The Edge of Destruction (TV story)

From Tardis Wiki, the free Doctor Who reference

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.

According to Verity Lambert, the first two serials had gone overbudget and the production team needed to save some money. According to David Whitaker, there simply weren't any scripts available, and it was either this script or going off the air for two weeks. In the end, he wrote the script in two days.

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 missing episode: the following serial, Marco Polo, remains absent in its entirety.


As they slowly recover from the shock of being thrown to the TARDIS floor, the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara all start acting strangely. Unexplained events occur and the travellers start to turn on each other as they contemplate what is happening on the TARDIS.


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 shortly followed by Susan, who has trouble remembering who Barbara is, where she is, and is suffering from a pain in the back of her neck. Susan suddenly realises the Doctor lying on the floor with a gash on his head and rushes to his side followed by Barbara. 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. While she is away, Ian wakes up and is clearly confused. After seeing the open TARDIS doors, 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 regains consciousness, Barbara tends to him while Ian carries Susan to her room. There she tries to stab him with a pair of scissors, not knowing who he is, but suddenly stabs the scissors on the bed multiple times before collapsing.

Later, the Doctor, Barbara, and Ian discuss the situation, each alternating between clarity of mind and paranoid sniping. Susan retrieves the scissors whilst nobody is looking and returns to her room. The Doctor checks the system controls with Ian's assistance, while Barbara checks on Susan. Susan becomes very suspicious of Barbara and threatens her with the pair of scissors, but Barabra is able to stop her from doing any real harm. Susan reveals that she thinks something is hiding inside the ship or inside one of them.

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. When the Doctor opens the TARDIS doors, but they quickly close themselves when Ian approaches them. Soon, the Doctor begins to accuse his human companions of attacking him and Susan and tampering with the TARDIS controls whilst they were unconscious in an attempt 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 leaves from the room during the commotion - but returns with a tray of drinks, a "nightcap" which he serves as a peace offering to his companions. Barbara, Susan retire to their quarters with their drinks. Ian has an argument with the Doctor about how he treated Barbara which ends with the Doctor walking off.

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 revealed to be Ian. A strange force has compelled him to stop the Doctor from operating the TARDIS controls, but Ian recognises the Doctor and then collapses. Barbara enters the console room, only to have her and Ian accused of sabotage and conspiracy by the Doctor.

As Barbara tries to reason with the Doctor, Susan enters the room and seemingly sides with her grandfather, but then believes her teachers' innocence after the Doctor threatens to throw the humans off his ship. Barbara pleads with an unconscious Ian to help her but when he awakes he is dazed. The Doctor tries to go through with his plan despite Susan's protests. Suddenly an alarm sounds and the Doctor rushes to the fault locator which lights up, showing faults in every system. The Doctor admits that he has misjudged the pair of teachers and tells them they have to work together to get out of the danger they are in. The ship rocks, throwing everyone off balance. 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.

The Doctor and Ian discover the broken switch.

Barbara deduces that the strange events are an attempt by the TARDIS itself to warn the crew that something is wrong. The Doctor lies to Susan and Barbara about the amount of time they have left but reveals the truth to Ian, explaining that when the end comes he doesn't want the women to know about it. The Doctor deduces that the TARDIS is heading to the beginning of the solar system. The Doctor traces the fault of the ship to a broken spring in the fast return switch which had been stuck down sending them further back in time than intended.

The strange events the four have been experiencing were the TARDIS' attempts to warn its passengers before the ship was destroyed. Fixing the fast return switch returns everything to normal. The Doctor humbly apologises to Ian, who accepts straight away - but Barbara needs more convincing and leaves the room. The Doctor and Ian banter before the TARDIS dematerialises and the Doctor goes to apologise to Barbara, who accepts his plea. Now on amicable terms with each other, the four prepare to explore their new surroundings, this time a snowy plane. When Barbara and Susan go outside, they discover a giant footprint in the snow...




