Dr Who - Edge of Destruction

Created; 07/04/2014, Changed; 01/04/2020, 15/06/2020

Old this webpage;   http://ww1.andrew-lohmann.me.uk/engineer/dr-who-classic-estb-1963/dr-who---edge-of-destruction

Dr Who - The Pilot Series

This last story in the pilot series (February 1964) provides us with clues to what the TARDIS is but without the modern technical or popular science fictional language to express it. There was no term equal to the modern computing term "Virtual Machine". The computing terms meaning substantially the same are; Simulator, Emulator and p-code run time. A P-code runtime system is a piece of software that creates an environment that provides a standard 16 bit computer machine to run the programmes compiled in the language Pascal irrespective of the computer's real specification. These terms may not have existed either in 1963. At this time computer programmes were written in Machine code (numbers entered manually using switches), Fortran or some other computer languages using a keyboard. The program would first be manually proof read (checked line by line) before being entered. A Computer was not generally understood then and the ones that existed just did mechanised calculations in the same sort of way that mechanised machines had been doing for a few millennia, except they did much more because and more complex at they ran programs from punched cards or tape. The TARDIS was not anything like that it surely was a Universal Turing Machine as published in 1936/1937 but not like Babbage's difference engine.

The Programming language BASIC (1964) Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code was not a universally compatible programming language, by comparison with the programming language Pascal that first became available in 1970 would run on any computer in which a p-code run time system was available.

 In a later first Dr Who story another feature of the TARDIS is developed around a fault in the TARDIS which results in the Time Travellers progressing as ghosts with real time running in a sort of backwards way so they have the knowledge of their fatality but they are given a chance to prevent that coming about. They thereby avoid being preserved and made exhibits in The Space Museum. You can adjust the story within it's ambiguity to fit - the TARDIS develops a fault as a consequence of the conflict between protection of the travellers and rules of time travel perhaps? In the story the travellers find themselves travelling like ghosts back to find real exhibits of themselves and the TARDIS then continuing back to meet and merge with their real selves so that they are able to change the cause of events they had seen so that they don't come about.

Grammar checker, proof reader for Programming in C

PcLint Lint and Splint are C program auditing and checking tools. Quite hard to use but impressively good a checking both whether a C program will run or has ambiguous coding that would make it likely not do as expected. These tools help the programmer see if the requirement has interpreted into program correctly. This family of checking tools has been available longer than any other software (1984).

A subset of this tool is used by the motor industry and is called MISRA.

In the story, War Games we learn that time capsules deteriorate when driven remotely and we also know from The Celestial Toymaker and The Mind Robber (a nightmare of the people within the TARDIS could destroy them and the TARDIS) that the TARDIS is vulnerable when outside of space and time. There are many references to the TARDIS requiring a timelord with the knowledge to handle a TARDIS evidently to keep the machine organised and in return the machine will do anything that the Timelord fully understands how it can be done.

Dr. Who does not understand the Chameleon Circuit of the TARDIS, it was not called that originally but just said that the TARDIS blends in.  A consistent explanation would be that the feature has deteriorated and failed during the Doctor's possession of the TARDIS (Cave of Sculls 1963) due to the Doctor's lack of understanding of it. Dr Who No.4 (Tom Baker) is particularly good at guiding us towards understanding many of the reoccurring fictional technology and science aspects. Tom revisits but in a different way showing us what the TARDIS is and the story Logopolis which restates and adds detail to the explanation.  The inside of the TARDIS is changed periodically and Tom Baker (Dr. No.4) says of the computer redecoration of the control room in Invisible Enemy - trouble with computer decoration all black's and whites not aqua marines, no blues or imagination. K9 also joins them in the TARDIS in this story which is something like the film Fantastic Voyage.  I speculate that the internal space is entirely virtual in the TARDIS as are the people and things when they enter that computer generated space but this is not how the machine is described. The TARDIS is described is more simple and fantastic way, to make a good story for many.

One Dimension looks like three dimensions until you follow the ball - see the 3D picture on this link but this is a one dimensional (linear) image if you follow the ball.

