The eventually cause of all the problems in ‘The Edge of Destruction’ is a broken spring, which it is fair to say the least exciting of all the scenarios presented during the story. Ian and Barbara suspect the Doctor and Susan who suspect them in turn. It is suggested that an intelligence has entered the TARDIS and even the time ship seems like it has failed totally.
There is something to be said for listening to the player characters and if they’ve come up with a better explanation than you don’t be afraid to quickly rewrite your adventure to incorporate their suggestion. They’ll feel clever for working out what was happening and you’ll avoid an anti-climax.
This should be the goal of any games master. Each adventure should finish on a high. You might have logical conclusion in mind but is it exciting? If it does require a simple task to be completed then there was no challenge and the stakes were never very high.
An invasion of the player characters time ship can be a great way to shake things up. Their safe haven is now a death trap. Not only will they need to survive they will also want to reclaim their TARDIS, if they want to keep travelling through space and time.
The invaders could be corporeal and range from simple vermin, pests that need to be eliminated, to a hostile race such as the Daleks or Sontarans, hoping to capture the TARDIS for their own.
They could also be more elusive. The strange behaviour of the TARDIS crew could certainly be explained by being possessed by an alien. How can the player characters know when someone has genuinely forgotten something or if they are an imposter?
Technical failures can be a mere annoyance but they can also prove fatal. ‘Edge of Destruction’ is certainly reminiscent of the problems experienced by Apollo 13, with the exception of the melting clocks. With a hostile environment outside the crew are reminded of how precarious their situation is.
In this adventure the Doctor realises that the TARDIS is capable of things he didn’t know about. It can be good to remind the player characters of this so they can regain some awe for their time machine.
After all a TARDIS is built by a very advanced alien species. It can change its form, its interior dimensions are larger than the exterior, it can mentally alter passenger’s perception of the language they hear and let’s not forget that it can move through space and time!
What else might a time ship be capable of? How much of the interior the player characters perceive is real? What their senses detect could just be an illusion provided by the TARDIS to hide the horrible truth from them. Just how weird is the interior of a time ship?
The end result is that the player characters look at their home in a new light, just as Susan noticed the shadows for the first time the player character might recognise the dangers inherent in the machine they are within.
When we looked at ‘Unearthly Child’ I suggested that the reason the crew passed out was the shock of leaving their time period. Could some of the behaviour displayed in ‘The Edge of Destruction’ similarly be due to time travel? A form of time travel induced mental illness.
The first symptoms displayed by the main characters is short term memory loss. Ian believes he is back at Coal Hill school and Susan can no longer remember who Barbara is. This is almost like a mental time travel, their minds regressing into their past.
Following this thought those suffering temporal psychosis could also have their minds leap forward, having glimpses of what will occur which will be very confusing to their companions if they refer to events that haven’t happened yet.
During the events of this adventure there is only a featureless void outside of the TARDIS that proves painful to look at. The fact the rotor is not rising and falling indicates that the time ship isn’t in motion so this is not the time vortex. If it was there would be a real risk that they would be pulled out.
The question remains what this void is. Could it be some form of temporal orbit? Some in-between place that a TARDIS can go when it is in danger? The white featureless nature of this place could mean that it is part of the land of fiction.
For those who enjoyed this story I heartily recommend the Doctor Who novel ‘Campaign’ by Jim Mortimore. The same TARDIS crew make the horrifying discovery that there is no longer a universe outside of the ship. Faced with the prospect of spending all of eternity in the ship they find their memories of the past are contradictory and must work out what has caused all of this.
It captures the same claustrophobia and paranoia of this episode. Well worth seeking out.