What do you get if you cross "The Wheel in Space" with "The Ice Warriors"? "The Wheel Warriors"? Nope. "The Ice in Space"? Try again. "The Space Warriors"? No, silly - it's "The Wheel of Ice", of course!
Following on from "Shada
", BBC Books gives us another chunky hardback featuring a classic series Doctor, and this time it's a completely original novel rather than a novelisation - the first such publication since 2005! The TARDIS crew on this occasion is from the end of the 1960s monochrome era: the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. I must be honest and say that Stephen Baxter's dialogue for the Doctor often does not sound much like Patrick Troughton to me, though the general characterisation is correct: compassionate, but with a hard-edged streak when the situation demands it. Jamie and Zoe come across well, though the former's accent is stronger than it tended to be on television.
The author throws in numerous casual references to aspects of the "Doctor Who" universe, particularly from Zoe's time aboard the TARDIS. There are allusions to "The Wheel In Space
" (the fuel source bernalium is a major plot point, and meson shields and the Pull Back to Earth movement are also mentioned), "The Mind Robber
" (the surface of Titan reminds Jamie of the landscape of the Land of Fiction, and Zoe recalls the comic-strip adventures of the Karkus), "The Invasion
" (the Cybermen and UNIT) and "The Seeds of Death
" (the Ice Warriors and T-Mat). In honour of Kit Pedler, the scientist who provided ideas for several 1960s storylines and co-created the Cybermen, Baxter includes a phenomenon known as pedleron particles.
The fact that both the Mnemosyne Cincture and the station where the Doctor first met Zoe are called Wheels is never commented upon in the book. Indeed, Baxter goes out of his way never to refer to Space Station W3 by its informal designation, the Wheel, which was used throughout "The Wheel in Space". However, it is possible that after the Mnemosyne Wheel made such a name for itself, the term became common parlance for any vaguely circular space station or colony.
You may have gathered by now that I came to this book as a "Doctor Who" fan rather than a Stephen Baxter aficionado, but I also enjoyed the hard science the author brings to the mix. The book incorporates a fascinating tour of Saturn's rings and satellites, including the icy Enceladus and the disconcertingly Earth-like Titan. After perusing such passages, I would frequently find myself going online to read more about these wonders of the Solar System (but not Mnemosyne, which is a made-up moon). Many of these sequences are seen through Jamie's eyes, thus ensuring that everything is explained in terms that non-scientists will grasp. They also involve plenty of interplanetary peril, which balances the intrigue and political machinations that take place on the Mnemosyne Cincture.
The author never allows his up-to-the-minute scientific knowledge to undermine the imagination of the Swinging Sixties. If it was shown or mentioned on the telly, then it is part of the "Doctor Who" universe, including Z-Bombs, taranium, and time-travel done with mirrors. If it seems far-fetched, it is worth remembering that in this version of reality, the British space programme reached Mars and Jupiter during the 20th century, so it is no giant leap to assume that there will be a colony at Saturn by about 2050. Where possible, though, Baxter grounds this stuff in reality or believable theory - surprisingly, the flying car depicted in a flashback to around 2010 is a real vehicle!
The secret that lies at the heart of Mnemosyne perhaps owes a little to "Star Trek: The Motion Picture
", but for the most part "The Wheel of Ice" is a diverting amalgamation of cutting-edge science and the adventurous spirit of the Sixties. Wheelie nice.