The Mind Robber
Inside the Spaceship
aka. "The Edge of Destruction"
|Dates||Feb. 2, 1964 -
Feb. 15, 1964
With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written and script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by Richard Martin.
Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
|Synopsis: A powerful force takes hold of the TARDIS, threatening to destroy it and its crew, or so the Doctor believes. But could the force itself have gotten inside the spaceship...?|
A Review by Francis Salvi 18/5/11
I was shocked to learn that Doctor Who was originally only to last for 4 episodes, which would have meant the dreadful An Unearthly Child would have been the only story in the series. Thankfully, the episode count was increased to 13, after a lot of goading from Verity Lambert, the series' producer. However, The Daleks only lasted for seven episodes, and the episode count had again been increased, this time to seventeen episodes. With only An Unearthly Child, The Daleks and the seven-part historical Marco Polo in the works, a quick two-part filler was needed. Enter script editor David Whitaker.
This is without a doubt one of the finest and well-directed two-parters out there. The cast are given plenty of amazing dialogue to work with, I must praise William Hartnell for the way he handles that long speech in the second episode. If I'm right, this is the only 'psychological horror' story the classic series produced, and I'm sad they didn't make any more. Just imagine the likes of Robert Holmes or Steven Moffat crafting a story of this genre.
Following on directly from The Daleks, the story begins when there's a malfunction in the TARDIS console. The way the TARDIS crew are knocked unconscious is a bit pants, but this isn't the driving force behind the story for very much longer. When any of the cast speak, I can see the tension and distrust ooze out. In one of the most disturbing scenes in the William Hartnell years, Susan threatens Ian with a pair of scissors, something which I was completely taken aback by. The Doctor is portrayed as utterly ruthless in places, resorting to drugging his companions so he can find out what's going on, and threatens to throw the two teachers into space.
The second episode moves a bit slower, but it's by no means any worse. Ian and Barbara outright deriding the Doctor is quite a tense moment and you can't help but agree with them. The way they resolve their differences is a bit rushed and the Fast Return Switch gimmick is a bit unlikely, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of this story one bit.
Add another exciting cliffhanger to lead into Marco Polo, and you have another classic serial that bodes well for the future of the series.
A Review by John Laking 14/4/14
The Edge of Destruction has gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the strangest Doctor Who serials ever to have been broadcast and it has often been much maligned. Script problems on other serials, coupled with the BBC's decision to originally only grant the show a trial thirteen-episode run, had left the makers of Doctor Who with a two-episode gap to fill. Story editor (the title of script editor wasn't used until later in the show's history) David Whitaker therefore completed the script in just two days, basing it all in the one set and using only the four regular cast members. In that respect, The Edge of Destruction is unique in Doctor Who and it is an incredibly important serial in the development of all four of the original cast members.
The tone for the serial is set very early with an eerie atmosphere evident right from the opening scene, particularly when a zombie-like Susan enters the fray. This eventually turns towards a genuine horror sensibility, which wouldn't be seen in Doctor Who again for some time and arguably never again to the same extent. The malfunction of the TARDIS allows the directors of the serial to exploit some dramatic lighting and the use of only the TARDIS set develops a genuinely claustrophobic feel that only adds to the tension. In many ways, it is a return to the success of the first episode of the debut serial An Unearthly Child when sharp dialogue and a reliance on the actors resulted in such a darkly atmospheric piece.
The Edge of Destruction is ultimately an actor's serial. Each character experiences more different emotions in these two episodes than in many other whole serials. Susan in particular takes on a much more interesting role here than she had previously played in The Daleks, where even at that early stage in the series the character had begun to fall into what would later become known as the stereotypical role of 'the screamer'. This is most famously exhibited in the scene in which, seemingly possessed, she threatens Ian with a pair of scissors. This in itself would be extremely shocking, but the moment when she begins to repeatedly stab the chair beneath her in a frenzied state is one of the most surprising in Doctor Who history. Unsurprisingly, it garnered some complaints and the producers of the show admitted that in that instance they had gone too far for a children's programme. While this is undoubtedly true and it would be unthinkable to see such a scene in Doctor Who these days, it is nonetheless a wonderfully powerful image and adds an incredibly dramatic threat.
