The Edge of Destruction ****

A bizarre psychodrama unfolds almost entirely inside the Tardis...

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Edge of Destruction ****

Season 1 – Story 3

"We had time taken away from us and now it's being given back to us – because it's running out" - Barbara

Storyline

An energy surge from the Tardis control column renders the travellers unconscious. When they come round, the Ship is on low power, the outer doors open onto a void, clock and watch faces melt, and tension builds as all four behave antagonistically towards one another. The Doctor blames the teachers for meddling with his controls and Susan attacks Ian with scissors. But has a fifth entity entered the Ship or is the Tardis more powerful than anyone has realised?

First transmissions
1. The Edge of Destruction - Saturday 8 February 1964
2. The Brink of Disaster - Saturday 15 February 1964

Production
Filming: none
Studio recording: January 1964 at Lime Grove D

Cast
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton - William Russell
Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Crew
Writer - David Whitaker
Incidental music - various library tracks
Designer - Raymond Cusick
Producer - Verity Lambert
Directors - Richard Martin (1); Frank Cox (2)

RT Review by Patrick Mulkern 
A wonderful curio – a low-budget, single-set two-parter, employing only the four contracted regulars and written at short notice to fulfil the programme's initial 13-episode commitment. The job fell to story editor David Whitaker.

This is Doctor Who as a dramatic play, with incredibly long scenes and all the action taking place inside the Tardis control room and living quarters. Perhaps it's being over-generous to suggest Whitaker may have been influenced by the opaque, angsty theatre of the early 60s, wherein neither characters nor audience are ever sure of what's really going on. Certainly, Hartnell's crabby, gnomic Doctor could blend seamlessly into Pinter's The Caretaker.

Frank Cox's direction in episode two is particularly stagey, in a favourable sense, as he positions the quartet almost geometrically upstage and down. There is even a startling, spotlit soliloquy for Hartnell when he falls back against the controls and explains the cause of the problem – a moment of rapture for both actor and viewer.

A master of dialogue, characterisation and atmosphere, Whitaker understood the essence of the programme and would go on to write some of the all-time classics. But if he had one weak spot, it was plot logic, which often veered between the abstruse and the abysmal.

Here we are asked to believe that when a "fast return switch" fails, instead of alerting the Doctor by any conventional means, the Tardis knocks everyone out, sends cryptic messages via melted clock faces and impels the foursome to attack one another. 

In one astonishing scene, a deranged Susan lunges at Ian with scissors, before hacking at her bed. And we're not talking about the rounded kiddy scissors favoured by Blue Peter in a similar five o'clock timeslot.

The ultimate charm of this two-parter is that after 45 minutes of antagonism and tension, the four characters have settled their differences and start to become friends. "As we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves," says the Doctor in a heartfelt apology to Barbara, showing real warmth for the first time in 13 weeks.

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Radio Times archive material

Introductory feature: no "dramatic" photographs have survived from this story, bar this one on the printed page of Radio Times.

By this time, the RT mailbag was starting to swell with the first few letters about the programme. 

RT billings
1. The Edge of Destruction
2. The Brink of Disaster

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[Available as part of the BBC DVD boxed set Doctor Who: The Beginning]

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