Monday, February 23, 2009

Inside the Spaceship Wrapup

Well, it doesn't seem all that long ago we were doing this for "The Daleks," does it? At two episodes, "Inside the Spaceship" (aka "The Edge of Destruction," "Beyond the Sun" (although that last is a product of a fan error in an early reference book), etc.) is the shortest story of the first season. In fact, the story behind the story is interesting, to me at any rate. Just before production started on "Doctor Who's" first story, there was some question by higher ups as to how viable this "experiment" would be. The show was given thirteen episodes to find its feet; if people didn't take to it and (just as importantly for the BBC) if the production just didn't justify the cost, then that would be the end. Unfortunately, this requirement didn't jibe with the scripts already commissioned. In fact, thirteen episodes would only take things through the second episode of "Marco Polo!" Somehow, two extra episodes needed to be filled, but no extra budget could be allocated. Thus, we get "Inside the Spaceship," with only the four regulars and only the standing TARDIS sets. Even with the success of "The Daleks," it wasn't sure up to the filming of the first part of this story that the series would continue, which gives the Doctor's line about how "this could be the end" in episode two a certain poignancy. For the whole story of the production (and much more competently told), take a look at its "Brief History of Time (Travel)" link.

Looking at it as a whole, the story is...uneven, and there's no question that it must have been written hastily by story editor David Whitaker. The first episode, strong as it is, is pretty much let down by a good deal of the second, almost as if Whitaker had set up a problem without having figured a way out of it. Still, this is an important story for the series in many ways. It's the first story where we really explore the TARDIS--although, apparently, more than the three rooms we see exist. (The Doctor tells Barbara of its extensive wardrobe.) It's the first indication that the ship might be more than just a mechanical thing--even the Doctor is surprised by the idea that the TARDIS might think! Most importantly, we learn more about the crew themselves. The Doctor, for example, appears to have basic human anatomy; Ian is able to check his vital signs when he is injured. (One should note that only one heartbeat is evident, which is consistant with Doctor Who in the '60s. It's not until 1970's "Spearhead From Space" that the Doctor's said to have two hearts.) And the Doctor sees his companions in a new light. Ian starts to fit in as someone who the Doctor can discuss science with, as well as being the "man of action" the show sometimes requires. Barbara, on the other hand, shows a talent for problem solving and "thinking outside the box" that's a hallmark of liberal arts majors (she is, after all, a History teacher), which the Doctor can appreciate. (She'll soon also use her talent for history to the crew's advantage.) Susan...well, she got quite a bit of development in the first story, didn't she? She does emerge as Barbara's champion and helper and begins to come out of her grandfather's shadow by supporting the teachers against his wishes. And the companions (specifically Ian and Barbara) see the Doctor differently too; by the end, having survived and (apparently) helped him figure out the problem, they view him as, well, a companion instead of a rather mysterious figure. His claim that he was trying to return them home makes the Doctor less of a kidnapper and more of a, well, friend. Less alien and more personable. The Doctor appears fallible, even he doesn't quite know how the TARDIS works completely...or does he? Everything I've talked about thus far depends on a traditional, surface reading of the story, but there's another fannish interpretation that I'd not heard until recently. It's undoubtedly true that the actual solution to this story's problem is a bit weak...but what if it was intended to be? What if the whole thing was an exercise, something the Doctor cooked up to see how Ian and Barbara (and Susan, by proximity) would react and whether they could deduce a solution? This would give him a better idea of how far he could depend on them, wouldn't it? After all, hadn't he just manipulated his companions in the previous story?, I don't buy that interpretation either, but it's certainly interesting--and interesting that such a simple story could actually provoke an alternative reading!

To wrap this very long wrapup, er, up, here is a link to the BBC guide to this story, and here are the links to our story posts:

"The Edge of Destruction"
"The Brink of Disaster"

And there we have it! A lot to say about a very short story. All things going well, I'll be making another (shorter! I promise!) post prior to our next episode that'll talk about Reconstructions, but until then, I remain


1 comment:

Alzarian said...

An odd little respite from the usual, but the show is so much stronger after this breather. To anyone who thinks that character development in Doctor Who is a relatively recent invention need only see this exercise to discover that thinking is flawed. Short and sweet.