Doctor Who Write-Ups

Doctor Who – The Edge of Destruction (1964)

Due to the explosion – although on reflection I think it was supposed to be a flash or something – everyone is lying around the console unconscious. Barbara and Susan are the first to wake up and, for a moment, they can’t recognize each other. Also Susan feels a sharp pain in her neck and head. Once Ian wakes up as well, Barbara finds he also doesn’t recognize where he is, thinking that he and Barbara are back at the school they teach in. Wounded and still unconscious, the Doctor only mumbles, “I can’t take you back, Susan!” As Susan goes to try to find something to treat the Doctor’s head wound, which was caused by the fall, she discovers that the doors and other equipment on the TARDIS aren’t working properly. Susan panics and thinks some alien force has invaded the TARDIS. When she tries to operate the controls, she faints. Once she recovers, she reacts with suspicion and anger when Ian comes to check on her, threatening him with a pair of scissors until she collapses again.

Now fully recovered, the Doctor sets about deducing what happened, claiming that it would be impossible for the TARDIS to crash. Susan appears, again armed with scissors, and accuses Ian and Barbara of lying to her about something being on the ship, but Barbara calms and disarms her. Trying to rationalize with Susan, Barbara asks where an intruder would have to hide. Susan answers, “In one of us!” As soon as Susan finds out the Doctor is about to turn on the TARDIS’ scanner, she tries to stop him before he also collapses from trying to use the console, but the Doctor discovers that he can operate the device without any ill effects. However, the scanner only shows prerecorded images of England and a planet the Doctor and Susan visited before meeting Barbara and Ian. Suddenly the Doctor angrily accuses Barbara of plotting with Ian to sabotage the TARDIS in order to force him to return them to England in 1963. The resulting argument is interrupted when Barbara sees that the hands on the TARDIS’ timepiece are missing. Now calm again, the Doctor serves drinks to everyone, pointing out that they’re all “overwrought.”

Later the Doctor returns to the console, only to find Ian reaching out to him as if to strangle him. The Doctor reacts by once again accusing him and Barbara of deliberately damaging the TARDIS and threatens to throw them outside, even though they have no idea what the environment outside is. Before the Doctor can go any further, there is a loud warning signal the Doctor interprets as a sign that the entire TARDIS is about to be destroyed and that they only have ten minutes to live. Barbara proposes that the TARDIS itself has been trying to warn them about a problem and the seemingly random images and happenings have all been clues. The Doctor sends Susan and Barbara to the TARDIS’ doors – ostensibly so they can observe the environment when and if the doors open again, but really so they’d have a chance of surviving when the TARDIS disintegrates. However, Susan is horrified when she sees nothing out there but space.

The Doctor then realizes that they’re stationed at the formation of the solar system (his monologue becoming this episode’s science lesson). Later he finds that Barbara was right and that the TARDIS has been trying to tell them that a lever on the console was stuck, causing the entire TARDIS to malfunction and become stalled in one place and time. Ian guesses that the Doctor tried to return to London in 1963 but vastly overshot the mark and wound up at a time just before there even was a London – or an Earth for that matter. Feeling guilty over his earlier accusations, the Doctor (who actually never gets around to really apologizing) tries to patch things up with Barbara by complimenting her for figuring out the mystery, telling her that, “We all owe you our lives.” At first Barbara is quiet, but later, once the TARDIS finds solid ground, she softens and forgives the Doctor by having a short friendly chat with him before joining Susan in investigating their new surroundings. Outside the two find snow – along with a giant footprint.

Continuity Notes

As the extremely budget- and time-conscious choices of plot of backdrop suggest, this was purely a bottle episode for filler, filmed to cheaply and quickly round out the showrunners’ thirteen episode commitment. As such, it’s the only episode in the entire run of either the classic or 2005 series to take place completely inside the TARDIS.

