Doctor Who Sunday: The Edge of Destruction
Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.
We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…
Before this: Season 1, Episode 2: The Daleks.
Season 1, Episode 3: The Edge of Destruction
Background: ‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a two part serial set entirely in the TARDIS.
Who said the BBC didn’t do unusual and unnerving in the 1960’s? The Edge of Destruction may only be a two part filler, but it was full of characterisation and action, insofar as was available to the BBC at the time. It is a bottle episode, and as a result, the action and tension is done purely through the acting skills of the performers (as well as some stock photos and models from the BBC). However, the story itself is quite tense, as the audience doesn’t know what’s going on for quite some time.
The story itself starts suddenly and violently, with an explosion rocking the TARDIS and sending all the occupants flying. They proceed to go through a tense mind-affecting period, during which the two humans, Ian and Barbara, are in direct conflict with the Doctor and Susan. Susan actually starts attacking people, the Doctor accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotage and threatens to jettison them into space, and they all suffer from memory loss. On top of this, the TARDIS appears to be falling apart, with no food and water, and the scanner simply showing a slide show of previous destinations. During this time, the characters are all placed under immense strain, and a dark, almost artistic exploration of the characters ensues.
After slowly regaining their memories back (and with Barbara furiously demanding that the Doctor stop being paranoid and come to his senses), the Doctor then realises that, rather anti-climatically, the problem was that he has forgotten to flip a switch properly. The ending, which was incredibly quaint, was the only real thing in the episode which didn’t fit. Whilst it did break the tension admirably, it felt quite forced, as well as jarring with the dark nature of the rest of the story.
Due to the small amount of props and one setting for the story, the burden of the tension and story momentum came down to the writers and the actors. In this regard they performed admirably. William Hartnell as the Doctor for example was able to convey quite well a paranoid old man, highly defensive of his machine, and his distrust of Ian and Barbara draws him immediately to the conclusion that they have sabotaged him and the TARDIS, defying even Barbara’s logic to the contrary. The acting managed to keep the small story together.
Possibly due to the unusual and creepy elements in the episodes, the story felt much more edgy, ending aside, from other First Doctor stories. Whilst some of the serials have an almost “play-like” feel, presenting more like a stage performance than television, The Edge of Destruction appeared to be much more like a television story. Because of this, the ending was even more of an anti-climax, as once the tension was lifted, that sense of “play-like” made a return.
Overall though, the story itself was a good interlude between The Daleks and Marco Polo. For those just starting on a Classic Who adventure, do not be too alarmed by this strange filler – it adds quite a large amount of depth to the characters (it is the first time that the Doctor gets a real telling off – by anyone!). Overall, an odd story, but quite a good one.
I love me a bottle episode, and The Edge of Destruction is no exception. Generally speaking, bottle episodes are used when a show doesn’t have the budget for a lot of location filming, and instead chooses to film it all in one set. The BBC didn’t throw a lot of money at Doctor Who at the beginning, which is probably why a bottle episode was in order.
These two episodes are incredibly intense. The TARDIS begins behaving oddly, as do the travellers, and the goal is to solve the mystery. There is a lot to enjoy about it. The acting, which utilises the strengths of the small cast, is excellent, as is the writing. Weird mind screwy occurrences are part and parcel – this two-parter is full of mistrust, scheming and confusion. Barbara and Ian’s suspicion that the Doctor is messing with them is fair – their last death-defying adventure did start because the Doctor lied to them.
In any case, The Edge of Destruction is far more suspenseful and troubling than you’d expect a kids’ sci-fi/history show to be. The four characters all suffer from mysterious amnesia at the beginning of the episode and at various points afterwards. Susan, in particular, wields a pair of (supposedly sharp) scissors, whereas the Doctor becomes paranoid and condescending towards the humans aboard.
This probably isn’t the best classic episode to begin with, because rather than encountering outside forces, they’re dealing with matters inside the TARDIS. It makes for an interesting character study, but it’s a bit difficult to walk into straight off. The Doctor is incredibly abrasive, even more than usual, and Barbara bears the brunt of it.
The way they eventually solve the problem is awfully quaint. Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor finally manage to sort themselves out and work together. Barbara, especially, collects clues which aid the Doctor, and they realise that a ‘fast return’ switch that had been pressed stayed stuck, sending the TARDIS back to the beginning of time.
With everything back to normal, the only thing left to do is to see what’s going on outside. Oh, and for the Doctor to apologise to Barbara. Heads up – it’s pretty cute.
Before this: Season 1, Episode 2: The Daleks.
Next up: Season 1, Episode 4: Marco Polo