Book Review – Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice

  • Title: The Wheel of Ice
  • Series: Doctor Who – Unknown
  • Author: Stephen Baxter
  • Characters: Second Doctor, Jaime, Zoë
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/26/2016

The Wheel of Ice is a hard Science Fiction novel featuring the Second Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton on the BBC television series, Doctor Who. The Doctor, Jaime, and Zoë are in the TARDIS when it unexpectedly appears in the middle of the rings of Saturn. The atmosphere of Saturn is volatile and the TARDIS is immediately hit by large chunks of ice. But they are rescued by Phee, a young girl on an in-system scooter and MMAC a computer and AI that maintains the Wheel.

The Wheel is a space habitat for the miners and administrators who are mining the moon, Mnemosyne, for Bernalium – a rare and thus extremely valuable mineral. The mining operation is run by Bootstrap Mining, and their head administrator is Florian Hart – a ruthless businesswoman. Also, the Wheel has additional departmental heads: Jo Laws, the mayor; the chief medical officer, Sinbad Omar; Luis Reyes, ambassador from the Planetary Ethics Commission of Earth; and Marshal Sonia Paley, the head police officer. Jo and her family are central to the story. Her daughter, Phee, is the first to meet The Doctor and the TARDIS crew, her son, Sam, is a teenager, forced to work in the mines and not too happy about it, and her baby daughter, Casey, actually is the first to encounter the mysterious alien hidden on Mnemosyne.

Florian Hart is ruthless, in the name of profits for Bootstrap, she has forbidden all education for the younger generation, the children born on the wheel, and uses them as laborers in the mine. Children as young as seven are sent on “familiarity courses”. Jo, with three children, isn’t thrilled about this, but sees it as the way of the world.

The Wheel is also experiencing acts of “sabotage”, which Florian Hart blames on the children and teenagers of the Wheel, despite the inherent lack of logic in her accusations (she’s basically picking on a group she doesn’t like to blame without any evidence and ignoring evidence to the contrary). When a piece of machinery is destroyed by an explosion, Hart uses it as an excuse to round-up all the teenagers who work in the mines and place them under house arrest. She even threatens to physically mutilate them as punishment. The teenagers, including Jaime – who’s gotten wrapped up in their situation – escape to the moon, Titan.

The Doctor, and Dr. Omar, investigate the explosion and discover that the machinery was destroyed by a methane explosion. They also find a dead “Blue Doll”. These aliens had been seen by the children working in the mines, but were denied by the administrators of the Wheel, especially Florian Hart. When the Doctor points out that the machinery exploded because of the methane fuel, and shows the evidence of the dead Blue Doll everyone but Hart agrees something else may be going on.

The Doctor, Zoë, Jaime, Jo Laws, Sam, and the other administrators besides Hart begin to investigate to figure out what is really happening on the Wheel and the nearby moons. The truth involves an ancient AI, Ark, and storage library from another galaxy from long ago, and the Blue Dolls, and later, Blue Soldiers it constructs.

Most of this book is told in the typical third-person fashion of the Doctor Who original tie-in novels. However, there are chapters told from the point-of-view of the two AIs: MMAC (who has a Scottish accent) and Arkive. And there’s a chapter that describes how an amulet (really a temporal lure sent by Arkive deep into Earth’s past) is passed down from woman to woman in Jo’s family to finally be worn by Phee.

I enjoyed the characterizations in this book the best – Phee, Sam, Jo, MMAC, ARKIVE, even the villainous Florian Hart all leap off the page. Jaime, Zoë, and the Doctor also are in character and given plenty to do without the obvious trope of the companions being split up simply so each can learn separate pieces of information, get rescued, and report back. Zoë and the Doctor spend most of their time together, for example. And although Jaime has his own adventures, it’s nice to see the 18th century Scot get some real action where he’s able to be useful despite his unfamiliarity with the environment. The section of the book on Titan is wonderfully written, both the descriptions, and showing how Sam and the other teens behave and think. The book also succeeds in terms of the plot. Some readers might find Florian Hart to be a bit of a cardboard villain, but she is given a credible backstory that relates to an older Second Doctor adventure on the BBC series.

Recommended.

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