Despite that, there’s actually quite a bit of important continuity established here. The plot’s implication is that the TARDIS is to an extent sentient and capable of operating outside the Doctor’s control and knowledge, setting up the constant theme that the Doctor’s TARDIS is unpredictable and even has a mind of its own. It’s also implied that the TARDIS has telepathic capabilities, explaining its ability to cause all the passengers to fall unconscious and affect their behavior (fans may want to argue that Susan and the Doctor seem to be more susceptible here because they are Time Lords, a species with telepathic senses, although obviously the screenwriter hasn’t thought that far ahead). These points are built on by later writers, but they become particularly important in the 2005 series, specifically in episodes like “Boom Town” and “The Parting of the Ways.” In fact, the First Doctor even refers to the “heart of the machine”, like “the heart of the TARDIS” that plays a key role in “Boom Town.”

An off line establishes that the events of “Daleks” took place sometime in the future. How in the future from 1963 isn’t really made clear, and I’d imagine trying to sort out the Daleks’ chronology in relation to Earth’s history is the casual fan’s worst nightmare (and the diehard fan’s most glorious dream).

I forgot to mention, but a running gag with the original cast’s episodes is that the Doctor constantly fumbles Ian’s correct last name. The joke at the end of the serial is that during the crisis the Doctor kept calling Ian by his real name, “Chesterton”, but his failure to remember later is an assuring sign that everything’s back to normal.

It’s kind of implied in the first episode, but here is the first definite reference to the adventures the Doctor and Susan were having before they ran into Barbara and Ian, when Susan mentions that she and the Doctor almost lost the TARDIS on a planet called Quillis of the Fourth Universe. Also the Doctor’s dialogue, quoted in the synopsis, suggests that the Doctor and Susan can’t return to their home world for reasons having nothing to do with the Doctor’s inability to precisely pilot the TARDIS.

Ian finds that the Doctor’s heart stopped, which, of course, contradicts later continuity that Time Lords all have two hearts. Helpfully, later stories also established that one of a Time Lord’s hearts stop when they’ve suffered a severe physical trauma. So the downside to a decades-old continuity is that you will run into such contradictions. The plus side is that you can always dig up some other bit of continuity to explain it away to most fans’ satisfaction.

Last but not least, we learn that the Doctor keeps an extensive wardrobe on board. He even shows off to Ian a coat he was given by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Comments

I’ve written three of these things without mentioning the acting. Aside from flubbed lines, which William Hartnell is particularly guilty of and which, as I explained before, was pretty commonplace in low-budget TV shows with demanding production deadlines, the acting is actually pretty good. It’s what I love about British actors; unlike their American counterparts, they usually bring their all to the table, regardless of what the material is. Whether it’s Othello or Fu Manchu, the British will normally approach either role with the same level of gravitas. This is true here, although Ian and Barbara, as the audience’s identification figures, aren’t allowed to display as much personality as William Hartnell or Carole Ann Ford (Susan). Speaking of Susan, she probably is the one character that might grate audiences, since her outbursts seem a bit too theatrical for what long-time fans would expect from a Time Lord. Still, I think I’ve gotten used to her somewhat over-the-top scenes; it definitely helps to keep in mind that she’s supposed to be a teenager from the mod generation.

Apart from that, this is on the whole a weaker serial than what we’ve seen so far, one that doesn’t quite hide its late-night-writing-session origins. For one thing, early 1960s gender issues, which really weren’t that pronounced before, somewhat come to the fore. I was willing to let the Doctor’s act of chivalry slide, even though there really wasn’t a reason to try to save Ian by sending him to the doors too given how generally useless he was in this episode, but the part where the Doctor tried to compliment Barbara for pushing her “intuition” over his “logic” bothered me too, especially since Barbara’s train of reasoning was mainly empirical and inductive. But I suppose in another time one sex’s logic was the other sex’s intuition.

More noticeably, the plot really doesn’t make much sense and the resolution feels like a cop-out of nearly legendary proportions. It’s possible Susan’s suggestions of an intruder were meant to be a red herring or to set up the irony that the “intruder” is actually the TARDIS itself, but the hints are at times so strongly laid out it seems like it was more of a last-minute rewrite than a deliberate decision on the part of the writer. Also while Barbara and the Doctor’s explanations do work to a degree, it still doesn’t quite explain how the TARDIS is helping by, well, causing the passengers to go insane, which again supports the “rewrite” theory. It’s never even made clear if the Doctor was acting under the TARDIS’ influence when he accused Barbara and Ian of sabotage, if he was trying to goad them into helping him figure out the problem (as one bit of dialogue toward the end hints), or if the pressure had really turned him paranoid. It just doesn’t seem to be a terribly efficient way to handle user repairs. And for all the build-up, it turns out that the whole nightmare, which could have ended with the utter annihilation of the characters we’ve grown to love, was because of a jammed lever – one that, in probably one of the series’ most famous production errors, has the words “FAST RETURN” written under it with a felt-tip pen.

