Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction. Episode Two – The Brink of Disaster

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The previous episode ended with the Doctor being attacked by a mysterious assailant.  It’s therefore something of a letdown to learn that it was only Ian – trying to warn the Doctor not to touch the controls, as they would have given him an electric shock.

Ian had two choices of course.  Choice number one would have seen him tell the Doctor not to touch the controls whilst choice number two is to throttle the Doctor into submission.  Yes, he goes for choice number two.

But why Ian would think the controls would be dangerous (and how he managed to awake from his drugged sleep) is a bit of a mystery.  Yes, Susan was attacked by the console in the previous episode, but we saw the Doctor touch the controls later on with no ill effects.

For a few minutes, the Doctor is still convinced that Ian and Barbara are the cause of his problems, but eventually the penny drops that something is wrong with the ship.  Barbara decides that the TARDIS has been trying to warn them.  “We had time taken away from us and now it’s being given back to us because it’s running out” is just one of her baffling utterances which make no sense at all.

And the reason why the TARDIS acting so oddly? The Fast Return Switch was broken (a faulty spring!) and is hurtling the ship towards destruction. But rather than issue a conventional warning, the TARDIS decided that a series of oblique and bizarre moments would be just the ticket.  Also, it’s impossible not to love the fact that somebody has written “fast return switch” in felt-tip on the console!

Hartnell has quite a long monologue which is designed to wrap the mystery up.  Even at this early stage he was never keen on lengthy speeches – due to the worries he had with remembering lines.  He is a bit wobbly in this story from time to time, but he’s pretty much perfect when it comes to this sequence.  Although his reaction when receiving the script (“Christ! It’s bloody Hamlet!”) strongly implies that he needed some persuading to learn it!

I know. I know. I said it would take the force of a total solar system to attract the power away from my ship. We’re at the very beginning, the new start of a solar system. Outside, the atoms are rushing towards each other. Fusing, coagulating, until minute little collections of matter are created. And so the process goes on, and on until dust is formed. Dust then becomes solid entity. A new birth, of a sun and its planets.

It was very possible that this would have been the final episode of Doctor Who.  If so, then it would have ended with a more mellow Doctor finally beginning to appreciate his two new companions.

DOCTOR: I’d like to talk to you, if I may. We’ve landed on a planet and the air is good, but it’s rather cold outside.
BARBARA: Susan told me.
DOCTOR: Yes, you haven’t forgiven me, have you.
BARBARA: You said terrible things to us.
DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it’s the injustice that’s upsetting you, and when I made a threat to put you off the ship it must have affected you very deeply.
BARBARA: What do you care what I think or feel?
DOCTOR: As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.
BARBARA: Perhaps.
DOCTOR: Oh, yes. Because I accused you unjustly, you were determined to prove me wrong. So, you put your mind to the problem and, luckily, you solved it.

It also reinforces the notion that all four members of the TARDIS crew have something to contribute.  It was Barbara who solved the mystery in this story, Susan returned to the TARDIS to fetch the anti-radiation drugs in The Daleks, Ian made fire in An Unearthly Child, etc.

This might be something of a ramshackle story, but at only two episodes it doesn’t outstay its welcome and apart from a few decent character moments it’s mainly memorable for the subtle reshaping of the Doctor’s character.

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Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction. Episode One

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This is odd.   A mysterious explosion in the TARDIS has robbed everybody of the ability to act.  William Hartnell’s the luckiest, as he spends the first ten minutes unconscious on the floor whilst Jacqueline Hill doesn’t come off too badly (she’s been positioned as the sensible one since the first episode and that carries on here).

It’s William Russell and Carole Ann Ford who get the rough end of the stick.  Whether it was as scripted or Russell’s choice, but for the first half of the episode Ian’s lines are spoken in a numbing monotone whilst Ford enjoys violent mood swings as Susan goes somewhat loopy.

There’s a number of bizarre moments, but one of my favourites is at 7:21 when Susan tries the controls of the TARDIS and extravagantly plummets to the floor.  “She’s fainted” says Ian afterwards, blindingly stating the obvious.

This was the first story to use stock music rather than specially composed tracks.  Eric Siday was the composer and one of the cues should be familiar (as it was later reused in The Moonbase).  But the problem is that there’s not enough music and ambient sound effects used – meaning that for long stretches there’s nothing but the raw studio sound.

