When we last left the original TARDIS team, they had just escaped the cavemen and had landed on an alien planet. The next serial is set on the planet Skaro and introduces the Daleks, the Doctor’s most famous enemy. We continue checking out Classic Who with the third serial, The Edge of Destruction.
The Edge of Destruction is Doctor Who’s first bottle story. All the action takes place in the TARDIS, and only the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara are featured. When Doctor Who was first produced in 1963, 13 episodes were ordered. An Unearthly Child is four, while the following serial is seven. They needed a quick filler story to bring the total episodes to 13.
I found The Edge of Destruction really engaging for the most part. According to Wikipedia it was written in two days. But with only two episodes, four actors and one setting, it feels tightly written. The suspenseful music helps, as well as the distinct lack of the TARDIS hum. In the TARDIS scenes during An Unearthly Child, the TARDIS hum was so loud it was impossible to miss, so here the absence is telling. (When you watch Classic Who, I’d definitely recommend using the subtitles on hulu. Some lines are mumbled too softly to hear well. You can even follow along with a transcript.)
The story sets up two themes that are important both in the short-term and the long-term of the show’s 50+ year run. The first centers around the Doctor’s character and his relationship to his companions. Up until now, the Doctor begrudgingly traveled with Ian and Barbara. Though he essentially kidnapped them in An Unearthly Child, in his mind they were the intruders who wanted to know far too much about Susan and himself. But by the end of this story, he realizes he underestimated both Ian and Barbara. If it weren’t for them, he wouldn’t have solved the problem with the TARDIS in time and he and Susan would have perished. He is willing to admit this to Barbara and we see their relationship has changed from captor and captives to friends.
In the show’s 50+ plus run, the Doctor is rarely alone. He almost always has a companion who works as an audience surrogate. The companion will be the one who asks questions. More often than not, as this story demonstrates, the companion will be vital to the solution.
The second theme deals with the TARDIS. Modern viewers already know the Doctor’s ship is alive and sentient. But in 1963, that backstory didn’t exist yet. Ian exclaimed that the TARDIS was alive when he touched it back in An Unearthly Child. In this story, the Doctor references the computer banks that power his TARDIS. Barbara deduces from the actions the ship has taken that at the very least it’s self-aware and wants to warn them of danger. It’s the seed that has grown over 50 years and the first step in building the Doctor’s relationship with his TARDIS.
Written by Caitlin Walsh