The TARDIS has just left the planet Skaro when something goes wrong. There is a flash of light then the console room is plunged into darkness. The travellers are thrown to the floor, knocked unconscious...
A short time later they begin to wake up. Barbara is the first to come to, and she is initially confused as to where she is or who the others are. She then recognises Ian as her fellow teacher, and Susan as a pupil. Susan is alarmed to find that her grandfather has been injured and is suffering from a head wound. She puts a bandage around it after Barbara and Ian inform her that they don't think it too serious. Susan notices that the food machine registers empty for water, despite issuing some.
Once the Doctor has come to, their memories begin to clear. They must attempt to find out what happened. The Doctor is convinced that they cannot have crashed, and the fault locator shows no issues.
Any attempt to approach the console results in a severe pain at the back of the neck, however, unless it is that part of the console which includes the scanner controls.
They try to find out what is outside but the scanner throws up seemingly random images of a jungle planet, a quiet country scene, then a sequence of a planet, a solar system and then a galaxy. When the country scene appears, the doors open by themselves, but they cannot see anything beyond save for a bright light. Susan explains that the jungle scene is an image of the planet Quinnis in the Fourth Universe, where they almost lost the TARDIS not long before it came to London, 1963.
Susan becomes paranoid and suspects the two teachers after hearing them speak about the possibility of something having gotten aboard the ship, whilst the Doctor suspects that they have sabotaged the TARDIS to force him to return them home.
As tensions build, Susan thinks that suspected intruder might be hiding inside one of them, and even threatens to attack Ian with a pair of scissors.
The teachers insist that they have not touched the controls. Barbara angrily reminds the Doctor that they have recently saved his life, and that of Susan, so would never sabotage the ship. Suddenly she notices that the face on the Doctor's ornate clock has melted. She is horrified to find that the same thing has happened to her watch.
With hysteria mounting, the Doctor calls for calm, and to help he suggests that everyone get some sleep. They can examine their problem with fresh eyes in the morning. He produces cocoa for everyone. A short time later, he goes round and checks that Susan, Ian and Barbara are all asleep as he had put a sleeping draught in their drinks, then returns alone to the console room.
As he examines the console someone steals up behind him. Turning round, he is suddenly seized by the throat...
Next episode: The Brink of Disaster.
Written by: David Whitaker
Recorded: Friday 17th January, 1964 - Lime Grove Studio D
First broadcast: 5:15pm, Saturday 8th February, 1964.
Ratings: 10.4 million / AI 61
Designer: Raymond P Cusick
Director: Richard Martin
For many years there was a myth that the reason this story was devised was that the the scripts or sets (or both) for the epic seven part Marco Polo weren't ready. A two week gap needed to be filled and there wasn't any money budgeted for guest artists, sets or costumes - hence this story which featured only the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS.
The truth was far more alarming - the series was itself on the edge of destruction.
After initial enthusiasm, there were some in the senior ranks of the BBC who lost confidence in this new Saturday evening sci-fi series before it had even aired. This was one of the reasons why the first episode never got that Radio Times cover.
One concern in particular was cost. Head of Programmes for the BBC - Donald Baverstock - would only commit to a 13 week run, despite the initial intention for the series to run weekly for a full year, as had even been stated in all the press releases.
Even though other stories like Marco Polo were already commissioned, it was decided that Terry Nation's The Daleks would be expanded from six to seven episodes, and a final two part story written to bring the total up to 13 weeks, in case the plug was pulled. The obvious candidate to write this was the Story Editor David Whitaker, who knew the series best.
Had Baverstock not been encouraged to change his mind and commit to a longer run, no doubt Whitaker would have used these two episodes to get the school teachers back home. As it was, Baverstock agreed to a further 13 weeks, taking the series up to a six month block. (Foreign TV companies liked to have series in blocks of 13, 26 or 52 weeks for planning purposes). Baverstock would extend the series again, after the success of the Daleks had become apparent.
One issue that had been of particular concern for Baverstock was that the TARDIS set had been very expensive to create. Verity Lambert was able to point out to him that its cost had been planned to be spread over 52 weeks, so the longer the run of the series, the more economical the set became.
Even though the initial reasons for its creation no longer applied, Lambert and Whitaker agreed that a short money-saving story at this point would be a good idea. This would be used to help solidify the characters of the Doctor and his companions, as they would be forced to interact with each other in the claustrophobic confines of their ship. The TARDIS itself would be seen to be a fifth character in the second episode.
Whitaker's main inspirations were ghost stories and haunted house tales. Following an unexplained incident, the travellers would be left suspecting that an invisible presence might have managed to get into the ship - and possibly even into one of them. A mystery would be established, which they would need to solve. This would force them to confront certain negative characteristics, both of themselves and of their companions, which they would also have to resolve before they could move on, far more certain of each other. The story allowed Lambert and Whitaker to make any character tweaks necessary for the continuance of the series, based on what they had observed so far.
The cast generally did not like the script initially, as they didn't understand why they were behaving as they did. Carole Ann Ford thought that Susan was going mad for no reason. Jacqueline Hill, on the other hand liked it, thinking it gave insight into their characters.
Another inspiration which has been identified for this first instalment is the play Six Characters in Search of an Author, an absurdist piece by playwright Luigi Pirandello.
Right from the very start, the Children's Department at the BBC thought that Doctor Who should have fallen under their remit. It was often described as a children's show, but it had been created specifically by the general Drama Department, with the whole family its intended target audience. The Children's Department started to launch frequent attacks on the programme whenever they thought that it was being irresponsibly produced. According to Lambert, this was an attempt by them to have the series taken away from her and moved under their control.
One example where Lambert came under attack was in this episode - the scene where Susan threatens Ian with the scissors. They look like dressmaking shears - so have long, prominent blades. After waving them at Ian, she then attacks her bed, wildly stabbing at it several times.
The use of scissors as a weapon fell into the realm of violence that could be copied by a child at home. Fantasy violence was okay, but not this. Lambert accepted the criticism and ensured that there would be no further instances of violence involving everyday household items which a child could replicate.
- This is the first episode of a story generally known overall as The Edge of Destruction. This was the title used for the novelisation and for the VHS and DVD releases. However, there are those who prefer the title "Inside the Spaceship". The Complete History partwork, from the makers of Doctor Who Magazine, recently elected to use this title.
- Still the only story to feature just the Doctor and companions in a single setting - that of the TARDIS. No guest artists, no monsters, no alien planets, spaceships or any other change of location. The revived series has attempted 'chamber pieces' (Heaven Sent, Midnight, Listen etc.), but has never achieved anything as minimalist as this.
- The Doctor suggests that there are multiple universes - stating that Quinnis lies in the fourth. This confusion around the definition of "universes" and "galaxies" will persist for most of the Hartnell years, especially when David Whitaker is involved (though Terry Nation can make a hash of them as well).
- It is confirmed that the TARDIS has visited alien planets prior to the teachers joining the Doctor and Susan - so before the series started. Previously, earlier trips all seemed to have occurred on Earth. Susan indicated that she had some personal experience of the French Revolution, enough to quickly spot an error in a text book, and she then mentioned the various forms which the TARDIS had copied - all Earth objects.
- This story meant that Ray Cusick had designed nine consecutive episodes. However, as it was set entirely in the TARDIS he had little to do, save for designing the sleeping areas and a new fault locator bay.
- William Hartnell jokingly referred to the fault locator as "the fornicator" in rehearsals.