A prime example is when Susan comes back into the console room and notices that the TARDIS doors are open.  This is clearly a dramatic moment – the ship hasn’t landed so it shouldn’t happen – but it’s played out to a totally dead atmosphere – no music, no effects.  It’s possible that this was intentional (to highlight something was wrong with the TARDIS).  Or possibly not.  It all depends how generous you want to be, I guess.

After fainting, Susan threatens Ian and later stabs her bed with a pair of scissors in a notorious scene which was somewhat controversial at the time.  Why Susan is acting irrationally (and why Ian doesn’t seem to be acting at all!) is never made clear – was this due to the explosion at the start or is it part of the TARDIS’ defence mechanisms (which we’ll discuss during the next episode).

This is an interesting exchange –

SUSAN: I never noticed the shadows before. It’s so silent in the ship.
BARBARA: Yes. Or we’re imagining things. We must be. I mean, how would anything get into the ship, anyway?
SUSAN: The doors were open.
BARBARA: Yes, but, but where would it hide?
SUSAN: In one of us.

It’s a red herring as nothing did get into the ship, but the concept that an alien invader might be hiding in one of them is a powerful and disturbing one.

The Doctor’s now up and about and is convinced that Ian and Barbara have sabotaged the TARDIS. It’s not possible to say for certain that the Doctor is acting irrationally (like Susan) because he’s been a very changeable character since episode one.

I think it was simply the Doctor being his usual suspicious, arrogant self – but it gives Barbara the chance to tell him some well deserved home truths. Jacqueline Hill is wonderful in this scene, as she is throughout the episode. Whilst the others have been erratic, Barbara remains strong.

BARBARA: How dare you! Do you realise, you stupid old man, that you’d have died in the Cave of Skulls if Ian hadn’t made fire for you?
DOCTOR: Oh, I.
BARBARA: And what about what we went through against the Daleks? Not just for us, but for you and Susan too. And all because you tricked us into going down to the city.
DOCTOR: But I, I.
BARBARA: Accuse us? You ought to go down on your hands and knees and thank us. But gratitude’s the last thing you’ll ever have, or any sort of common sense either.

Frankly it’s worth sitting through the episode for that exchange alone.

We end with the Doctor having drugged(!) the others so he can examine the TARDIS in peace. But somebody then attacks him. Or do they? Possibly it’s just a very contrived cliffhanger.  All will be revealed when we reach The Brink of Disaster.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Seven – The Rescue

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The literal cliff-hanger from last time saw Antodus fail to jump the ravine – which means he’s plunged down a bottomless cavern and Ian (tied on the other end of the rope) is slowly losing his grip on him.  There’s something rather casual about this sequence – why Ian doesn’t call for help from the others?  And even when Ganatus does pop up, neither of them are very quick to twig that a little more assistance would be a good thing.  With Kristas and Barbara also holding onto the rope they should have been able to pull Antodus up.

As it is, Antodus settles the matter by cutting the rope and plunging to his death.  This is a moment that can be taken several ways – was it a noble act of self sacrifice (saving Ian’s life) or did Antodus (who was convinced they’d all die) commit suicide because he didn’t have the nerve to carry on?

Although Ian tells Ganatus that his brother died to give them a chance, it’s not really a credible statement.  Alydon and the rest of the Thals just seem to stroll into the Dalek City, which makes the efforts of Ian, Barbara, Ganatus and Kristas seem somewhat futile (why make all that effort to gain access via the caves when they could have just walked in through the front door?!)

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Susan are prisoners of the Daleks.  Hartnell has a great line – “this senseless, evil killing” – which helps to give the Doctor a sense of morality that hasn’t always been present in the episodes to date.
The climax of the story is a little bit of a damp squib – the Daleks’ control room is invaded by the Thals and after the briefest of battles the Daleks all die.  Their power has (somehow) drained away, exactly how is never really explained.  After seven episodes it would have been nicer to have a more considered conclusion.

In Nation’s original draft, it was revealed that a third party had engineered the war five hundred years ago between the Daleks and the Thals for their own benefit.  This mysterious alien presence then returns to Skaro and the Daleks and Thals team up to destroy it.  Although the televised ending is a little abrupt, I certainly prefer that to the original draft which poses more questions than it answers (why did the aliens decide to return to Skaro after so long?)

Hartnell’s Doctor has another small, defining moment. “I might just say this to you. Always search for truth. My truth is in the stars and yours is here.”  It’s character scenes like this where Hartnell really excels.

