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Monday, October 4, 2010

Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction

Serial Title: The Edge of Destruction
Series: 1
Episodes: 2
The Edge of Destruction
The Brink of Disaster
Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

This unique 'bottle show' (a sci-fi term for a show created entirely within existing sets with minimal special effects to save money) begins when an explosion rocks the TARDIS, knocking out all of it's occupants. As they awaken with slight amnesia (Note from Sarah: I think the Doctor kind of must always be suffering from a case of slight amnesia. I think I suffer from it after I watch these shows too. :-D Just kidding.), the Doctor is injured, Susan is paranoid (Note from Sarah; Tell 'em somethin they don't know!:) Although you wouldn't believe it but I am a big fan of Susan's.), believing an alien presence has taken over the TARDIS, and the systems begin to break down. The doors open and close on their own, the control panel shocks people, and on-board clock faces melt like candles.

Susan becomes practically possessed- and insane (Note from Sarah: Tell 'em something they don't....oh wait)- trying to stab The Doctor with a pair of scissors (Note from Sarah: "THESE ARE FOR YOU!" if anyone gets that...they get ten coolness points), attacking her own bed, and collapsing. Susan recovers and attacks again, but is stopped from doing any harm, and the Doctor, trying to use the outside scanner to identify their location, only sees images which he recognizes from previous journeys in the TARDIS- culminating in an explosion.

Susan becomes increasingly paranoid that someone aboard has been alien-possessed, and paranoia between the two groups begins to increase. The Doctor drugs drinks given to his companions to try and diagnose the problems with the TARDIS while they sleep, but Ian, compelled by some outside force, attacks the Doctor to prevent him from reaching the TARDIS controls. The outraged Doctor threatens to eject the two teachers into space (Note from Sarah: WOW! Seriously? reprieve or anything? Like no try to know them out or anything? Is the Doctor under the influence too or is he just plain merciless in the first season?), Susan tries to mediate between the two groups, and tensions come to a nearly violent head- when an explosion rocks them, alarms begin to sound, and fault indicators show failures in every system aboard the TARDIS. Both groups, united by the danger (Note from Sarah: '...united by danger'...and madness), work together to determine that the TARDIS power source, located beneath the main center console, is trying to force it's way out, which will destroy the ship. Barbara realizes that the TARDIS itself has been responsible for their strange actions, taking control of them to try and warn them of the danger. You know... by murdering each other. Errrr... just go with it.The Doctor locates a malfunction, a stuck spring holding down the Fast Return switch, which is plunging the ship backwards towards the Big Bang, which will result in it's destruction. The spring is released, the ship returns to normal, and the Doctor apologizes to Ian and Barbara for doubting them. (Note from Sarah: AND FOR TRYING TO KILL THEM BY EJECTING THEM INTO SPACE I SHOULD HOPE!!!!!)

Well, I watched this weeks ago, but honestly, it's been hard to know what to say. This episode was... unique... but strange. I feel as if it's a concept that the New Who could have pulled off rather nicely (Note from Sarah: I was thinking the same thing, because when I read this synopsis I want to see it...but I want to see it done well. Not that the Old Who doesn't do episodes well, but the first season...well let's face it, it was still trying to figure itself out.)- a good concept, but one that got bogged down in it's execution here and didn't have much tension. (And also bogged down in a few of the particulars- a BROKEN SPRING? Space age technology for you... must be from the same manufacturers as Girl In The Fireplace's clockwork droids...)

This was a first; incredibly short for the series- a filler/budget-saver in that regard- but as the schizophrenic length of Serials continues to bob up and down, as it will throughout the first series, there was no way of knowing at the time if this was an anomaly or not.

The new areas seen on the TARDIS- a food/water/medicine dispensery, sleeping quarters, etc. are a nice touch- something the new Series has not yet showed us in 5 years.

Some good tension among the characters, I suppose- along with the most uncomfortable-looking beds in the galaxy (Note from Sarah: You mean even more so than DS9's no cover beds?)- but it was offset by all the characters acting so maddeningly in a stupor and unlike themselves, dazed and drunken to the point of having me wishing, less than ten minutes in, that I could leap through the screen and start slapping them back to their senses. I couldn't even tell, towards the end, what behavior was supposed to be natural 'them,' and what was still off/TARDIS-affected.

This is, actually, standard in Sci-fi and I don't know why- Star Trek TNG had The Naked Now as it's first episode past the pilot, DS9 had Dramatis Personae in the first season, and Stargate SG1 had... well, you can read about it when Sarah gets there. :-) The point is this: Writers, STOP IT!!! You should not do a 'Characters are acting strangely' episode in the first season; especially not in the first few episodes! We, as the audience, have not become familiar enough with them to know what is 'normal' and what isn't- so it loses the impact it could have had in the second or third season. Also, remember that the reason most first-seasons are so strange is that all of the episodes are written before the series starts. They're written based on a several-paragraph description of what the characters will be like; meaning every writer will interpret the several paragraphs just a little differently, and characters will act inconsistently from story to story. Once the second season rolls around, new writers will have the performances from the first season to work from, and almost inevitably, you will see the characters' primary traits refined, their personality quirks ironed out, their running gags established, etc., because the writers have a sample of the character to work from, something consistent to ground them, instead of educated guesswork from a few descriptive paragraphs. Watch any show and then go back to the first season- the characters are like gems that haven't been cut from a chunk of rock yet- in the next season, all of the excess is cut away, leaving just the character we know and love (Note from Sarah: Or hate, depending on what character it is...but it's a more defined kind of see.). The first-season characters will seem like broader, less-defined versions of themselves prone to mood swings and atypical behavior, because their characters haven't been nailed down yet- which is exactly why a not-acting-like-themselves episode so early on doesn't work- they're not acting like themselves EVER yet, because 'themselves' is ill-defined and constantly changing. So half of the 'strange behavior' is lost on the audience because they have no baseline of consistent characterization to compare it against.

I did like the fact that eventually, Barbara got so used to Ian's strangulation's that she treated them with casual dismissal, like a mother dealing with her child who keeps reaching for a toy he can't have- just gently, almost thoughtlessly, grabbing his hands and directing them away, saying "No, Ian..." with no more concern than if she were telling him he couldn't have a snack before dinner...

Overall, this was a good idea- a sort of locked-room mystery set entirely abroad the TARDIS- something I'd love for them to revisit in the new series; with established characters, it could be great. But used here, it was premature; without a grounding in knowing these characters well, it doesn't work and just comes off as kooky and discombobulated.

Great moments:
Susan, wild-haired and scissors in hand, was truly creepy on the attack.

Two out of Five blessings of Orb for a promising idea, with somewhat weak execution.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic review and i agree with everything you have to say which is unusual for us Doctor Who fans. I do like Tardis based episodes something i hope will come back with series 'new' series six which is being filmed as we type.