Welcome to the Seventh Instalment of Who Review, my ongoing quest to watch and review all available episodes of SF’s longest running television series, Doctor Who. This week, the Doctor finds himself embroiled in the mystery of The Sensorites.
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The Sensorites (6 Episodes)
20 June – 06 August 1964
The TARDIS lands on a 28th century Earth rocket ship whose crew are all seemingly dead. Exploring further, the Doctor and his companions are shocked when the crew revives and reveals that they travellers on an Earth exploratory mission now in orbit around the Sense-Sphere. More shocking still is the revelation that the inhabitants of the Sense-Sphere, the Sensorites, are preventing the rocket from leaving orbit, and keep the crew in a state of suspended animation. One of the crew members, John, has been driven insane by the Sensorites, who seem to possess vast telepathic abilities.
The Sensorites steal aboard the rocket and take the TARDIS’ locking mechanism, preventing the Doctor and his companions from entering and escaping. The aliens then subjugate the crew and attempt to telepathically communicate with Susan, who is revealed to possess psychic abilities of her own. Unfortunately, her mind is overwhelmed by the voices in her mind.
While Susan has been shown to possess a greater than normal level of intuition, this is the first time we’ve seen any mention of actual telepathic abilities. It’s an intriguing twist that suggests that there may be some level of psychic ability amongst the Doctor’s race. Slowly but surely, we’re beginning to learn more about the mysterious Doctor and his granddaughter, and by implication the rest of their race.
Another piece of that puzzle is revealed by Susan when she is discussing their home world with one of the rocket crew members. She describes a world with ‘a burnt orange sky and silver leaved trees,’ the first visual description we’ve been given of this mysterious planet.
Meanwhile, the Doctor determines that the Sensorites have imprisoned the humans because crewman John, a mineralogist, has discovered that the Sense-Sphere is rich in molybdenum. He further discovers that they cannot function in dim light or darkness.
Susan manages to make contact with the Sensorites and it is revealed that the aliens imprisoned the humans because a previous human expedition to the Sense-Sphere exploited the planets minerals. A rift between the members of this expedition led to half of them stealing a space craft, which exploded on take-off.
After some wrangling, the Doctor and Ian are invited down to the Sense-Sphere to meet with the Sensorite ruling Council. John is also taken down, with the promise that his mind will be repaired by the aliens.
The mystery of the Sensorites drives the first few episodes of this storyline and provides the Doctor with a fascinating puzzle to slowly unravel. Piece by piece the secrets of the Sensorites are revealed. Unfortunately, as the clues fall into place and the mystery fades, the story loses some of its mystique and suffers for it.
The Sensorite Council is divided on the subject of the humans; some believe they pose a threat and must be destroyed, while the First Elder, ruler of the Council, hopes they can help with a mysterious disease that is plaguing the planet. When Ian falls prey to the disease, the Doctor is forced into action with the support of the First Elder, an act that leads his detractors to plot to kill the humans.
Eventually, the Doctor discovers that part of the Sensorite water supply has been poisoned. He devises a cure and later learns that the poison was administered into one of the aqueducts by the remaining humans from the disastrous first expedition to the Sense-Sphere.
While the Doctor continues his investigations, the First Elder is murdered and replaced by the Sensorite anti-human conspirators. The conspirators will stop at nothing to destroy the humans, kidnapping members of the rocket crew, tampering with aqueduct maps so the Doctor gets lost in the labyrinthine maze of tunnels. In the end, their plans are foiled by the Doctor and the conspirators are revealed.
The Doctor and Ian also manage to find the humans poisoning the water supply and lead them into the custody of the Sensorites. After some discussion the Sensorites hand the prisoners over to the rocket crew and allow them to return to earth.
Having saved the crew, defeated the Sensorite conspirators and uncovered the poisoners plot, the TARDIS crew continue on their journeys. Before departing we learn that Susan has lost her psychic abilities, although the Doctor suggests they may return with some training.
At face value, The Sensorites would seem to have everything. It opens with a strong mystery, then develops into a political conspiracy, complete with assassinations, an attempted coup detat, a secret guerrilla war, poison and intrigue. Unfortunately, the whole is not as strong as the parts would suggest and much of the story falls flat. It is riddled with clunky exposition that often hinders the flow of the action. What could have been a genuinely great storyline becomes overly long and unnecessarily drawn out.
Much of the action in The Sensorites centres on the Doctor, as he unlocks the mystery of the aliens, finds a cure for the poison plaguing them, discovers the secret of who is poisoning them, and foils the plots of both the poisoners and the anti-alien Sensorite conspirators. His character traits are slowly being defined as each story progresses, while small clues as to the nature of his race and home planet both add to his complexity as a character and maintain a level of mystery about him.
Some throwaway comments in this storyline reveal that the Doctor has visited 19th century Earth and interacted with famed fashion designer Beau Brummel, and that he once argued with Henry VIII. Clearly, the Doctor and Susan have been travelling for a long time before they meet Barbara and Ian in An Unearthly Child.
Susan features prominently in the early episodes of The Sensorites and we learn that she possesses telepathic abilities. This is a major revelation and a guiding factor is brining the Doctor and the Sensorites together. The implications of this revelation also offer potential insight into her’s and the Doctor’s race and home planet.
Ian continues to fulfil his standard man of action role, but he’s here predominantly to serve as muscle for the Doctor. Barbara has very little to do and is missing from two episodes as actress Jacqueline Hill was on holiday for those weeks.
The Sensorites really aren’t all that interesting a race, although there is some potential there that is, unfortunately, never fully explored in this storyline. Once the mystery of who the Sensorites are and why they have imprisoned the humans is revealed, there’s really very little about the race that holds our attention. They’re not inherently evil, nor particularly villainous; even the anti-human conspirators are driven primarily by paranoia and fear for the safety of their people.
The Sensorites begins with the promise of an intriguing mystery but fails to deliver in a satisfying manner. Perhaps with tighter script editing and less padding, this could have been a truly great mystery/conspiracy story, but unfortunately it is too long and drawn out.
Neither the final episode of Season 1, The Reign of Terror, nor the first episode of Season 2, Planet of Giants, are available on DVD at this stage. Both episodes are tentatively scheduled for release in 2012 and I will retro review them as soon as they become available.
Next week, The Daleks make their return appearance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.