A Sense of History

Review of The Sensorites (#7)
DVD Release Date:  14 Feb 12
Original Air Date:  20 Jun - 01 Aug 1964
Doctor/Companion:  One, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, Susan Foreman
Stars:  William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford
Preceding StoryThe Aztecs (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)
Succeeding Story:  The Reign of Terror (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)

No one seems to have much love for The Sensorites. If I've heard it mentioned at all, it's usually with some degree of distaste. Frankly, I don't understand that reaction, since to me, Sensorites doesn't seem any less palatable that most of One's stories, and better than a few others (like the regrettable Web Planet).

There are actually some pretty classic literary themes here: cultural misunderstanding, political intrigues, and the TARDIS crew caught in the middle, as usual. Despite a rather... unusual creature design (oh, those floppy feet), the concept of the Sensorites themselves is fairly intriguing. I don't remember many races across science fiction that use both telepathy and verbal communication, for example.

As the story gets rolling, I'm immediately reminded of how much I bloody love Barbara (totally with Sue here). Her absence in episodes 4 and 5 may be part of why the story seemed to drag somewhat through the middle. The plot itself has some interesting ideas woven in, but to a modern audience, anyway, it doesn't seem terribly sophisticated. The "big surprise finish" in episode 6 ("A Desperate Venture") is not so surprising, the rather obvious clues having been dropped for several episodes.

We get a bit of character development, though. Susan has a coming-of-age (or at least testing the boundaries) moment, leading to the first ever (so they say) argument between Susan and her grandfather during all their travels. They also give us our first recollections about their adventure before the unintentional addition of Ian and Barbara to their traveling company. And at one point, Susan gets a bit misty thinking about home, giving us a description that will be echoed by Ten in Gridlock as he tells Martha what's no longer there: "It's quite like Earth. But at night the sky is burnt orange and the leaves on the trees are bright silver."
 


Speaking of Ten, there are moments here when One exhibits a bit of a ruthless streak that put me in mind of that later Regeneration. "I don't make threats. But I do keep promises. And I promise you I shall cause you more trouble than you bargained for if you don't return my property!" At other times, though, he's quintessential One, trying to maintain authority and dignity even when caught outright demonstrating Rule #1, much to the amusement of his Companions:

"I learned not to meddle in other people's affairs years ago." [Ian ho ho's a scoffing laugh.] "Now, now, now. Don't be absurd. There's not an ounce of curiosity in me, my dear boy." [Turning immediately to the human crewman] "Tell me, why are you in danger?"

From a production standpoint, we get more insight into how things were done in the early years of not only Doctor Who, but television in general. The lighting in this story strikes me as very theatrical - that is, reminiscent of a stage production. At times in the aqueduct, they're even using a spotlight. Further, this is still the age when it was performed like a play - the show must go on, no matter who fluffs their lines. And here, for a change, it's rarely Hartnell who does so. There are at least two or three such glaringly obvious examples from Sensorites instead. If nothing else, it could make for an amusing drinking game...

DVD Extras (highlights)
Looking for Peter
This piece tripped all sorts of geek triggers for me. I have spent some considerable time pursuing genealogy (sometimes even toying with becoming a professional genealogist), so from that perspective the idea of taking what very little is known about Peter R. Newman, The Sensorites' writer, and trying to put a bit more of a story behind it - turn a mere name into the sense of a person - was an incredibly appealing concept to me. Comedian and writer Toby Hadoke walks us through the fact-finding process, with help from Richard Bignell (a writer for Doctor Who Magazine). Starting from a death certificate (the obvious place to start, thinks the genealogist), they are able to track down some incredible information on a man who was once little more than a name to most of us.

Vision On
In something of a reprise of a previous extra, vision mixer Clive Doig explains what that role entails. He includes anecdotes about the vagaries of working with different people, from William Hartnell to Verity Lambert.

While The Sensorites doesn't grab me as a must-see of the early years, neither would I tell anyone to avoid it. In fact, knowing that it's the only story by writer Peter R. Newman combined with the strength of the DVD extra included in lieu of a "making of" (see above) are enough for me to recommend it as being at least worth a rental. There are certainly worse ways to spend your viewing time.

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Comments

Yay! Someone else who likes the Sensorites.

It's packed full with lots and lots of potentially good ideas, but doesn't always manage to execute them properly. Serious fans always hate that type of story, but they're my guilty pleasure.

'The Sensorites' is the one featuring power struggles within a non-human race who were on the planet before humans arrived. The Doctor wants to find a peaceful solution between the humans and the non-humans, but both sides have people who want war. And there are scenes of the Doctor working in a lab to stop a plague. Oh, no... wait. That's 'The Silurians'. Easy mistake. The names are pretty similar after all.

I've got it. 'The Sensorites' is about a group of human explorers on a planet of peaceful, telepathic natives. There are two male explorers and one woman, and one of the men is being driven insane. Others are
missing presumed dead. One of the Doctor's female companions is missing for much of the story, while the other comes under the telepathic influence of the planet. Meanwhile, one of those peaceful aliens becomes less peaceful and starts to incite the others against the humans. Oh, no... wait. That's 'Kinda'.

Not having much success, am I? Third time lucky... 'The Sensorites' has the Doctor arriving somewhere that's being devastated by plague, and finding that it's actually a poison introduced by invaders from another
world. Oh, no... wait. That's 'The Moonbase'. And almost every story written by Terry Nation!

'The Sensorites' is all of the above, and more. Its ideas and themes have been re-used in many later stories, but they appeared here originally. True, the later stories often made better use of those concepts, but that's only because later writers had the benefit of hindsight, 'The Sensorites' got there first. It *is* one of the definitive, archetypal 'Doctor Who' stories. And that's why I like it so much.

By solar penguin (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I can see how it would be easy to get confused. ;)

Having watched the Looking for Peter extra, I see more of human history in it than other Who stories, but I love that you've pointed out these similarities to me. I'll never be able to watch it quite the same way again. :)

By mrfranklin
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