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The Doctor Who Exegesis - The Edge of Destruction

By Richard Scheib and Michael Chisnall


The TARDIS suffers a power surge, temporarily knocking out the Doctor and companions. When they come around everyone appears to be behaving peculiarly and things go wrong in the TARDIS - it appears to be in flight when it is not, the companions have near encounters with death - even though the Fault Locator indicates that nothing has. The Doctor finally discovers that a switch has become jammed and that the TARDIS is heading backwards in time towards the beginning explosion of a galactic cluster and the very TARDIS itself has come to life to alert them to the danger.


The Doctor
Ian and Barbara note the Doctor to be a constant puzzle to them - at one moment generous and caring to a fault, at the next selfish and only concerned about Susan and himself. Ian also notes that the Doctor can be insufferably vain. His whole life has been ruled by the application of cold, hard logic and emotionless scientific observation. Obviously in later incarnations he makes a very concerted attempt to break away from all of this. Claims to have studied at some of the greatest institutions and with some of the greatest minds in the universe. Susan attempts to apologise for the Doctor in saying that he has never had any reason to trust strangers and that old friends have turned against him.

Has a tendency to lose her temper. Appeared to be quite a battle-axe as a teacher and kept her classes under control with authority.


Travel through the lanes of time and space is apparently hazardous, the problems of navigation difficult. This seems interesting as most of the time the TARDIS runs on automatic, as opposed to manually as is referred to here.

The TARDIS is actually powered by the central control column. It is more likely what is meant here is that the time travel engines are powered by the column. After all what happens when the TARDIS lands somewhere - the column stops moving, yet the lights and environment stay on.

The column mechanically compresses down the power source like a piston, which does seem a rather crude power system, also a rather dangerous one not allowing for any means to siphon off the excess power. It must exist surely - How do they turn a TARDIS off? How does the generator cool down after a build-up normally.

When the TARDIS is hit an energy discharge comes from the console, it being said to be so intense that the bones of their hands are momentarily visible through their skins. There is no known phenomenon that would cause such. The human eye is not set up to be able to receive x-rays or any wavelengths at which the bones are visible. And surely such an intense blast would blind those watching, not to mention give burns. The doors of the TARDIS have opened and are letting in the pure white light of the time/space void. Susan does not understand why they have not been disintegrated by this. Perhaps the TARDIS is keeping it back with some type of force-field.

All sorts of other things happen when the TARDIS starts to fail - the time rotor is still indicating they have landed while at the same time all the instruments say that they are still in flight, the air circulation system starts deep breathing, the doors swing shut whenever they approach them, the console gives them electric shocks when they touch it (although why is it that the backs of their necks only hurt after the shock - perhaps whiplash from the jolt?), something flickers lights off and slams doors behind Ian when he gets lost in the engine area, but then opens them up again when the Doctor finds him again; when in the engine room something shuts a door off with Ian inside and lets the air fail (I am sure here that the TARDIS or whatever must have pumped the air out as the air in a room of indicated size could not fail so quickly even if no other air was getting in. Ian must surely have noticed the air being removed - it is difficult to remove all the air in a room within less than a minute without creating a pressure drop, perhaps only the oxygen is removed which wouldn't create any noticeable drop. This makes the TARDIS' activity seem all the more sinister, particularly when it starts to lead Barbara away by calling her name.) The TARDIS appears to have suffered some type of drive damage due to an explosion, which would have to be internal due to its invulnerability outside. It is never explained what caused the console explosion.