So if the conclusion is a little disappointing (as is well known, Terry Nation wrote the seven scripts very quickly – for him it was just another job.  “Take the money and fly like a thief”) then there’s still enough memorable moments from the earlier episodes to always make this a rewarding rewatch.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Six – The Ordeal

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An aptly named episode this.  The Ordeal is the point where the wheels start to come off as the story begins to splutter to a conclusion which will continue in the following episode.  The main problem with episode six is that the bulk is taken up with the efforts of Ian, Barbara and the Thals to break into the Dalek City – and this is very, very dull.

It can’t help but feel very padded out – had there not been seven episodes to fill then no doubt it wouldn’t have taken so long to find a way in.  Alas we have to follow them for almost the whole episode as they explore the very small cave sets very slowly.

There’s the odd moment of interest though.   There seems to be something of a romantic spark between Barbara and Ganatus which Ian is oblivious to.  Although Ganatus’ comment that they won’t use one of the customs of her planet – ladies first – is baffling (just how long have they had to discuss the Earth?)  When David Whitaker novelised the story he elected to make Barbara very antongistic and distant to Ian as they attempted to breach the city – it was a surprise to me that this wasn’t a part of the television original.  I mourn for the glass Dalek as well …..

Antodus continues to be the weak link in the group –

ANTODUS: Ganatus. I want to go back.
GANATUS: What for?
ANTODUS: I can’t go on any more.
GANATUS: You must.
ANTODUS: No. We’re going deeper, deeper all the time. We’ll be trapped in the mountain, I know we will. Please, Ganatus, let me go back.
GANATUS: You can’t.
ANTODUS: But you don’t really need me, not really. I could, well, I could go back and signal to the others that we’ve managed to get as far as we have.
GANATUS: Antodus, we go on together.
ANTODUS: Why? Why are you making me do all these things? Even if we do get through, we’ll never defeat the Daleks. Ganatus, we’re all going to be killed.
GANATUS: We can’t turn back now.
ANTODUS: The others can’t, but we could. Listen, they’re going to die anyway. We could just go back and tell the others that the Daleks killed them.

Alas, the next line is fluffed by Philip Bond (Ganatus) when he says that Antodus has to go back, rather than go on. But there’s nothing to do but press on, hope the audience hasn’t noticed and luckily an unconvincing rock-fall causes a distraction.

There’s not much Hartnell in this one, but he does have a lovely scene where he disables a control panel outside the city.  He spends so much time crowing about this (“a superior brain”) rather than taking Susan’s advice that they should leave, that the pair end up getting caught by a group of Daleks!

The first time, but by no means the last, that the plot has to come to a virtual halt to fill the episode count. Often there’s enough decent character interaction to make it more bearable, but The Ordeal (with its sub 1940’s adventure serial atmosphere) doesn’t have a great deal going for it.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Five – The Expedition

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The Expedition opens with Ian ranged against the Doctor and Barbara.  The fluid link needs to be retrieved from the Dalek City, but Ian is reluctant to ask the Thals to help them (“What victory are you going to show these people when most of them have been killed? A fluid link? Is this what you’re going to hold up to them and say, ‘Thank you very much. This is what you fought and died for’?”).

The Doctor has no qualms in asking for the Thals’ help – he needs the fluid link back and they’re a ready made fighting-force, so it’s of no concern to him whether they all die in the attempt.  Barbara is equally keen to retrieve the fluid link and escape from Skaro – she’s convinced that the Daleks will find a way to travel out of the city and kill them all (“Oh, they’ll find a way. They’re clever enough. They’ll find us and kill us, you know that as well as I do.”)

There’s no evidence to support this though (is she simply playing on Ian’s fears for their safety?) and he remains resolute.  It’s a key part of the story and it’s a little surprising to find this debate in a Terry Nation story – his yarns tended to be drawn in more clearly defined shades of black white.  In the end Ian does persuade the Thals to help – by making them see that they will also be guaranteeing their own survival.  At one point Barbara complains that Ian is only playing with words and there’s more than a kernel of truth in this.

In the Dalek City there’s some interesting things going on, thanks to Christopher Barry’s direction.  A group of Daleks have elected to take the Thals anti-radiation drugs (inducing death).  We see one of the Daleks die from their POV, in a slightly trippy, drug-induced way.  The moans emanating from the Dalek do sound slightly comic, but it’s another reminder that in this story they’re not portrayed just as mindless killing machines.  These signs of vulnerability, together with their more conversational mode of speech, would later be dropped as the Daleks lose any spark of individuality (except maybe for David Whitaker’s two Troughton stories).

