For the 50th Anniversary, BBC Books decided to offer some big time sci-fi writers their chance to write Doctor Who. It's pretty rare that publishers bother with anything like that, probably because of money, and I figured it was a good way of diving into the world of Who Lit. After all, how much continuity are these guys going to throw in? They're likely to cater to the wider audience their name recognition garners. The Wheel of Ice is Stephen Baxter's contribution. While I've not read any of his own novels, I have read The Long Earth, a collaboration he did with Terry Pratchett and I loved it.
The Wheel of Ice does something that I feel is very important for new adventures of Classic Doctors. It embraces revelations that the show later gave, but subtly. Especially so for either of the first two, who have so little continuity in the real world, and so don't tell any of their companions things like Gallifrey and the nature of the TARDIS. It also does that other important task in that it doesn't contradict anything we saw back on TV in the sixties.
The book is based towards the latter stages of Two's life, with Jamie and Zoe on-board the TARDIS. Hell, more specifically it's towards the end of that series, with only the Space Pirates and War Games to go in the episodes. So the two of them are old hands at this by now. But when the Doctor opens up the TARDIS doors in space Zoe panics, and both are in utter shock when he helps a girl in an EVA suit in.
Their arrival in this era is nice, as the TARDIS takes control when a time anomaly is detected. A common occurrence for us, but with the Time Lords two serials away from debuting the idea of what they do and can do to the TARDIS is unheard of. Chronologically it makes a nice little build up towards that debut too.
Baxter's characterisation of Jamie is as good, but the accent is just over-egged. I live in Scotland, so it makes it a little worse, but even on the show Frazer Hines never hams it up this much.
However, Zoe and the Doctor are pretty spot on. The Doctor in particular is captured well, and I've heard that Troughton is a difficult one to do because so much of his Doctor revolves around his acting. It's no surprise that in some ways this is very much Zoe's show.
By placing the story a decade or so before it and have her feel frustrated at the tech level and slightly disgusted at the way this Wheel is run. Unfortunately it quickly abandons this little thread as everyone concentrates on the main threat. However, Baxter makes the rather clever move of shifting Zoe's own time to the rather more believable end of the 21st century is instead of leaving it vague as the show did.
The actual time anomaly mystery itself is okay. I liked the blue aliens that it creates, but the anomaly itself is a little strange. Mainly because I got a weird impression of what the main driving force behind it was. It's connection to a family line of Earth women and how it drove them toward Saturn is brilliantly done though, and a minor time travel tweaking that I think Who could do more of.
The Wheel of Ice is a decent Second Doctor outing written in the modern day, but it is by no means essential, even for someone who rates this particular Doctor so highly.