Home : Archive : TSV 11-20 : TSV 12 : Review

The Edge of Destruction

by Nigel Robinson

Book Review by Dillon Mayhew

The first thing which catches your eye about this novel is the cover, which is very well done, although I am not totally sure about the colour of William Hartnell's eyes, a common mistake made on the covers of many Tom Baker novels.

As it was only the third story made, the characters are still just forming their personalities and, being set entirely in the TARDIS, without a lot of action this is a perfect opportunity to do so. There are also several interesting revelations about the TARDIS mechanisms, including the fault detector, engines and power room.

Robinson's style, which he has used in his three previous books, is quite clear and understandable to read, and he had gone to great lengths to write a prologue explaining how Ian and Barbara come to be aboard the TARDIS. This also explains the basic plot to An Unearthly Child and The Dead Planet. The epilogue leads the story into Marco Polo.

Throughout the book the Doctor takes on a more sinister role, what with drugging the TARDIS crew and proposing to drop Ian and Barbara off wherever or whenever they next landed, he could be said to be the main villain of the story! However, before the conclusion he resumes his benevolent Time Lord part, just in time to save the TARDIS and it's occupants from destruction.

All in all a very good book which any fan would be pleased to add to their bookshelf.

Book Review by Paul Scoones

Although this novel is not billed as such, there can be few better ways to mark the silver anniversary than by its publication - the last novel required to complete the first season set. The Edge of Destruction remains unique to this day for its limited cast and its equally limited setting. It is an important component of the 1963/4 season for establishing a lasting trust among the crew, and of the wider Who mythos for introducing the idea of the TARDIS as a free thinking entity.

The plot is rather simplistic: the TARDIS tries to warn the crew that they are travelling back to the creation of the galaxy. Two points of interest are that Susan is affected psychologically by the TARDIS, adding to her sometimes cited telepathic nature (The Sensorites), and it is made obvious, in this story more than any other, that the Doctor hardly begins to understand his stolen ship.

When I reviewed Robinson's last novel (The Underwater Menace) I pointed out that he had been faced with a difficult task in novelising it, as the story he had to work with was poor. I suspect his task was equally difficult here, not because of quality but quantity. A considerable amount of padding had to be added to stretch the two episode story to the minimum book length (and yes, this is one of the shortest for some time). By adding his own touches to the story with care, he has avoided creating areas in the narrative which are too obviously padding, but the result is a rather slow-moving story.

It opens with a summary of An Unearthly Child and The Daleks concentrating in particular on the first episode of Doctor Who and the mystery surrounding the unearthly child herself. Robinson's establishing of Susan as an enigmatic alien character at the outset is especially effective when her later strange modes and attacks with scissors are taken into account. He has cleverly added in extra details of his own invention for his retelling of episode one, but Robinson does slip up at one point, claiming that the two teachers entered the TARDIS and then met the Doctor, when as we know, the truth is the reverse.

The next section is a recap leading up to the cliffhanger at the end of The Daleks, and then the story begins proper in Chapter 1, starting with an innovative and effective sequence involving Barbara in a kind of fugue state when her memory and perception is temporarily altered through shock. Entirely the author's invention, the sequence is suitably indicative of the kind of psychological trauma experienced later in the novel.

Distrust, paranoia and suspicion sets in quickly, helped by the fact that trust was never really cemented between the Doctor and his human companions prior to this, and it is not until the end that this is achieved once and for all. There is little doubt in my mind that it is this story more than any other which gave rise to the false perception of the first Doctor as a bad-tempered, crotchety old man: this is a fair description of his behaviour in this story, but not elsewhere. It is deliberately out of character for him to behave in this way, just as it is for Susan to attack the teachers.

Another sequence Robinson created is where the Doctor and Ian investigate the TARDIS engines, and the descriptions of this is to my mind much as it might have been depicted on television had it been realised on-screen. He also goes into the minds of each of the four crew, especially Ian and Barbara, perhaps as these are the two the audience/readers are intended to identify with.

The line Robinson added in for Susan - "The Doctor's been betrayed before", a hint of his turbulent past, but ambiguous enough to guard against contradiction delighted me. Robinson also writes in most of the cliffhanger ending of the story - almost all Hartnell tales ended with a 'hook' to grab the viewers' attention for the next story. Here, the TARDIS lands in the snow, although keen-eyed readers will note that the Marco Polo novel opens differently. For the record, this account is correct, although Robinson omits the finding of the giant footprint in the snow that The Edge Of Destruction originally ended on.

The only reservation I have about this book is that some readers will undoubtedly find it disappointing. The late David Whitaker's script was no masterpiece, being a rather slow, plodding tale, and Robinson's additions have not helped to quicken the pace by any means. Psychological drama, character interplay and mystery create the tension, not action/adventure of which there is an almost total lack.

I am disappointed that Robinson never got the chance to novelise a great Doctor Who story. The Edge Of Destruction is more than likely to be his last association with the Doctor Who novels, of which he was once series editor. I shall miss his crisp, clear, concise style. He has perhaps left his best Doctor Who novel for last.

This item appeared in TSV 12 (March 1989).

Index nodes: The Edge of Destruction