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24 September 2014

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The Edge of Destruction

Production Code: C

First Transmitted

The Edge of Destruction - 08/02/1964 17:15

The Brink of Disaster - 15/02/1964 17:15


As they slowly recover from the shock of being thrown to the TARDIS floor, the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara all seem to be acting strangely. A number of unexplained events occur and suspicions are raised that some alien force may have entered the ship. The Doctor at one point even accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotage.

It gradually dawns on the travellers that what they have been experiencing is an attempt by the TARDIS itself to warn them of something. The Doctor ultimately realises that the 'fast return' switch he used when leaving Skaro has stuck, and the ship has been plunging back to the beginning of time and its own destruction.

Once the problem - a faulty spring - is corrected, the TARDIS returns to normal and the Doctor is forced to make some apologies.

Episode Endings

Having drugged his companions' drinks with a sleeping draught, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS control room. There he inspects the controls and is about to try operating them when he is interrupted by someone apparently intent on strangling him.

The TARDIS arrives in a new location where the weather is very cold. Leaving the ship to explore, Susan and Barbara find what appears to be a giant's footprint in the snow.


Haunted house stories.

The Time Machine.

The claustrophobic atmosphere is reminiscent of The Outer Limits.

Dialogue Triumphs

Barbara Wright : [To the Doctor] "Accuse us! You ought to go down on your knees and thank us! Gratitude's the last thing you'll ever have... or any sort of common sense either!"

Barbara Wright : "We had time taken away from us and now it's being given back to us... because it's running out!"

The Doctor : "As we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves."


The TARDIS's power source is held beneath the central column. The TARDIS has an inbuilt memory of previous locations, and the console features a fast return switch (the malfunctioning of which causes the crisis). [The alarm sound the fault locator makes is an early version of the Cloister Bell.] Susan and Barbara share a very spartan sleeping area.

Skaro is seen on the TARDIS scanner.

Susan and the Doctor have a telepathic link, both to each other, and to the TARDIS: its stranger attempts to warn them seem to be visionary in nature. It takes the Doctor a long time to work out what's going on, and he seems very afraid, suggesting some degree of unfamiliarity with the TARDIS.

Ian would surely have mentioned had he heard more than one heartbeat from the Doctor (cf The Sensorites).


Inside the TARDIS.


The Doctor and Susan have visited the planet Quinnis in the 'fourth universe' ('where we nearly lost the TARDIS four or five journeys ago,' notes Susan). [Since the Doctor seems not to learn about parallel universes until Inferno, Susan must mean 'galaxy' (cf Galaxy 4).] The coat the Doctor loans Ian is said to have been given to him by Gilbert and Sullivan.


The Doctor shows astonishment at the suggestion that the TARDIS might actually be alive.


This story had the working title Beyond the Sun. (This was a working title for the previous story, The Mutants.)

The story was written as a late addition to the schedule because the sets for Marco Polo were not ready in time. (It was a late addition, but the real reason was that Donald Baverstock, the Chief of Programmes for BBC1, had yet to give his approval for any more than thirteen episodes to be made. Thus, with 100,000 BC at four episodes and The Mutants at seven, an additional two part story was required in case the series should then be cancelled.)


'Fast Return Switch' is written in felt tip pen on the console.

William has a bit of a nightmare, completely throwing the others during one scene by saying the same line ("It's not very likely") twice, and fumbling "You knocked both Susan and I unconscious". He also omits the scripted explanation for the melted clocks

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford


Director - Richard Martin

Director - Frank Cox

Assistant Floor Manager - Jeremy Hare

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Raymond P Cusick

Incidental Music - stock

Make-Up - Ann Ferriggi

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Tony Lightley

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Dennis Channon

Studio Sound - Jack Brummitt

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - David Whitaker

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'We've had time taken away from us, and now it's being given back because it's running out.' The Edge of Destruction manages to flesh out the central figures at the expense of the plot.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Considering its origins as a hasty 'filler' written to bring the initial episode count up to thirteen, Inside the Spaceship works remarkably well. As Deanne Holding put it in TARDIS Volume 6 Number 3/4 dated October 1981: '[Inside the Spaceship] is unique in that it features no alien menace, no strange planets to be explored, no supporting cast and no sets other than the TARDIS interior. It is a suspense story, in the Hitchcock tradition, and, as such, it is quite stunning.'

