The Edge of Destruction was the third serial of season 1 of Doctor Who. The story is unique in the original series in that it is set entirely inside the TARDIS and features only the regular cast members.

The BBC initially committed to four episodes of Doctor Who. Mid-way through the production of An Unearthly Child, this was upped to thirteen. Together, An Unearthly Child and The Daleks only totalled eleven. With a tiny budget, The Edge of Destruction was commissioned to fill the remaining two episodes and fill out the season.

Narratively, the story was crucial as its events bonded the travellers so they were no longer just mismatched people forced together but a group who could trust one another. It also offered the first hint that the Doctor's TARDIS was not his own, shown by his lack of understanding of its abilities. Finally, it was also the first instance of the Doctor namedropping historical figures.

The second episode of this serial, "The Brink of Disaster", is as far as viewers can watch the Hartnell era, and the series itself from the very beginning in televised format, before running into a single missing episode: the following serial, Marco Polo, remains absent in its entirety.

Synopsis Edit

As they slowly recover from the shock of being thrown to the TARDIS floor, the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara all seem to be acting strangely. Unexplained events occur and suspicions are raised that an alien force may have entered the ship. The Doctor even accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotage.

It gradually dawns on the travellers that what they have been experiencing is an attempt by the TARDIS itself to warn them of something. The Doctor finally realises the fast return switch he used when leaving Skaro has stuck, and the ship has been plunging back to the beginning of time and its own destruction.

Once the problem — a faulty spring — is corrected, the TARDIS returns to normal and the Doctor makes some apologies for his behaviour.

Plot Edit

The Edge of Destruction (1) Edit

The Doctor, while attempting to correct the TARDIS' faulty navigation circuits, causes a small explosion. The Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan are all rendered unconscious. Barbara is the first to recover and awakens Ian and Susan, who appear to have slight cases of amnesia. The Doctor lies on the floor with a gash on his head. Susan recovers her senses enough to retrieve a special healing bandage from the ship's first aid kit and water from the food machine for her injured grandfather. Suddenly, Susan becomes convinced that an alien presence is on board and has seized control of the ship.

The TARDIS doors begin to mysteriously open and close whenever Ian moves towards them. When Susan tries to operate the controls, she suddenly faints. As the Doctor revives, Barbara tends to him while Ian carries Susan to her room. There she tries to stab him with a pair of scissors, but suddenly bangs the scissors on the bed multiple times, then collapses.

Later, the Doctor, Barbara, and Ian discuss the situation, each alternating between clarity of mind and paranoid sniping. The Doctor checks the system controls with Ian's assistance, while Barbara checks on Susan. Susan has retrieved the scissors and tries to attack Barbara, but stops herself from doing any real harm, with some force from Barbara.

When the Doctor tries to determine their location with the view scanner, he finds only images which he recognises as records of the TARDIS' earlier trips. The last image, a picture of planets, a solar system and an explosion, puzzles him. By now, Susan is convinced that not only has an alien intelligence entered the ship, but it has also taken over at least one of the people. When the Doctor opens the TARDIS doors, they quickly close themselves when Ian approaches them. Soon, the Doctor begins to accuse their human companions of sabotage to get the TARDIS back to England in 1963. Furious, Barbara refutes the Doctor's suspicions with a recap of their recent adventure on Skaro, where she and Ian risked their lives to save the Doctor and Susan from the Daleks, and cites Ian's bravery in the Cave of Skulls. Her tirade is abruptly ended when she sees the cathedral clock the Doctor keeps in the console room has melted, a sight which horrifies her. The travellers all check their watches and see the same has happened to their timepieces. Barbara, disturbed, takes off her watch and throws it away from her, before breaking down into tears.

The Doctor excuses himself from the room - but returns with a tray of drinks, a "nightcap" which he serves as a peace offering to his companions. Barbara, Susan and Ian retire to their quarters and drink the nightcaps.

After looking in on his companions to confirm they are asleep, the Doctor returns to the console. As he examines it, a pair of hands swing him around and grab him by the throat...

The Brink of Disaster (2) Edit

The Doctor's attacker is none other than Ian. A strange force has overridden the effects of the drug and compelled him to stop the Doctor from operating the TARDIS controls. Ian recognises the Doctor and collapses. Barbara enters and finds Ian and herself accused of sabotage by the Doctor.

As Barbara tries to reason with the Doctor, Susan enters the room and seemingly side with her grandfather, but then believes her teachers' innocence. The Doctor threatens to put the humans off his ship; this is stopped when suddenly an alarm sounds. The fault locator lights up, showing faults in every system. After panic enseeps the travellers, an explosion rocks the ship. The Doctor realises the TARDIS' power source, located beneath the console, is trying to force its way out and they are only minutes from destruction.

Fast return switch

The Doctor and Ian discover the broken switch.

Faced with a common peril, the travellers forget their differences and begin to work together. Barbara deduces that the strange events are an attempt by the TARDIS itself to warn the crew that something is wrong. The Doctor traces the problem to a broken spring in the fast return switch.

The malfunction is causing the TARDIS to head back to the creation of a solar system; the strange events were just the TARDIS' attempts to warn its passengers before the ship was destroyed. Fixing the switch returns everything to normal. The Doctor apologises to Ian, who accepts straight away - but Barbara needs more convincing and moves outside, where the Doctor and Ian banter before the TARDIS dematerialises. The Doctor then apologises to Barbara, who accepts his plea. The foursome prepares to explore their new surroundings, this time a snowy planet. When Barbara and Susan go outside, they discover a giant footprint in the snow...