It does feel a little contrived that the Daleks only now realise the anti-radiation drugs don’t  work since they’ve become conditioned to radiation and need more of it to survive.  Therefore they intend to release another bomb which will also have the pleasing side effect of wiping out of Thals.  The war ended five hundred years ago, why have the Daleks only just twigged that radiation is essential to their survival?

The Doctor elects to mount a two-pronged attack – one group to distract the Daleks on the city wall whilst the others attempt to break into the city from the rear – braving the jungle and the lake of mutations.  This is the first of Terry Nation’s Doctor Who jungles and despite it’s small size is effectively realised.  Partly this is due to Brian Hodgson’s sound design which creates a real sense of unease (Ian beating off a clip of stock footage is less impressive).

The monster that rises out of the swamp is another decent moment, although it does slightly look like a rubber ring with two glowing eyes.  As previously mentioned, on the lower resolution televisions of the time this no doubt would have looked more convincing.  Although I’m quite convinced now – maybe I’m easily pleased?

Ian and Barbara are accompanied by five Thals – although their party is quickly reduced by one when the hapless Elyon is sucked into the lake at the end of the episode (via another decent inlay shot).  Antodus complains to his brother Ganatus that they’re all doomed, doomed (a theme which will continue into the next episode).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Four – The Ambush

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The range of camera effects at the disposal of the Doctor Who production team in 1963/64 was incredibly limited, but The Ambush has some very effective shots (which were also quite easy to achieve).  Inlay effects are used to show the Dalek lift moving up and down and also a section of wall scorched by a Dalek gun.  Simple stuff, compared to what can be achieved today, but it works very well.

The Doctor’s capacity for self-preservation is still very much to the fore –

DOCTOR: Lets get back to the ship.
SUSAN: No, no, I must warn the Thals.
DOCTOR: Susan.
SUSAN: We can’t let them walk into a trap.
DOCTOR: The Thals are no concern of ours. We cannot jeopardise our lives getting involved in an affair which is none of our business.
BARBARA: Of course it’s our business. The Thals gave us the anti-radiation drug. Without that, we’d be dead!

The ambush scene is a little odd. Before the Thals arrive there’s a creepy scene showing the Daleks slowly backing into the alcoves. If they had stayed there and killed the Thals from the shadows this would have made sense. But instead, as Temmosus makes his impassioned speech about working together, the Daleks move out into the open. Since the Thals would have expected to meet the Daleks, why would they hide themselves?  It makes the moment a dramatic one, but that’s about all.

Also, why does Ian just stand there waiting as the Daleks move into position? He seems certain that the Daleks mean the Thals harm, so it’s baffling that he doesn’t speak until after the Daleks have opened fire.

This is very much Ian’s episode and it goes without saying that William Russell is very solid. And as the Doctor spends his time researching the history of Skaro (seemingly caring little for the modern-day plight of the Thals) it falls to Ian to try and make them understand that they may have to fight to secure their future.

ALYDON: If only I knew why the Daleks hated us. If I knew that, I, I could alter our approach to them, perhaps.
IAN: Your leader, Temmosus.
ALYDON: Yes?
IAN: Well, he appealed very sensibly to them. Any reasonable human beings would have responded to him. The Daleks didn’t. They obviously think and act and feel in an entirely different way. They just aren’t human.
GANATUS: Yes, but why destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.
IAN: Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits.
ALYDON: What?
IAN: A dislike for the unlike.
ALYDON: I don’t follow you.
IAN: They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.
DYONI: What would you have us do? Fight against them?
IAN: I didn’t say that. But you must teach them to respect you. Show them some strength.
DYONI: But you really believe we ought to fight.
IAN: Yes, I think it may have to come to that.
DYONI: You understand as little about us as the Daleks do!

Barbara later comments that “I don’t understand them. They’re not cowards, they don’t seem to be afraid. Can pacifism become a human instinct?” But the Doctor’s not concerned about the fate of the Daleks and the Thals and is keen to leave.  Ian, Barbara and Susan may feel more invested in the Thals’ fate, but they also agree with the Doctor that it’s time to move on.

