The novel “The Wheel of Ice” by Stephen Baxter was published for the first time in 2012.
A large wheel hosts a mining colony in the Saturn system. It’s a frontier place where the staff works hard and the workers’ children grow up without much hope. There should not be anything strange but the Tardis is attracted by a strange anomaly and stops in the area.
The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are forced to investigate to see why the Tardis has stopped there. However, they themselves suspected of sabotage because strange failures are happening lately in the station. What are the strange blue dolls that someone claims to have seen but of which other people deny the existence?
Generally novels connected to the TV show “Doctor Who” are published in book series characterized by specific graphics, size and very similar lengths. In some cases, however, the BBC chose to publish novels written by famous science fiction authors that have different characteristics including an increased length that allows to offer better developed stories.
Stephen Baxter is one of the most famous hard science fiction authors but with “The Wheel of Ice” in some way he contained himself in the sense that he wrote a novel in which he tried to maintain a degree of scientific accuracy but without going deep too heavy with those elements.
The story tries to be realistic but also contains fictional elements. For example, it takes place mainly in an installation that aim to collect a mineral called bernalium which is very rare in the solar system. It’s concentrated in a small moon of Saturn called Mnemosyne.
A mining station surrounds Mnemosyne but a strange anomaly in the area attracts the Tardis, which arrives there and refuses to move. The Second Doctor must find the cause in order to be able to leave with his companions Jamie and Zoe. Stephen Baxter uses some literary elements not exactly original as the basis of the story to develop a plot that ends up greatly extendeding in space and time.
The working conditions in the mining station are difficult and the prospects for the workers’ children are not very good. The Doctor and his companions soon realize that the managers of the company that owns the installation are only interested in profit. In essence, it’s a basic plot element that existed since the industrial revolution and those were an update of themes that already existed in a different way.
In addition to representing a beginning of the story, that also allows Stephen Baxter to describe Zoe’s reactions. The girl comes from a future that’s a few decades from that period and seeing the differences between the aseptic and advanced space station in which she grew up and the mining station is quite traumatic for her.
Also concerning the Doctor and his companions Stephen Baxter got inspired by the adventures of the classic “Doctor Who” series. The travelers arrive on the mining station and almost immediately get into trouble, in this case because in recent times there have been several strange incidents and they’re suspected of being saboteurs.
The actually culprits seem to be creatures that look like blue dolls but most grown-ups refuse to believe in their existence and deny having seen them for fear of being taken for fools. The Doctor tries to understand the origin of those blue dolls and their connection to the anomaly that blocked them in the area and end up discovering a story that began billions of years ago, before the birth of the solar system.
Stephen Baxter contained himself with the development of the scientific elements but he still included several of them. Parts where Jamie traveling with a group of young people from the station in the Saturn system allows the author to realistically describe some of the planet’s moons and the possible ways to travel in the Saturn’s area or on the surface of Enceladus.
Although it’s not part of a regular series, it doesn’t mean that “The Wheel of Ice” is not fully part of “Doctor Who” saga. On the contrary, I think Stephen Baxter grasped the essence of the protagonists and filled the novel with references to other Doctor’s adventures you can have fun in recognizing.
The novel isn’t perfect. Only some of the characters created for it are developed and in particular the managers with which the Doctor and various inhabitants of the station clash is one-dimensional. The part of the story about Zoe is interesting at the beginning but at the end the girl is sidelined and that’s a shame.
Despite its flaws, in my opinion “The Wheel of Ice” is overall a good novel I enjoyed very much. Stephen Baxter is an excellent author who has a style that’s really suitable to tell an adventure of the Doctor. For this reason I recommend reading it to “Doctor Who” fans.