"I never noticed the shadows before. It is so silent on the ship." -- Susan Foreman
Like many people my age, my first real exposure to Doctor Who was the revival series. The revival series featured good special effects, snappy dialogue (what else can a science-fiction show have in a post-Buffy and Firefly world?) and fast-paced action with a kaleidoscopic post-modern worldview behind it. But being something of a completist, I wanted to watch the original Doctor Who. I thought that it would be of historical interest, even if I would be a bit bored by how hokey it all is.
And then we have this.
Originally written as a place-holder story because the show was more popular than expected, "The Edge of Destruction" takes place totally inside the TARDIS, and stars only the featured cast. And while the two previous stories featured a story arc of captivity and political intrigue that would continue to be a staple of Doctor Who to the present, this one was sheer psychology.
The TARDIS is stuck. No one knows why. The four crew members begin to doubt each other, and to plot and plan against each other. The audience doesn't know either. I was led to believe that some other party had entered the TARDIS and was controlling people's minds. The actual explanation is more prosaic, and might even disappoint some.
But this episode was most impressive to me because it was the first sign of all the things that I thought were so modern in Doctor Who weren't. While Doctor Who has had its share of confusing political intrigue, shaky sets and fake masks, it is really a show about the unknown, and it has presented its share of psychological horror. That is why the quote above is so telling: it distills the show into being about "Shadows" and "Silence"...perhaps not so coincidentally, the names of two of the most memorable villains created by Steven Moffat.
This story has the crew trapped on the TARDIS, as they will be in Amy's Choice and Space/Time. It reveals that the TARDIS is partially sentient, as would be much further explored in The Doctor's Wife. It has Shadows, like Silence in the Library, and Silence like in The Impossible Astronaut. It has the Doctor becoming vicious and unhinged, a dark side that we would see often. It has the Doctor totally misunderstanding a problem, something that would happen more often, most recently in The God Complex. It has the threat of the TARDIS' destruction, something that would become the entire arc of Series Five. All of this presented in what was the cheapest episode of Doctor Who ever made. It is quite a legacy to come from a single story, done as a rush job on a series that many people at first thought would not survive its first few weeks.