RERUN REVIEW: Doctor Who 1×003 – “The Edge of Destruction”

The third “first Doctor” (William Hartnell) adventure in the classic Doctor Who series took place entirely in the TARDIS.  The Doctor, Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell), and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) leave the planet of the Daleks and the TARDIS suddenly lurches during travel and knocks everyone to the floor.  William Hartnell, by the way, THROWS himself to the floor.  It was a great fall for someone his age.

The four wake up and are all acting bizarre.  They all seem to have concussions, amnesia, or both.  They are all untrustworthy of each other and even threaten to kill each other at some points.  The acting in the first couple episodes of this adventure is great.  Everyone is not quite right, and all four actors pull it off well.

This episode also introduces an interesting concept: The TARDIS is powered by an artificial intelligence that can alter its surroundings to warn its occupants of danger.  The reason for everyone’s  strange actions during these episodes is never given and everyone is back to normal by the end of the adventure.  No one ever tries to figure out why they were all acting so weird.  Did the TARDIS make them act that way by altering their minds and possibly manipulating their bodies?  Susan pulls a knife on Barbara at one point.  Later, when everyone has a clear head, no one bothers to ask why she did this.

A strange melted clock appears in the TARDIS at one point.  The sight of this terrifies Barbara to the point of hysterics.  They later figure out that the TARDIS put it there to warn them of their impending doom.  The TARDIS does this instead of announcing via a loudspeaker or view screen something along the lines of “You’re all going to die unless you fix the problem on board.”.  Why?  Why create a melted clock and hope the occupants will interpret the weird clue before their demise instead of just telling them what’s wrong?  Part of the answer to that is, “Because then there wouldn’t be much of a story.”  Another part of the answer is that the TARDIS’ intelligence must be rudimentary at best.  It knows something is wrong and must tell its occupants, but it can only manage crude communication through symbols and apparently through fabricated objects.  It seems weird that the TARDIS can fabricate a melted clock, but not type out a warning message.  This could be sloppy writing, as it’s a wide suspension of disbelief.  So what does the melted clock represent?

It turns out the Doctor turned on the “Fast Return” switch in the TARDIS and that it broke in the process, taking them all the way to the Big Bang.  Soon they’ll be at a place before the Big Bang and will cease to exist, but they figure out the Fast Return switch is broken, fix a spring in it, and are soon landing on a chilly planet and playing in the snow (setting up the next adventure in the process).

The whole “The spring got stuck in the Fast Return switch!” thing seems like cheap writing, but I kind of like the idea that the TARDIS, an amazing time / space ship, can get screwed up by a simple mechanical error like a broken part.  This adventure was only two episodes.  The next is six and a lost treasure for fans of the series.

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Nik Havert