Written By: Timothy X Atack
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Judith Roddy (Commander Lorne), Adam Newington (Twenty), Don McCorkindale (Porthintus), Richenda Carey (Professor Blavatsky).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Originally Released December 2017
The Wreck of the World is a rare case of a Doctor Who episode title both poetic and literal. "The World" is the name of a long lost colony ship, a huge vessel sent out from a dying Earth like a message in a bottle. But its wreck has now been found, it’s crumbling metal bones creaking and shifting in protest as human feet step upon it for the first time in thousands of years. And naturally, one of the first things encountered by the expedition blunt and pragmatic Commander Lorne leads to the World is a funny little crumpled man, a Scotsman and a petite genius in a silvery catsuit.
The mutual suspicions that are the bread and butter of many Part Ones are present and correct here, but done with unusual charm. In particular, the expedition’s resident muscle, Porthintus, is a fun mish-mash of a Kroton, a Klingon, and the archetypical dictionary-swallowing NCO. The double act that emerges between him and Jamie lends an extra spark to the two groups teaming up, as they alternate between trying to beat the hell out of each other (Porthintus doing a little less ‘trying’ and a little more ‘beating’) and a jovial bond between soldiers. In parallel, Zoe teams up with her own opposite number, Twenty, though this is a bit less successful as it hinges on them both being ‘processed’ humans with artificially expanded intelligences and limited emotional range – something perhaps briefly mentioned about Zoe on TV but is depicted here into as essential an element of her character as being Vulcan is to Star Trek’s Spock.
Needless to say, there’s more to worry about than whether Lorne and company are pirates or genuine in their desire to rescue the artefacts of thousands of years of ancient Earth, from ancient Babylonian stones to early 20th century steam trains, and bring them to museums. Soon enough there’s an army of zombies to contend with, as the mysteriously undead occupants of the long broken down cryogenic chambers emerge by the hundred and swarm to overcome our heroes. A keen sense of menace and claustrophobia hangs over the whole story, and scenes of Porthintus, Jamie and Zoe making desperate scrambles through pipes while the former colonists close in, or of games of hide and seek (or hunt the needle) among the shadows and relics of the museum decks evoke the likes of Aliens and Pandorum.
Although, like other Early Adventures, we get narration it’s probably the least unintrusive yet, simply fading into the background for the most part. It takes a little while for Wendy Padbury to warm up to sounding like her four decades younger self, but by the second episode it’s hard to notice any difference and if Zoe seems a little sterner and more remote that’s largely down to a script that emphasizes that aspect of her character above all else. Frazer Hines’ hit-and-miss Second Doctor is sadly back to mostly missing the mark, though that’s largely down to a script that maintains such a high pace throughout that his Doctor doesn’t get as much room for the wit or character moments that Hines excels at. In compensation, it’s a very good story for Jamie, who really shines here, both in the script and in Hines' good humoured performance. Plus, it has a sweet and melancholic maintenance droid that, with shades of D84 in The Robots of Death, will leave you a bit sad when she doesn’t hop aboard the TARDIS at the end.
All in all, The Wreck of the World is a fine, tense, survival thriller which excels in the sense of atmosphere it creates about the dying World. If some of the cast feel like an alternate take on well established characters, exploring roads largely untaken on screen, then it only distracts a little from an exciting entry in the Early Adventures series which matches the basics of the typical Troughton tale with the scares of a more modern horror film.