Welcome to the 3rdinstalment of Who Review, NCP’s ongoing column reviewing, in chronological order, every storyline from TV’s longest running SF series, Doctor Who. This week, it’s terror inside the TARDIS itself as we look back on the Doctor’s 3rd storyline, The Edge of Destruction.
For a complete listing of the previous Who Review posts please click here – Who Review Archive
TITLE: The Edge of Destruction aka Inside the Spaceship (2 episodes)
08 February – 15 February 1964
While attempting to repair the TARDIS’ faulty navigation system, the Doctor causes an explosion that renders all onboard unconscious. When they awaken, they find that they’re suffering slight bouts of amnesia coupled with paranoia, as each questions the motives of those around them. There are strange anomalies and seeming malfunctions within the TARDIS itself, which helps fuel this paranoia. The Doctor even accuses Ian and Barbara of deliberate sabotage and attempts to drug them. He is particular cruel and dismissive of Barbara.
Before things get completely out of hand, Barbara is able to assemble clues as to what’s happening and the Doctor determines that the TARDIS itself is attempting to warn the crew that something is wrong. A broken spring in the Fast Return Switch on the TARDIS console has the time machine hurtling back to the dawn of time, placing the entire crew in grave danger.
This is the first indication we get in the series that the TARDIS is self-aware and capable of independent thought. It is sentient enough to place clues for Barbara and the Doctor to decipher.
On a humorous note, the words “Fast Return” appear in felt-tip pen above the switch on the TARDIS console. Designer Raymond Cusick believes this may have been written during rehearsals as a guide for the actors. Producer Verity Lambert and actress Carole Ann Ford (who plays Susan) have stated that the controls were often labelled as such for William Hartnell’s benefit during rehearsals, but that the label clearly shouldn’t be there in the televised production.
Repairing the broken spring, the Doctor is able to return things to normal. However, he has still hurt Barbara’s feelings with his earlier comments, and must apologise to her while admitting he was wrong about her and Ian.
This apology scene is certainly the highlight of the episode. We see that the Doctor is clearly uncomfortable with apologies and admitting his own mistakes, but noble and honest enough to swallow his pride and make things right.
With both the technological damage and group morale repaired, the crew continues on their journeys. As the story ends, the TARDIS materialises in a snowy, mountainous landscape, where Susan discovers a large footprint in the snow.
Often, TV series will produce cheaper, shorter episodes like this, usually due to a delay in production or a need to fit within budgetary restrictions. The Edge of Destructionwas written in two days by story editor David Whitaker due to a delay in the construction of sets and costumes for the next storyline, Marco Polo.
This story is clearly filler, but it’s a credit to Whitaker that he used this 2-parter to progress the relationships of the four key characters and establish them as a more functional team. It’s an excellent transition between the strongly divided group we see in The Daleks and the more united team in Marco Polo.
We see a more fallible side to the Doctor in this storyline. He is unable to deduce what’s happening alone and must rely on his companions for aid. He even apologises for his actions at the end of the story, a rare moment for the Doctor in any of his incarnations. Slowly, we see his paternal instincts moving beyond just Susan to embrace the rest of the TARDIS crew.
Barbara is fully given a chance to shine in this story. We see her clever, deductive mind, as she pieces together the clues that even the Doctor has been unable to spot. It’s a refreshing change to the Barbara of the previous storylines.
Overall, the bond between the Doctor and his companions is strengthened greatly in The Edge of Destruction.
For a cheaply made episode written at the last minute to fill a gap in production, The Edge of Destructionis a surprisingly strong storyline. Its focus on the four main characters helps to flesh them out and show us new aspects of their personalities.
Join me for the next Who Review, where I’ll look at Marco Polo and discuss the reason why 106 episodes of Doctor Who are lost to us.