The TARDIS also contains a fault locator - a giant rather self-explanatory computer that takes up one wall of the TARDIS control room. It runs off a different power source to the TARDIS so as not to be affected by TARDIS malfunctions. The fault Locator seems to be connected to the cloister bell for extreme emergencies. Rooms contained in the TARDIS - The TARDIS engine rooms are a series of 15 interconnected rooms, with all the machinery brass fittings and pistons and levers; the Doctor and Susan's rest room, containing a well-stacked bookshelf, several items of antique furniture and a food-synthesising machine. The Doctor claims to have invented the latter, as well as a number of other unspecified gadgets, which don't work as well as he would like to think. Maybe he is just making this up to impress the two teachers, pride being one of the more insufferable points of this incarnation. It is possible then that the Doctor was part of the TARDIS design team on Gallifrey - Ian seems to think so with the engine-room designed for the Doctor's peculiar Edwardian fascination - but the Doctor's unfamiliarity within the equipment would surely indicate otherwise. Perhaps he was involved at an administrative level, but this seems to be stretching it.

He has a laboratory aboard the TARDIS - packed with all sorts of bric-a-brac from Chinese abacus' to modern computers, and rather crazily contains an unguarded room full of deadly radioactive isotopes (able to kill someone in about 30 seconds flat. This is unsafe in the extreme - every time one opens the door to enter the room the laboratory is going to be flooded with a very high level of radiation. Presumably there is some airlock in between. But leaving deadly radioactive isotopes unstored in still highly dangerous) which Barbara almost opens to her detriment but for the TARDIS levitating and throwing all the loose items in the room at her. The Doctor is also an avid collector of works of art from all corners of space and time, including one signed by Leonardo da Vinci.

What the TARDIS is up to

The Doctor finally realises that it is the TARDIS itself or the defence mechanism that has been trying to tell them that there is an emergency on - that the Fast Return switch (one which allows them to return to the point of its previous journeys) has gotten stuck and is sending the TARDIS racing back through time to the Big Bang. It is not broken, merely stuck, hence not registering on the Fault Locator. Shouldn't this merely cause the Doctor to retrace all of his journeys - perhaps what happened was that it's jamming caused them to do so at an immensely accelerated rate and the reverse temporal momentum spun them off into time backwards.

Amazingly enough the condition seems to be instantly cured the moment the Doctor fixes the switch. I mean don't they have to turn the TARDIS around so to speak. There also seems some confusion in the Doctor's astrophysics here as he seems to believe that each galactic cluster begins with a Little Bang of its own, and that the TARDIS is heading back into one of these. A series of landscapes are projected on the scanner screen - beginning with a photo of the Malvern hills in England, then the planet Quininus in the 4th Galaxy and finally a starscape of a spiral galaxy exploding, repeating it all over again; these taken from the TARDIS memory banks. Why couldn't it have taken live scenes? If it is trying to warn them why project pictures that have pleasant memories.

It also melts the faces on their clocks and watches, as some cryptic means of indicating that time is running out - possibly it melted the Ormulu with a heat beam, but I don't see how it could have melted Barbara's wrist- watch without her noticing. Which only reinforced my theory that it is all mental manipulation i.e. an illusion. Eventually the fault locator picks up on the nature of the emergency and registers that every single piece of equipment on the TARDIS is about the fail, although for some reason that seems not to include the power, environment and gravity systems. What is causing the systems failure? Another attempt of the TARDIS to alert them perhaps?

Nobody actually seems to consider that it could be the Fault Locator that could be breaking down. The control console was electrified to draw attention to the one panel that wasn't, which seems rather crazy, as wouldn't one assume that the whole console was electrified. Well the one panel was spotlit, but it can't have been very brightly, as nobody seems to notice such until right up until the end. I don't quite see how the food machine registering empty when it wasn't is meant to have been a clue.

Barbara seems to believe that it was the TARDIS that opened the door when Ian was trapped in the airless room - but does ignore the small question of why he was locked in there in the first place and who pumped the air out. The TARDIS presumably closed the exit doors to show them that it was too dangerous to go out, but in that case why did it open them in the first place, why couldn't it have just shown them on the scanner screen.

My Explanation

Peculiarly enough both Barbara and Ian's memories revert to exactly the same time period - Coal Hill School - and a shared fantasy of sorts, where they both interact with each other in thinking that they are in the staff-room. The chances against blows on the head having exactly the same effect are quite phenomenal, which is why I put forward the more credible explanation of mental manipulation.

