Monday 15 November 2010

The Edge Of Destruction

Weird things are going on inside the TARDIS and Susan goes bezerk with a pair of scissors.

Also called by the less inspiring title of 'Inside The Spaceship.' Debating the correct title of early Doctor Who stories seems a good deal less interesting than trying to figure out the dates of UNIT stories, but some fans like to obsess over that particular issue.

Given that the TARDIS concept was completely fresh, it is natural that the viewer would appreciate an exploration of the TARDIS' interior. Thus, it made perfect sense to do a story set entirely inside the ship. Once viewers were more familiar with the TARDIS idea, 80s stories which spent large amounts of time onboard the TARDIS were questionable. Of the later explorations of the TARDIS, I think The Invasion Of Time is the best because of its quirkiness. The trip through the TARDIS in Castrolvalva was rather dull. The Edge Of Destruction got there first and brings home the unearthly character of the ship.

As Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles pointed out in About Time, David Whitaker's view of the TARDIS is completely at odds with that of Terry Nation, who had written the previous story, The Daleks. Nation essentially viewed the TARDIS as an oddly shaped space rocket (with a useless life support system- apparently the crew would suffocate in the vacuum of space, we are told in The Chase). Whitaker reveals in this story that the TARDIS is a thing of almost magical properties, in itself a living being. While Terry Nation's view of the TARDIS had it dependant on a component called 'the fluid link,' Whitaker's idea of the TARDIS would probably have had the TARDIS growing a new 'fluid link.' Whitaker's idea of the TARDIS as a sentient life form has come to be the dominant idea of the ship.

This story captures the creepy atmosphere of an haunted house. The scene with Susan and the scissors is genuinely disturbing. The story also has a very theatrical feel, with its shortness and unity of location. The claustrophobic atmosphere among the TARDIS crew rather suggests one of Harold Pinter's plays. After the excitement and adventure of the previous story, The Edge of Destruction provides some much needed character drama, enabling the resolution of the tense relationship between the characters. In this story, the Doctor reaches the height of his hostility towards Ian and Barbara, yet finally manages to reach accommodation with them (despite his inability to say sorry to Barbara).

William Hartnell is excellent as the Doctor. He becomes quite terrifying as he threatens to throw Ian and Barbara off the ship in their nightwear. Yet it is lovely to see him realising his arrogance at the end and making friends with Barbara, even though unable to utter the words "I'm sorry."

While Hartnell is fantastic, Jacqueline Hill is the real star as Barbara. She gives a truly powerful performance. We see just how hurt and disgusted she is at the Doctor's arrogance. We see her refusal to excuse him until she is sure he is really sorry and she shows real nobility in finally accepting his friendship. This is probably not William Russell's best performance. It is safe to say that he is at his best when he is acting the part of the square-jawed hero, and the psychological drama is not his style.

Susan has never been the most popular of companions. She was often badly scripted and Carol Ann Ford was never the best of actresses, but I have a liking for the character. Susan had a wonderfully ethereal quality that is particularly at home in this story. This is very much a story to suit Carol Ann Ford's role.

This story is very different to what was to come, but it plays a vital part in the early part of the show's mythology in easing in the disturbing and Machiavellian character of the Doctor and enabling viewers to come to terms with him and his relationship with the other characters.


  1. This isn't one of my favorite stories, but I do love the scenes between The Doctor and Barbara. While The Doctor and Ian could learn to grudgingly respect one another and never confront their difficulties with one another (something that is quite "male", I would say), Barbara and The Doctor needed to have some sort of reconciliation. The Doctor had been beastly to both of the teachers, and seeing the growing respect and acceptance is quite satisfying. I like how his interactions with these "primitive" humans served to soften him. So, even though I'm not a huge fan of Edge, I think it is necessary for making the TARDIS crew into a team. Their rapport from here on out is much better. You could say they become aren't merely companions. They are a family.

  2. Great thoughts. I quite agree.

    Thanks for your comment.