Review No.34 – The Wheel of Ice

The Wheel of Ice – Stephen Baxter

BBC Books, 2012

Humanity is staking its claim on the solar system and the Wheel lies at the forefront of the outward push. A ring of ice and steel in orbit around one of Saturn’s moons, it is home to a corporate-driven mining colony where people are classified according to their economic potential and an increasingly discontented youth are being blamed for a series of unexplained minor sabotages. When a bizarre blue box is rescued from destruction amid Saturn’s rings, suspicion diverts to the new arrivals. What nobody knows is that the blue box is in fact a time machine. Happy-go-lucky Scot Jamie is from the distant past, logical Zoe from the future, while the disarmingly eccentric Doctor is not even human. The trio have come to investigate an anomaly in time, and what they discover is a secret older, and more dangerous, than the humans are willing to believe possible.

Having recently read and enjoyed The Long Earth, co-authored by Stephen Baxter with Terry Pratchett, I was interested in reading more of Baxter’s solo work and as a long-time fan of Doctor Who, this book seemed an obvious place to start. Jamie is well-written and consistent with his character from the television series and Zoe, while not quite so charming, is reasonably successful as well. Unfortunately, Baxter completely fails to capture the spirit of the Second Doctor, as played by Patrick Troughton. His irrepressible personality and quirky sense of humour are glimpsed only in brief flashes. Baxter’s original characters, the occupants of the Wheel, are similarly bland and underdeveloped as people. There were good ideas in this book but they were badly explored in a slow plot, with an alien threat that was more puzzling than actually threatening. I don’t know whether the style is representative of Baxter’s work – creating successful stories based on a beloved television series is not easy – but he writes like someone more comfortable with hard science than the eccentric whimsy of Doctor Who, and it just doesn’t work.

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