A review of Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice, Written by Stephen Baxter and published by BBC Books.
This latest release in BBC Books range of adult Who novels takes the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to Mnemosyne, an ice moon of Saturn.
Drawn there by the Tardis following a disturbance in the time streams, the travellers discover a mining colony in orbit around the moon, from where space pioneers from Earth are extracting a rare and valuable element. As mysterious sightings of blue dolls begin to escalate, the Doctor realises that an ancient force is at work, and he must negotiate the politics on the colony while uncovering the mystery at the heart of the moon.
Stephen Baxter constructs a well paced tale here, peppered with his trademark hard science fiction but not to the detriment of the central story. There is little deference to readers unfamiliar with the Second Doctor, as very little backstory is given to him or his companions. Of the latter, Jamie is given the most dynamic role in the novel, and through this Baxter does much to colour in his character and personality. Zoe comes off less well, and in some scenes between her and the Doctor, their dialogue is almost interchangeable.
The setting of the colony presents a wide cast of supporting characters, and again these are sketched fairly lightly save for two or three individuals pivotal to the plot. Most interesting among these is MMAC, an AI driven construction robot who was raised believing he was a human child. His story and journey is by far the most moving of the novel, and serves as an interesting counterpoint to Baxter’s last novel, with Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth.
There are several nods to Baxter’s former collaborator Arthur C Clarke, most brazenly in the Macguffin of an allo-historical lure that is sent back into Earth’s distant past to influence human development. That lure may be the size of an amulet, but is still a jet black stone, and later volumes in Clarke’s Odyssey sequence get similar shout outs. There are also plenty of Who continuity references here as well, necessarily based on the Second Doctor”s history, but with one later race making an intriguing cameo appearance.
With 50 odd chapters in 350 pages, this is an unchallenging read that should appeal to old and newer fans alike. The last page teases a follow up tale with this trio, but Baxter has shown the way for more novels with any of the former Doctors and their companions. Let”s hope BBC Books have several commissioned for the 50th anniversary.
AudioGo unabridged audio book
If you prefer to consume your books through your ears, AudioGo has an unabridged reading of The Wheel of Ice by David Troughton. This ten disk release is excellent value, with Troughton naturally capturing his father’s voice, but also making a great job of the multitude of characters and accents. Evocative sound effects and use of the Trougton era theme tune to bookend each disk really create the sense that this is a lost adventure from those Golden Years of the show.