Some would say it’s been far too long – it’s hard to believe that it’s taken the BBC since Rose aired to put out another Past Doctor Adventure. (With the exception of Shada, but we’re discounting it because it’s the Target novelization that would have been before Gareth Roberts swooped in to take it under his wing.) This one sees Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land on the titular Wheel Of Ice, a space station orbiting one of the moons of Saturn sometime in the 21st century (a bit before Zoe’s time).
Turns out that when you’re on the edges of human civilisation and achievement, tensions will run high. The main cause of the tension is the sabotage that’s been occurring, which may well be the work of the colony’s children (who already feel resentment for basically being free labour – being on the frontier apparently means that silly little things like labour laws no longer apply). Or it could be the work of those mysterious blue life forms that everybody’s trying to ignore…
Where this novel excels is characterisation, the regulars especially. Admittedly, Our Benevolent Overlord probably sent this to the wrong reviewer if he wanted an expert on the Second Doctor (before you ask the obvious question, the answer is “just one – some of The Two Doctors“). But for what it’s worth, the dialogue in this book chimed perfectly with that of The Abominable Snowmen (the only other Second Doctor adventure this reviewer has read). The bit where the gang are crawling through a tunnel and the Doctor has cause to yell stands out as something that fits with the Second Doctor so perfectly…
‘Doctor?’ Zoe called. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Oh, fine, fine. I was fed up with this coat anyway.’
See what we mean? Delightfully Troughton-esque!
The main problem with the book is that the sections where Jamie goes off with the rebels can get a bit boring and deviate from the main story, which is rather too immersive to be suddenly taken away from us like that. And seemingly not content with having one challenging Scottish accent in the story, Baxter gives us another in the form of MMAC, an incredibly Glasweigan robot with a memory of a fake life and somewhat real parents. Why is the robot Scottish? We don’t know. Hope it’s not to tick some boxes though, as he’s a “twofer” (a robot and Scottish).
The other problem, although a fairly minor one in the scheme of things is that sadly, the novel’s real and pretty much only villain (unless you count “lack of communication” as the real evil here) is so telegraphed that it causes you to second guess yourself. We don’t think it’d be a spoiler to tell you that it’s Florian Hart, who appears early in the book and remains a thorn in the side of the heroes from then onwards. If it led to a twist ending, we’d keep schtum, but we’ve told you nothing that’s not incredibly obvious.
What it seems the BBC are doing with this book is an experiment to see if the classic series brand can appeal to a newer audience. While it’s all well and good having the classic series come out on DVD, we all know that a large amount of people buying them are people who are already fans of the classic series. If this is the kind of book that can come of that experiment and if it lures people into the classic series, then by golly we hope it works out for BBC Books.