Doctor Who episode 12: The Edge of Destruction (8/2/1964)
This episode is easy to understand in a modern TV context: it’s the cheap one, the ‘bottle show’ as I think Star Trek used to call them – just the regular cast and the standard sets. I wonder what they made of it back in 1964. The AI was better than the first Dalek episode, so it can’t have been that badly received.
It’s strange though: it looks stagier than any other Doctor Who episode I can think of. The script asks a lot of the actors, and they respond in different ways. William Russell plays Ian like a simpleton, only half comprehending what’s going on around him – before suddenly regaining his wits halfway through the episode to berate the Doctor. Carole Ann Ford goes manic, hurling herself to the floor, wearing a crazy hairstyle, messing up the sofa with scissors and being generally moody – it’s the most normal teenage behaviour we’ve ever seen from Susan. Predictably, Hill and Hartnell are more subtle: Hill has a slight edge to her, a catch in her voice which finally breaks when she loses her rag, magnificently, with the Doctor. The Doctor seems initially unaffected, but that’s only because he’s always been a paranoid control freak and whatever’s happening has only made this more pronounced.
Scriptwriter and script editor David Whitaker references both the Cave of Skulls and the Daleks, and there’s an exchange near the end of the episode that seems to reiterate some of the themes of the last set of episodes:
The Doctor: You mean, to keep one jump ahead. That you will never be. You need my knowledge and ability to apply it, and then you need my experience to gain the fullest results.
Ian: Results? For good or for evil?
The Doctor: One man’s law is another man’s crime. Sleep on it, Chesterton. Sleep on it.
Which implies that Ian is still unsure whether the Doctor will use his intelligence for good, and suggests to me that Whitaker may have either added these ideas Terry Nations Dalek scripts, or seized on them as worth exploring further.
There are some other interesting call-backs as well: Ian’s mad laughter at the idea of something getting inside the Ship echoes Susan’s giggle at the thought of something being inside the Dalek. And in a reference to a ‘missing adventure’ we see a photograph of the planet Qunnis in the fourth universe.
I didn’t much like this: it feels like 25 minutes of bizarre improv, with Hartnell really fluffing some of his lines. The direction doesn’t really make the most of the story – there’s no subdued lighting, or any attempt to make the ship look like a dangerous or haunted environment. The only particularly sinister bit is Ford flitting across the back of one shot to take back the confiscated scissors. I only understand that the clocks and watches are supposed to have broken because I’ve read enough guide books over the years, as it’s very unclear on screen. This feels like hard work for little reward.
Next episode: The Brink of Disaster