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The Edge of Destruction

story 3 | season 1 | serial c
Adam Leslie

One of the oddest Doctor Who adventures, and some of the oddest performances in the history of the series, much of this story seems to be happening at random. Indeed, once the cause of the whole sorry affair is revealed (a broken spring, of all things), it all becomes even more baffling.

Carole Ann Ford continues to play Susan in a state of constant near-hysteria, making her probably the most grating of all the companions. If there’s overacting to be done, you can be sure Susan will be making the most of the opportunity. Every smallest problem sends her into a nervous breakdown; the rest of the time she insists on talking in that early 1960s Audrey Hepburn affectation that was so popular at the time.

So why does our bipolar friend attack Ian with scissors? Who knows. We’re led to believe she’s been possessed or is under some kind of mind control. Actually, it just turns out she’s a nut. Though it does lead to a genuinely creepy moment when Ian returns to the room to attend to the apparently unconscious girl, only to find her bolt-upright brandishing a pair of scissors.

The normally excellent William Russell is pretty disjointed in the first half – also apparently possessed, but it seems that he just forgot to act. His line readings are very odd... he appears to be attempting Beckett towards the start or something. Grumpy old Barbara holds it all together nicely though, and Bill Hartnell is at his unpleasant best.

It’s nice to see the character development of the Doctor, and you do get a real sense that he learns and changes and grows as a person from his interaction with his human companions. There’s a real feeling that this is the Doctor fresh from the stuffy insular world of Gallifrey.

This is a baffling but entertaining two-parter that opens with the main cast apparently waking up from a night of heavy marijuana usage and doesn’t become much more lucid from that point on. As a side note, considering the problems this Doctor has remembering what he’s supposed to be saying, it’s little wonder he’s written the names of the controls on the console in felt tip pen.

Shane Anderson

This is a strange little pair of episodes. I wasn't very impressed when I first saw them, because frankly I had no clue what was going on. Even now that I understand it, the story still feels like improvisation, where David Whitaker just started writing strange dialogue for the characters and ran with it without knowing where he would end up. All of this is not to say that the story doesn't have merit, because it does, and I certainly like it now more than I did then. As a character piece it's fairly strong, however it's still not a very satisfying story.

I suppose the main purposes of the story are to flesh out the characters and to show us more about the TARDIS, and it manages to do both. With no cavemen or Daleks to steal the show, it's left to the four regulars to carry both episodes on a few small sets, and they manage this fairly well. The normally safe haven of the TARDIS has become a dark and uncertain environment, which is in itself an unusual event. We have four good actors playing four great characters in a mysterious situation, which means it ought to be exciting, but it somehow never really is. On the other hand, it is interesting to a certain degree, mainly due to the strange behavior of Susan and Ian. Susan's convulsive stabbing of the couch with a pair of scissors is pretty disturbing.

A quick examination of the plot is warranted here. The ship leaves Skaro, headed back to Earth. Along the way it crashes, knocking everyone unconscious. This evidently causes some strange side effects, such as pain, or temporary amnesia. Some time is spent trying to figure out what has happened, and the suggestion is put forth that something has gotten inside the ship, possibly hiding in one of the passengers. What has actually happened is that the fast return switch has stuck, and the TARDIS is trying to prevent its own destruction, hence the odd behavior it causes Ian to engage in, or the melted clock it produces. In the end, after a trying experience, the crew are closer together and the Doctor is less hostile and more open than he was.

It's sound enough I suppose, but the idea of an intruder being aboard is never conveyed very well, and the fast return switch explanation doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. If it's stuck, it's malfunctioned, and should have registered on the fault locator. It's an attempt at a clever ending that doesn't quite hold up.

Where the story does hold up well is in character development. By bringing the Doctor and Barbara to a catharsis of sorts, and by putting the Doctor clearly in the wrong, and by having him realize it, the crew is finally able to have it out and settle their differences, and emerge from the experience as friends rather than reluctant travelling companions. The Doctor eats a little humble pie and becomes much more accommodating to his travelling companions, leading the way later to friendship and camaraderie rather than antagonism.