Indeed, at the end of this fourth episode it does feel that the story has come to a conclusion. We didn’t witness the fate of the Tribe of Gum, so would there have been an expectation of the audience back in 1964 that this story would have been any different?

The Doctor’s missing fluid-link is the only reason that he decides to stay – ensuring that he’s forced to help the Thals (although as we’ll see, he’s ruthless in using them to help himself).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Three – The Escape

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The Escape opens with Susan meeting Alydon (John Lee).  Born in Tasmania, Australia, Lee didn’t have a trace of an Australian accent and instead spoke in the RP tones that were so prevalent during this era of British television.  Every line he intones is spoken with deadly seriousness (and note how, in his initial scene with Susan, he stays remarkably still).  It’s the sort of performance that can so easily seem wooden and unnatural, but Lee manages, just about, to give Alydon a spark of life.

Much more naturalistic is Philip Bond as Ganatus.  Bond (father of Samantha) has more to play with in the script, since Ganatus has a mocking sense of humour as well as a questioning nature.  If their leader Temmosus (Alan Wheatley) is inclined to think the best then Ganatus is a more reflective character.

Temmosus might well have had cannon fodder written on his forehead.  He’s no fool, but it seems clear that the Daleks have no intention of helping the Thals – and that he’s ill-suited to lead them in the struggle that will follow.

TEMMOSUS: I believe the Daleks hold the key to our future. Whatever that future may be, we must accept it gracefully and without regret.
ALYDON: I wish I could be as objective as you. We’ve lived for so long a time.
TEMMOSUS: Perhaps we have lived too long. I’ve never struggled against the inevitable. It’s a vain occupation. But I should always advise you to examine very closely what you think to be inevitable. It’s surprising how often apparent defeat can be turned to victory.

Ganatus’ brother Antodus in mentioned, but we don’t see him in this episode (although he’ll play a key part later on in the story). The suggestion that he’s a flawed character is established when Dyoni (Virginia Wetherell) wonders if he’s still afraid of the dark. A small point, but it helps to sow a seed of doubt about his ability to deal with stressful situations.

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Terry Nation never really excelled when writing for female characters (except, maybe, for Servalan in Blakes 7 – and that was probably only because she was originally written as a man) and Dyoni is no exception.  Wetherell spends most of her time in this episode pouting and reacting jealously to any mention of Susan.  Dyoni’s comment that Alydon should have given the drugs to a man, not Susan, are slightly wince-inducing.  As we’ll see, Dyoni’s only value to the plot seems to be her relationship to Alydon (she’s the lever that Ian later uses to persuade the Thals to fight the Daleks).  Apart from this, she’s very much a cipher.

And what of our four heroes?  They remain prisoners, but they work together to devise a plan to escape.  These scenes are particularly interesting because all four characters contribute to the debate.  In years to come it’ll mainly be the Doctor who has the solution – with everybody else relegated to sitting on the sidelines.  But the Doctor doesn’t have all the answers here, and it’s only after they pool their resources that a workable plan is produced.

DOCTOR: Let’s concentrate on the Daleks. Have you noticed, for example, that when they move about there’s a sort of acrid smell?
SUSAN: Yes, yes, I’ve noticed that.
BARBARA: I know. A fairground.
IAN: That’s it. Dodgems.
DOCTOR: It’s electricity. I think they’re powered that way.
IAN: Yes. But just a minute. They have no pick-up or anything. And only the base of the machine touches the floor. How do they complete the circuit?
SUSAN: Batteries?
DOCTOR: No, no. I believe the Daleks have discovered a way to exploit static electricity. Very ingenious, if I’m right.
BARBARA: What, drawing power from the floor?
DOCTOR: Precisely. If I’m right, of course.

This is a good episode for Carole Ann Ford. She’s typically wide-eyed and appealing in her initial meeting with Alydon and later has an excellent scene with the Daleks when they dictate a letter promising to help the Thals. It’s plain that they don’t intend to keep their promise though, reinforced by the push one of them gives to Susan with their sucker arm once the letter is written. It’s just a throwaway moment (possibly worked out in rehearsal) but it helps to give the Daleks more of a human touch.

The scene where the Doctor and the others disable a Dalek and remove the creature (in fact, nothing more than a joke-shop gorilla hand) is a memorable one and it leads into a strong-cliffhanger as Ian (inside the Dalek) leads the others out into the corridors as they attempt to make their escape.

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