Cultural references from the real world[[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.
  • This is the first (and arguably only) televised Doctor Who story in which, essentially, all action takes place inside the TARDIS.
  • 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, which was the working title of The Daleks.
  • Both episodes exist as 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 sales 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!". This incident was dramatised in An Adventure in Space and Time, though it does not present it as an intentional humorous occurrence. [source needed]
  • 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 TARDIS.
  • 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.
  • This is the first story to not feature a main antagonist of any kind. The closest this story has of a villain is Susan and the Doctor.
  • This remains the cheapest Doctor Who story ever made, coming in at £2500.
  • William Hartnell initially complained about the script due to the number of lines, while Carole Ann Ford was sceptical of the characters appearing mad without reason; conversely, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell appreciated the chance to explore their characters in more depth.
  • The FAST RETURN SWITCH label on the TARDIS console appears to be written in felt-tip pen. Exactly why this was done is uncertain; Raymond Cusick guesses that it was written during rehearsals as a guide, while Verity Lambert surmises that it may have been written so that William Hartnell could find the switch during recording; both agree that the label was probably never intended to be seen on-screen. Carole Ann Ford states that both she and Hartnell labelled the controls on the TARDIS control panel during rehearsal, and assumed the labels would be removed before production.
  • To avoid complication with the Writers' Guild, David Whitaker only received a writer's credit for the serial, omitting his usual credit of story editor.
  • The music was selected from a range of sample mood music from library discs, due to budgetary constraints.
  • While not a valid source for this wiki, the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game provides an explanation for Ian only sensing a single heartbeat from the unconscious Doctor. The First Doctor has the trait Faulty Heart which on a Bad Failure results in unconsciousness for a number of minutes with only a single heart beating.
  • This is the only serial released on DVD from the show's original run to not have a commentary of any sorts attached.


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


  • This story had the working title Beyond the Sun. This was a working title used for The Daleks.[4] (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 Edge of Destruction", 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.


Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

DVD release[[edit]]

This story was released together with An Unearthly Child [+]Loading...["An Unearthly Child (TV story)"] and The Daleks [+]Loading...["The Daleks (TV story)"] in The Beginning DVD box set. Its special features included;

Region Format Release date Code Company
Region 2 PAL 30 January 2006 BBCDVD1882 BBC DVD
Region 4 2 March 2006 Roadshow
Region 1 NTSC 28 March 2006 E2489 Warner Video

Video release[[edit]]

This story was released as 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 [+]Loading...["An Unearthly Child (TV story)"] and The Daleks [+]Loading...["The Daleks (TV story)"], but they changed their plans and decided to release each story individually.


Region Format Release date Code Company
UK PAL May 2000 BBCV6877 BBC Video
US (2 tapes) NTSC October 2000 E1578 Warner Video

Editing for the VHS and DVD releases was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.

Digital releases[[edit]]

This story is available for on-demand streaming on the following platforms:

  • BritBox (UK and US) as part of Season 1 of Classic Doctor Who.
  • BBC iPlayer (UK) as part of Season 1 of Doctor Who (1963-1966).
  • Tubi (US) as part of Season 1 of Classic Doctor Who: The First Doctor.

Audio releases[[edit]]

On 20 April 2024, the story's soundtrack was released with linking narration by Carole Ann Ford, by Demon Records as an LP to coincide with Record Store Day 2024. It was later released by BBC Audio on 2 May 2024 as a CD and digital download.[5]


  • The CD version has the ISBN 978-1-5299-3131-0.
  • The audio releases has a bonus interview with Carole Ann Ford.
  • The vinyl boasts a picture disc Side A, showing the Ship’s melting ormolu clock from a pivotal scene in the story, and an exclusive Zoetrope Side B, depicting the TARDIS swirling across space and time (best experienced using a smartphone running a third-party stroboscope app). The 12” disc is presented in a stunning die-cut artwork outer sleeve.

External links[[edit]]