Under the pressure of carrying the story, the cast do an excellent job. There are occasional moments where William Russell and Carole Ann Ford both slightly overplay their 'possession' (also it's noticeable in all the early shows how difficult it is to convincingly act fainting), but these are the exceptions and at a time when one take was the norm they can certainly be forgiven the odd indiscretion. The stand-out performer unquestionably though is Jacqueline Hill as Barbara. It's hard to think of any actor in the show's fifty year history who put in such consistently wonderful performances as Hill and she is simply superb here. She invests the character with a quiet dignity at all times and is totally believable throughout. The scene in episode one where all the clock faces on the TARDIS have melted is let down by the effects and it is quite hard to work out exactly what has happened on first watch; however, Hill's reaction and her genuine sense of anguish completely sells it and overcomes the shortcomings caused by the show's meagre budget.
The relationship between the crew of the TARDIS changes dramatically after The Edge of Destruction and for that reason it stands as one of the most important serials in the shows long run. While the tension and conflict between the four main characters had worked to make the show an engaging and dramatic success over the early episodes, it would have been hard to sustain such an atmosphere for much longer. Key to the change is the development of the Doctor's character. Up until this serial, he had been unsympathetic, crotchety and generally untrustworthy, with moments of selfishness and cowardice thrown in. For much of The Edge of Destruction, little seems to have changed. His first reaction to the signs that things are starting to go wrong is to accuse Ian and Barbara of meddling and his only shows of concern are once again towards Susan. As episode one progresses, his accusations grow in size, leading to a wonderful scene in which Barbara fights back, legitimately pointing out that without his new companions he would almost certainly have been killed in his two previous adventures and ultimately calling the Doctor "a stupid old man", a speech again brilliantly delivered by Jacqueline Hill. He repeatedly ignores Ian and Susan's pleas to apologise to Barbara and, by the beginning of episode two, his anger and aggression has grown even further towards them. What is perhaps more surprising is to see Susan, though very briefly, also turn on her friends and it is noticeable again that Hill plays Barbara's reaction to her accusations differently and with a greater air of desperation than the Doctor's. The darker edge to the Doctor's character is once again drawn out when he states that Ian and Barbara must be treated as enemies and be punished as such. The reaction of Susan to this statement leaves viewers in no doubt of the seriousness of the punishment and once again shows the threat that the Doctor posed in the early stage of his development.
The first chink of light in the relationship between the Doctor and his companions comes midway through episode two when he realises that he was wrong in his accusations and states the necessity of them all working together to survive, admitting for the first time that he needs them. This is borne out when once again the Doctor seems out of ideas and ready to prepare for death, and it is Barbara who again shows some proactivity in trying to unravel the mystery of what has happened to the TARDIS. He does show some signs of compassion and concern, albeit by today's standards in an unacceptably sexist manner by sheltering the two girls from the truth of how long they potentially had left to live and encouraging Ian to face death alongside him. When eventually the problem is worked out and danger is averted, there is an immediate change in the Doctor's character: he is apologetic and warm towards Ian and, when setting the TARDIS controls, he for the first time shows a genuine excitement about traveling with his new friends. The final scene of the serial where he makes his apology to Barbara takes these changes further; the warmth and friendliness of the Doctor is clearly evident, as is the beginnings of a bond between him and Barbara that will arguably be the strongest of any of the first Doctor's with his companions.
Alongside the four regular cast members, the fifth character in The Edge of Destruction is the TARDIS itself, as this is the first indication that it is more than simply a ship. Thanks to the new series in particular, we are now entirely familiar with the idea that the TARDIS is a living, breathing entity, but it's clear that, even as Ian and Barbara made the first suggestion that maybe it could think for itself, the writers had no such concrete plans. The Doctor initially dismisses the idea, though shortly after admits that it is possible that in a different way to theirs it might have some capacity for thought. In doing so, Whitaker added a further layer of mystery to the show.
The climax of the mystery is in many ways quite disappointing. After the drama and tension of the two episodes, to discover that it had all been caused by a single switch being stuck in place is slightly anti-climactic. particularly as the idea of the TARDIS having a 'fast-return' button is a slightly clunky device anyway (this isn't helped by the famous mistake of having the words 'fast return' written in marker pen above the switch, supposedly as a rehearsal aid for Hartnell). Despite this, The Edge of Destruction is a classic example of the journey being more important than the ending. It represents the beginning of the Doctor as we know him and slowly turns the TARDIS crew from reluctant companions into genuine friends.
