The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, May 8, 2017

"As We Learn About Each Other, We Learn About Ourselves": The Edge of Destruction/The Brink of Disaster

Susan with Scissors, no reason to run,
moots demon possession might have begun.
She slashes at Ian, at Barbara she'll thrust,
and yet it's the teachers the Doctor can't trust.

Susan with Scissors, can't bear to draw blood,
hieratically hiding, grasping for good.
Grandfather's goading sends Barbara to bed,
the Doctor examines--does he hope that they're dead?

Yeah, a children's show. I think I understand the English character better just from watching these 13 episodes already. So after visiting the State of Nature, then nearly dying of radiation sickness, and discovering the joys of fighting the good fight, the Doctor and his companions are knocked about, and wake up in the dimly lit ship. Barbara staggers out, blank-faced, confuses, and greets the unconscious Ian as "Mr. Chesterton." Only when she finds the Doctor on the floor, and starts tending to his injuries does Barbara begin to wake up. Ian awakes, I suppose you could call it, but acts like he's been lobotomized. Susan drifts in, and starts screaming in pain. Until she doesn't. No, she's off again.

Then Ian goes looking for water (Susan had left on the same errand, but she's been paying with a very long, very sharp, pair of scissors. When Ian manages to get a pouch of water, he brings it to Susan--

Who is posed, hip jutted out, hair wild, face set and lacking in all feeling, like a hieratic Egyptian statue. Carole Ann Ford, who has been successfully playing Susan as a teenager, was in fact 24 when The Edge of Destruction aired, and you see it here. She's not credibly a child, or even in her early teens. The suddenly adult Susan is disorienting, as is the whole episode.

Because Susan slashes at Ian, and then, in a frenzy, stabs her own bed, again and again.

Things only get weirder from here.

The TARDIS is acting oddly; the doors keep opening and closing, the controls don't work. The crew turn on the scanner, only to see a series of pictures--which they realize are photos--on the scanner. So the Doctor try to determine what has gone wrong. They find nothing is wrong with the TARDIS, but the doors keep opening and closing, and Ian warns Barbara not to let Susan know what's going on. As Susan is listening the entire time, this leads her to be suspicious of Barbara. Draped in black, the Unearthly Woman pulls the scissors on Barbara threateningly. Barbara manages to disarm her, and they go to the console room. The Doctor has a theory:
DOCTOR: Trying to confuse me, eh?
IAN: What are you getting at?
BARBARA: Look, why don't we just try and open the doors and see for ourselves what's outside?
DOCTOR: What is inside, madam, is most important at the moment.
(they are now lined up across the console - Doctor and Susan versus Barbara and Ian)
BARBARA: Inside?
IAN: But you've just been telling us that the only people inside are ourselves.
DOCTOR: Precisely. I know now who's responsible. You are. You sabotaged my ship.
BARBARA: We didn't even touch your ship.
IAN: (overlapping) What are you talking about?
DOCTOR: You're the cause of this disaster. And you knocked both Susan and I unconscious.
BARBARA: Don't be ridiculous. We were all knocked out.
DOCTOR: A charade. You attacked us.
IAN: Absolute nonsense.
DOCTOR: And when we were lying helpless on the floor, you tampered with my controls.
IAN: But you checked everything yourself and you couldn't find anything wrong with it.
DOCTOR: No, sir. We checked everything. You and I.
BARBARA: But why would we? For what reason?
DOCTOR: Blackmail, that's why. You tried to force me to return you to England.
This is, for Miss Wright, the last straw. She gives the Doctor a full-tilt boogie the Reason You Suck speech:
BARBARA: How dare you! Do you realise, you stupid old man, that you'd have died in the Cave of Skulls if Ian hadn't made fire for you?
BARBARA: And what about what we went through against the Daleks? Not just for us, but for you and Susan too. And all because you tricked us into going down to the city.
BARBARA: Accuse us? You ought to go down on your hands and knees and thank us. But gratitude's the last thing you'll ever have, or any sort of common sense either.
It's been a long time coming. And, as Jacqueline Hill delivers it, it drips with long-stored up venom.

[Weirdness ensure; the Doctor tries to break the tension: Drinks all round!]

After everyone is in bed, the Doctor checks Barbara and Ian to see if they are awake; they aren't. he goes silently to the console, feels someone s there, turns around, only to have a pair of hands encircle his throat and....


[No, not really. Still, roll credits!]

The Doctor knocks Ian (dazed as he is) down, more recriminations result, the Doctor decides to expel them from the ship. Barbara persuades Susan she and Ian are innocent, the TARDIS freaks out, and Barbara puts all together: the TARDIS is trying to communicate with them, there's a fault that will doom the ship.

The Doctor realizes his error, and they try to think what the ship is trying to tell them. The Doctor realizes the source of their danger:

They fault is the "Fast return" switch, which is stuck. They fix the switch, all is well.

Yeah, I know. Pretty underwhelming.

But there's more--The Doctor is nervous about his abuse and threats; Ian lets him off the hook. Fade to black.

If the episode had ended here, it would have been a surreal epic fail. But no, we see the Doctor try to make peace with Barbara:
DOCTOR: I'd like to talk to you, if I may. We've landed on a planet and the air is good, but it's rather cold outside.
BARBARA: Susan told me.
DOCTOR: Yes, you haven't forgiven me, have you.
BARBARA: You said terrible things to us.
DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it's the injustice that's upsetting you, and when I made a threat to put you off the ship it must have affected you very deeply.
BARBARA: What do you care what I think or feel?
DOCTOR: As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves.
BARBARA: Perhaps.
DOCTOR: Oh, yes. Because I accused you unjustly, you were determined to prove me wrong. So, you put your mind to the problem and, luckily, you solved it.
SUSAN: Grandfather, we're going out now.
DOCTOR: Oh, please, yes. Do open the doors, will you?
SUSAN: Are you coming?
SUSAN: Good.
DOCTOR: Oh, by the way, Susan has left you some wearing apparel for outside. You know, we have a very extensive wardrobe here.
BARBARA: Yes, she gave me these.
DOCTOR: Yes, I think they're rather charming. We must look after you, you know. You're very valuable. Yes.
(He helps her on with the coat, and offers his arm)
DOCTOR: Shall we go?
And now the pieces click into place. The Doctor has found what he was missing--friendship with his companions. He has learned to respect them, and to value them.

He has learned that, contrary to his own understanding of the TARDIS--"my ship can't think!" he declaims earlier--that it can.


The next episode is, in a way, the pilot episode of the show we watch today. Doctor Who long ago ceased to be what this first spate of episodes was--a story about an irascible man, his peculiar granddaughter, and the two stowaways who he kidnapped into danger. That show was more bleak than Doctor Who has ever been since, because the darkness came from the protagonist, and not from the dangers he faced.

The Doctor has learned to fight for a cause when he must. He has learned to value more than his own convenience, even his own safety. Finally, he has learned how to be a friend. And to want friends.

We're off and running.

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