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The Edge of Destruction

The Edge of Destruction was the third story of Season 1 of Doctor Who. The story is unique in the original series in that it is set entirely inside the TARDIS and features only the regular cast members.

The BBC initially committed to four episodes of Doctor Who. Mid-way through the production of An Unearthly Child, this was upped to thirteen. Together, An Unearthly Child and The Daleks only totaled eleven. With a tiny budget, The Edge of Destruction was commissioned to fill the remaining two episodes and fill out the season.

Narratively, the story was crucial as its events bonded the travelers so they were no longer just mismatched people forced together, but a group who could trust one another. It also offered the first hint that the Doctor’s TARDIS was not his own, shown by his lack of understanding of its abilities. Finally, it was also the first instance of the Doctor namedropping historical figures.

The second episode of this serial, “The Brink of Disaster”, is as far as viewers can watch the Hartnell era, and the series itself from the very beginning in televised format, before running into a single missing episode: the following serial, Marco Polo, remains absent in its entirety.


Episode 1: The Edge of Destruction

The Doctor, while attempting to correct the TARDIS’ faulty navigation circuits, causes a small explosion. The Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan are all rendered unconscious. Barbara is the first to recover and awakens Ian and Susan, who appear to have slight cases of amnesia. The Doctor lies on the floor with a gash on his head. Susan recovers her senses enough to retrieve a special healing bandage from the ship’s first aid kit and water from the food machine for her injured grandfather. Suddenly, Susan becomes convinced that an alien presence is on board and has seized control of the ship.

The TARDIS doors begin erratically opening and closing whenever Ian moves towards them. When Susan tries to operate the door switch on the console, she receives an electrical shock. As the Doctor revives, Barbara tends to him while Ian carries Susan to her room. There she stabs at him with a pair of scissors, rips her bed to shreds, then collapses.

Later, the Doctor, Barbara, and Ian discuss the situation, each alternating between clarity of mind and paranoid sniping. The Doctor checks the system controls with Ian’s assistance, while Barbara checks on Susan. She has retrieved the scissors and tries to attack Barbara, but stops herself from doing any real harm.

When the Doctor tries to determine their location with the view scanner, he finds only images which he recognizes as records of the TARDIS’ earlier trips. The last image, a picture of planets, a solar system and an explosion, puzzles him. By now, Susan is convinced that not only has an alien intelligence entered the ship, it has taken over at least one of the people. When the Doctor opens the TARDIS doors, they quickly close themselves when Ian approaches them. Soon, the Doctor and Susan begin to accuse their human companions of sabotage to get the TARDIS back to England in 1963. Barbara angrily refutes the Doctor’s suspicions with a recap of their recent adventure on Skaro, where she and Ian risked their lives to save the Doctor and Susan from the Daleks. She cites Ian’s bravery in the Cave of Skulls. Her tirade is abruptly ended when she sees the cathedral clock the Doctor keeps in the console room has melted, a sight which horrifies her. They all check their watches and see the same has happened to their timepieces.

The Doctor excuses himself from the room and returns with a tray of drinks, a “nightcap” which he serves as a peace offering to his companions. Barbara, Susan and Ian retire to their quarters and drink the nightcaps.

After looking in on his companions to confirm they are asleep, the Doctor returns to the console. As he examines it, a pair of hands swing him around and grab him by the throat.

Episode 2: The Brink of Disaster

The Doctor’s attacker is none other than Ian. A strange force has overridden the effects of the drug and compelled him to stop the Doctor from operating the TARDIS controls. Ian recognizes the Doctor and collapses.Barbara enters and finds Ian and herself openly accused of sabotage by the Doctor.

As Barbara tries to reason with the Doctor, Susan enters the room and sides with her grandfather, but then finds herself believing her teachers’ innocence. The Doctor threatens to put the humans off his ship; suddenly an alarm sounds. The fault locator lights up, showing faults in every system. An explosion rocks the ship. The Doctor realizes the TARDIS’ power source, located beneath the console, is trying to force its way out and they are only minutes from destruction.

Faced with a common peril, the travelers forget their differences and begin to work together. Barbara deduces that the strange events are an attempt by the TARDIS itself to warn the crew that something is wrong. The Doctor traces the problem to a broken spring in the fast return switch. The malfunction is causing the TARDIS to head back to the creation of a solar system; the strange events were just the TARDIS’ attempts to warn its passengers before the ship was destroyed. Fixing the switch returns everything to normal. The Doctor apologizes to Ian, who accepts straight away. Barbara needs more convincing but she is eventually won around by the Doctor. The foursome prepare to explore their new surroundings, this time a snowy planet. When Barbara and Susan go outside they discover a giant footprint in the snow.


The First Doctor
Susan Foreman
Ian Chesterton
Barbara Wright