Further Susan suddenly begins to behave as a paranoid psychotic for no apparent reason. This seems so far removed from her normal behaviour that it is unbelievable to pass it off as merely a reaction to the situation. The Doctor's paranoid accusations similarly to a lesser extent. No explanation is given for this in terms of the fault or TARDIS defence system.

So many other incidents are glossed over and the holes in the theory of the TARDIS doing it all seem to be gaping - The sudden peculiarities of totally alien behaviour in the Doctor and Susan, how did the TARDIS manage to melt Barbara's wrist-watch without her noticing it? And ultimately I don't believe that it is the TARDIS trying to save them, why has it never tried to do so in other times when it has been endangered, particularly Castrovalva when exactly the same happened and with the Doctor incapacitated? Couldn't the TARDIS have found an easier way of telling them, like having controlled a VDU screen to print out a message.

Who could be manipulating the TARDIS then? My theory is the White Guardian. Haven't you ever wondered about the incredible number of lucky coincidences that the befalls the Doctor and companions, how they just happen to land in the middle of an intergalactic crisis in time to save the day. The Doctor's luck roll is so high as to be right off the end of the dice.

My theory is that the White Guardian often gives the Doctor a guiding hand. He has secretly caused the disabling of the TARDIS navigation system, except when the Doctor requires it, so as to be able to lead the Doctor by his own natural curiosity into just the right situation at the right time and make him the Guardian's unwitting pawn to manipulate galactic circumstances towards the balance of good, This would explain one apparent contradiction - when we saw the time/space vortex in The Enemy of the World it was swirling, not a white void. However the White Guardian's realm in The Ribos Operation was a white void.

The Doctor does believe that nothing physical or mental can penetrate the TARDIS extremely powerful defence system, which would go against any random intelligence, although this hasn't always been the case - think of Mandragora, the robot circular in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Anyway I doubt these defences would be any worry to somebody like the White Guardian. Why would the Guardian be doing all this - my theory is that he is doing it to set the Doctor and companions up for his future manipulations, that the behavioural, peculiarities are a result of his mental manipulation - he interfering in their minds so as to see how to make them think as he wishes upon occasions in order to lead them into certain circumstances i.e. the injection of a peculiar whim into someone's mind might be enough for them to pick up a vital clue, turn in an all-important direction. As the White Guardian stands for the forces of good, he desires as little manipulation as possible and to make it appear through non-direct, natural means.

Possibly the bit about the stuck fast return switch was a real crisis, perhaps not, but my theory is that he planted little thoughts in their heads in order to lead them to think of this explanation and ignore the evidence that suggests otherwise (like that the TARDIS was behaving rather sinisterly in luring Barbara into the laboratory, removing all the air from the locked room for instance) to an exegetic nit-picker like me.

Time Lord Biology

When Barbara and Ian check to see if the Doctor is all right his breathing rate, temperature and heart-rate is found to be normal for humans. The same is found for Susan later. Also his heart is referred to in the singular, although it is probable that they didn't think of checking for a second. However Time lord body temperature is 60°F, and pulse 10 per minute. So something is quite wrong if they are finding the at human levels. Perhaps this is part of the illusion, although it is difficult to see why, but then who knows the White Guardian's mind?

Reference to An Unearthly Child

We find that the actual date of this was in November 1963. We also find that in the five months that she was at Coal Hill School Susan was unable to produce any birth certificate or documentation of her status, explaining that she had been abroad and that her papers will still in transit. I fail to believe that the secretary could believe this - doesn't one need a passport to get through customs into a country. Also while she was there she seemed nervous of association with other pupils. In class her geography was laughable, her English patchy - she could quote much Shakespeare, but had never heard of Dickens; her foreign languages surprisingly fluent.

This item appeared in TSV 12 (March 1989).

Index nodes: Exegesis, The Edge of Destruction