Not bad for a serial that was never planned.
Look, it's not utter bollocks by Charles Crowe 6/5/17
There are some good performances, notably Hartnell - who buggers his way through every second line yet somehow manages to deliver a speech on the formation of stars utterly perfectly - and Jacqueline Hill's great (as always), even if Barbara the character is a bit questionable here.
What I've always said about The Edge of Destruction is this: "It's only two parts." Whether it be reassurance to a friend doing a Hartnell watchthrough or to myself or letting somebody know they can comfortably skip it - don't worry, it's only two parts.
In terms of character development, I'd say it's reasonably important. Is it actually enjoyable? Not that much. If it wasn't for Old Bill's acting talents, it'd be getting a much lower score, but he's just so good... whereas everything else is so below average.
Carole Ann Ford was not a very competent actress at this point in her career. The character she was playing isn't necessarily the multi-layered and brilliantly written enigma that the First Doctor is or the strong-willed female lead Barbara is or the basic action hero who still manages to be intelligent that Ian is... no, she's slightly abnormal at the beginning but quickly turns into a stupid screaming girl.
This is a bit of a pity. I don't hate Susan, and it's pleasing to see her turn up all those years later in The Five Doctors, but she's just so irritating back here in the days of yore. At least in this story she gets a couple of scenes that don't require much emotion at all: we get scenes of Susan wandering about like a zombie with scissors in her hand, prompting many to jump to the conclusion that she's self-harming.
This would be an unsettling and interesting idea if the rest of the story was even slightly unsettling or interesting. Honestly, around the 20-minute mark, it completely falls apart. The dialogue is just stiff, the 'special effects' are nonexistent (so whoever praises that bloody clock, please tell me what's meant to be there!); any atmosphere it had completely vanishes; and there's not really enough plot to fill one episode, much less two.
Here's a basic summary: The TARDIS has a rough trip. Everyone gets knocked unconscious. Then they lose their memory. Or something. The TARDIS says they're in London - but they're not, because when they open the doors, they're in some sort of void. Everybody gets angry at each other, and Ian strangles the Doctor.
Why? Good question. Probably because it's different. Then the Doctor does a clever thing, everybody talks for a bit, I distinctly remember Susan with the scissors either preparing to cut herself or post-self-harm, and then Hartnell gave his little speech.
The power went off, they arrived in Cathay, and they found a footprint. Roll credits.
Breathe a sigh of relief.
50% of this story is talking, another 20% is shouting, and the remaining amount is the credits and some 'spooky' direction work. It's disappointing, and coming between The Daleks and Marco Polo just shows how bad this story is and how good it could've been.
Oh, well. At least they finally got it right in 2008, with Midnight. But that's another story.
A Review by James Neiro 23/7/17
Following the epic serial The Daleks, which presumably consumed the majority of season one's budget, the writers blessed us with a moody and intensely claustrophobic, rich, character-driven piece that resolved the crew's tension and distrust towards one another. This Hartnell story can clearly be labelled as unlike anything Doctor Who has attempted to and/or managed to replicate since its near-55-year run. Featuring just the main cast and set solely aboard the TARDIS this one set story is absolutely superb considering it was made 53 years ago with easy and fluid replay value for today's audience.
It's short (two episodes long), and perhaps that's why it works so well. A constant problem with the pre-Tom Baker era was the length of the serials. Mostly breaching the standard four-episode formula, the stories were becoming notably padded, with the occasional half-hour-long filler episodes that had me, and I'm sure other viewers, near to the point of edging towards the fast-forward button and hoping that the story was reaching its conclusion. This dual-part adventure was a refreshing change and one which would only be cloned for a handful of future Doctor adventures.
My high ranking of TEOD may be due to my love of single-set TV stories and films and established characters acting 'out of the norm', but I have nothing but near-perfect untarnished praise for this feature. The premise is simple: the TARDIS crew (The Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian) are knocked unconscious following a minor explosion originating from the control room and awake with minor amnesia. Bizarre and uncharacteristic behaviour follow, including the Doctor's unsubstantiated suspicions that Ian and Barbara have sabotaged the TARDIS and what I classify as probably the Doctor Who memory most etched in my mind: Susan's frenzied attack with the scissors, which, even by today's standard, would be classified as too violent for Doctor Who. The scene was shocking, unexpected and managed to drive home how utterly changed the characters had become due to the unexplained phenomena that had affected them all.
