THE WHEEL OF ICE
by Stephen Baxter
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Back in the distant age of the 1980s, a friend of mine attempted to get me hooked on Doctor Who. His attempts were mostly unsuccessful. I watched the episodes I watched out of a sense of duty to my friend, and because I figured it was something I should like, and because of the hope that it would get better. The Doctor I was first introduced to was Tom Baker, who I felt was a little too camp for my tastes. Eventually, my friend (and local PBS station) tried showing me some of the older episodes with Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, and David Hartnell and I learned that I rather liked Patrick Troughton more than his successors. I also like Stephen Baxter, whose books I've been reading for several years, has won two Sidewise Awards, and has sat on the Sidewise Award jury with me for the past few years. When I learned that Baxter was going to be publishing a Doctor Who novel, and that it would feature the Second Doctor, I decided that it was time to pick up a Doctor Who novel, and so, I found myself reading The Wheel of Ice.
When the TARDIS suddenly materializes within the rings of Saturn, the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves under bombardment by the debris that makes up the spectacular
rings that encircle the planet. They are saved from potential disaster by Phee Laws, a young girl whose mother is the mayor of the colony of a space station built around the Saturnian moon Mnemosyne.1 Once they are on board the space station, which has historical ties to the space station where the Doctor had previously picked up Zoe, the trio are held on suspicion that they might be linked to sabotage which is plaguing the space station.
Once the Doctor has worked their way out of prison, Baxter focuses his attention on Zoe and the Doctor's attempt to solve the mystery of the sabotage while Jamie finds himself in a position to give the reader a tour of various Saturnian moons. The novel form allows Baxter to do much more than the script form would as he is limited neither by run time nor production costs. Instead, he is able to paint narrative pictures of the wonders of the Saturnian system, the details of life on the wheel, and the alien blue dolls that only the young of the wheel appear to see. Despite not having to worry about costs, however, Baxter keeps the cast to a small number, reminiscent of the size of the casts of many episodes of Doctor Who.
Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that Baxter has managed to capture the voices of Troughton-era Doctor Who. Not only can the reader hear Troughton, Frazier Hines, and Wendy Padbury's voices when reading their dialogue, but the pacing of the story is similar to the shows of that period. Baxter and his characters take their time in not only revealing what is happening among the moons of Saturn, but the Doctor patiently explains to the other characters what is happening as he figures it out.
The Wheel of Ice successfully captures the feel of a Patrick Troughton episode of Doctor Who. In addition to the characters, creatures, and settings, Baxter draws from other Doctor Who stories to make references to the Silurians, T-Mats, and numerous other adventures to further reward the fans and readers. At the same time, Baxter assumes a certain knowledge of the Doctor's background, that may leave readers new to Doctor Who wondering, but not completely lost in the novel.
1. Saturn does not have a moon named Mnemosyne and is unlikely to since that name has already been bestowed upon asteroid 57 Mnemosyne, discovered in 1859 .
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