Target 003 – The Edge of Destruction

Written by Nigel Robinson
From the Back: In a final bid to regain control of the Tardis’s faulty control system the Doctor is driven to experiment with a dangerous untried combination.  With a violent explosion the TARDIS blacks out and the crew find themselves trapped inside.  A simple technical fault? Sabotage? Or something even more sinister?  Tensions mount as the Doctor and his companions begin to suspect one another.  What has happened to the TARDIS?  Slowly a terrifying suspicion dawns.  Has the TARDIS become the prisoner of some powerful fifth intelligence which is even now haunting the time-machine’s dark and gloomy corridors?

First line (not counting the introduction, which is just a recap): “The tall glass column in the centre of the six-sided central control console rose and fell with a stately elegance, indicating that the TARDIS was in full flight.”

An uninteresting start to a rather uninteresting book.  I must confess, that my primary reaction to Nigel Robinson’s novels has been one of boredom.  This is rather astounding as he was the author who adapted Moris Farhi’s outstanding Farewell Great Macedon.  Honestly, I believe Robinson did a stupendous job with Macedon.  Unfortunately, I still found his work on The Edge of Destruction to be dull.  Perhaps it isn’t his fault.  Edge of Destruction isn’t one of the more engaging stories.  It has an intriguing premise, but I’m not entirely sure David Whitaker delivered on this in his original script.  This leaves Robinson with the unpleasant task of novelizing a story that didn’t really deliver.

Part of what made the televised version Edge of Destruction interesting was the direction.  Many of the shots were arranged to heighten the inherent suspense in the story.  Scenes with Susan and the scissors or Ian choking The Doctor were handled quite well, even if the actors didn’t quite know what was happening.  Robinson understandably focuses on these suspenseful elements.  He expounds upon them.  At some points it is hard to tell if a new intelligence has invaded the TARDIS or if The Doctor is deliberately playing with Ian and Barbara.  Of course, in the end we know that neither is truly the case.  Honestly, this is one are where Robinson excels.  Occasionally the televised version of the story was unclear or difficult to make out.  Robinson more fully conveys both the terror and the explanation.  Unfortunately, is was tedium getting to that point.

Another thing Robinson does well, something that is implicit in the original script, is showing us what Barbara sees after she regains consciousness on the TARDIS.  She is in Coal Hill School, something that was only conveyed in dialogue in the episode.  In the novel, with no special effects constraints, Robinson can more fully deliver the ideas that Whitaker was unable to.  In truth, if I had to choose between the two, I would be torn between the hour it would take to watch Edge of Destruction or the realization of the concepts and effects in the novel.  Each version has its strengths and weaknesses.

Prescient chapter title: The End of Time

Final Verdict: If you are a fan of Nigel Robinson or the televised version of The Edge of Destruction, then you will probably find plenty to enjoy here.

013 – The Brink of Disaster

In which we find out the cause of the strange goings-on in The TARDIS and put to rest some of the antagonism between the travelers.

Don't worry, Doctor. That coak will fit you just fine in about 21 years.

I suppose I should start with the positives.  The best part of this episode are the character moments where Ian, Barbara, and The Doctor finally reach peace with one another.  After some harsh accusations against the teachers in the previous episode, The Doctor is saved once more by Barbara and he is forced to concede her point.  Ian and Barbara are not to be looked at with suspicion.  They are valuable and should be treated as such.  Ian forgives The Doctor quite easily, before the apology is even offered.  Barbara, however, takes time to listen and has to take time to dwell on the apology.  Hartnell and Hill have a particularly touching scene where The Doctor is all charm and grandfatherly toward Barbara.  They have put aside their differences and must work together.  I love this scene and Hartnell and Hill have a great chemistry together here.

