Colony in Space
Frontier in Space
|Dates||Jun. 20, 1964 -
Aug. 1, 1964
With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written by Peter P. Newman. Script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield (1,2,3 and 4) and Frank Cox (5 and 6).
Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield. Produced by Verity Lambert.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and company become trapped aboard a spaceship by the Sensorites, a race of telepaths with a great secret.|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 18/11/98
The Sensorites can be seen as a hidden gem amongst Doctor Who`s first season, as it has a lot of things in its favour. Unlike the previous two "monster" tales, it proves that aliens aren`t always terrifying with the titular and charming Sensorites.
Unfortunately their design does leave something to be desired: circular feet being one example, and as the story points out they are somewhat difficult to differentiate between. This however does at least give them some character; something which Carole Ann Ford`s Susan is also the recipient of her latent telepathic skills giving her some much needed character development.
The story also works because it holds back the appearance of the Sensorites until part of the way through the second episode, and because of the claustrophic atmosphere of the first two episodes, adding some tension to the storyline. Where The Sensorites does fail, however, is in sustaining its six episode length, resorting as other stories would to padding and repititon. This is only a small complaint, however, when compared to the rest of the story.
Good ideas but overlong by Tim Roll-Pickering 20/11/01
This is a story that has much going for it but somehow never quite finds its mark properly and so just gets bogged down. The opening episode Strangers in Space starts out well with the mystery of what has happened aboard the spaceship and the first encounter with the future of Earth, but there are weak points such as the TARDIS travellers being immediately accepted as time travellers. There is also little sense of the spaceship itself until the end of the whole story and this makes the shift between the spaceship and the Sense-Sphere seem like an everyday occurrence rather than a significant shift in the location for the story.
There are many good ideas throughout the story, such as exploring an alien culture, telepathy, fear and insanity or the Sensorites not being a monolithic race but also weak ones of which the most obvious is the idea that the Sensorites see little of their rulers and can only really tell them apart by their sashes thus allowing the City Administrator to impersonate the Second Elder. Whilst this is passable and even understandable for the humans to be fooled (although it subscribes to the racist sentiment of 'they all look the same to me') it becomes absurd to think that the Sensorites would be fooled by this - surely at least one who knew the Second Elder and/or the City Administrator personally would not be fooled? Equally hard to swallow is the idea that the Sensorites can just cut out the lock of the TARDIS given the extra special properties and powers the ship has already been shown to have in Inside the Spaceship. This part of the plot comes across all too obviously as a means by which to keep the regulars from just leaving and since they are already trying to find out what has happened this makes the whole situation stand out all too bluntly.
The story also suffers from the guest cast, none of whom stands out in any particular way and so at times the story's padding is exceptionally obvious because there is little to disguise it. The Sensorites themselves are well conceived and designed, especially their feet which stand out as being significantly different from most other humanoid aliens in Doctor Who, but they don't do much to make themselves especially memorable. Nor are the human astronauts especially menacing and so when the story ends there is little sense of anything exciting having passed.
Both the set design and direction of the story are standard but unfortunately neither are able to save the story from its general weaknesses that derive from it being overlong and short on action. The story could have worked far better as a four part story even with the cut in resources that this would have inevitably entailed. The Sensorites is not a particularly bad story, just one that it's hard to get excited about. 4/10
Underrated but no classic by Mike Jenkins 27/2/02
This is really the first bona fide alien story in the history of the programme (The Daleks aren't really aliens and we only get glimpses of aliens in The Keys of Marinus) and while it is underated, it's very disappointing. What's surprising is the fact that the concept of some of the aliens being peaceful was stolen by Dr Who and the Silurians which is the story that got credited as the first 'new age monster tale'. The virus concept was also stole by Dr Who and the Silurians and the only thing that makes that Pertwee tale better is the more solid direction. The direction in this story starts to fall a bit flat when Frank Cox comes in but it was relatively well handeled with Mervyn Pinfield at the helm.
The problem with this story is it's pace. It gets sidetracked in some intersting concepts but it doesn't advance the plot. Carole Ann Ford gets a chance to shine and this is certainley a precursor to both her departure and amazing performance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Sensorites' make up is almost disgustingly comical, the most disgraceful aspect of the story. A barely above average tale that could've been a classic. Although the positive elements probably outweigh the negative.
