Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grab Bag Reviews: "The Edge of Destruction"

Yes, it's another First Doctor story. No, I honestly don't plan these things -- it really is random.

In the early days of the series story titles were a lot more fluid. For example, the story "10,000 BC" was also known as "The Tribe of Gum" and this story, officially put on the DVD as "The Edge of Destruction" is also sometimes known as "Inside the Spaceship".

That clarified, here are a few other things to know about the story before we dive in... Doctor Who was very nearly ended before it began. Officials at the BBC worried about the expense of the show and nearly pulled the plug early. Luckily several people went to bat for the show and managed to convince the powers that be to give it a season run of 13 episodes.

What this meant, however, was that the series didn't have enough scripts at the ready quite to fill the 13 episode quota. It was decided to pen a quick, two-part script and stick it in between "The Daleks" and the lush, costume historical "Marco Polo". At the same time there were fears that the Doctor's rather abrasive and antagonistic personality might be frightening or off-putting to children and the two-parter was seen as the perfect place to start softening the Doctor's personality.

With this story needing to be completed fast and cheaply it was also decided to set the entire thing on the existing TARDIS set -- putting further constraints on the writer. The result of all of these requirements thrown into the story yields something that is... well... more than a little odd to be honest....

The Plot: Leaving Skaro the TARDIS suddenly lurches and there is a bright flash of explosion! Some time later the time travelers slowly regain consciousness but seem to be suffering from partial amnesia. The Doctor is injured but soon begins to recover with the help of Susan and Barbara but there is more going on -- the TARDIS is acting up, strange things keep happening, and the Doctor and Susan seem to be suffering from a great mistrust of Ian and Barbara.

As more and more things start going wrong Ian and Barbara wonder if there isn't something on the ship with them but the Doctor has found a more Earthly source to blame... Ian and Barbara! The Doctor announces he intends to put them off the ship but the crew may not even live that long as they race towards doom. Their only hope for salvation may lie unexpectedly with Barbara!

My Take: Remember when I said that "The Web Planet" was like 1960's experimental theatre? Well this is too. The story is just... it's weird. Plain and simple, it's weird. There are parts of it that come off well and hang together nicely and there are parts that just make no sense no matter how much you think about them. Sadly, the parts that make no sense make up the bulk of things.

There is no clear explanation of why the group had selective memory loss, no explanation for why Susan had a hissy fit with a pair of scissors, and the one thing we do get an explanation for -- the signals the TARDIS is sending -- makes no real sense. It just leaves the viewers quite frankly bewildered.

On the flip side, the introduction of the idea that something could be loose in the TARDIS and might even be possessing one of the group is nice and creepy -- and plausible as well for as long as it lasts. The Doctor's paranoia and suspicion by being unfounded, actually increase the tension as viewers begin to believe that the old man truly is insane.

And then there is the acting. Without a guest cast it falls all on the main cast and, sadly, there is a LOT of overacting done here. No one escapes from it but Ford may be one of the more overblown examples of it. Once upon a time this might have worked for the young audiences of the 1960's but modern audiences are likely to be too busy giggling.

"The Edge of Destruction" is not without some bright moments though. Jacqueline Hill's turn as Barbara has some great moments -- including one where she reads the Doctor the riot act and proves just how formidable a woman she can be.

Hartnell's performance as the Doctor is a bit overblown, yes, but there are also moments where he exudes menace and madness but later Hartnell makes the Doctor's change of attitude believable -- a humbled, contrite figure. One of my favorite moments comes when the Doctor believes he can do nothing to save them and quietly asks Ian if the young man will face death with him. It is nicely played -- quiet but with a sense of weight instead of over the top.

I also have to give credit to writer and production team for deciding to actually give viewers a story which changes the Doctor rather than just abruptly altering his personality without change. It also shows their thoughtfulness in that they do not make things easy on the Doctor -- while Ian lets him off the hook lightly he has to humble himself and apologize profusely to Barbara.

This story also marks the first point where the TARDIS is portrayed as semi-sentient. It will probably interest fans to see that the Doctor has never considered this possibility before and it is Barbara who surmises that the TARDIS is trying to communicate with them.

In the end, though, the positives about the story just can't overcome the negatives. "The Edge of Destruction" will probably only prove popular with those who are completists, curious, and/or fans of William Hartnell.

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