What is a truly remarkable story, way ahead of its time and full of memorable scenes and character conversations, is unfortunately let down by its conclusion - thus forgoing a perfect score. For those who have not viewed TEOD, and I hope you do, I won't spoil the story's 'twist' and extremely disappointing resolution - and I hope my comments don't dissuade you from watching. I think the journey we take with these characters and how plot threads originating from the pilot and being nicely wrapped up is enough to label this story as a classic.
The bizarre plot reveal and its conclusion is partially redeemed, however, with a quick glimpse at the following, and sadly lost, story Marco Polo. What a tease! While William Hartnell is not my favorite Doctor, this TARDIS crew is - and I think Doctor Who always was at its best with a crew rather than a singular companion. 90% of the Doctor's companions are female, yet when we are provided a crew ensemble we are guaranteed a male presence, which I think works extremely well in Doctor Who.
If you enjoy the whole claustrophobic scenario as much as I do and are thrilled when episodes are filled with extended interior TARDIS scenes (a whole story JUST set inside the TARDIS was sale-able enough for me) then you'll love TEOD. 9/10.
As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves by Paul Williams 17/6/18
What do we learn from The Edge of Destruction?
A review by Murdo Macleod 1/12/18
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. 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 two-parter, but Edge of Destruction opts for telling little bits of all of them and not actually telling any of them properly.
It may be the first hint that the TARDIS is alive (as we eventually discover in the days of Matt Smith). Then 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.
Inside The Spaceship & Beyond by Matthew Kresal 4/1/20
When it comes to those earliest serials of Doctor Who, there is one that seems to get overlooked. An Unearthly Child gets lauded as the opener of the series while The Daleks provided the template for its narratives and the villains. They deserve their place, no question about it. But it's a shame that The Edge of Destruction gets overlooked as a result. Because, though lasting only two episodes, is as essential to the establishment of the series as its two predecessors. Perhaps, as we will see, even more so.
Why? Because, by and large, it's a character piece. Unlike the previous two stories, The Edge of Destruction features only the TARDIS crew. Picking up from the cliffhanger ending of The Daleks, everyone wakes up inside the TARDIS, and no one sure what is going on. Soon, the tensions that have existed between the travelers boil over. Accusations fly, threats get made, and strangeness reigns supreme. As the Doctor says towards the story's conclusion, "As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves," and that is true here. As a result, the story features an exploration of the series' lead characters, done so in a manner that wouldn't reappear until the Wilderness Era novels and the revived 21st-century series.
And it is something that the cast has a field day getting the chance to do. William Russell's Ian isn't so much the action hero this time around, but the serial offers up something else for him instead. The character's intelligence and Russell's chemistry with his fellow actors gets displayed instead. Carole Ann Ford as Susan still falls victim to the screaming companion trope in places while also getting more of an opportunity to play the strangeness of the character up more so than at any other time since the pilot. The scene where Susan, seemingly possessed, grabs up a pair of scissors and threatens Ian is a powerful one for exposing a darker side to the character that never really gets glimpsed anywhere else in the series. As good as they are, the real stars of the story are elsewhere.
If anyone's star shines in this story, it is Jacqueline Hill as Barbara. With all the high strangeness abound, the accusations flying, the out-of-character moments, it is Barbara who ultimately acts as the voice of reason for everyone. Hill's performance is fascinating to watch, taking in a wide range of thoughts and feelings as the narrative unfolds from confusion to horror to realization. Just as important at the end, when everything seems back to normal, both character and performer stand there silent as a reminder that they haven't. For a series that has been keen on escaping consequences, it's a powerful moment. It's a testament to Hill's skills as a performer that's the case.
The serial is also a turning point for William Hartnell's Doctor. Earlier serials had seen him with a harder edge to his characterization. After all, he'd all but kidnapped two teachers and came close to bashing in a caveman's skull in An Unearthly Child. Later on, he'd manipulated events to get his way in visiting the Dalek city, putting everyone's lives in danger as a result. Here, faced with an impossible situation, he turns on the teachers, even going so far as to threaten their lives at one point. It is only when the Doctor finally listens to Barbara that he begins to sort out the situation, doing so after delivering a fine (if inaccurate in terms of its science) monologue. But his harsher moments, often forgotten about in the rush of past adventures, aren't forgotten about here. Instead, he confronts those moments in a conversation with Barbara. It's a humanizing moment for the Doctor as a character, an important one. It marks the moment that the character moves from the abrasive man we met in a junkyard to the adventurer in time and space we think of when it comes to the First Doctor.