Sensorites and Sensibility by Andrew Wixon 10/1/03
On the face of it, The Sensorites is not a story you'd want to watch with family and friends gathered round you in an attempt to convince them of the greatness of our show. This is mainly because it has not aged well - its vision of the future is well past its expiry date, to say nothing of the shaky production values and an alarming number of fluffed lines (my personal favourites are 'Give my doctor the congratulations' and the deathless 'I heard them over-talking!'). But beyond this there is the deeply clunky nature of a lot of the script - the first two episodes don't contribute much to the plot proper, the whole business with the Sensorites not being able to recognise each other without their badges of office (I'll bet they have no end of trouble down the swimming baths), Lorne Cossette's performance is eccentric (and he's oddly laid-back about meeting time-travellers), the end is far too abrupt (the main villain gets his comeuppance off-screen), and in places it's inadvertantly hilarious (especially the appearance of the Sensorite in the first cliffhanger - I keep expecting it to wave or start cleaning the window with a sponge).
This is a bit cruel and unfair on a 39ish-year-old piece of TV. Okay, so the script is implausible in places - but it takes a mature view of alien races, perhaps moreso than any other story of its time. Unlike the uniformly evil Daleks or virtuous Thals, the Sensorites have different motivations and personalities - from the naive but well-meaning First Elder, to the malicious and paranoid Administrator. The Sensorites themselves are a rare and largely successful attempt at an alien race which is neither more nor less powerful than humans, having a different set of strengths and weaknesses. The human characters also include their fair share of heroes and villains. This aspect of the story is arguably well ahead of its time and to me rather anticipates the divisions in the Silurian camp nearly six years in the future. And there are some great performances - William Hartnell seizes the chance to shout and bluster and take control, while still delivering comic gems like 'what's wrong with having white hair?' Stephen Dartnell is also good (must be a -artnell thing), equally convincing as both the sick and the cured John.
So The Sensorites isn't a juvenile trudge laid low by absurd plot gyrations and low production values. It isn't the great forgotten classic of Season One either. But it is a story with things to commend it - relatively plausible aliens, strong characterisation, and a mature approach to good and evil. Badly dated, but by no means without merit.
Hartnell to the rescue! by Joe Ford 4/2/03
This story sums up the great difference between Doctor Who and Star Trek. You see for my money Doctor Who is about scary monsters, witty scripts, lots of scary bits, tonnes of atmosphere and a powerhouse performance from whichever Doctor might be appearing. Star Trek on the other hand is about a bunch of people standing around talking about some seriously interesting issues. I like Star Trek, honest, but it pales compared to Doctor Who (for a start it doesn't have multiple cliffhangers, regular shifting regulars and a whole bunch of silly monsters!).
What is this fool talking about I hear you ask...well the first three episodes of The Sensorites are classic Doctor Who, the last three are most certainly Star Trek. In fact the first episode of The Sensorites reminds us whilst the preceeding story, The Aztecs, may prove to be Doctor Who at its all time historical finest, the SF stories of the time were competing for attention in a positive way. Certainly, the cliffhanger with the slow pan across the spaceship towards the Sensorite outside the window is one of the best scares of the first year. Even better are the scenes of Barbara and Susan trapped away from the others and at the mercy of a deranged man. Wow were they tense.
I'm not saying the whole thing falls apart when we move away from the claustrophobic spaceship to the Sense Sphere but it's not half as gripping. The mystery of the water is so obviously sign posted (as Ian goes to drink the First Elder screams "Stop... you must have the 'crystal water'"... why didn't he just admit he knew about the water poisoning!) and the direction is quite bland compared to the creeping tension in the first half of the story (due no doubt to the loss of the director from those episodes).
However, all is not lost. You see whilst I was watching the last half of story (and I beg of you watch it in three installments of two episodes, not all together!) I was reminded greatly of that old 'favourite' of mine Terminus. Both feature a bunch of dull secondary characters, a slow plot and some seriously underdressed sets. I would like to point out that the leading protagonist of the story, the Doctor, can make all the difference. Hartnell gives a commanding performance, okay so he's fluffing lots of lines but that's just fun and his explosive temper proves constantly amusing. It's his intense, impossible to look away acting that keeps you glued (not that I'm on another anti-Davison rant, even I'm bored of those.... although Terminus does lack that saving grace!).
