Every few years some magazine or website asks its readers to rank Doctor Who stories. Depending on the prevailing mood at the time of polling, any one of a handful of stories will top the list. For a while there it was “Planet of Fire.” In one poll taken during the fiftieth anniversary year, the number one was “Genesis of the Daleks.” It usually takes a while for a story from the current incarnation of the show to crack the top five. In order to be labeled “extraordinary,” a Doctor Who story must be able to stand the test of time. No pun intended.
As for the bottom of the list, time is not a factor–a bad story is a bad story. What matters is just how much deep hurting it inflicts upon the viewer, but everyone has different pain threshold. For some “Time and the Rani” is the worst story; for others it’s “Love and Monsters.” The one thing I think we can agree on is that none of the stories in the bottom portion of the list will get any better. Some stories will have their defenders though.
That leaves a whole bunch of stories in the middle ground. They range from “just okay,” to “I’ve seen worse.” Most of these wouldn’t be your first choice to watch on a rainy afternoon. Or maybe you would say to yourself, “I haven’t watched _______ in quite a while. I remember not hating it.” Somewhere in this middle ground lies “The Edge of Destruction.”
“The Edge of Destruction” is on my “Underrated Stories” list. Two part stories didn’t become a regular occurance until the 1980s, so this is a bit of a rare duck. The William Hartnell era also featured the only single part story of the classic series: “Mission to the Unknown,” which was a prelude to “The Daleks Master Plan.” But that’s another story. No pun intended.
The classic series featured cliffhangers between story parts. During the 1960s, the last episode of a story would often have a cliffhanger, or would end with a glimpse of the upcoming tale. At the very end of “The Daleks,” the Doctor and his companions are on board the TARDIS, when “Boom!” there is an explosion in the control console. Okay, it was really more of a “pop,” but you could tell it wasn’t good.
“The Edge of Destruction” is what’s refered to as a “bottle episode.” It’s really just a cheap way to tell a story, because all the action takes place in one location, oftentimes an existing set, or one that doesn’t cost a lot to construct. Think about those episodes of sitcoms from the Eighties and Nineties where two characters are stuck in a broom closet, and you’ll understand the concept.
Bottle episodes are often used as a way to get characters together to hash out their feelings for one another and to say what is really on their minds. In “The Edge of Destruction” things get a bit weird. How weird? Think “Amy’s Choice” and you’ll have a clue. No, there is no “Dream Lord,” but the occupants of the TARDIS do act out of character. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but if you enjoyed “Amy’s Choice,” give this one a shot.
I will say this: At one point, the the Doctor talks about “the heart of the machine.” If this sounds familiar, think about “Boom Town” or “The Parting of the Ways,” which make reference to “the heart of the TARDIS.” At the time, I thought that was a clever invention by Russell T. Davies, but it was right there all along.