Many Dimension can be modeled in a single dimension in maths and computing 

Perhaps part of the idea is older than modern Science for example in Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri 1265-1321) - the story of one man's extraordinary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Danti is told The Universe we live in is a dream within the mind of God.  So there is it; The TARDIS, the Monitors of Logopolis and many other Dr Who stories back to the Edge of Destruction, are a development of a very old story!  The additional bit, that Dr No. 4, Tom Baker puts over particularly well, is that the TARDIS requires a biological mind with its an unimaginable complex and unique ability to change, reprogram, repair whilst it is living and functioning.  Like riding a bicycle can only be done by peddling - balance - steering and navigating, but in addition self construct and repair at the same time as well.  Split of one of those parts and you fall off the bike is Dr Who's additional point.  However the universe came about that is the way life works now.  

The machine's computing power gives it, The Dr explains' "machine thought" that is explained in Edge of Destruction.  Many of these first Doctor Who stories are really to hard to follow in depth, they try to tell us too much perhaps? The Radio Times probably fills in some of those explanations. Their are key lines that the Doctor omits and lines repeated, by comparison Patrick Troughton did not keep precisely to script but spoke in context that was intended.  

The machine protection systems are not understood by the Timelords yet in this story and the TARDIS telepathically drives the Timelords mad this also effects the Ian and Barbara as well but less so but Barbara interpreters the symbolic meanings and saves them all.  The Dr does not understand the TARDIS which means there are dangers using it but by the end of the 4th Dr he will understood most of the machine quite well.  The Dr never understands the chameleon circuit which deteriorates and fails consequently but is understood enough to briefly work a bit during the 6th Dr's time.

In Edge of Destruction - At Barbara's suggestion to Ian that he carry Susan and lay her down (the fact of the Teacher carries the teenager, though in a proper way, shows another way in which acceptability and also in the practice in first aid have changed).  Apparently Susan said in April 2013 that she would have liked a romantic role with Ian but Dr Who was not that sort of story.  Her athletic abilities were not used either but William Hartnell often told her not to drink at the pub after the episode had been recorded. He was himself on and off stage so it seems the Doctor Who role was a different temperament person making the role an interesting challenge for William Hartnells I think.  Susan played a hands on rather than helpless girl role but of cause The Doctor, her Grandfather, and the two teacher companions protect her.

Doctor Who was not the first Sci-fi story where machines can be controlled by thought or a machine can control thoughts and actions of a being by telepathically or direct neural connection. Quatemass and the Pit in 1958 and remade in a film in 1967 was an earlier example.

In this gripping story martian's had visited Earth 5 million years ago from there own polluted planet in which the atmosphere is poisoned. They had taken Apes away and brought them back altered with superior brains.

The remains of the martian space rocket has survived in London, taps deep inherited memory in most humans when disturbed and turns that city into a storm of violence and destruction by human psychic power. That violence like a hive of insects cleansing itself of the weak and the non-members.


Telepathy can go both ways and the fault in the TARDIS dangerously affects the two Timelords but fortunately the TARDIS warns symbolically in a melted clock and other symbolic clues which Barbara interprets (by reading unconscious body signs in this case machine body language as a Tarot Card, Fortune teller or healer does) and eventually manages to convey. Ultimately the Doctor, after argument with Ian, takes Barbara's arm in acknowledgement that she had saved them from destruction and he had been wrong. {I have added this explanation after watching re-watching and reading the BBC's web-page on the story. This story sets down things that are revisited later although the idea of symbiotic relationship with the TARDIS going both ways is demonstrated unique in this story}

In this story the Dr. has one heart apparently when Ian checks him but the bump on the back of the Dr's head does not exist more evidence that these things are virtual incidents as is undoubtedly the electric shocks that the console delivers to prevent the travelers from bringing them all in to further peril. Pain being exactly as a living thing would experience rather than a warning bell or light that a machine would provide. 

The Universal Turing Machine, in my view, was the greatest invention of the 20th Century. It was not predicted by science fiction. Fortunately the American computer scientist John Von Neumann recognised Alan Turing's ability and they both worked as did others on this British invention.

1943 Colossus computer the first Universal Turing Machine (modern electronic stored program computer) was constructed and probably shortened WWII by two years or won the war (PM Winston Churchill).  That is not to belittle other Allies work - American, French, Russian and the Siege of Stalingrad, the Hurricane aircraft and the much more expensive super propaganda weapon the Spitfire. The list goes on.

Belatedly science fiction then predicts the sequel.  Dr. Who's TARDIS is a machine that creates its own virtual physical substance stretching the physics of Einstein's energy to mass formula.  That physical substance organised and formed by the machine running a program stretching the engineering of Universal Turing Machine.