I think "The Edge of Destruction" has more value in context of the season as a whole rather than as a story in its own right. It holds up on its own, and I'm glad it still exists, but it works far better as a bridge between "The Daleks" and "Marco Polo", allowing our characters to resolve some differences and form friendships before moving on to future adventures. While it's a decent little story, it falls short of the surrounding episodes. 7 out of 10.

Karl Roemer

The third story of Doctor Who ever made, the Edge of Destruction is one of the most bizarre and surreal stories produced during the Hartnell era, and pales into insignificance compared to the adventures surrounding it (The Daleks and Marco Polo), however one should be more forgiving of it’s shortcomings, considering that it was made with virtually no budget and was an rushed script by season one story editor David Whitaker. It also delves into the fear and mistrust emanating between the alien Doctor and his granddaughter Susan, and the human school teachers Ian and Barbara, and as such it does add some much needed character development and exposition, as well as proving that the Doctor is an hero with faults, and that he is not always right.

Having said that, the plot for Edge of Destruction is shallow and superfluous and features some incredibly poor acting from the cast (main offender being Carole Ann Ford as Susan).

There are still many things from the plot to me, that doesn’t make sense to me, such as the short term memory loss that occurs at the start of the serial, to why an intelligent rational person such as the Doctor could honestly accuse Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the TARDIS without any real tangible shred of evidence ?

It could be argued that the only villain in this serial is the Doctor, he is extremely rude and arrogant to his travelling companions on Earth (in a similar vein to the 6th Doctor to Peri in Twin Dilemma), at one point threatening to eject them out from the TARDIS, and drugging them with sleeping tablets. Susan has some incredibly inexplicable moments, such as the infamous scene with the scissors in episode one. And Ian, normally such an stoic and reliable figure, is prone fits of irrationality. About the only character who remains consistent is Barbara, except for that scene with the melting clock (which again isn’t satisfactorily explained) which causes her to go into uncharacteristic hysterics)

The main reason this story fails, is because of the ludicrous explanation at the conclusion, the fast return switch being stuck, is an cop out, and frankly still doesn’t explain why the characters (and the TARDIS for that matter) have acted so indifferently throughout this short saga. It would have been a far better resolution to this story if there was indeed an invisible alien presence in the TARDIS, and that the four crew members worked together to flush the entity out of the TARDIS.

The story only serves to alienate the audience away from the main hero (the Doctor) whose brusque and unfair treatment of his companions is unsettling, although it is perhaps redeemed in the ending, where it’s nice to see the likeable Ian Chesterton being so forgiving of the old time traveler, for all his eccentric ways, and showing the depth of Barbara’s hurt and anger at the Doctor’s earlier behavior was well displayed by Jacqueline Hill, and it is a nice moment when the Doctor finally manages to mumble his way uncomfortably to an apology, and the coldness of Barbara melting in the light of the Doctor’s sincerity.

At the end of the day though, this serial can only be adjudged as the only real weak link in an otherwise excellent debut season of Doctor Who.

Regrettably, the biggest highlight of Edge of Destruction, comes at the end of the serial with the sole surviving footage of Marco Polo as the cliff hangar to Roof of the World.

David Osbiston

The Edge of Destruction is probably as important as An Unearthly Child and the Daleks. The first story introduced to the characters and set the perimeters of the show, the Daleks continued the relationship and introduced the most loved monster. The Edge of Destruction meanwhile builds upon the relationship and solidifies it for future stories.

Although the plot is a bit daft with a spring being the cause of all the troubles, it is how the story is told by David Whitaker that helps cover up the plot.

The best part of the whole story is in the last few minutes where the Doctor apologises to Barbara and says ‘says we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves’ The relationship immediately changes with one line and really defines Hartnell’s Doctor.

