The short (two part) story “The Edge Of Destruction” (the second part to which bears the title “The Brink of Despair”) was the first story to be told solely within the TARDIS and involving the Doctor and his regular companions. This was at least partly motivated by budgetary concerns, but in fact the story works nicely in a number of ways: it robs the characters (and thus the viewers) of the safe haven of the TARDIS, by introducing the possibility that a malevolent alien presence could get inside and endanger the lives of the Doctor and his companions; and it forced the characters to deal with lingering mistrust so that their future interactions could move beyond the suspicion engendered by the circumstances of their initial encounter. It also introduced some details that would not be kept in the later series (a reference to the Doctor’s heart in the singular) but also others that would be not only preserved but elaborated (such as the idea that the TARDIS could have some sort of rudimentary intelligence and seek to warn its occupants about problems).
The ability of the character of the Doctor, through a monologue that interprets the odd behavior of the TARDIS, to introduce a sense of impending doom is rather remarkable, if one thinks about it. And of course, another element that is introduced is the tendency of the TARDIS to not function as the Doctor hoped or intended. (A number of the elements mentioned here connect directly to episodes in the more recent series, such as “The Doctor’s Wife” which almost seems like the completion of an arc that began with “The Edge of Destruction” in the very first season).
A number of other interesting themes appear in this episode: Susan’s intuition proves superior to the Doctor’s logic in discerning what is really going on. And one conversation between the Doctor and Ian Chesterton explores moral and cultural relativism, among other things:
Ian Chesterton: Doctor… some very strange things are happening. I feel we’re in a very dangerous position. This is no time for personal quarrels.
The Doctor: Meaning?
Ian Chesterton: I think you should go and apologize to Barbara at once.
The Doctor: I’m afraid we have no time for codes and manners. And I certainly don’t underestimate the dangers, if they exist. But I must have time to think. I must think. Rash action is worse than no action at all, hmm?
Ian Chesterton: I don’t see anything rash in apologizing to Barbara.
Ian Chesterton: Frankly, Doctor, I find it hard to keep pace with you.
The Doctor: You mean, to keep one jump ahead. That you will never be. You need my knowledge and ability to apply it, and then you need my experience to gain the fullest results.
Ian Chesterton: Results? For good or for evil?
The Doctor: One man’s law is another man’s crime. Sleep on it, Chesterton. Sleep on it.
Here too there is a direct connection with the more recent series. The writers seem to have been taking pains to revive the Doctor’s relative unfamiliarity with human customs and ways of doing things, to great effect as Matt Smith has done a wonderful job of portraying this facet of the Doctor’s alienness. Of late the Doctor cares about human “codes and manners” at least somewhat, but hasn’t fully mastered them.
For a couple of reflections on religion and Doctor Who, see Mason’s discussion of heaven, eternity and a trillion years into future on Doctor Who, and Julie Clawson’s reflection on the episode “Gridlock.”
The next episode in the first season will be “Marco Polo” – the first of the lost episodes.