Still, for all the script-level flaws, there are elements that work – and work well. For all the inconsistencies and lack of explanations for their behavior, the cast handle the material with zeal, giving depth to their characters and finally giving Barbara, who has with several exceptions been allowed to fall on the margins of the plot, some moments in the spotlight. The Doctor is also given more dimensions as well, showing him as a person capable of paranoia and cruelty but quickly yet believably redeeming him as well. Above all, there’s actually a strong sense of mystery and suspense, especially in the first episode. If only there was something more to the mystery than a jammed lever, but I guess it just goes to show that the TARDIS is a really delicate machine. Allow the tiniest mechanical problem to go unaddressed and it will drive you crazy, make you paranoid, and kill you, all before lunch.

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Versus

The Worst Parent: Peg Bundy vs. Homer Simpson

Another great meal, Peg.  Y’know, honey, you’re incredible.  You ignore the children, you neglect the house, and still you find time to let the dinner get cold before you serve it.  How do you do it? 

Well, Al, I guess I care enough about me not to care about you. -Al and Peg Bundy

Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try. -Homer Simpson

Bad parenting isn’t supposed to be a laughing matter, and yet it is. After all, Homer Simpson gets quoted much more than either Ward Cleaver or Cliff Huxtable. Homer not only embodies the complete antithesis of the ideal of American fatherhood so well, but says things about family life that many people wish they could say. So it is with Peg Bundy, the ultimate anti-housewife. It begs the question (well, in my mind, anyway): which one would be the worst parent?

Granted this question might be skewed from the very beginning. Homer has Marge, who is no June Cleaver (well, depending on the episode) but who does more than fill in for Homer’s ethical and nurturing lapses as a parent. Al Bundy, on the other hand, really is Peg’s perfect counterpart. The only difference is that Al is a breadwinner, albeit a reluctant and miserable one who, like Homer Simpson, mysteriously has not been fired. So rather than looking at the Simpsons and the Bundys as couples, let’s take Peg and Homer and see how they function as parental units.

Physical Abuse

Let’s dispense with the darkest category first, shall we? Even the show has come out and referred to Homer strangling Bart as bona fide physical abuse (“And that horrible act of child abuse became one of our most beloved running gags”). With Peg, there’s no indication of physical abuse, but as “Married…With Children” progresses Peg does go from being a housewife who feeds her kids nothing but frozen dinners to one who keeps her family in sub-Third World conditions while spending Al’s money on clothes, nicknacks, and even food for herself. In other words, Peg Bundy runs the Bundy household like North Korea.

So while Homer’s treatment of Bart does fit our usual understanding of physical abuse, malnourishment also counts as physical abuse, and the “prize” has to go to the woman who leaves her kids to try to make meals out of a single M&M found on the floor.

Winner: Peg

Emotional Abuse

This category is hard to judge thanks to the “Rule of Funny,” which in this case dictates that if it’s funny for Homer or Peg to act like sociopaths then so be it. Also it’s hard to judge this one while being fair to the shows. “Married…With Children” (with extremely rare exceptions) was written with “Seinfeld”‘s “no hugging and no learning” rule. “The Simpsons,” despite its reputation for cynicism, usually wears its heart on its sleeve.

While Bart is the exclusive recipient of Homer’s physical abuse, all the Simpson children routinely have Homer’s bipolar/schizoid/whatever disorder showered upon them, whether it’s Homer threatening to murder Bart if he loses in a peewee sport or yelling at Lisa for daring to lambast Brown University. Still, Homer does seem to be as lavishly affectionate as he is short-tempered. The best examples tend to come out of Homer’s relationship with Lisa, which really is one of the most tender recurring themes in the entire show. Despite Lisa being so different from him that she might as well exist in another dimension, Homer still makes genuine efforts to bond with her (which is why the episodes that focus on Homer and Lisa’s relationship tend to be the ones people remember as tearjerkers, and indeed if you don’t have at least one of those episodes that at least makes you tear up a little – mine is “Lisa’s Pony” – then you truly have a heart of stone.)

