THE HORROR IN WHO & THE WHO IN HORROR: The Edge of Destruction


Psycho Killer
Qu’est Que C’est
Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa

2 episodes
Transmitted: 8th February – 15th February 1964

“As we learn about each other so we learn about ourselves”

“What is inside, Madam, is most important at the moment”


Edge of Destruction is an early example, possibly the earliest example, of what has now become known as a bottle episode. Essentially this is an episode that is produced inexpensively using as few non-regular cast members, effects and sets as possible. The phrase bottle episode seems to have originated during the production of the original Star Trek TV series with the cast and crew using the phrase “ship in a bottle episodes” for episodes that took place entirely on the Enterprise. The story was commissioned due to an over spend on the production of The Daleks and concerns over the expense of the forthcoming Marco Polo. Each episode of Doctor Who cost approximately £2500 during this period. The first episode of Edge of Destruction cost £1480 with the second coming in at £1506, making this the cheapest Doctor Who story ever made for TV transmission.

d01-1c-014The Edge of Destruction is also a prime example of psychological horror – a sub-genre of horror fiction that relies on characters fears and emotional instability to build tension. Early psychological horror films include The Black Cat (1934) and Cat People (1942). Later examples include Repulsion (1965) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). The sub-genre of home invasion films, for example Straw Dogs (1971 and remade 2011) and more recently You’re Next (2013), are an extension of the psychological thriller. This story taps into both genres of cinema with the TARDIS crew experiencing psychological extremes such as paranoia as well as suspicions that their home, the TARDIS, has become invaded.

This story also sees the very first hint in the series that the TARDIS may well be alive and sentient on some level, possibly telepathically. It’s worth noting that The Doctor is somewhat surprised by this development, a thread that eventually becomes fully developed in the Matt Smith era in the episode The Doctor’s Wife.

The effect of the melting clocks are a nod towards the paintings of Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist painter, in particular the 1931 painting The Persistence of Memory. The painting displays four clocks in an empty desert landscape. The clocks are not flat as expected, but bent out of shape as though melting under intense heat. So what does this signify? A remit of the surrealist movement was attempting to depict in the medium of art what it was like to dream, indeed Dali himself once described his art as “hand painted dream photographs.” If Persistence of Memory depicts a dream state we can begin to interpret the image. In our waking state we can easily keep track of time, but in dreams time is flexible and fluid. It can ebb and flow at different rates. In our dream state time and therefore the clocks have no meaning so perhaps they are melting away because they are insignificant?

Now this is where it gets even more weird and interesting when relating the meanings of the painting back to the world of Doctor Who. Some scholars believe that the clocks actually represent Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. With this ground breaking theory Einstein proposed a different way of viewing time as something varied and complex and not something that is fixed and easily measured by a clock or watch. With this in mind the clocks can be viewed as melting because they have lost their stability and power in the wake of Einstein’s theory. Surely if one was able to travel in time then our perception of the passage of time would become equally fragile and malleable? It’s extremely debatably that any of this was actually on the minds of the writer or production staff at the time, but the coincidental connection certainly makes food for thought.

d01-1c-c141Of all of the early seasons of Doctor Who this story is, in storytelling and presentation techniques, the closest the programme comes to a stage play due to its limited sets, camera angles and actors; it all gives the impression of watching as the action unfolds as if on a stage. We’re also tentatively in the territory of the haunted house, a film genre as old as the medium itself, with themes and stories being explored in early silent cinema right through to the present day. The TARDIS exerts a supernatural influence over the environment and possesses the TARDIS crew, tropes explored in a typical haunted house horror movie. For a prime example of this see The Amityville Horror (1979 and the 2005 remake) and all its associated remakes, sequels or spin offs.

With two directors helming an episode each it’s worth noting that there are distinct differences in style which add to the overall atmosphere and tone of the episodes. Richard Martin goes for a mainly static traditional approach but flavours his episode with moodier lighting lending a film noir tone to the events. On the other hand the newer blood that is Frank Cox brings more energy to his work with a more fluid camera involving plenty of panning and zooming, (pushing the boundaries that the extremely heavy and slab like cameras can achieve within studios), whilst the lighting is more flat and even.

The story is also possibly the first to the centre of controversy over the depiction of death and violence in the series history. The scene with Susan brandishing scissors before savagely stabbing bedding warranted Verity Lambert receiving a serious ticking off from her superiors at the BBC. Lambert agreed that the story had overstepped the mark by allowing the use of a household implement as a weapon and she was very careful for the rest of her tenure as producer to ensure that violence in future episodes was carefully and thoughtfully depicted.







DAVID WHITAKER – Writer:   Whitaker wrote this story in only two days with the writer later reflecting that “It was, to be frank, a bit of a nightmare”. For further details of Whitaker’s credits see entry in An Unearthly Child.

Richard Martin





RICHARD MARTIN – Director episode 1:   Martin began as a director on the early BBC soap opera Compact shortly after completing the internal BBC directors training course. He directed two episodes of the BBC anthology series suspense in 1963 before going on to direct a total of twenty two episodes of Doctor Who for the Hartnell era. He also contributed to the 1968 BBC anthology series Late Night Horror as well as the 1976 documentary The Legend of Loch Ness.

FRANK COX – Director episode 2:   Born 1940. Married to actress Bridget Turner, (who appears in the 21st Century Doctor Who episode Gridlock as Alice Cassini). Studied English at the University Leeds and on graduating applied for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. On being turned down he applied, and was successful, for a job as a floor assistant at the BBC. He eventually went through the internal BBC training course for directors and his episodes of Doctor Who were among his first assignments. His credits include the BBC series Doomwatch – Hear No Evil (1970). Later became a producer and in this capacity he is best known as the producer for Euston Films Cats Eyes (1985) and for the Scottish soap opera Take The High Road (1992 – 1993).

RAYMOND CUSICK – Designer:  See biography for previous story The Daleks (Whotopia Issue 27).

Dr Who






DAPHNE DARE (1929 – 2000) – Costumes. Dare was the most popular costume designer for the early years of Doctor Who and in fact worked on more episodes of the original series than any other costume designer. Born in Yeovil, Somerset. Her film work includes the bona fide classics of British cinema – Kes (1970) and Gumshoe starring Albert Finney (1971).

DENNIS CHANNON – Studio lighting. Responsible for the lighting on three episodes of the BBC sci-fi anthology series Out of the Unknown – Come Buttercup, Come Daisy (1965), The Machine Stops (1966) and Lambda One (1966) and four episodes of the BBC thriller anthology series Menace – Good Morning Yesterday (1970), The Millicent Sisters (1970), Deliver Us From Evil (1973) and Boys and Girls Come Out To Play (1973). He also contributed to the BBC Play of the Month – Rasputin (1971) and the paranormal flavoured anthology series The Mind Beyond – The Love of a Good Woman (1976). He would return to the world of Doctor Who working on The Massacre, The Masque of the Mandragora and Vengeance on Varos.

CLIVE DOIG – Vision Mixer:   see his entry under An Unearthly Child.

There are no guest actors in this story as only the regular cast features.

This article was written to a soundtrack consisting of Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon, Tong Zi Dan (Mike Dehnert Remix) by Simian Mobile Disco, Hard Knocks by New Young Pony Club, Endless Art by A House and Up Past The Nursery (Ivan Smagghe Edit) by Suuns amongst other tunes…

Written by Andrew Screen


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