The thing that shocked me most was the mature use of Susan, an often neglected character. I'm not Carole Ann's greatest fan (her regular screams and childish tantrums are seriously overdone) but her performance here is astonishing. I loved it when she stood up to the Doctor and told him she was leaving with the Sensorites and her telepathic abilities gives her a great excuse to get involved in the story more. There is no sign of her whimpering, just solid, understated acting. Colour me impressed.
The Sensorites are good 'monsters' to a point, the early scenes of them stalking Ian through the spaceship are memorably scary. Once we head for their planet, their menace evapourates and we're left with a bunch of politicians and scientists. What saves them is their ingenious design and concepts (someone on the site said they looked stupid but I couldn't disagree more... I love the blank eyes and hairy mouths... brrr....). The thought transference works well and I apriciated talk of their different classes. Unfortunately the Chief Administrator is a pretty lame baddie, oh he has that great Doctor Who villanous dialogue but he never really comes across as a threat especially with daft moments like the one where he looks at the camera and says "I never thought of that!" to one of Carol's suggestions! And Peter Glaze just doesn't act like the others... maybe the First Elder is supposed to speak in BBC English because of his high up position! Oh and they should have abandoned the circular feet idea.
And what's this... Barbara missing for two spisodes... Jackie how dare you take two weeks' holiday! When she reappears in episode six I was whooping for joy! Hell she provides some good scenes comforting the mad John in the first few episodes.
I don't feel The Sensorites is given enough praise, okay it's not six episodes of pure genius but it's full of clever ideas, three episodes of great scares, some marvellous character work between the Doctor and Susan (in a period where character development was as important as the plots themselves) and some brilliant fluffs! The latter half isn't boring really it's just not as good as the first half. Watch it for Hartnell, once again he saves the day!
Not so sleepy by David Massingham 28/11/03
First up, let me just get this off my chest -- the "Sense-Sphere" is amoungst the stupidest names for a planet in Who history. Compound this with the dialogue which suggests that the humans use this title as an unofficial name ("we call it the Sense-Sphere", Maitland asserts), which is contradicted later by the Sensorites saying that "Sense-Sphere" is their own name for their planet. It's all silly. Just like this bizarre obsession I seem to have with this argument, so moving on...
My overall verdict on The Sensorites? Under-rated. Word has it that this adventure is perfect fodder for the insomniacs amoungst us, with only a couple of interesting ideas thrown in to amuse the rest of us. Personally, I found this serial to be one of the stronger entries of the shows' first season.
The Sensorite people are successfuly realised, largely because their culture is very different from ours in a plethora of ways. The manner in which this race implicitly trust other Sensorites is intriguing and well-utilised, with The First Elder providing an effective example of how this universal trust can come back to bite you -- first he trusts colonists to visit the planet, then he trusts the word of his Administrator. This story argues that despite it sounding great to have everyone in a culture remain completely trusting, the practicalities suggest that universal honesty would be an impossiblity. Another element I enjoyed about this alien race is that the script plays up on the Doctor Who cliche that all of the "monsters of the week" look the same. Sure, one could take the pessimistic view that this is peddling racism; it doesn't strike me as such (I find Susan's horrific mimicing of a Sensorite running much more suspect). Rather, we have dialogue from these creatures suggesting they themselves find it difficult to tell one from another, unless they know the Sensorite in question on a personal level. Again, this plays on the interesting theme of trust that is within the story, with the villainous Administrator decieving others by taking full advantage of the Sensorites' physical similarity.
Also of note is the telepathic ability that the Sensorite nation possess. The plot makes use of this and furthers the three-dimensionality of the Sensorites by suggesting that they see their technological and cultural advancement as a matter for the mind, not the body. I would have liked to have seen some scenes extrapolating on this, perhaps introducing a caste of Sensorites that delve into philosophy and abstract thinking. This focus on the mental capacities of these aliens makes the appearance of violent instruments (the guns, the disintegrator machine and key, etc) all the more incongrous.
The original TARDIS crew of Susan and the Doctor are presented well in this story. The Doctor's fierce anger at the Sensorites, which is suceeded by compassion and comraderie, is wonderfully portrayed, giving us a full demonstration of "Doctorly" emotions. There are some silly moments like his argument and patronising of Susan, but these are generally keeping in character. Susan herself is given a lot more to do than usual, and Carol Ann Ford gives amoungst her best performances. I don't really have a lot of time for Susan, but here she is less screamy and more thoughtful, providing a nice contrast to Billy Hartnell's yelling.
