Reviewed by John Hussey
After the massive success of “The Daleks” viewers are left wondering what they can expect next from Doctor Who and I bet they didn’t expect to see a two-part filler episode. It’s very clear throughout “The Edge of Destruction” that it was created to fill in a void within the scheduling, which meant it could’ve easily have failed, especially with it being scheduled straight after “The Daleks”.
But despite being a filler the episode tries its best to tell an intriguing story, even with all the limitations involved. “The Edge of Destruction” is as basic as they come with only having the four regular cast members and the setting being entirely aboard the TARDIS. You would think that the serial will be rather dull, uninspired, and just something simple to view until the next proper serial starts in a couple of weeks. And yet script editor David Whitaker delivers a twisted thriller that keeps you guessing right until the end.
Continuing from the cliff-hanger at the end of “The Rescue” the TARDIS crew find themselves injured, or unconscious, due to the space-time capsule suddenly malfunctioning. This leads to a sequence of events where the characters are left to fill in the pieces whilst suffering from memory loss. At first some of the characters don’t recognise the other, adding to the strangeness of the episode.
Things start to become quite chilling when the TARDIS acts oddly, informing its passengers that the water dispenser isn’t working despite producing water, along with the entrance doors opening and closing on their own accord. This leads to Susan becoming paranoid about the idea of “something” entering the ship. Things become unsettling, helped by the incidental music, when Susan produces a pair of scissors and ultimately starts stabbing her bed in hysteria.
The narrative becomes a guessing game as Whitaker installs many frightening questions into the minds of both the characters and the audience. Nobody knows what’s going on and things quickly turn ugly when characters start to point the finger in a desperate attempt to justify the strange goings-on. In the process, The First Doctor reaches his peak in terms of being an unlikable, and uncaring, character.
Continuing from his recent actions in “The Survivors”, the time traveller accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the ship in an attempt to black-mail him. Barbara is quick to defend herself and calls the old man out on his words. It’s a brilliant moment of development as she points out that The First Doctor would’ve died multiple times had it not been for her and Ian. They had willing helped him and his granddaughter despite the circumstances and in return receive nothing but abuse and irrational mood-swings.
It’s a similar moment to when Ian confronted The First Doctor in “The Survivors”, pointing out how his selfishness placed them in mortal danger. The First Doctor even contemplated leaving Barbara behind in order to escape Skaro and find another destination to discover a cure to their radiation sickness. This just showed how alien The Doctor was back then, that he wasn’t kept in check and acted by his own words regardless what anyone says or how it affects them.
“The Brink of Disaster” escalates the narrative further when The First Doctor threatens to throw Ian and Barbara off the TARDIS. This is definitely the darkest moment of the episode and really goes about pushing the characters to the brink in order to have a moment of clarity, which ultimately reshapes their characteristics and dynamics.
Whitaker cleverly brings this short narrative to a conclusion with a simplistic, but satisfying, twist. After constantly misleading us throughout with many questioning ideas it is revealed that it was a simple fault causing everything. Barbara begins to notice that all the strange behaviours of the TARDIS, like the doors opening and closing, the scanner acting up, and the console giving people electric shocks, were all clues as to what was going on.
The first major clue is when the clocks stop working, indicating to The First Doctor and his companions that time was running out. Then the fault locator indicates that the entire ship is at fault in order to warn its passengers of impending doom. It’s very clever how the scanner is showing the TARDIS crew its journey, eventually showing the TARDIS leaving Skaro before resulting in some sort of explosion. This all indicates to the TARDIS having travelled back in time to the Big Bang and will soon be destroyed unless the ship’s course is changed.
This is all solved when The First Doctor realises that the fast return switch had become stuck, explaining why the TARDIS had fallen back in time. The reason the fault locator couldn’t detect anything was because there wasn’t a clear fault so instead the TARDIS tried warning its passengers by other means (proving that even back then the old girl was watching out for The Doctor).
However, the damage had already been done by The First Doctor’s rash behaviour. “The Edge of Destruction” has a lot to answer for when it comes to The First Doctor’s development. In this key moment he finally begins to realise from his mistakes and starts to mend his ways. From this point on he begins to understand compassion and becomes more human in the process. It’s a sweet moment when The First Doctor admits his mistakes to Barbara and attempts an apology through explaining how important Barbara is to the TARDIS crew.
Though the episode was a simple filler it was executed brilliantly and actually ends up being a better episode than “An Unearthly Child”. It’s simplistic, yes, but it has a lot of story to tell within its confined parameters. And the saving grace of this serial is the amount of development thrown into it, making it a key story within the history of Doctor Who‘ wide mythology.
NOTE: There will sadly be no review for “Marco Polo” as the serial was completely wiped from the BBC Archives, leaving no individual episode remaining to watch and analyse.