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

References Edit

Cultural references from the real world Edit

Individuals Edit

  • Susan and the Doctor share a telepathic link with each other and the TARDIS.

Story notes Edit

  • This is the first story — and only full-length story — featuring only the Doctor and his companions. It has the smallest cast of any of Doctor Who's televised stories, strictly limited to the four main characters.
  • This is the first (and arguably only) televised Doctor Who story in which, essentially, all action takes place inside the TARDIS.
  • The first episode, "The Edge of Destruction", takes place entirely in the TARDIS. The same is true for the second episode, "The Brink of Disaster", except for the final moments leading into the next story.
  • This story is also known as Inside the Spaceship (also sometimes The Spaceship) and The Brink of Disaster, and is often wrongly referred to as Beyond the Sun.
  • Both episodes exist in 16mm telerecordings.
  • Both episodes were recovered from the negative film prints discovered at BBC Enterprises in 1978.
  • An Arabic print of "The Brink of Disaster", made for overseas sale to Middle Eastern countries, is also held.
  • This story was written to make up the allotted number of episodes and meet the show's commitment to the BBC. The series was initially commissioned for thirteen episodes. An Unearthly Child had four and The Daleks had seven, so an additional two episodes were required in case the show should be cancelled at this point; indeed, during pre-production on Unearthly Child, Donald Baverstock of the BBC did in fact cancel the series, with "The Brink of Disaster" earmarked as the final episode as a result, but he later relented.
  • Some of the music from this story was released as Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Volume One - The Early Years, 1963 - 1969.
  • This was one of the stories selected to be shown as part of BSB's Doctor Who Weekend in September 1990. The episodes were shown in the wrong order but were repeated in the correct sequence later that weekend.
  • This story marks the first time the Doctor indicates on-screen that his TARDIS might be sentient, though in An Unearthly Child, Ian at one point exclaims, "It's alive!" when he first touches its exterior. There is nothing to indicate that the Doctor himself isn't aware of the TARDIS matrix being alive, but as the series progresses, more clues are given to the viewer, with the Third Doctor stating at one point that the TARDIS is alive. A full indication of this for viewers does not occur until The Doctor's Wife, when the conscious entity within the TARDIS assumes a host body and speaks to the Doctor directly, confirming to viewers her sentience (the Doctor is already aware of this, but up to that story had assumed it would be impossible to communicate in traditional fashion with his TARDIS).
  • Verity Lambert had to write a letter of apology after the BBC Children's Department made it known they felt it was an unwise decision to show Susan acting out violently with a pair of scissors.
  • The director originally assigned to this serial was Paddy Russell, one of the first female directors at the BBC. Russell was not available for the studio dates, however, and associate producer Mervyn Pinfield was suggested as her replacement.
  • William Hartnell decided to play a joke on the cast, who often teased him when he messed up his lines. During one take, when he was supposed to say, "The fault locator!", he instead said "The fornicator!"
  • During recording, slight changes were made to the adventure's climax, having Barbara alone deducing that the TARDIS was trying to communicate with its passengers (whereas originally this achievement was shared with Ian). In rehearsals, the resolution to this crisis was made more exciting: the script had simply described the Doctor flipping the fast return switch to save the Ship.
  • This is the first of very few TV stories in which no characters die or are destroyed; though no characters outside the main cast appear.

Ratings Edit

  • "The Edge of Destruction" - 10.4 million viewers
  • "The Brink of Disaster" - 9.9 million viewers

Myths Edit

  • This story had the working title Beyond the Sun. This was a working title used for The Daleks. (See Disputed story titles)
  • This story was written at short notice because the set for Marco Polo was not complete. (See notes for real reason)

Filming locations Edit

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • There is a shadow visible on the wall when Barbara tries to wake Ian up.
  • In the first episode, the studio floor is clearly visible in the "white void" outside the TARDIS. (This could however be intentional as later episodes show "white voids" too, with a visible floor)
  • Two floor assistants' shadows can be seen in the first episode, "The Edge of Destruction", against the door leading into the bedroom and food machine area.
  • While the Doctor is describing the birth of a new solar system, a cough can be clearly heard.
  • Susan is wearing ankle-socks in the reprise, but afterwards, she is not.

Continuity Edit

Home video and audio releases Edit

DVD release Edit

This story was released (Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction) together with An Unearthly Child and The Daleks in The Beginning DVD box set.

Special Features:


PAL - Roadshow ????
NTSC - Warner Video E2489

Box sets Edit

This story was released along with An Unearthly Child and The Daleks in a box set called The Beginning.

Digital releases Edit

This story is available:

  • for streaming through BritBox (US) as part of Season 1 of Classic Doctor Who.

Video release Edit

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Edge of Destruction and Dr Who: The Pilot Episode as a compilation video. The BBC originally intended to release this story in a box set with An Unearthly Child and The Daleks, but they changed their plans and decided to release each story individually.


PAL - BBC Video BBCV6877
NTSC - Warner Video E1578 (2 tapes)

Notes: This video release includes the full takes of "The Pilot Episode". The US release also included the documentary The Missing Years and episode 3 of The Underwater Menace.

External links Edit

Footnotes Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 INFO: "The Edge of Destruction"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 INFO: "The Brink of Disaster"
  3. INFO: "The Forest of Fear"
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