Ian and Barbara don't get so much to do, with the latter being missing for much of the story. Personally I don't mind her absence; it's a large regular cast, and why shoehorn her character in if she needn't be? Let Jacqueline Hill have her holiday. Ian fares a bit better with a little poison sub-plot, and whilst he is around for most of the six episodes, he doesn't really get up to much. Nonetheless, William Russell gives his usual dependable performance.
Many seem to suggest that the first two episodes are the strongest, building the suspence before a let-down upon arrival on the Sense-Sphere (arrggghhh! -- ridiculous name!!!). I'd have to disagree, and say it's the other way round. The first two parts are very slow and not too interesting. Early Doctor Who, I believe, was strongest in the dialogue department (as long as it was good dialogue), as action scenes and moody lighting and the like had tight time contraints in comparison. The scenes of Sensorites slowly walking down corridors as Ian slowly backs away... boring! Not only boring, but might I add overlong as well -- the two opening episodes could, and should, have been combined into one.
I found little suspense in these early episodes, as it was obvious that the aliens were not going to attack the crew. It wasn't until we are introduced to the Administrator that I believed that any of the crew might come to harm -- and they didn't even know there was that danger for this particular Sensorite! I quite enjoy conspiracy stories, so parts three, four and five held the most appeal to me. They are not always perfect; some scenes tend to waffle on, there is a fair bit of line-fluffing (Billy, I'm looking at you!), and every viewer in 1964 would have realised that the water was the poison. All told, though, these episodes are solid and intriguing escapism.
It's the final part that suffers -- it's almost as good, but does seem a bit rushed. The three human colonists could have done with a bit more screen time, as their psychosis seemed like an interesting avenue to explore.
Despite its very obvious flaws, The Sensorites comes out on top as a generally fine piece of entertainment. A bit slow at times, and it should have been significantly shorter... but there are enough good characters and interesting themes and plots to grab the viewer for the majority of its' length.
7 out of 10
"Give my Doctor the congratulations!" by Jason A. Miller 3/2/04
Now that the William Hartnell years are cool again...
There's so much to enjoy about The Sensorites, and not just the obvious stuff, either. Obviously, we have to deal with the fluffs first. Hartnell had this great habit, in scenes requiring great technical dialogue, of grabbing his lapels, "Hmm!"ing a lot, wandering up to the camera, and squinting his eyes into the distance, in the direction of the Mary Tamm Memorial Cue-Card Boy. Do you think he would have tried, had he known that this story would be sold to the masses 40 years later, to learn his dialogue? But then we would have been denied such great non-sequiturs as "I rather fancy that's settled that little bit of solution." And, of course, the 28th century watches that he finds in The Sensorites are of "the non-winding time." They sure are, Bill, they sure are.
Anyway, The Sensorites is an astonishingly radical bit of pacifism. Part One concludes with the first-ever "monster face" cliffhanger in Doctor Who: we'd already seen a Sensorite hand (in an ill-fitting wool glove) and heard how evil they are, but then we see a misshapen face, floating around in Spain, er, space, and the credits roll. But, by the end of Part Six, it's the Sensorites who are the heroes of the day. The villainy is traced back to three Earth soldiers, minds inadvertently warped by Sensorite telepathy, waging a war against an enemy that didn't exist. And yet, the Doctor lures him out into the open not with weapons, but with sympathy -- and with that wicked bit of psychological byplay that helped later Doctors defuse so many villains. The Doctor then carries the story's moral centerpiece when he says, after the Sensorite warrior refuses to kill that insane Earthman who has killed so many: "The fact is, you didn't kill him, shows great promise for the future of your people."
The Doctor's companion, Ian, again shows his natural aggression, which saved the Thal people in The Daleks. On the Sense-Sphere, however, he's helpless. The Doctor admonishes: "Now let our own intelligence be our own offense, and attack!" Radical, too, is the fact that Earth Captain Maitland -- the first human we meet in the story -- is completely impotent. He can't even cut through a locked door in less than two episodes! Whereas in other stories, Maitland would have been the human hero, in The Sensorites it is Barbara and Susan and Carol (and the Doctor, the unpredictable alien) who are the actors, the voices of reason.