Barbara too develops in this story and shows her intelligence and determination to escape the situation. She has changed so much since the screaming, frightened women in the cave of skulls and on Skaro.

Although Susan acts oddly – especially with the scissors, Carole Anne Ford does play her wonderfully, although still like a young child and not as the women she would later develop into.

Ian too develops and Russell plays him with his usual style and willingness to fight against the Doctor if he thinks he is right.

This story is unique in the way it is told and is therefore special in the show’s history. It ranks as one of the best Hartnell stories and certainly helps in the development of the program. 8/10

Graham Roberts

This story is rather uneven. On the one hand are some rather odd acting moments, e.g. Ian’s false “strangulation” gestures and Susan’s very moody stares, but on the other the audience sees some great confrontations, particularly between Barbara and the Doctor near the end of episode one. The Doctor’s verbal attack is strong enough to make the audience fully support Barbara’s reaction and she stands up for herself wonderfully. Hartnell also has his best episode yet in The Brink of Disaster – he transforms from a hostile accuser to an apologising kind man who has learnt something very important. His flustered inability to apologise to Ian is great to watch, as is his decent apology to Barbara at the end. No other episode in the history of the series ever had the Doctor learn so much about friendship and himself.

All of this drama is enacted within the TARDIS and involves no one else, giving us time to see more of the TARDIS interior and the dynamic of the crew. I feel the direction isn’t quite good enough to make the audience believe there is an intruder aboard, and the initial lapse of memory results in some odd moments between Ian and Barbara at the beginning. Susan’s behaviour is particularly worrying – she certainly looks possessed but when the cause of the crisis is revealed, this is shown to be false, so her violent scissor attack was based on paranoia, fear and hysteria rather than possession. Freud would probably have liked to ask her some questions after that one.

The story’s main boost in my opinion is not the Fast Return switch problem but Hartnell’s performance. He is suspicious, worries, cares, bullies, learns, speculates and apologises all in a few scenes in these episodes. When he fails to bully Barbara he offers the crew drinks, his explicit intention to calm everyone down hiding his real intention of forcing them to sleep so he can solve the mystery himself. The scene where he checks Ian and Barbara, chuckling to himself, is wonderful, for he is childishly enjoying himself. The next episode forces him to admit he needs the help of others to solve the problem (a nice touch for from Pertwee onwards he becomes so clever and invulnerable that he rarely needs anyone to help him). However his potential to commit murder is raised again (not seen since the Za stone incident) but this time it’s worse for he is going to force two acquaintances out of his TARDIS who have previously saved his life and are the victims of his prejudiced false conclusions of events he has shown he doesn’t understand. This act makes his desire to ask Barbara to forgive him at the end more touching – not only has he learnt an important lesson about himself, he needs forgiveness to move on. His line “You still haven’t forgiven me have you?” is very poignant and when Barbara does forgive him the audience knows this crew is now much stronger and warmer than it has ever been before. It is a significant development and a sign of David Whitaker’s writing skills as well as the acting of the regular cast.

The stock music adds to the drama very well, but I associate it more strongly with The Moonbase and kept thinking of that story when I heard it. It makes the “mystery” stranger. The cause of the problem is almost incidental to the suspicions it has raised, but the final moments when the Doctor fixes the spring have sufficient drama to make us urge him to hurry up before they’re all annihilated. The final moments are nice to see – the tension has gone once the Doctor is forgiven and they are all looking forward to exploring their next destination. The audience will see a kinder Doctor from now on, though his complex fascinating nature will still remain…

Robert L. Torres

"Can it be possible then... that this is the end?"

This is another one of my favorite adventures and the placement of this particular two-part episode, being in-between the first Dalek adventure and the first proper historical adventure, couldn't be more appropriate.

