Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Doctor Who Story 003: Inside the Spaceship


Getting To Know You...

The third Doctor Who story was a last-minute addition. The BIG SHOW was the epic seven-part historic Marco Polo, but after the expensive The Daleks and an equally lavish Marco Polo coming up, there just wasn't any money left...but there was a two-story gap. As it is, Inside the Spaceship was a blessing in disguise, since it gave the viewers (and the Companions) a chance to get a better idea of who they were.

Again, there is controversy over WHAT this two part-story should be called. The BBC refers to it as The Edge of Destruction while Doctor Who Magazine calls it Inside the Spaceship. IF we want to be extremely technical and use the revived series habit of using two titles for one story with two parts (ex. Aliens of London/World War III) we would call this story The Edge of Destruction/The Brink of Disaster. That being the case, I can only wonder WHY the revived series doesn't have that Ninth Doctor story as just Aliens of London Parts I and II.

Think on that: for the third Doctor Who story a two-part story uses the title for the first part as the overall title, but for the new series a two-part story uses the titles of BOTH parts for the overall title. Yes, it's most confusing. For this article, I will call it Inside the Spaceship only because I think it works better and because it's a personal preference.

The TARDIS crew of The Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan (Carol Anne Ford), and her human teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill) have escaped Skaro and while leaving, experience an explosion that knocks them unconscious. When they awaken, everyone is acting strangely. They don't seem to recognize each other: Barbara & Ian call each other by their surnames even though they've been colleagues for some time, and they are disoriented. The Doctor and Susan are also behaving as if they are both slowly going mad, Susan especially so. She is armed with scissors and threatens almost everyone who comes near her. There is a major malfunction with the TARDIS, and The Doctor accuses the humans of sabotage.

This only infuriates them, Barbara especially so. The chaotic events within and without the ship are signaling the crew that something is dangerously wrong. The Doctor realizes that the power source within the TARDIS is trying to escape, and the ship signals to them that they are close to destruction. The crew unite to discover the source of the meltdown: a faulty Fast Return Switch that takes them to the very beginning of the creation of the universe (or at least the Milky Way). The Doctor fixes the problem and the crisis is over. However, still stung from The Doctor's accusations, Barbara retreats to her room. A humbled Doctor comes and, realizing he went too far, apologizes for his action and words.

Inside the Spaceship is one of the shortest stories in the original series.* It was a rushed production, but ultimately that worked in its favor: we could focus squarely on the travelers themselves rather than outside forces like the Tribe of Gum or the Daleks. In the previous eleven episodes of Doctor Who, the TARDIS crew were always a team, maybe not the most willing or cooperative of teams but basically ONE group fighting together against a common enemy. With Inside the Spaceship, they were fighting AGAINST each other. This allowed for their relationship to shift and grow, which would prove vital to the continued success of the series.

Each of the actors had great moments in Inside the Spaceship. Susan, who had been a sweet and innocent girl all this time, had become dangerous, and Carol Anne Ford brought menace and a threat in Susan that hadn't been tapped. Jacqueline Hill rose from being second fiddle to both William Russell's Ian and William Hartnell's Doctor to be a strong and independent person. It was Barbara, not Ian, who told The Doctor where to get off when he accused them of sabotage. It was also Barbara who put the pieces together as to what was going on inside the spaceship. Ian, on the other hand, looked almost weak by comparison. This was an intelligent reversal on the part of writer David Whitaker. I don't know if it was intentional, but it was brilliant in how it took early 1960s expectations on the roles of men and women and shifted them to create something intense and oddly prescient (see Smith, Sarah Jane, or Tyler, Rose or/and Jones, Martha).

Hartnell as The Doctor gave I think the best performance in the series, and perhaps the hardest. He started out as a shifty, mysterious being, almost totally unconcerned with what he did or said and how he did or said it. By the end of the story, he has mellowed, and become dare I say, a kinder, gentler Doctor, more of a truly "grandfather" figure. Throughout his tenure as The Doctor, Hartnell was given to flubbing his lines with humorous results, but in Inside the Spaceship, he shows what a tremendous talent he had. Take a look at the monologue he delivers near the end of Episode Two (The Brink of Disaster). It's only him, discussing the creation of a whole new solar system, with the camera moving in on him. In one take, he delivers an amazing and powerful speech with conviction and passion: a true bravura performance...and all without a single mistake.

In their performances, each of them (Ford, Russell, Hill, and Hartnell) found a deeper, more rounded individual to play. This works brilliantly, especially when you consider that Inside the Spaceship had TWO directors (Richard Martin for Episode One and Frank Cox for Episode Two). Though they did not as a team, there is little to distinguish that two separate individuals put the story together, and it's a credit to both Martin and Cox as well as producer Verity Lambert that it all managed to work. Both of them managed to create within the confined nature of Inside the Spaceship the sense of fear and paranoia that was engulfing everyone within the TARDIS.

On a deeper level, it is The Unexplained (or unexplainable) that causes them to fear and mistrust each other, but then that is one point where I may be reading too much into things. As it stands, the audience needed a bit of a break from the terrors of the outside to allow us to focus on this group with whom we were going to spend our time with, and circumstances worked in such a way that Inside the Spaceship ended up being a brilliant accident.

Having said all that, the biggest flub wasn't due to Hartnell, but to the Fast Return Switch. Not only did it malfunction, but the fact that the words "Fast Return Switch" was clearly written and visible and appeared to have been written with a marker made it all look a little strange. In fact, that all the chaos and terror resulted from faulty machinery seems a little pat. Another big issue was in having Susan threaten people with scissors. This caused great concern at the BBC and years later Lambert reflected that it was probably a mistake to have common household objects be used in a threatening manner on a show aimed at children. Even now, children who might get it into their heads to act out Inside the Spaceship might not realize just how dangerous this is. Finally, in a more humorous vein, Susan does appear to be wearing the world's first Snuggy. Just a random thought.

As it stands, it's curious that we have the first thirteen episodes of Doctor Who still in existence. The curiosity stems from the fact that the BBC had ordered thirteen episodes in its original run, and the show was continued based on the success of those thirteen. As of this writing, 108 episodes from 1964 through 1969, including the succeeding story, the seven-part Marco Polo, are now lost, perhaps forever, though an episode of the four-part The Crusade was brought to light in 1998, a full thirty-three years after its debut. Therefore, it is possible that another episode might turn up, but then they may ultimately truly be Lost In Time.

Inside the Spaceship has a great premise where almost everything rises to the occassion and creates a strong story. In spite of the loss of other stories, the crew of the TARDIS has managed to create something quite unique, which is still around to be appreciated.


Next story: Marco Polo

*There are a few other two-episode stories (The Rescue, The Sontaran Experiment, and Black Orchid) but by and large the average eventually settled to four-part stories. The now-lost Mission to the Unknown/Dalek Cutaway is the shortest Doctor Who story in terms of both length (at 25 minutes long) and episodes (one). 

If one wants to argue that it should be included with the 12-part (also mostly lost) The Dalek's Master Plan, it would then fall to The Five Doctors to be the shortest story. It is technically one episode, but is 90 minutes long. In the revived series, almost all the stories are one episode long but last an average of 45 minutes. I've heard claims that the Tenth Doctor story 42, which is suppose to last 42 minutes, is the shortest story, but given that its length is about average to all other one-episode stories I dismiss the claim. Little technical issues here, but worth bringing up for quiz time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Views are always welcome, but I would ask that no vulgarity be used. Any posts that contain foul language or are bigoted in any way will not be posted.
Thank you.