Obviously this story has whopping production flaws. Parts One and especially Two are dragged to a near standstill by a script that under-runs: seven whole minutes in Part Two are consumed by a few characters slowly creeping down a dark hallway. Think about that. Seven minutes of nothing. You could watch the Ali-Liston 1965 heavyweight title fight four times in those seven minutes! And, even though it's radical and progressive, The Sensorites still has the Doctor being overly protective of his granddaughter, and Carol tells the Sensorites that they all look alike. Actually, that last bit is clever -- on a planet of telepaths, wouldn't facial features be less important? -- but that bit has been laughed at for so long that it's too late to redeem it. And when Part Two ends with a door closing ominously, Part Three begins with Barbara opening the door. Wow. Now that, Peter R. Newman, is top-tier suspense.
In the end, the Sensorites are philosophical monsters who are scared of the dark. In the same year of Doctor Who that gave us the Daleks, maybe, just maybe, the Sensorites are the more representative alien species.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 17/5/04
A slow moving, lumbering, ordinary sci-fi story is what I was expecting. I got something like that, but I was surprised (especially with the opening 2 episodes) just how much I was drawn into the drama. The first two parts are very good, making the most of the confined spaces of the spaceship. The Sensorites lurking in the shadows, out of sight, why do they keep the ship in orbit around the Sense-Sphere - what is their motivation?
The opening of The Sensorites provides one of those nice little recaps that a greater episode count (more time) provides. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan discuss their previous adventures - and how so much has come from noseying round an old junkyard. It was a surprising early reflection on the part of the production staff to indulge in, and shows how successful the first season had been - they are in effect basking in their own success.
When they emerge from the TARDIS into the spaceship we are treated to a mystery. The apparent dead Maitland and Carol come to life, and the TARDIS lock is stolen. The main bridge of the ship provides a claustrophobic atmosphere, that is intensified as we know aliens lurk in the background. It's quite a scary moment (similar to Nightmare at 20,000 Feet - the classic Twilight Zone episode) when the Sensorite hovers at the window of the ship - and a highly effective first cliffhanger.
The crew of the ship are pretty standard. John is probably the best, an effective mindloss is well portrayed - but Maitland and Carol are rather bland, their inactivity at the Sensorite threat (considering how the Doctor and his party get to the heart of the matter) showing their lack of motivation, and therefore affecting their characters.
When the Sensorites do emerge they are funny little things, and their squinting, old person-like appearance comes across as cute rather than frightening. When their real motives are revealed, a sensitive alien race is portrayed, and they really are not the monsters we were originally expecting. The story of mistrust between humans and Sensorites is a nice analogy on acceptance of others, and patience amongst different races. It's Doctor Who telling a moral story, and doing it quite well.
As the story moves to the Planet Ray Cusick provides some very bland sets. The Sensorites, as a society, are not that interesting either. They have these different ways of distinguishing one another, but only that really (and not their individual personalities) tell them apart. Newman, the writer, gives us a more detailed society than normal in a DW story, it's just not a very fascinating one. This is where the story lets itself down. The political intrigues of the Sensorites make the episodes very talky, and quite dull. Then, almost as an afterthought, we are introduced to three human survivors in Episode 6. The story is wrapped in a jiffy, and the Doctor is having a go at Ian!
The TARDIS crew receive varying treatment at the hands of the writers. Due to her absence Barbara probably gets one of her weaker stories. Susan, alternatively, receives some of the best treatment of her character. Her burgeoning telepathy could have really pushed her character forward, unfortunately this is one of the only instances it is used. Ian gets an okay story. The Doctor showing now that he really is the star of the show, his impatience at the Sensorite politics when Ian is lying ill, is particularly noteworthy.
The Sensorites is one of those stories that I expected to be terrible, but like so many I had never seen before, I was surprised that I quite enjoyed parts of it (especially the first half). I still do not rate it that highly though, the second half is guilty of padding, and you're quite pleased when it is all over - it does outstay its welcome. But it is not quite the plodding duffer I was expecting. 5/10
Quite Boring Really... by James Neirotti 29/6/04
Nearing the end of it's premiere season a mere stranger to the Doctor Who writing team, Peter R. Newman, presented us with the 6 part story called The Sensorties. It is on a seemingly lifeless space rocket that the TARDIS crew first encounter the aliens. The rocket is from Earth and the crew, at first, seem to be very much dead. When the TARDIS crew revive them they explain the rocket is manned by three. The two of whom which the TARDIS crew have revived and another male officer who has gone quite mad from mental attacks that have kept them all prisoners in space. The first four episodes of this story is confined to the rocket itself. That is until the Sensorties appear. Not a very intresting race yet most of the fascination the viewers would have for the aliens is that they aren't immediatley identified as good or evil. In fact even at the conclusion of the story it is hard to classify them as either.