The Universal Turing Machine (UTM) is not good at running concurrent type programmes that surely would be necessary for generating a virtual machine such as a TARDIS.  The design has been refined to make it clearer by John Von Neumann and also variations of structure developed by various microprocessor manufactures.  The problem with handling concurrent tasks has been called the Von Neumann architecture bottleneck.  The Uncommitted Logic Array and Wafer Scale Integration both are variants of concurrent computing

I am advised and corrected that the Patent was for a concept.  Although Turing also did the electronics design using valves to implement that concept.

 I suggest these explanations of the TARDIS from observation.  The various given explanations in the Doctor Who are philosophical and are of many dimensions that may be outside of time and space.  Computing and machines are full of examples where many dimensions are processed in fewer dimensions or few dimensions processed by many dimensions usually called arrays or in maths determinants.

The Table above Array illustrates a 2D representation of a 1D set of date.  The Data is stored end to end second row follows the first row and so on.  This is an example of method of checking and correcting numbers. It could be data transmitted over a data link for example.


Add the each row or column up individually and calculate a single digit number (Blue digit) that when added to that row or the column is makes the least significant digit equal to zero. This is called  the check sum and is in Blue. If one error occurs in this table say 3rd row, 2nd column (7 has become 6 and when summing [it is more complicated than that] those rows and columns there is a -1 error in both cases) you will find out where the error is by doing the sums which will be wrong in just in the row 3 and column 2. This 2D table with two sets of checksums will identify up to two errors and is able to correct one error. In this case I have used decimal10 arithmetic rather than binary2 arithmetic so the makes the system less than optimal but in some cases two errors can be corrected

A cube of numbers with there machine addresses shown. On 2D paper (this page) is difficult but you can imagine an isometric drawing of a cube.

This is the middle layer or the cube,

This is the bottom layer of the cube.

And the address are arranged in the computer consecutively and having virtually no bearing on the pictorial representation; 01, 02, 03, 04 ................. 27 To compute and thereby simulate 3 dimensional cube; Move down a column one place in this case add 3 to the index; To move directly into the cube by one place add 9 to the index of the square you are at.

Data Bit numbering starts from 0 for the least significant bit but in some quite old computers architectures such as the IBM microprocessor PowerPC the bits are transposed so a 32 bit microprocessor's least significant bit data or address is No.31 and for a 64 bit processor is No. 63 where as a Motorola MC6800 of a similar 1970's are more refined microcontrollers and the numbering is easier than those that have maintained a much more conservative approach to change and refinement. Like most microprocessors the Motorola's least significant bit is bit zero irrespective of the bus length. Refinements such as to the original UTM have made understanding therefore programming easier.

Such a 3D box can be visualised. You can correct up to two errors and detect up to three errors. Now imagine 4D, 5D, 6D you can correct in the last case up to five errors but you can't visualise a object representing that such an object does not exist. All of it is really only One Dimensional and it would normally be binary ones and zeros.

Computer Programming had been developed in the 1840's by Ada Lovelace. Machines for computing had been around for a few thousand years such as used for astronomy to calculate the positions of heavenly bodies. But Babbage's Difference Engine would in theory run Ada Lovelace's punch card programmes for solving mathematical problems though a sequence of program steps.

The TARDIS has some telepathic control this I presume explains why the machines malfunctioning causes the timelord's behaviour to change, it is not down to concussion after all, as Ian and Barbara seem to discover in this last pilot series story.  At the end of the Patrick Troughton era we see that time travel is a thing time lords do but can be taken away from them.  The minimal control console may only be required as time lords has a symbiotic relationship with the TARDIS, and he is virtually part of it, this seems the most fitting explanation if not self evident from this story.  The first two Dr Who's can not navigate that well. In any case the TARDIS chooses a time and place, with warnings.  Evidently the machine chose where and when to materialise to maximum advantage so that a change in events is possible for the travellers and they are most likely to succeed consequently.  To navigate to one of many galaxies in each of which has more stars than there are grains of sand on the earth - is an impossibly tall order.