Peg is capable of love. She is very loving and supportive toward her mother.

 This is what Peg’s mother would have looked like in a better universe.

She also was very maternal toward Seven, at least until she got bored with him. So it is that Peg clearly loves her children; it’s just that their novelty wore off years ago. And she has uber-Aspergers’ when it comes to voicing her opinions about them. …And she judges her children’s value based on the material rewards they can bring her. We see Peg’s parenting priorities most clearly in an episode where Kelly has an affair with a city alderman. Although initially outraged that their daughter would date someone twice her age, Peg and Al become supportive when Kelly’s boyfriend start doing favors for them. To make sure the relationship keeps running smoothly, Peg actually stops Kelly before she leaves on any dates to make sure she looks more slutty. When Bud gets jealous at all the praise and attention Kelly is getting just because she’s sleeping with a politician, Peg blurts out, “”We always thought you would be the successful one. Boy were we wrong!” and adds when smoothing things over, “Don’t be jealous. You’re both our children. It’s just that Kelly is our favorite one now, that’s all.” It almost gets creepy when you realize that Bud is a hard-working A student who is watching the self-destructive behavior of his lazy sister get rewarded by his parents just because at the moment it happens to feed their greed.

Winner: Peg

Nurturing

How much nourishment can Homer actually provide be when he can’t even open a can of pudding and when he can cause cereal to catch fire just by pouring milk over it? Peg can cook, in her own way. Making hamburgers with a toaster is still making hamburgers, after all. Also she does give her children dental checkups (even if it just involves her and Al doing it themselves at home) and vitamins (although it is actually Pez). With Homer, the show has established pretty well that without Marge and to a lesser extent without Lisa his home life pretty much devolves into a “Mad Max” experience. Peg does put a little effort into taking care of her children, even if her idea of care is what “Plan 9 from Outer Space” is to “Star Wars.”

Winner: Homer

Creating an Unstable Home Environment

Both “The Simpsons” and “Married…With Children” have had episodes where the families were in danger of being split apart by divorce. However, those types of episodes were much more of a recurrence in “The Simpsons.” Not only that, but the Simpsons’ marriage is a bit more…inexplicable, even to the characters themselves. Even when the whole issue of why Homer and Marge are married is confronted head-on, Homer excitedly notes that the only thing he can offer Marge no one else can is “complete and total dependence!” Now Marge does defend her marriage to her delightfully cruel sisters claims that there are hidden depths to Homer and long-time viewers have reasons to believe her, but still their marriage does have its oil-and-water qualities.

Al and Peg, on the other hand, are made for each other, if only because they’re both cynical and mean as Hell. As they put it themselves: “We don’t believe in love.” “That’s why our marriage works!” We even find out that, when Peg does get a job, it actually disrupts their dynamic, because Peg sees her actual “job” as soothing Al’s ego as the sole breadwinner while Al enjoys complaining about his wife’s laziness (and, he reluctantly admits, he kind of likes having her around).

Winner: Homer

Capacity for Self-Improvement

While I’m no parent and, God willing, I never will be, I’ve learned from enough sitcoms and commercials that there is no manual for parenting and that it’s a job you learn as you go. If only because they’re both in sitcoms, neither Peg or Homer ever really learn. Indeed, really, they get worse as the shows go on. Still, Homer does learn, if only for a little while. He gives up drinking for the sake of his marriage, learns the importance of spending time with his daughter (albeit multiple times), and comes very close to realizing how Tennessee Williams-esque his marriage is. Throughout eleven seasons, Peg learns…um…that having a job is just as bad as she feared, maybe?

Winner: Peg

And the Award of Worst Parent goes to…

So, the bottom line is you’d probably rather have Homer as a parent than Peg. Now, what would it mean if you had Peg and Homer as your parents? Maybe next time.

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