Another positive are the concepts.  First, the idea that, when faced with immanent destruction, The TARDIS initiated a defense mechanism where it locked itself out of time, so to speak.  This doesn’t prevent destruction, but it does slow the danger long enough for those inside The TARDIS to try to work out the problem.  What an imaginative idea!  The writers of this show have really worked to create a time machine that is more than a mere machine.  The Doctor even admits that The TARDIS is capable of thinking, after a fashion.  It doesn’t have an intelligence like humans do, but it can think logically, like a machine, The Doctor says.  Is The TARDIS alive?  At this point, The Doctor seems to indicate that it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean The TARDIS is devoid of intelligence, even if it is an artificial, reasoning intelligence.  The other concept I enjoy is that the difficulties in this story were caused by nothing more than a broken spring in a switch.  This is mildly anti-climactic, but adds a degree of believability to the show.  I have spent a month trying to fix my dishwasher, growing more aggravated with each failed attempt.  After finally giving up and calling a professional, he determined that there is one small part in the drain motor that is broken.  As such, the dishwasher is trying to drain water and spray water at the same time.  Due to this, a broken spring makes a lot of sense to me.

What doesn’t work in the story?  Ultimately, the odd behavior is never fully explained, at least not to my satisfaction.  Perhaps it is due to The TARDIS’ manipulation of time so that it can put off its own destruction.  That really seems to be the only explanation that fits, and even that doesn’t satisfy me.  The other item that I don’t quite get is the reasoning behind the melting time pieces.  Barbara intuits that the melting signified time being taken away, and I suppose that works in a symbolic way, an attempt to visually convey the concept mentioned above, but it hardly seems necessary when a line of dialogue would suffice.  Plus, there are images on The TARDIS scanner that convey the idea just fine.   I guess the melting time pieces were thought to gave a couple of really good images, and the odd behavior was used to lure viewers back.  Looking back on the story, I think it just created an opportunity for some questionable acting.  All in all, a good attempt at something original and conceptual, but not terribly successful.  Since each episode had a different director, I almost wonder if this contributed to the unevenness.  The first episode was a bit slow and not nearly as strong as the second, but that could also have been a script problem.  The best part of the story is the last ten minutes.  Thankfully it wasn’t dragged out to four episodes.  I don’t know that I could have handled it.

012 – The Edge of Destruction

In which the TARDIS seriously malfunctions and everyone goes a little crazy.

Maybe there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. It's probably quite funny, when you think about it.

“One minute you’re abusing us and the next you’re the perfect butler.”

It is hard to know what to make of this episode.  On the one hand there is the intriguing premise that some entity has infiltrated the TARDIS and may be possessing one of the crew.  On the other, there is the acting.  Granted, this is a story that may be too ambitious for the 1960s.  Body-jumping creatures are a common sci-fi trope by 2010, and even Doctor Who will come back to this concept time and again, but at this point in the show’s history (and possibly on television) it seems new and uncertain.  The possibility of possession is still a theory this early in the story, and so that may not be the case.  Shortly after the TARDIS malfunction, everyone is acting unusual, and in some cases they have difficulty recognizing one another.  Evaluation of the actors’ success in pulling this off will have to wait until the next episode where the menace is revealed, but I think I can say at this point that the acting is a mixed bag.  On the one hand, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill do a superb job.  On the other is Carol Ann Ford and William Russell.  Russell is usually good, very much a leading man of the time, but this particular story would probably bring its own challenges.  We are firmly in conceptual science fiction, not the alpha male leadership that we have needed from Ian so far.  Ford as Susan runs the gamut of chilling and ridiculous.  I feel sorry for this actress who has had such mixed success thus far in portraying an emotional teenager who is also not human.  No offense to her, but I’m not sure she has really pulled it off at this point.  Hartnell plays his usual cunning, manipulative, and scheming Doctor.  He is quick to start formulating theories, but his primary theory is to distrust the “Other”.  In this case, the Other would be the newcomers–Ian and Barbara.  Jacqueline Hill as Barbara gives The Doctor a good tongue-lashing.  She has had it and points out all the ways she and Ian have saved The Doctor in the previous two stories and tells him, “you should get on your knees and thank us!”  The power of this scene is slightly undone by a shot of a melting clock.  It is meant to be horrifying and frightening, but for the most part it is just too difficult to make out exactly what is happening.

So, uncertainty.  I said before that this is conceptual science fiction, by which I mean the ideas present are probably ideas that are hard to achieve on screen.  They would be easier with the use of CGI to perhaps give us character perspectives or more successfully create the melting time-pieces, but CGI is a long way away from this episode.  I’ll see how the next episode progresses and pass final judgment at that point.