In various sci-fi programs that involve travelling to different planets there are usually instances when the action is confined to a starship or the base from which they venture out to different worlds. In the case of this particular program, it is the TARDIS. These are usually referred to as 'bottle' episodes. Making these types of episodes serves a number of unique purposes; it helps cut down on expenses used on developing extravagant set pieces or of going on location for filming and production, it also makes the sense of mystery, dread and impending doom much more focused, thus making the atmosphere quite claustrophobic, and it also provides great opportunities for character development. All of this is achieved to exceptional effect in 'Edge of Destruction'.

In the opening scene we see the crew of the TARDIS knocked out by a mysterious force. Upon regaining consciousness, each of them become dazed and slightly disoriented but they each instinctively know that something isn't right. The fact that so many strange occurrences take place that don't make any logical sense enhances the viewer's lack of knowledge regarding space travel as well as time travel and about the unknown forces that may exist. It also showcases that there is still a great deal we don't know about the TARDIS itself. When you consider how early this is in the show's history as well as in the travels of the main characters, this adventure allows us to share in their confusion and lack of understanding, as they don't know what's going on within the ship any more than we do.

This two-part adventure also showcases the exceptional talents of all four cast members. This is especially true as during the course of the two episodes a line is drawn in the sand between the two alien time travellers and the regular humans.

Carol Ann Ford showcases a great range as she tries to come to grips with what is happening, and in her disorientation becomes highly suspicious of the two people she had held in the same admiration and respect as her own grandfather. The way Susan goes from calm and serene to murderously psychotic and paranoid to utter despair is utterly brilliant.

But the true standouts are definitely William Hartnell and Jacqueline King. The hardfelt animosity the Doctor has held for Ian and Barbara reaches its boiling point. During the last two adventures he has had to put up with two irritating strangers that had forced their way onto his ship and had time and again had the utter audacity to try and tell him what to do with his own life. Not to mention having to deal with their constant pestering over things they could never hope to understand, especially considering that he really doesn't feel at all obligated to explain things to people who are far from being his equals on any sort of level. It is this very thought that drives his utter refusal to believe or even consider any of Barbara's theories (at least at first), especially the most important one: that the TARDIS herself was trying to give them vital clue to help them figure a way out of their predicament. This is especially true considering that the Doctor (at this point in time) doesn't want to think that someone of such limited intelligence and comprehension could understand his ship better than he can. This in itself also drives home something that the Doctor doesn't even want to admit; that he doesn't fully understand how his ship works either. Of course, the Doctor being a scientist makes his conclusions and accusations based on hard facts. He accused Ian and Barbara of foul play because to him, it seemed the only logical explanation despite the inherent illogical nature behind the basis of the accusation.

Barbara shows strength of character and obvious venom as she stands up to the indignant and cantankerous old man for daring to accuse her and Ian of trying to cause the Doctor and Susan harm, and of trying to sabotage the ship. She basically showcases that she was not about to be bullied by the likes of him, even going so far as to remind him that it was she and Ian that saved his and Susan's lives (not once, but twice), in addition that it was the Doctor's fault that they were captured by the Daleks in the first place.

The resulting revelation of where the TARDIS had been trying to materialize in (the Big Bang) is very much well written, and the further revelation of the reason why the ship was stuck in the one particular loop of time is both humorous and a bit ironic. Because despite how technologically sophisticated the TARDIS is, the irony comes from the simple fact that something as trivial and seemingly insignificant as a stuck spring could throw all of the systems into disarray.

'Edge of Destruction' also work well as the first of many turning points within the entirety of the series itself. This marks the turning point in which the foursome within the ship go from unwilling travellers and unwanted annoyances to a group of very good friends, almost like a family, with more respect and admiration for one another than ever before. This also marks a turning point in the characterization of the Doctor, especially in the final scene where he goes to make amends with Barbara. It is here that marks the beginning of his change from a grumpy old man to a charming and loveable elderly gentleman that he would be throughout William Hartnell's tenure on the show.

In addition, the line he speaks to her: 'As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves' speaks volumes in that the Doctor now has nothing but the highest regard and respect for both her and Ian. It is a bloody shame that their wouldn't be another adventure in this same vein again for this series.