‘The Sensorites’ is a ‘Doctor Who’ first season story whose memory, for me, was stronger for their odd up-turned whiskery appearance and circular feet and their telepathic disk than the actual story, so it was an interesting experience to see it again, after all these years since 1964.
The TARDIS materialises inside a spaceship, held by the control of the Sensorites over their planet, the Sensor-Sphere. They also manage to steal the lock to the TARDIS, forcing the Doctor (actor William Hartnell), Ian Chesterton (actor William Russell), Barbara Wright (actress Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (actress Carole Ann Ford) to help the human crew and negotiate with the Sensorites for their release.
In many respects, the timid Sensorites have found themselves in a difficult situation. Their planet has a high content of a metal useful for starship hulls because of its high melting point. The last human survey team that visited caused problems and their spaceship exploded in the sky. After that, one in three Sensorites died from poisoning and with due cause, the Sensorites are apprehensive of aliens, especially those pesky humans.
On the planet, the Doctor, Ian and Susan dine with the Sensorite leader to show that they aren’t all made from the same cloth and attempt to negotiate some sort of peace between the two species.. When Ian mixes the two waters offered, succumbs to poisoning which proves to the Doctor that the poison isn’t exclusively Sensorite. Not allowed to have the lock back to the TARDIS but using the Sensorite laboratory, the Doctor discovers the nature of the poisoning. Meanwhile, behind the scenes there is a Sensorite rebellion against working with the humans and things are going to get tougher.
It is then up to the Doctor to investigate and find out what is going on and who is doing what to who. Anything beyond that is spoiler. In many respects and unusually for ‘Doctor Who’, the villains are really the humans this time around and writer Peter R. Newman succeeds in showing the motivations of all parties involved which gives a rich level of perspective for a 1960s’ family show.
If anything, the ending is rather spoilt. Although the discovery of who is poisoning the Sensorites is pretty obvious and neatly resolved, the capture of the Sensorite rebellion leader isn’t. Whether that was by deliberation is hard to say, although clearly the death penalty exists on the Sensor-Sphere for such shenanigans, it was changed to show the TARDIS leaving instead.
There was a lot of recounting of previous adventures back then to remind viewers of what had gone by previously, but then there wasn’t even a rumour of home video recorders for another fifteen years.
Something that I had forgotten is how Susan relates to the senior Sensorite and later to her grandfather, the reminder that they are both aliens and a description of Gallifrey, long before their home world was given its name. If anything, this is clear evidence that Susan is a fellow Time Lord, not to mention a demonstration of mild telepathy enhanced by the Sensor-Sphere and not a companion the Doctor took on board the TARDIS after a certain theft.
In the first episode, pay attention to the first noise of the spaceship’s door opening because the next time you’ll hear it is in ‘The War Games’.
The most significant thing amongst the extras was an investigation into who was writer Peter R. Newman and the success in pointing out his only media credits, the other being the Hammer film ‘Yesterday’s Enemy’, where there is a firm indication of a writer who could see and demonstrate both sides in a conflict. Investigator Toby Hadoke points out that this is pretty rare in ‘Doctor Who’, although with the likes of the Daleks and Cybermen, I did wonder on that statement because we know their motivations quite clearly.
The audio commentary, as usual, is very informative. As this was recorded in 2012, it’s interesting hearing Carol Ann Ford and William Russell noting that they had been given a copy of the story on DVD to watch earlier. Does that mean someone at the Beeb has been reading my reviews?
If anything, there were far too many contributors here that made it look like musical chairs as to who was going to be here throughout the entire thing. It might be worth them considering multiple commentaries than put them all under one but you get a lot of perspectives from actors to production people.
I suspect today’s generation will see this story as a bit on the slow side but today’s ‘Who’ is more like a fast food rush that doesn’t let anything develop. For my generation, I suspect it will be more of a reminder of an earlier time. For long time ‘Doctor Who’ fans, who were probably not even born when it first came out, an opportunity to see something that could easily have been deleted. Don’t forget to brush your beard up, not down and beware humans carrying giant pencils as weapons.
(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD3377. 1 DVD 150 minutes 6 * 25 minute episodes. Price £ 6.50 (UK) if you know where to look)
cast: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford
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