The TARDIS suddenly stops and The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara must face their fears and figure out what’s happened.
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So, the TARDIS is crashing for some reason. That describes about four fifths of this episode. Anyway, the travellers are all knocked unconscious, gradually wake up one by one, for some reason don’t remember anything about where or who they are.
And then, for some reason, they do.
Paranoia and conspiracy theories ensue, whereupon The Doctor attempts to kill, roofie and kill (again) his companions. For some reason. This goes on for about 90% of the twin-episode story-arc until we’re left with the most disappointing deus ex machina that has ever been pulled out of a hat on any show ever. We were both baffled and disappointed.
If you haven’t seen this episode yet, please don’t. Do listen to our review of it, though, to hear two people ripping on something that they essentially love.
(Our Ratings and Reviews of this Doctor Who story kick in at the 38-minute mark.)
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The Edge of Destruction
I really liked this episode, despite what the two of you think about it – while I agree with most of the things you’ve said about plotlines going nowhere it doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of what is, in essence, a mystery play on stage.
Ian Chesterton – The low light of the story, he does seem to spend most of his time in episode 1 at least in a zombie like induced haze, or William Russell had a few too many Tequilla’s with Billy Harnell the night before filming… lets just ignore him.
Barbara Wright – She is really the main character at this point – she’s had the romance with Hunk #1 in The Daleks, she was the entire driving force between getting into the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child and now she is the person who drives the story forward in Edge of Destruction – a force of nature in a comfortable cardigan. If they’d renamed the show “Barbara Who” at this point, I wouldn’t have cared.
Susan Foreman – Spends the entire episode acting far more like an alien child than at anytime since An Unearthly Child Part 1 – don’t think of her as a human child in this, think of her as a telepathic alien from another planet – and her strangeness is a bit more understandable
The Doctor – This is the buffer between the toxic old bastard of An Unearthly Child / The Daleks to the kind old man of The War Machines / Dalek Invasion of Earth. The final scene with him and Barbara is the “softening” of the character that was sorely needed at this point in the show.
The Good Points
Bottle Episode – We get to know more about what drives the characters (or since this is a 1960’s drama, we get vague characterisation) – The Doctor is Grumpy but Intelligent ; Ian is Manly and Scientific ; Susan is Strange and Unearthly ; Barbara is fucking brilliant.
The Doctor Changes – Not regeneration of the body, but regeneration of the soul, he starts to change from a grumpy old man who kidnapped two schoolteachers and bullied his granddaughter into the wandering scientist good guy who he was destined to become – and all thanks to Barbara.
Hartnell – His fluff’s in this episode include “Check the Fornicator” and some complete gibberish about Knocking Susan and Him unconscious which takes about 20 minutes to complete one sentence – but somehow it doesn’t seem like an error, it seems like an annoyed 450 year old man who is getting towards the end of his life.
Silence – Never before or after would silence in the TARDIS seem to creepy, no noise, no incidental TARDIS sounds, something dangerous is happening and this is a great way of showing it.
Saturday Teatime – This was a children’s show back then, and you have to bear this in mind – this was meant to kids, and we got the Doctor drugging his companions, we got people trying to kill each other, the hero of the show (Ian) was trying to kill an old man, the young girl tried to stab the hero… it’s groundbreaking for the timeslot to show these things.
The Bad Points
Plot Dead Ends – It’s 1960’s sci-fi, no one was expecting arc’s of stories referring back to each other with Russell T Davies level of planning and MOffet levels of complexity – but it would have been nice to be consistent between episode 1 & episode 2 at least.
Ten Minutes About a Spring – Susan bloody well knows what a spring is, she’s from Gallifrey and probably could build a string molecule by molecule and Ian is a bloody science teacher, and even the kids who watched this know what a spring is… WE KNOW!
It’s not perfect, but don’t take the plot as the pure thing you look at here, look at the character development, the way they interact, the silence and the timeslot and you get something which is far better than the script.
I had to say that my scores until this point are (to put things in context)
An Unearthly Child (Part 1) 4.8
An Unearthly Child (Part 2-4) 3.2
The Daleks 3.7
The Edge of Destruction 3.8
Yes, I liked this one more than the Daleks…
[…] hitherto witnessed on the show, including *spoilers* a re-enactment of the deus ex machina from Edge of Destruction (aka Descrution). From the blatant wardrobe change in the beginning that could really only have […]
I know this story doesn’t get a lot of love among veteran Who fans, but, being a relative newbie myself, I still found it enthralling. I recognize its limitations, many of which you pointed out (yes, the “Fast Return” switch is laughably anti-climactic); but there’s a lot of fun ideas (heck, it establishes the TARDIS is alive!) and so many good character moments (I *love* Barbara’s calling the Doctor onto the carpet – it’s about time!). Here’s a review I posted at The Sci-Fi Christian:
Maybe I’m like Charlie Brown with his Christmas tree, but I think all the episode needs is a little love! Obviously, it wouldn’t make it out of the writers’ room in this shape today… but, hey, it was 1964 afternoon kiddie programming, and I think it’s fairly entertaining, warts and all. And the Barbara-Doctor character arc makes it all worthwhile, in my book. I don’t think you give Jacqueline Hill enough credit – just because she smiles and makes nice with the Doctor at the end, I don’t think for a minute she’s okay with everything. She fits in well with some modern companions in this regard – she has been disillusioned by the Doctor.
