Chapter 132. Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction (1988)

Synopsis: Trapped inside the TARDIS, Ian and Barbara are confronted by a disturbed Susan and an increasingly hostile Doctor as paranoia and anxiety swell. What has happened to bring on this switch? Can things return to normal, or are they stuck fast?

Chapter Titles

  • Introduction
  • Prologue
  • 1. Aftershock
  • 2. The Seeds of Suspicion
  • 3. Inside the Machine
  • 4. Trapped
  • 5. ‘Like a Person Possessed’
  • 6. The End of Time
  • 7. The Haunting
  • 8. Accusations
  • 9. The Brink of Disaster
  • 10. A Race Against Time
  • Epilogue
  • Conclusion

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts David Whitaker’s scripts for the 1964 two-part story, 24 years and three months after it was broadcast, making this the new record holder for biggest gap between transmission and publication. This also completes the run of adaptations from the first season.

Notes: The introduction provides Target’s third go at telling the ‘first’ story, bringing new readers up to scratch (and padding the book out a bit too). Miss Johnson, the secretary at Coal Hill School, had grown frustrated by the 15-year-old Susan Foreman’s inability to provide any official documentation for her identification. Barbara had been inclined to believe Susan’s claim that she and her grandfather had been abroad a lot. She also appreciated the girl’s passion for history, which was why she’d offered to provide her with extra tuition at home. The girl was ‘extraordinarily good at science and history’ but very poor at geography and English literature (she could quote huge passages of Shakespeare, but had never heard of Charles Dickens). She was also fluent in French, Latin and ancient Greek. The Doctor is said to be ‘a tall imperious septuagenarian with a flowing mane of white hair and a haughty demeanour’ (William Hartnell was 5’7″, so not exactly tall, and only 54). Later, the Doctor is said to have ‘steel-blue eyes’ (again, not matching the brown eyes of Hartnell). We’re also reminded of the group’s encounter with the Daleks (which also serves as a prompt that this is still very new to Ian and Barbara!) and that the Doctor had considered leaving the planet without Barbara, until Ian intervened.

In the prologue, Barbara wakes up in the darkened TARDIS control room but she thinks she’s back in the staff room of Coal Hill School. In the TARDIS ‘rest room’ is a bookshelf that contains ‘the great classics of Earth literature’:

... the Complete Works of Shakespeare (some of which were personally signed); Le Contrat Social of Rousseau; Plato’s The Republic; and a peculiar work by a French philosopher called Fontenelle on the possibility of life on other planets (that one had always made the Doctor chuckle). Susan’s English teacher at Coal Hill would have been interested to note that there was nothing by Charles Dickens in the Doctor’s library.

Among the Doctor’s accumulated bric-a-brac are a Chippendale chaise longue, a collection of Ming vases from China and a lost portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. The TARDIS ‘power room’ is a series of ‘fifteen interconnected rooms containing all the machinery and power sources which operated the TARDIS’. Susan tells the schoolteachers that the alien world seen on the scanner is called ‘Quinnius’ (it’s ‘Quinnis’ on telly). Barbara recognises the English countryside shown on the scanner as the Malvern Hills Both Ian and Barbara separately explore the long corridors within the TARDIS and Susan admits that there are still rooms within her grandfather’s ship that she is yet to explore. Barbara discovers a laboratory, but an unseen force starts throwing objects at her to drive her away and only when she explains this to Susan does she learn that the laboratory contains radioactive isotopes that could have killed her without a protective suit. 

    Susan tries to placate the schoolteachers, asking them to be patient with her grandfather. 

… you don’t know the terrible sort of life he’s had. He’s never had any reason to trust strangers before when even old friends have turned against him in the past; it’s so difficult for him to start now… But you and Ian are both good people; please, try and forgive him.

Barbara noticed that Susan has started to call them by their first names (something that occurs gradually on screen during the events of The Daleks). The Doctor’s thought processes are revealed as he sits alone in the TARDIS control room, realising that Barbara’s words are the key to the solution.

The TARDIS ‘danger signal’ sounds like the tolling of ‘a huge bronze bell’, which reminds Barbara of the John Donne line, ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’ [a subtle retconning of the weird noise heard in the TV episodes to bring it in line with the Cloister bell heard for the first time in Logopolis, and many times after]. While on TV, the event that threatens the TARDIS is the birth of a new solar system, here it’s the formation of a galaxy (and not, as Ian suggests, the Big Bang). The Doctor’s big speech is more detailed than on TV (suggesting it might have been edited on the fly by William Hartnell). The conclusion leads neatly into the next adventure (Marco Polo) and specifically states that the schoolteachers’ first meeting with the Doctor took place on a November night.

Cover: Deceptively simple-looking, Alister Pearson’s wonderfully stark cover combines the whiteness of the TARDIS control room with the Doctor’s flowing locks. 

Final Analysis: Such a difficult story to dramatise, as it relies so much on general weirdness and vamping for two episodes until the rather flimsy solution is revealed. While adding to the general layout of the TARDIS, Robinson takes the opportunity to create areas to explore that still key into the general idea that the TARDIS is trying to guide them all to safety (if only they’d stop wandering off!). It’s not an easy read – it really does lack a tangible threat – but in his final book for the range, Robinson does the absolute best he can with the material available.

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