The Edge of Destruction also benefits from having a strong sense of atmosphere. The TARDIS console room, often portrayed as bright and welcoming, becomes threatening and strange, a place of odd events cloaked in shadows. It's a move that gives it back the extraordinariness it might have lost since its introduction. Indeed, the entire ship as we encounter it takes on the feeling of a home out of Gothic literature, large but looming over the characters. It's also here that we get the first hints that the TARDIS is more than a machine, possessing both great power and intelligence. Seeds that will remain planted throughout the next 25 years before harvesting in 21st-century episodes such as Boom Town and The Doctor's Wife. While the denouement comes across as simple, there's no denying the atmosphere that proceeds it is palpable and immensely effective.
Often overlooked in favor of the stories around it, The Edge of Destruction has plenty to offer. Its combination of atmosphere and character would be unique for Who in these early years, adding to its uniqueness. More than that, it laid the seeds of much of what was to come for the series both with the Doctor as a character and with the TARDIS itself. Indeed, it should be essential viewing for any Doctor Who fans wanting to explore the history of the show and how it is Doctor Who became Doctor Who.
"Well now, we can all start again?" The Doctor asks towards the very end. With this story, it did and we're still watching the results more than fifty years later.
Just as We Learn About Each Other, We Also Learn About Ourselves by Jacob Licklider 1/7/21
Looking back on the very beginning of Doctor Who you have the Doctor being a vastly different character from what he would become. He was nowhere near the hero that he is today and was much darker, as he was ready to commit murder or leave Barbara on Skaro so he could escape. I examined, however, in my review of The Daleks how the Doctor in meeting the Daleks began the journey to become active in fighting the evils of the universe as the Daleks were total evil, but he still wasn't a good guy. That step came in the next story, a two-part serial featuring only the main cast, set in the confines of the TARDIS. The main plot is that the TARDIS has developed a fault, which causes the Doctor to suspect Ian and Barbara of tampering with the controls and putting them into the situation of near death. Of course, Ian and Barbara wouldn't dare, and the Doctor is forced to begin to trust his companions as people as he famously says near the end of The Brink of Disaster: "As we learn about each other, we also learn about ourselves", summing up the point of the story. Hartnell is great as the Doctor here and is obviously excited to see what exactly he could do to develop the character.
The development doesn't just occur to the Doctor, as Ian and Barbara both have the catharsis that, although they would like to go home, travelling with the Doctor is all around a safe thing and they will get home eventually. This, however, isn't explained in Whitaker's scripts for the story and has to be portrayed completely by William Russell and Jacqueline Hill in their expressions. Once the Doctor apologizes to Barbara in The Brink of Disaster, we see they are both ready to explore with the hope that it is Earth, but an almost new sense of adventure to keep the travels going. Carole Ann Ford gets the shaft again in this story, as here she doesn't get any character development. This is a fault I place completely on Whitaker as an author, as Susan gets some decent scenes in the first episode, especially when being suspicious, but really just is Barbara's shadow for The Brink of Disaster. The scene where she terrorizes Ian with a pair of scissors is the one real scene that sticks out for Susan, but in context she is quite out of her head.
While the character development is great, the pacing of The Edge of Destruction, along with the distinct lack of music, is really where the flaws start to show. Being a two-part serial, there is about forty-five minutes of time to explore the ideas, and the first installment is actually really good at getting us to the climax by the cliffhanger. In fact, it is ten minutes before the end where the climax begins, and the cliffhanger is just tacked on to begin the falling action to lead into the resolution. Sadly, that resolution being a faulty switch comes way too quickly for anything to be done interestingly with it. The music also isn't there. Oh there is some, but in the vast majority of the runtime the music barely features.
To summarize, The Edge of Destruction works marginally well for what it is, as it becomes important in creating the continuing developments of the main characters, but Susan is left out of that mix while the pacing makes it much more difficult to find that character development. Just one more draft is what should have happened to make this story a classic. 50/100