Anyway, moving on to “Marco Polo” (what there is left of it, anyway), and will check back with you then. Fun and fantastic podcast – keep up the great work!
Wow what a great story that is all but ruined because of a lack of focus and a wanky explanation for the predicament.
I’ve watched this story about 10 times by now. There’s so much subtext going on its mind blowing. It really does explain so much and set up so much more. The problem is that in each case there’s at least one piece of the puzzle needed to have it all make sense that just isn’t there. If someone at some point came out with the line, “the tardis is in pain and it’s projecting its fear and paranoia on us” then suddenly all the strange acting makes sense. All the psychotic moments are acts of brilliance. Pain, fear, distrust, anger, all things you would feel if someone was forcing you to go somewhere to your certain destruction. It’s like some exec. script editor said, “take out the tardis being psychic because no one will ever believe that, but you can leave all the consequences of it.”
In fact I would guess that this was once a much longer story and the day before shooting someone cut an episode’s worth of time from the production.
As for the fast return switch, that to me screams of someone saying “kids will never understand that there’s a mechanical problem, so lets just say so,ething got stuck.”
And just why do they all wake up in different positions from where they passed out? Again it feels like something missing and could have been explained with one sentence, “perhaps something’s happened and we don’t remember it.” Would have added so much thrill to this mystery even if they never explained it further.
All aside the acting is a 15 out of 10 across the board here, the directing mostly brilliant. Even the script could be considered great…if you fill in your own blanks.
This script is ripe for someone to write a book form and add all that’s missing. It would bring this from the low score that it unfortunately must receive to a near perfect score.
What is: 1
What it is after watching 10 times and filling in the blanks: 3
What it could have been: 4.8
Squashed between two seven episode classics, ‘The Daleks’ and ‘Marco Polo’, ‘The Edge of Destruction’ is often overlooked, and perhaps that is for the best. It is filler material for the season and it was written with severe production constraints, but neither of these facts can excuse the fact that the writing is really poor and nobody – cast, crew and audience – seems to know what’s going on.
Leaving Skaro behind, the TARDIS suddenly breaks down. The formidable four black out briefly and when they recover they find themselves plunged into a psychodrama flavoured with amnesia, paranoia, hallucination, imminent danger and general hysteria.
The set-up here is actually really good: some inexplicable situation has arisen which is causing the TARDIS to malfunction and the crew to behave as if under some kind of mental attack. After the dull Thals and duller Cavemen, it’s nice to spend significant amounts of time with the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara. There is acknowledgement of everything that has happened from the beginning of the show onwards; there is some attempt to unravel the tensions within the group. In particular, Barbara’s relationship with the Doctor is brilliantly pugnacious and their final reconciliation feels very genuine. There is a rare sense of character development in this story.
It is typical to berate the cast for bad acting in this story, and it’s hardly perfect, but I think there should be kudos to them for making the best of a bad job when given lines such as Barbara’s: “Time was taken away from us, and now it’s being given back because it’s running out”.
I’m even going to go out on a limb here and say that Susan turns in a remarkable performance in the first half of the story: from the moment she picks up the scissors, she would fit right in on ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Having her wandering the ship with a vacant expression, scissors in hand, does a lot to increase the tension.
It all falls apart. I said this before about ‘An Unearthly Child’ but here it falls faster and further. There is absolutely no coherent plot or structure or development; the resolution, when it comes, is both pathetically trivial (a sticky button) and completely unsatisfying; Susan’s acting in the second half destroys any kudos she built up in the first half, and we are left feeling very frustrated.
There was a chance here to tell any of a number of different stories, and maybe this was the original intention: (1) an alien intelligence has infiltrated the TARDIS – it could be anyone at any time; (2) the TARDIS is in some form of danger, and is psychically reaching out to the minds of the crew in an attempt to communicate this; (3) the crew are getting cabin fever after being stuck with each other for so long. Paranoia and conspiracy abounds.
Any one of these stories could have made for an excellent 2-parter, but ‘Edge of Destruction’ opts for telling little bits of all of them and not actually telling any of them properly.
Susan – a psycho zombie – stabs the couch with scissors again and again and again.
Susan wonders if an alien intelligence has boarded the TARDIS. Barbara – “Where could it hide?” Susan – “In one of us”
That special moment when Susan and Barbara look at the scanner, and, in clear reflection, we see not just the boom mic, but the whole sound recordist running across the stage to catch the dialogue.
The Doctor drugs everyone, turning up like a sinister butler with little plastic cups. As everyone collapses into sleep, he delivers a full-blown cackle.
The lights go out in the TARDIS, the Doctor leans against the console, soliloquises eloquently about the formation of the solar system, and then literally tries to chew off his knuckles.
In a shameless Art Department fail, the Fast Return switch is marked by the words ‘Fast Return’ written on the console in felt-tip pen.
It may be the first hint that the TARDIS is alive (as we eventually discover in the days of Matt Smith). There again it may not. Whatever it is, it is at least mercifully short. The main problem with this story is a missed opportunity to actually tell a story, substituting atmosphere and mystery for anything resembling a plot.