The plot is fairly simple, the Sensorites are keeping the rocket crew busy with constant mental attacks in hopes that they will keep off the Sensorties Homeworld which is rich in mineral weath. No evil intentions... just the protection of their planet. Quite understandable. The story eventually brings us to the homeworld where the storylines drags on into a political struggle for power. The story was a little too long and drawn out for my taste. There a few good scenes, Barbara attempting to reason with the mad crewmen and of course the highly discussed newfound power Susan revealed in Episode Two. It seems all this time Susan was hiding the fact that she was a latent telepath. If only they had continued exploring her power the character may have become far more interesting.
In conclusion The Sensorites was an average Doctor Who tale. Nothing to write home about, and unfortunately left me feeling quite cheated.
A Review by Brian May 7/3/05
The Sensorites is an underrated and overlooked story from the William Hartnell era of Doctor Who, and quite unfortunately so in my opinion. It's not the best story ever, nor is it the pick of the first season - it's not as gorgeously decorated as Marco Polo; not as dramatically gripping as The Aztecs; nor as definitive as The Daleks. But if you want a well written, intricately plotted and thought provoking adventure, then you could do much worse.
One of the main criticisms levelled at the story is its length - a criticism I have to concur with. At six episodes, it's very slow. The Sensorites is best watched the way it was intended - one episode a week. However if, like myself, you don't have that sort of patience, may I suggest, like Joe Ford above, that you watch it in three sittings of two episodes each. That's what I did on the last viewing. But anyway, The Sensorites would have been an excellent four parter. Allow me to describe my ideal version:
EPISODE 1: Keep the existing episode one exactly the way it is. It's a great piece of exposition, establishing the scenario wonderfully: the arrival of the TARDIS, the discovery of the ship's crew; the references to the Sensorites and the build-up to their first appearance, in what is a smashing and quite freaky cliffhanger, all work extremely well.
EPISODE 2: Episodes two and three could have been merged into one: the Sensorites entering the ship, the arrangements they make with the time travellers, the arrival on the Sense-Sphere and a quick set-up of the City Administrator's treachery. Ian collapsing after drinking the poisoned water could be the cliffhanger (as it is with the actual episode three). The terrific ending to the actual second episode - Susan going with the Sensorites - would unfortunately be lost, but for a tighter story I can't see any other way.
EPISODE 3: The ideal third episode would concentrate on the attempt to find the cure for Ian and the Doctor beginning to investigate the aqueduct and caves. At the same time, the City Administrator's murder of the Second Elder, assuming his identity, and his consolidation of power would all be an effective subplot.
EPISODE 4: The final episode would concentrate mainly on the Doctor and Ian in the caves, the discovery of the humans, and tie up all the City Administrator business. On the final televised version, the kidnap of Carol padded things out and lacked a real sense of tension; so too did the Administrator's attempts to frame the Doctor for the Second Elder's murder - naturally all this would have been trimmed.
So there you have it! The Sensorites could have been an extremely well-paced tale. Alas, what we have certainly seems to go on forever. And, ironically enough, one of the most tense, nail-biting parts of the story, Ian's illness after being poisoned, is so dramatically wanting! There are great moments: you have the montage of sequences as the Doctor tests the water samples, intercut with Susan tending to Ian. Then there's the City Administrator smashing the test tube filled with the antidote. These scenes serve to reinforce that Ian could die at any moment, and the Administrator's influence is not helping: after all, he's just destroyed the antidote! But then we eventually cut to Ian recovering, with Susan merely explaining
"I managed to get some more."Talk about a fizzer! Ian's well enough to go into the caves and accompany the Doctor, his illness conveniently forgotten like the now-redundant plot device it is. In my ideal four-part edition, the situation of Ian's illness would have lasted the whole third episode, maybe carrying a little into the fourth. Oh well...
