doctor, the TARDIS detects a ‘Relative Continuum Displacement Zone’ and interrupts their journey in order for the Doctor to investigate. They materialize in the rings of Saturn where a mining colony is harvesting one of the gas giant’s icy moons for bernalium. This is annomalous. Beranalium is almost unknown in our solar system. Why such a concentration of it exists here and why there are indications of time travel are the mysteries the Doctor must solve.

The second Doctor was my first, the one I first watched on TV, and I could picture him and his companions in this story. If I had not already been familiar with them, I doubt Baxter’s characterizations in this book would have been sufficient, though. This may have been intentional. If you did not already know these characters, you would not be reading this book, and any development the author tried to do, might conflict with your already established mental images of them.

The other characters were also sketched just enough to get an idea of who they were. Perhaps the one developed most was MMAC, an artificial intelligence embodied in a large construction machine. I found the idea of this gentle android with a heavy Scottish accent endearing. His backstory about having been raised to believe he was human was intriguing.

The villain in this story is a beautiful but otherwise loathsome corporate lackey, whose only goal is the efficient extraction of bernalium. She’s a bit one-dimensional and not easily believable, but she suffices for the sake of the story.

The setting is, I think typical of Stephen Baxter, at least judging from the few books I’ve read of his. It goes into detail about aerospace type science elements of the story, especially about Saturn’s rings and moons, in this case. There are other similarities with his other science fiction, too.

I’ve read a few books by Baxter, and I’ve always found his prose it a bit, well, ‘stiff’ for my taste. I also noticed the inclusion of something called skinsuits, clear, lightweight spacesuits, which I’ve seen in at least one of his other books. I imagine them to be something like cellophane but with amazing thermal properties. They don’t make sense to me, so much so that I find them distracting from the story.

Other than that, I found this to be a well-done Doctor Who tale. It held my interest and I found the read enjoyable. But then, I’m a fan of the Doctor. He’s a kind of anti-action hero in that violence is never his first and best solution to a problem. I find this refreshing.

I recommend the book to all Whovians, especially those who remember the second Doctor.
( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
Meh, Okay all around and fine for a Dr. Who novel. Seems to be quite true to the style and feel of the TV show. Nothing wrong with it and nothing special. Imaginative fun for a summer afternoon. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
A Doctor Who novel featuring the Second Doctor, Jamie, Zoe, and a host of familiar Doctor Who elements, including space miners, an ancient alien intelligence, and creatures in tunnels. Although, since it's by Stephen Baxter, it also features a lot more planetary geology than you'd normally expect.

To be honest, I've grown very tired of Baxter; he's one of those writers I've kept reading long after I should have stopped. I find his writing style duller with each book, and have become increasingly irritated by the way his characters seem to exist solely as a mechanism for delivering scientific lectures. So I didn't have high expectations of this book going in, although I was hopeful that maybe he'd do better at writing Doctor Who, if only because he'd at least have pre-existing characters with actual personalities to work with. And that hope did pay off: I liked this one better than anything else of Baxter's that I've read in ages.

Which isn't to say that it's great. The original characters are still flat and unmemorable. (Except maybe for the Scottish robot, and I'm not at all sure what to make of him.) The corporate dystopia setting is handled in a rather superficial and clunky fashion. And the plot, while okay, is nothing special. But the basic idea of the alien and its backstory are kind of cool, and Baxter, for the most part, does the main characters' voices pretty well. (It probably helps that speaking in scientific lectures is actually in-character for Zoe!) I also like the way it combines the feel of a traditional Troughton-era story with some more modern sensibilities, although it may be more successful at that in some respects than in others.

So, it's decent and readable, but nothing spectacular. Despite liking it considerably better than my experiences with the author suggested I might, I still found it rather... putdownable. I'd say if you have a specific fondness for this particular TARDIS crew, or find the idea of a Doctor Who story that includes a realistic tour of the moons of Saturn exciting, it's probably worth a look, but otherwise, it's hardly a Whovian must-read. ( )
2 vote bragan | Jun 12, 2015 |
Good fun story about the second Doctor. Stephen Baxter does a good job of telling the story. I agree with some other reviewers the Scottish accents do get a bit annoying and sometime drag me out of the story.

Overall a solid Doctor Who tale. ( )
  Ben_Harnwell | Apr 26, 2015 |
The TARDIS becomes trapped in a Relative Continuum Displacement Zone in the rings of Saturn. The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are saved by the inhabitants on The Mnemosyne Cincture otherwise known as The Wheel of Ice, a mining colony that surrounds one of Saturn’s moons. The TARDIS cannot move until the hole in time is fixed. When The Doctor and his companions try to solve the mystery they become embroiled in the social problems of The Wheel. Young people have started to rebel against the strict working conditions. There are also the sightings of “Blue Dolls” who are sabotaging the mining equipment.

I have only seen a few episodes of Doctor Who during the second doctor’s tenure. He is characterized as a clownish grandfatherly figure who tries to teach his companions as they look for an explanation to the mystery of the hole in time. He asks questions like “how is Jamie doing?” or “tell me Zoe what you see.” The Doctor is the voice of reason and uses his years of knowledge to save the day without resorting to violence. He stands up to authority and pays little attention to his own well-being even sacrificing himself to save others.

The companions take center stage in the story. We hear their inner thoughts not The Doctors. Jamie is sweet and heroic. He gets along well with the rebellious teenagers and takes them under his wing. Zoe is very logical and egotistical. She comes from a time and place where knowledge is more important than human interaction. As the story goes she becomes more open to the people she meets even successfully babysitting a three year old.

The novel was like watching a Doctor Who episode. I never thought about how the series scripts were structured until I read this book. The Doctor and his companions are stuck somewhere where the population is being oppressed by authority. Aliens appear and are shot at because they are misunderstood. The Doctor fixes the social problems, saves the aliens, punishes the authority figure, and everyone learns a lesson. I recommend this book to all those Doctor Who fans out there whether they are fans of the Second Doctor or the Eleventh Doctor. ( )
1 vote craso | Jan 16, 2014 |
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Claire Baines, top Who fan;

Paul Cornell, top Who writer;

Paul McAuley and Kim Newman, top Who buddies;

and the memory of Patrick Troughton, top Who.
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Aboard 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, the [2nd] Doctor, Jamie and Zoe become enmeshed in a critical situation. Suspected of sabatoge, 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.… (more)

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