Perhaps it's because THE WHEEL IN SPACE has the reputation of being a plodding, unimaginative variant on the "isolated-group-of-humans-under-attack-by-alien-menace" plot, that it has taken so long for this 1968 soundtrack to see the light of day. Certainly, the 2 extant TV episodes (3 & 6) are by no means the greatest examples of '60s DR WHO you've ever seen. Even the presence of the popular Cybermen is not enough to make the story a favourite with fans.
Nevertheless,I rather like this one, and I feel the need to stick up for it. I suppose because I was expecting something far worse that I was pleasantly surprised by many aspects that do actually work.
First surprise was the sympathetic supporting cast. Gemma Corwyn, Leo Ryan, Tanya Lernov and others are by and large likeable and well-acted individuals who unlike say, the rather forgettable crew of THE MOONBASE (another Troughton tale of a space-base threatened by Cybermen)allow one to care about the fates of people other than the Doctor and his companions. Gemma Corwyn's death is genuinely affecting, especially as she is seen to be sharply intelligent as well as the person who seems to be most concerned about other people's well-being on the Wheel. One even has to feel pity for poor old Jarvis Bennett, the Wheel's controller. Unlike many other inflexible, disbelieving authority figures in charge of bases in DR WHO, Jarvis' problem is not that he's a grumpy old curmudgeon, or that he's possessed by extra-terrestrial mind control, but that he seems to have psychological problems. Now this may not be entirely credible for a man responsible for running a space station, but it does at least give us a character who's dramatically interesting.
Second surprise is how atmospheric the story appears as a soundtrack only. This is undoubtedly helped by the sound effects and background noises which double as the serial's music score. There is a real sense of the eerie mysteriousness of outer space. It is this creepy feeling which allowed this listener at least, to suspend disbelief about some of the less credible plot points: e.g. if the Cybermen can ionise stars, why do they need to take over the Wheel in order to invade Earth? Why do they need to go about their takeover in such an apparently over-complicated manner when they are clearly so technologically superior to humans in every way?
Third surprise: episode one which spends almost it's entire time concentrating on the Doctor and Jamie wandering round the deserted SILVER CARRIER rocket, is far less dull than I've heard it made out to be. In many ways it's a lovely little reminder of the soap opera style of the early William Hartnell stories. Here we have a welcome change of emphasis; a glimpse of Jamie's evident sadness at leaving Victoria is given to us. This focus on character, rather than on macabre menaces to humanity is refreshing because it's so unusual for the Troughton period. Also, it's a nice way for the audience to take a rest from weeks and weeks of bases under siege. Of course, in episode 2 we're straight back to business as usual...
Now I suppose that if you're not in the mood for this then yes, I've little doubt that some will find WHEEL IN SPACE a bit of a drag. Even I, with my charitable attitude, agree that the story would have been all the better for shedding at least one of it's 6 episodes. We don't get so much as a sniff of the Cybermen until right at the end of episode 2, and even then it takes them another episode and a half for them to sneak aboard the Wheel.
Again, the story's ending has the reputation of being disappointing. Rightly so, in my view. Someone closes an airlock door and the Cyberman spaceship is blown up by a laser gun...how absolutely thrilling. The real climax comes about halfway through the final episode where Troughton confronts 2 Cybs and frazzles one of them with a clever Cyb-frazzling device. Not exactly Chekhov I know, but we could have done with a bit more Troughton vs Cybermen action.
Nevertheless, despite its flaws, I rather like WHEEL..., not least because it introduces Wendy Padbury's uppity Zoe, a companion who I find it far easier to like than her predecessor; the rather hysterical Victoria. Padbury is an excellent narrator and I hope she'll be re-used for the soundtrack of THE INVASION, when the Beeb releases that.