Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Story 3 - Edge of Destruction

In which the TARDIS has suffered a catastrophe that has rendered the time travellers unconscious. Barbara is the first to come round, followed by Susan. They recognise each other, but act strangely, as though they are not quite sure of each other. When Ian wakes, he is initially unemotional and disconnected. The sight of the Doctor lying on the floor with a cut head elicits only a practical response. Susan is horrified to see that the main doors are open, then collapses again when she tries to approach the control console.
The Doctor, head bandaged, and the school teachers try to work out what has happened. They do not appear to have crashed. One suspicion is that someone, or something, has made it onboard without their knowledge.
Susan, somewhat paranoid, attacks Ian with a pair of scissors - believing him to be responsible, after an overheard conversation in the darkened ship.
The scanner shows a strange sequence of images. A tranquil country scene, the savage jungles of the planet Quinnis, then another planet (Skaro?), followed by a galaxy, followed by a blinding flash. The doors open when the country scene is shown, and close when Quinnis appears.
The Doctor thinks the teachers have sabotaged the ship - to force him into taking them home. Emotions run high, and the Doctor decides everyone needs to calm down. He drugs the coffee. With everyone asleep, he examines the console. Ian appears to attack him - increasing his suspicions about the teachers. He will throw them off the ship at their next destination.
Other strange things then happen which point in another direction. The Fault Locator shows a general breakdown throughout the ship; the numbers on a clock face, and their watches, appear to melt; and the warning sounds to indicate the ship is in imminent danger of destruction.
It is Barbara who works out what is going on - a series of clues by the TARDIS itself, to prevent its destruction. The melting numbers show they have no time left. The control console only lets them approach the part with the scanner controls as it wants to draw their attention to this. The sequence of images represents their planned journey - departing from Skaro and heading back through time. The Doctor had used the Fast Return Switch to try to get them back to London, 1963, but a tiny spring has stuck - causing them to hurtle back too far -  to the cataclysmic explosion at the birth of a solar system (or maybe even the Big Bang itself?).
The spring is fixed easily enough, but the trust between the travellers will take a little longer to mend.

This two part story was written by script editor David Whitaker, and was broadcast between February 8th and 15th, 1964.
It has no guest artists, no monsters, and no sets other than the TARDIS. The story serves to allow the audience to really get to know the 4 main characters - and for them to get to know themselves - without any extraneous distractions. In this it certainly succeeds, and by the end of it the relationship between the characters is changed forever. Despite the odd hiccup, it will be one of friendship and trust from now on.

Of course, this story was never actually intended to see the light of day. It had to be written quickly (hence the authorship by the show's script editor - a practice frowned upon generally) and the lack of guests / sets etc. Doctor Who had been promised a 52 week run, but suddenly a few weeks in, concerns were raised about the costs of the programme. It was decided to pull the plug after 13 episodes. The first two stories accounted for 11 episodes, so a further two were needed to finish it off.
Edge of Destruction might well have been the final Doctor Who story (making the 'Beginnings' DVD box set a 'Complete Series' instead).
For many years, fans believed that the reason for this two parter was that the sets for Marco Polo were not ready in time - but this was never the case. Verity Lambert managed to sort out the finance issues and the Doctor would get to go to Cathay after all.

Despite being only two episodes with no other characters, the story did manage to court controversy - mainly due to the scissors scene. The BBC Children's Department, who felt they ought to have control over Doctor Who, were quick to complain about this sequence. Any sort of violence that could be imitated by children was banned, and Lambert was forced to apologise. Dalek extermination - fine. Sticking a pair of scissors through your mattress - bad.
There are two directors attached to this, one for each episode. The Daleks director Richard Martin handles the first part, and newcomer Frank Cox gets some work experience with the second. Martin gets to handle the bulk of the tension and claustrophobia in his half.
The TARDIS becomes a spooky, threatening place in the half-light. The ship truly becomes the fifth regular for this story. As well as the full scale control room, which we won't really see again, we also get a view of the living quarters (spartan, with fold down couches). The Fault Locator makes its final appearance, and there is a return for the Food Machine. The Doctor explains a little about the power source (trapped under the console) that would destroy the ship if it escaped.

We get another reference to the fact that the Doctor and Susan have had more adventures before the encounter in the Totter's Lane junkyard. They nearly lost the TARDIS on the planet Quinnis (in the Fourth Universe? Is Susan referring to parallel universes, or has she meant to say something else). 
Hartnell gets a lovely soliloquy on the birth of planets towards the climax (which would have been even better if he hadn't missed bits of it out). 

That climax is a bit mundane after all the mystery and suspense of the build up - nothing more than a broken spring. The apparent sentience of the TARDIS (which the Doctor seems totally unaware of) will feature again - though not until the later Pertwee era.
Cliffhangers for this story are:

  1. The Edge of Destruction - as the Doctor studies the controls, a pair of hands clutch him by the throat.
  2. The Brink of Disaster - Susan and Barbara find the footprint of a giant in the snow outside the ship.
What you might not know: In the original draft of the script, it was Ferdinand De Lesseps (architect of the Suez Canal) who gave the Doctor his ulster coat - not Gilbert & Sullivan.

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