The Edge of Destruction

Posted in Episode by - July 12, 2016
The Edge of Destruction

Aired 8 – 15 February 1964

‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a rather unique serial, a story that takes place solely within the confines of the TARDIS and features only its core cast. It’s clear from the start that something is not quite right, with the trapped sense of claustrophobia and some sort of alien presence bringing out the worst in all of the leads.

Even if the scenes do seem like they are designed for a stage production, being quite distinct and set in their presentation, the idea of this threat is a unique one. Seeing the stalwart Ian trying to strangle the Doctor and Susan becoming dangerous with scissors is certainly unnerving and, staying with the parameters of a children’s programme, adds a tangible threat to the paranoia and anger. William Hartnell has already proven adept at portraying a darker, more sinister side to the Doctor, and here he gets to let loose with lines that border on vicious. Jacqueline Hill is also a standout here, going toe to toe with the Doctor and not giving an inch. Considering the dialogue-laden script and direction that sometimes lets the ambition of the episode down, the regulars all do a remarkable job in selling these polarizing and unusual circumstances.

Given the interesting light in which these events cast the characters, then, it’s unfortunate- albeit in keeping in line with the unique premise of the story- that the cause comes down to a loose spring in the fast return switch. It does go to show that the Doctor is not necessarily in complete control of his craft as is not all-knowing, and events do hint at the TARDIS’s ability to communicate at least in some measure with the crew, but the revelation and resolution is simply underwhelming considering the heightened drama that it caused. And, in the end, it is that drama that is the driving force of the narrative, the final scenes bringing the characters closer together than ever before after their harrowing experience. The scene between Hartnell and Hill, in particular, perfectly encapsulates the burgeoning mutual respect and admiration and captures the growing sentiments of friendship and trust that have slowly been creeping into each progressive story.

While ‘The Edge of Destruction’ may not succeed in its more action-driven components as well as its writer and crew likely intended, it is a masterful character piece that utilizes the strange and variable format of the programme to its fullest effect. For a show that has already traveled into the far past of Earth and off to a distant planet, it’s interesting to see a more contained piece that, while introducing some of the more fantastic concepts of the TARDIS, truly focuses on the four leads as individuals, allowing each to bear his or her heart and to succumb to internal fears and pressures. Undoubtedly budgetary constraints were a driving force as well for this quick two-part story, but it’s a testament to Doctor Who and everyone involved that such a unique story is possible and successful.

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