Doctor Who Project: Inside the Spaceship/The Edge of Destruction

Have you any idea where we are, Doctor?
Where is not as important as why, young man!

That little incident with the Daleks behind them, our time travelers hop back on the TARDIS and promptly get stuck “Inside the Spaceship” (Story Production Code C). You’d swear that the inside of the TARDIS really did conform to the dimensions of a police box, the way being cooped up in there begins to affect them:

Bad Hair Day, with Scissors

This two episode story, also known as “The Edge of Destruction,” takes place entirely inside the TARDIS, the only story so confined and the only story solely featuring the Doctor and his companions. But while just William Hartnell (the Doctor), Carol Ann Ford (Susan), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), and William Russell (Ian) are credited, one must make the case that the TARDIS becomes, for the first time, a character in Doctor Who as well. “Inside the Spaceship” is as much about the four travelers growing stronger as a team as it is about the mysterious workings of the TARDIS itself, even if the plot does hinge on a wonky spring.

No sooner does the story begin than the Doctor and his companions are knocked unconscious, falling to the floor of the TARDIS. As they slowly wake up, one at a time, they suffer from temporary amnesia and, eventually, paranoid thinking, sure that the others are against them in some fashion or that a malevolent force snuck on the ship when the doors swung open and closed unexpectedly. Susan becomes agitated after touching the central control panel, and the Doctor can’t figure out where (or when) they are nor, more importantly, how to get the TARDIS started again.

The TARDIS is broken again.

This story makes clear to the viewer that the Doctor doesn’t quite know how the TARDIS works. He can “drive” it, and make simple repairs, but he’s incapable of diagnosing it on his own and, as the prior story showed, lacks the necessary spare parts to fix it even if he does spot the spanner in the works. When the Fault Locators fail to reveal any problems, he’s at a loss and begins to fixate on Barbara and Ian as saboteurs.

Susan gets spooked by the TARDIS, saying, “I never noticed the shadows before. It’s so silent in the ship,” and Barbara insists that the TARDIS is alive, a notion the Doctor soundly rejects. Yet it’s Barbara’s intuition that the TARDIS is trying to tell them something by melting clocks and replaying the same set of images on the scanner that saves the day, forcing the Doctor to think through the problem. He eventually realizes that the Fast Return Switch (helpfully hand labelled in broad ink letters directly on the dash) is stuck, and a quick flick on the recalcitrant spring brings the TARDIS back from the beginning of the universe to a more reasonable time period.

Fast Return Switch Here!

The Doctor accepts, after a fashion, that the TARDIS is, if not alive, at least aware to some extent, setting up the later Whovian trope of the TARDIS having telepathic abilities that enable the Doctor and his companions to understand languages. The TARDIS is also revealed to have extensive memory banks that record all of the Doctor’s journeys, including those to the “Fourth Universe,” and an extensive wardrobe of male and female clothing. And since the entire story takes place on the TARDIS, we’re introduced to some areas besides the control room. The actors move through several sleeping chambers and a sitting room, all of which seem to connect directly to the control room, and the ubiquitous fault locators reappear off the back of the control room. Perhaps the multidimensonality of the TARDIS means that all rooms really are just off the control room.

One more gadget of sorts makes an appearance in this story, wound healing bandages that change color as the patient heals. But when Barbara tends to an unconscious and bleeding Doctor, she checks his heart and only finds one, not the two he is known for. Perhaps she just didn’t look in the right place…

While the companions are not referred to as such in this story, as in previous stories, there’s no question that they grow closer as a team. We begin to see what it means for them to be companions. Facing the destruction of the TARDIS, Ian and the Doctor come to terms:

Ian: “There’s no hope then?”
Doctor: “I can’t see any. Will you face it with me?”

That is the role of the companions—to face the unknown with the Doctor. And, slowly, we see the Doctor realize that he needs his companions as much as they need him. And they all need the TARDIS which, amazingly, doesn’t crash land at the end of the story and even makes it back to Earth. Earth in 1289, of course, the time of “Marco Polo,” but what’s 675-odd years to a Time Lord?

(Previous Episode: The Mutants/The Daleks)

(Next Episode: Marco Polo)

Post 3 of the Doctor Who Project

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