I’ve got to give the tie-in line of Doctor Who novels credit — at least the line is willing (once a year or so) to take a risk and give the fans something different from the standard tie-in novel.
First it was Michael Moorcock playing in the Doctor Who sandbox and now it’s Stephen Baxter. And the line is even willing to allow the big-name sci-fi and fantasy authors to play with other Doctor/companion teams besides the ones currently seen in the latest batch of episodes. That alone intrigues me enough that I’m willing to put aside my preconceptions and at least give these annual offerings a chance.
In the case of The Wheel of Ice, I have to admit I wondered how Baxter’s usual hard-SF style would fit with the less-than-hard-SF style of the classic series and, specifically, the second Doctor’s era. For the most part, it’s a successful hybrid. The result is a hard-SF based base-under-seige story in which Baxter comes closer than many other writers in the Doctor Who fold have come to capturing the second Doctor on the printed page.
The Wheel of Ice feels like a six-part Patrick Troughton era story, with all the strengths and weaknesses. The TARDIS trio of the Doctor, Jaime and Zoe come across well on the printed page and while the central dilemma and threat facing the TARDIS crew and a group of isolated humans is a bit more modern feeling, it all still works well enough to keep the pages turning. Baxter even throws in some continuity references to the second Doctor era to make fans happy.
All that said, the story isn’t perfect. There’s a lot of shuttling back and forth between various locations. And while that might work on the TV screen, in the novel it becomes a bit tedious. Add in that Baxter tries to translate Jaime’s Scottish accent to the printed page and there were moments that the novel became a bit frustrating.