Even at this early stage, though, the impact of the Daleks was being felt. 'The first week of Doctor Who without Daleks was flat,' wrote Peter Quince in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner dated 15 February 1964. 'Admittedly, Susan went mad with a pair of scissors, clocks were smashed [sic] most mysteriously and Barbara thought the ship had been invaded by an unseen presence, but none of these excitements could make up for the loss of those ravishing robots. They have been the hit of the winter on all channels, though I doubt whether the BBC's plans to market them in do-it-yourself form will be all that successful. The craze will have died away by the time the Daleks reach the shops - unless of course the designer can include a real live death-ray in each packet - but I doubt whether the post-master general would like that.'

The restriction imposed on the production of having to take place largely within stock sets resulted in two episodes set entirely within the confines of the TARDIS. This allowed David Whitaker to devise a story in which the still fragile relationships between the leading characters initially fall apart, and then crystallise into far stronger friendships than existed before.

The first episode is full of misdirection as the characters try to come to terms with what might have happened to them. This involves some strangely stilted acting from Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, who speak their lines as though they are simply reciting them from a page, and one really starts to get the feeling that - as the Doctor suspects - the ship may have been invaded by some outside force that is now masquerading as one of the travellers. The analogy with a theatrical play is not too off beam, as the limited number of sets and the relatively static camera angles give the viewer the impression of watching as the action unfolds, act by act, on a stage.

It is unfortunate that this approach does not appear to suit Ford, who seems ill at ease with the strange and dislocated Susan that she is called upon to play. Russell settles down after initial problems, while Jacqueline Hill and William Hartnell seem unaffected by the demands of the claustrophobic scripts. This 'staginess' could be seen as a failing of the production, but this would perhaps be unfair.

'The technical limitations of the production are obvious to the modern viewer,' commented Trevor Wayne in Gallifrey Issue Twelve dated autumn 1980, 'but this is largely due to the fact that [it was] almost experimental in [its] own day. Not only that, the producers stretched television technology to its limits to achieve a sense of wonder in the programme that to today's viewer, used to slick bland productions, will just seem shabby.'

By the end of the first episode, all the options have been exhausted and the Doctor drugs his companions so that he might investigate the problems without further interference. But the drugs don't work, and Ian attempts, for no apparent reason (other than to provide an episode ending), to strangle the Doctor.

After an uncertain first episode, the second is far better. Richard Martin, the director for the former, was relatively new and inexperienced at the job (which is why Christopher Barry was brought in to assist on the previous story), and Frank Cox, handling the latter, does much better. The action is tighter and the whole thing gathers momentum as the travellers realise that the danger may be of their own making. There are revelations and a conclusion that is elegant in its simplicity.

The undoubted high point of the adventure comes when the Doctor is forced to confront a furious Barbara, who is understandably upset at the accusations he earlier directed at her and Ian, and has to do the one thing that it appears he is most uncomfortable with: apologise and admit he was wrong. Nick Davison, writing in Star Begotten Volume 2 Number 1 dated winter 1988, put it well: 'The complete success of the character development is apparent when you realise the drama - the real drama - comes from the desire to see the characters reconcile their differences.'

Although the majority of fans regard this most simple of adventures with considerable fondness, there are others who take a different view. 'The greatest pity... is that it had real potential,' wrote Vanessa Bishop in Skaro Volume V No. II dated October/November 1990. 'It is perhaps the [series'] only venture into the realms of a disaster movie... The "stuck-in-a-lift" - albeit a big one - scenario could've equalled the two previous tales. The TARDIS is [a brilliant invention] and yet, in this tale, becoming the fifth protagonist, it is immediately sent up - with its vast technology, it throws its crew into oblivion because of a jammed spring! Ironic, quaint, or just plain ridiculous?'

Whatever one's feelings about the plot, there is no denying that at the conclusion all the characters are on good terms again, and their relationships have been strengthened in a way that simply having them experience adventures together arguably could not have achieved. Inside the Spaceship allows the characters to grow - and to grow closer.

< The DaleksFirst DoctorMarco Polo >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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