That concludes the Pilot series and the new TV series begins

The next story is Marco Polo;

My Boy Lollipop

The BBC, like many organisations, were good at keeping the accounts and paper work but not keeping the substantive item, the finished film produced.  This story was lost or discarded. Their are fragments of film that have been coloured and narrated.  In about 1980 the BBC showed regret in current affairs programmes for the era a decade or so earlier as far as I recall.

Down Town

Marco Polo - You just have to watch this and have the story remade because of Mark Eden's compelling introduction, prologue and epilogue. In reality I found the story otherwise difficult to watch.  The ending of the story where Marco Polo chooses not to document the four people who travel through time in the sky or to write about black stones that burn those would be too unbelievable is a lovely ending.

Son of a preacher man

England in the swinging 60's everything was better than it had been.  People were proud of government the NHS and the nationalised industries. Also people were proud to be employed by government or a nationalised industry.

Little Boxes Pete Seeger's version

A few years later the series Star Trek (1966) came to American TV.  More consistent and professional with good stories but not adventurous in science unlike Dr. Who.  Star Trek has a conventional reality, military command and control.  The famous Mr Spock's grip as seen on Dr Who first This is from a story called Aztec's (May 1964) but the pressure point was later used by Mr Spock in Star Trek.

Beatles - She Loves You

Blake's 7 (January 1978 - December 1981) portrays the other side of the all caring perception the crew in Star Trek have of the federation coin that they are a part of.  Both stories are of near future imperialist space adventure, the crew are in physical spacecraft that travels at speeds greater than light seems which is very much less likely the how the TARDIS moves and that is in turn a very abstract possibility.  Neither possibilities seem very likely with any human technology that can be envisaged. Of cause the commercial interest I am not sure what NASA might say when they are negotiating future budget perhaps that warp drive may be possible?

Shadows Apache 1964

Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and its posthumously completed second edition of the book takes science fantasy very much further.  One copy of the book exists in all parallel dimensions, bridges all time, translates and communicates in any media.  The second edition of the Hitch-hikers Guide ends linear story telling, though told in a linear way Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent ask the guide for the safest way to go to get off the planet, the book turns up and says down the path but keep away from the spacecraft it is dangerous.  Subsequently the guide returns and says the spacecraft is safe you can use it to get off the planet.

We see time going backwards or people from different times meeting in Dr Who's "Space Museum" and "The Three Doctor" but Douglas Adams developed these ideas much further.  The TARDIS seems to have the similar attributes to the Hitch Hiker's Guide second edition existing once only in all places it has been and going to be concurrently providing a gateway between.

The only other science fiction to be as adventurous as Dr Who was 2001 A Space Odyssey - generally reckoned to have the best film quality effects of the 20th Century.  Possibly the US space shuttle Discovery name after the main spaceships in that film, and the predictions of the planets would be like have turned out quite accurate since the Voyager spacecraft passed them on its way to the edge of the solar system. http://www.kubrick2001.com/ technically outstandingly accurate, unsurprisingly from this very insightful space science writer.  Holographic computer memory as fitted in HAL 9000 has never developed into a commercial product though.

Why this pilot TV Science fiction series is revolutionary

If you look at YouTube and the comments on the early Doctor Who some of them try to capture how ideas were crossing from science to arts, fiction and a popular Pilot TV series.  In "The Edge of Destruction" the last of the Pilot Series, The Doctor gets the details wrong;

Said Solar-system - meant - Universe.

Said Universes - meant - Galaxies.

This TV series stretched every boundary the idea was not fully formed and could not be expressed in language evidently.  That is even though BBC had been working on it for two years prior to the first broadcast.

That is the way of science how you rationalise it and do it physically is usually different to how you explain it.  You can say, make law, model in maths, bully and threaten but some things you say but can not do.  You can do things and understand things in abstract shapes or feelings which you can not put into words. That is you can not verbalize the idea because to do so you need to make and see the idea, perhaps completed, in order to translate it to language.  The language and symbols, maths, model always being an approximation, called an analogy too, the idea and never has an absolute proof.

The TV series now well established the Doctor's subsequent companion Steven (Peter Purvis) said that the Timelord regeneration idea was thought of when the first Doctor became frail.  There are lots of mistakes, they don't get noticed or detract from the story, that is how normal spoken language is, the hearer corrects mistakes spoken! Scenes were not retaken generally and in Myth Maker, Peter Purvis tells us in April 2013, the Doctor says "Dog" then corrects himself saying  "God" and that is how it was broadcast.