The Edge of Destruction is the stocking-filler of Who’s premier season. The bag of slightly melted chocolate money. The worryingly green-looking satsuma. With big alien worlds and lavish historical locales to design, corners had to be cut. So what better way to do so than to tell your story entirely in the TARDIS with only your four leading lights to star? Bingo!
Edge is an odd one though, and a story that doesn’t quite work for me. Maybe it’s because it’s too stagey: Each scene is executed like a set-piece down at the local theatre. The performances are deliberately stagey, especially when the four time travellers are acting strangely at the beginning. Hartnell even gets his own soliloquy near the end of the story, which I’ll mention in a bit.
But to your casual observer, Edge mainly seems to comprise lots of madness, arguing and shouting. Its your standard Trapped In A Lift or worse, Big Brother scenario. Stick people together in a confined space and it’s inevitable that they’ll start bickering and arguing. Other people become targets for all that pent-up rage and claustrophobia, although why people like watching it on telly is a mystery. The 367th series of the flogged horse Big Brother is due to start next week, much to my chagrin. I'm always reminded of the Friends episode in which Joey reacts to the Ross-O-Tron: “Is that BAAACCKK???!??”.
As if the claustrophobia isn’t bad enough, our four heroes have to contend with some tenuous alien presence. This results in strange behaviour from the normally dependable Ian, who attempts to throttle The Doctor, and from Susan, who goes mad with a pair of very sharp scissors. Susan should never apply for a hairdressing job, since she’ll be mopping up copious quantities of blood as well as clumps of hair at the end of her shift. That’s one of the more successful scenes of the story, although it’s pushing the envelope to its limits with the kiddies tuning in.
The idea of the claustrophobic threat is a good one, although it’s never quite as fully realised as it could be. It doesn’t help that the direction in the first part is hit and miss. The scene with the melted clock doesn’t work for example, since it’s hard to work out what’s going on and also why a melted clock face is such a terrifying prospect in the first place. If Ian took Barbara to see Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Barbara would turn into an uncontrollable wreck at the sight of the melting Nazi heads. It's one of the most laughable scenes in Doctor Who, and it's not helped by the silly plinky plonky music boinging away in the background. Luckily Frank Cox’s direction in Episode Two is better.
The regulars make the most of the story, and altogether do well with their higher-than-usual share of lines. Jacqueline Hill, in particular, comes off well, especially in her verbal sparring with The Doctor. William Hartnell, too, is excellent, again displaying the vicious side of The Doctor, who threatens to chuck Ian and Barbara off the ship. Inevitably though, with such a high proportion of lines and such a short turnaround, there are many fluffs to be had, including the infamous Fault Locator slip (it sounds like something a lot ruder) and the “You both knocked… You knocked both Susan and I un-un-uncon-unconscious” goof. Still, it’s uncharitable to fault Hartnell for this, given the pressurised deadlines of 1960s TV shoots, and what’s more, he delivers that revelatory speech perfectly without so much as a stumble.
But when it comes down to it, the whole kerfuffle is caused by no more than a loose spring. Yes, read that back: A loose spring. All that fuss and drama, and such an underwhelming resolution, which is just a little disappointing.
That’s largely an irrelevance though, since actually, the main meat of the drama concerns the relationships of the regular characters. Having fallen apart at the seams, the four are brought closer together by their experience. The last five minutes make up for any previous shortcomings as The Doctor apologises to Barbara. It’s a lovely scene, and played perfectly by Hartnell and Hill. From now on, The Doctor’s frosty persona starts to mellow, and while he’s still prone to bouts of crabbiness, there’s more of a twinkle in his eye and a paternal instinct present. Perhaps that’s the most important legacy of Edge Of Destruction - an opportunity to bring the four characters closer together and prepare them for their future adventures. While it doesn’t work particularly well as gripping action adventure, Edge Of Destruction does succeed admirably as human drama - a brilliant paradox for a show about an alien being.