Doctor Who — The Edge of Destruction


Season 1 – Episode 3 – (1964)
Doctor: 1 – William Hartnell
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara

Our group leaves Skaro behind and immediately the TARDIS is blasted by a force. The group is knocked unconscious and … the characters have amnesia. It’s a trope that I really don’t like; it’s frequently lazy, slows down a plot and removes established dynamics. Mercifully the bout is short and the characters recognise each other again.

I believe this is designed to sow the idea of mistrust that follows. Something is wrong with the TARDIS; the doors keep opening, the machines keep showing faults and Carole Anne Ford’s acting as Susan has become so over the top that I never recover my liking of her character.

The setup is quite interesting. We have Ian and Barbara that are new to the ship, making The Doctor and Susan suspicious. The latter two, on the other hand, could be viewed as the kidnappers of the former and are so intelligent that the teachers (and the audience) can’t trust them.

The TARDIS has no background noise and the clues begin to get more and more strange. Most of the console is charged save for one panel. The TARDIS keeps showing images increasingly far away from a planet, eventually showing a solar system – only photos though – not a true representation of what is there. The column rises in the console and the fault locator, while not showing a fault at all, suddenly shows everything is at fault at once.

The doctor is worried. The amount of power to drive the column of a TARDIS is way beyond Ian and Barbara. Suspicion is continuous and the episodes (thankfully just the two of them) go on forever.

The solution is one that I actually really love and I am going to spoil it – skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know. In order to escape Skaro, the doctor pressed the “fast return switch” – this is sort of reset button that is designed for a clumsy but quick exit for the TARDIS. The switch, however, is mechanical and the spring that stops its continuous pressing has jammed. To a (presumedly) electrically wired TARDIS, there has been no problem as no circuit has gone faulty, merely the switch is continually pressed. The TARDIS, sensing it is plunging ever back in time to the birth of a solar system and foretelling its own destruction is warning everyone in a set of ad hoc clues. Nothing is wrong – yet everything is.

The spring is reengaged properly and the problem stops immediately. This includes the immediate restoration of the ambient hum – something that you may not have noticed, as the audience, has been missing.

The Doctor (with a bit of minor prompting) sees that he has perhaps crossed a line by berating his “guests” continuously. He does as best as he can to apologise. This is incredibly indirect as that is how Hartnell’s Doctor expresses himself but he really cares at the end. With a minor tender moment he proffers a little wisdom and glances his thanks as well as complimenting Barbara. The story is done, with perhaps a longer than usual wrap up.

God help me I like this story. I first saw it at 18 (not at original broadcast, but YouTube worried less about copyright then). I just really like the solution to the problem in that the problem couldn’t have been found as it was a manual one. I just found (and still do find) that clever. It’s a very good writing tool.

Reputedly Doctor 1 is a really grouchy man – but with this serial and his apologies to Barbara, this reputation ceases other than some nice character quirks. From now on, the companions are very much equals. Something that will continue for quite some time. Such a simple story and not worth that much of a watch plot-wise. Character-wise though, it’s a gold mine.

Favourite Quotes:

  • The Doctor(Talking to Ian Chesterton) You know, I really believe I have underestimated that young lady in the past, Charterhouse.
  • The Doctor: As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.


6/10 (I like its solution but it’s a slog to get to)

Next time: A purely historical story with Marco Polo – some very politically incorrect actors but what does it matter when the whole story has been destroyed. It’s time for the first Audio Reconstruction!

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