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Thursday, 14 December 2006 - Reviewed by Finn Clark

"Oh dear, a six-parter," I thought. I watched the two surviving episodes and my suspicions appeared to be confirmed. Part three barely feels like a part two, while part six feels like a part three. I was taken aback by the destruction of the Cybership and the spinning away of the Cybermen into space, which would be an unsatisfying ending for just one episode, let alone the climax of a six-week epic! I was ready to bash this thing to matchsticks...

...but then I read the scripts. It makes such a difference to see the whole story. If you put the surviving episodes in context, you can see the structure. It's still creakingly slow, but tension does build over the six weeks. (...Finn says provisionally, not having heard the audios or seen the reconstruction.) As in The Seeds of Doom, the traditional "four and two" six-parter pattern is turned on its head with a claustrophobic prologue on the Silver Carrier leading into the main story on the Wheel. A doom-laden atmosphere builds up and I'm prepared to bet that episode five was downright scary. The New Zealand censor clips look intense and Gemma Corwyn's murder is sinister even on the page, going so far as to get its own cliffhanger.

I decided that I like the script and even admire the production. It's a solid piece of work from everyone: designers, actors and direction. Check out the Cyber-murder in part six. They're repeating the "lift someone over their head" trick from Tomb, but this time they get it right. You can't see the Kirby wire! In fact the whole sequence looks brutal. That's a better directed and scarier Cyber-murder than anything from the colour era.

The model work is great, but the spacesuits are fantastic! Those may be the best-looking spacesuits in all of Doctor Who. I also love the new Cybermen. Leaving aside the fact that they're so bloody big, this is where they got their teardrops! I adore the teardrop. I'm absurdly pleased that the new Russell T. Davies Cybermen have teardrops. I don't think anyone will ever invent a more perfect visual metaphor for the tragedy of the Cybermen, or incidentally execute it better than the DWM comic strip did with That Shot of Junior Cyberleader Kroton. It's a beautiful accident of design.

On the downside, again a director thinks that Cybermen need to move when talking. Earthshock somehow got away with it, but here it looks almost as stupid as it did in Attack of the Cybermen. (Hell, if you must indicate which one's speaking, add a visual effect like the glass jaw or the Tomb/Moonbase mouth flaps.) The difference is that 1980s Cybermen did little boogies, but their Wheel predecessors incline their upper bodies as if bowing Japanese-style.

The Cybermen are famously absent for much of this story, but the Cybermats and possessed humans take up the slack nicely. I liked the Cybermats, which look far more effective than they deserved to. As in Tomb, it's one of television's miracles that the Cybermats didn't make the entire nation fall about laughing. Doctor Who has made a pig's ear of far less unpromising ideas. Unfortunately their victim in part three takes up the comedy slack by being terrified even before the cuddly toys have blasted a crowbar from his hand. His actual death is effective, though.

The accents are interesting, though. We had 'em in Moonbase and we have 'em again here. The Troughton-era 21st century was self-consciously international. I want to blame Star Trek and its cosmopolitan crew, but unfortunately it only reached the UK three years after its US d├ębut in 1966.

As an aside, that's an amazing combination of writers! Dr Kit Pedler rewritten by David Whitaker, the man who reinvented Clarke's Law: "Any sufficiently badly written science is indistinguishable from magic." Thus we have the fluid links coming back in a story with hard sci-fi and painstakingly crafted spacesuits. Forget the sexual air supply. That's just a goof, albeit a rightly famous one. More startling is a throwaway line: "Reinforce the anti-matter field around the Wheel." Reinforce the WHAT??? We're only in the 21st century! It wasn't not my imagination either, since the scene continues with: "Switch on the anti-matter field projectors." However David Whitaker obviously meant this to mean just a matter-repelling field, while it's not as if anti-matter got a rigorous scientific treatment in stories like The Three Doctors and Planet of Evil.

Yet again in Doctor Who, a commander goes insane. I guess it's saying something about the show's attitude towards authority, but couldn't they introduce extra screening for these people at the interview stage or something?

Personally I think this story suffers more than most from being incomplete, though I'm prepared to be contradicted by someone who's heard the audios and/or seen the reconstructions. Cyber-fans are lucky that all their stories are well-represented, though. Of their five 1960s stories, one is complete, two are nearly complete and the other two both have two surviving episodes. These ones don't stand up very well as individual instalments but at least they look pretty, with Troughton on good form ("Hello, I think I've got company" before a lovely Cyber-confrontation). I hadn't known what to expect from this, but in the end after some thought I decided that was impressed.