But this aside, The Sensorites is a very interesting story. It's the series' first representation of an alien race that's not aggressive or hostile. Well, to be more precise, the Sensorites are initially presented as such, but as the plot unfolds it's evident that their actions are primarily defensive measures. In any case, they're Doctor Who's first benevolent aliens, in a story coupled with the first bunch of antagonistic humans. But both sides are painted in shades of grey. The humans living in the caves and poisoning the water supply believe they're at war with the Sensorites and have been driven insane by their telepathy experiments. Conversely the Sensorites adopt an aggressive approach towards Maitland and his crew due to having been burnt before ("Once before we have trusted Earthmen, to our cost.") They read John's mind, discovering his "dreams of avarice" after he finds an abundant supply of molybdenum. They are, quite rightly, wary of human greed and the danger of a colonial style gold-rush that could follow. It puts across a few messages without getting preachy or didactic - there's the danger of xenophobia, of which the humans and Sensorites are both guilty. The nature of trust is another, in which the Sensorites learn that it has to be earned, not taken for granted.
The onscreen realisation of The Sensorites is quite impressive. Mervyn Pinfield's direction of the first four episodes is excellent; he makes the best use of the settings, maintaining an edgy and claustrophobic feel. A wonderful example is the long, silent pan across the Doctor and Ian's faces immediately preceding episode one's cliffhanger. Unfortunately Frank Cox's work on episodes five and six is a little lacklustre in comparison. The sets of the spaceship, the Sense Sphere and the caves are pretty good for the day. The Sensorites themselves have an interesting design. After watching them for a while the masks look a bit daft, but in their first few scenes they're creepily alien, even down to their mannerisms. The ubiquity attributed to them in the early sections of the story (I love the line one says to the Doctor: "You have only proved that you can lock doors... we can unlock them!") gives way to a more empathetic presentation of them later. They become less omnipotent and more personable, but still fundamentally alien.
Some of the acting is uninspiring - Ilona Rodgers as Carol is incredibly dull, as is Lorne Cossette as Maitland, but at least the latter is absent for most of the story. However, there's an excellent performance from Stephen Dartnell as John. The Sensorites are mostly well acted; Peter Glaze as the City Administrator is the best, except for his "I had never thought of that!" piece to camera (one of the most unintentionally kitsch moments of sixties Doctor Who if you ask me!) But Glaze conveys his character's ambition and deviousness extremely well. The other great performance is that of John Bailey as the leader of the humans - I didn't realise when watching that he was the same actor who played Edward Waterfield in The Evil of the Daleks. The regulars all have a good day; the big surprise is Carole Ann Ford as Susan. I have to agree with the consensus - she's very good! She's assisted by the plot, which actually gives Susan a chance to branch out, both with her growing independence from the Doctor and her telepathic powers. This is definitely her best performance. However, despite the majority of the acting being good, The Sensorites is one big fluff-o-rama! Almost everyone slips up - William Hartnell naturally, but some of the most hilarious gaffes come from the actors playing the eponymous aliens. But hey, that's sixties television for you!
I'm glad all of The Sensorites is safe and sound in the BBC archives. Of course, we ought to be thankful for any complete story, but there were certainly some - The Web Planet, The Chase, The Dominators - that we'd willingly trade for something else to turn up. But I wouldn't swap The Sensorites. It's an intelligently written story, proving that the educational aim of Doctor Who wasn't just restricted to the historical adventures. It's just a pity it's too long and too slow at times. But that's its only major failing. The story itself is very good; most of the production is of a similar high quality. 7/10
Six Years in the Making... by Peter Niemeyer 18/11/07
Back in 2001, I was slowly working my way through the Hartnell stories, watching them and reviewing them. I got as far as the beginning of The Dalek Master Plan and got side-tracked. There was one story I skipped, though. I started it, but just couldn't make it through the first three epsiodes. That story was The Sensorites. And now, with a renewed interest in Doctor Who fueled by some viewing of the recent DVD releases, I brace myself to finish a job that's six years overdue.
Six years later, I'd have to say that The Sensorites is not as completely unforgiveable as I once thought. There are a few points of commendation that need to be given to the production team. I'll admit that some of this is in light of hearing comments from the DVDs and realizing how little money and time these people had to make the shows, and how the sets had to be dismantled and reassmbled every week.
The good stuff:
I haven't bought the DVD for The Web Planet. I don't know if I ever will. I found that story to be so unengaging that I neither care to see it nor do I care to hear people comment on it or watch documentaries about it. I suspect the same will be true when we see the release of the DVD of The Sensorites.
One Thing I'd Do Differently: I would have the Sensorites' telepathic abilities matter more to the story. Given the need to press a little piece of metal to your head, the ability wasn't really any more dramatic than just ringing someone up on the phone. Okay, they didn't have mobiles in the 60s, but it still seemed like a waste of a potentially interesting possibility.
One Thing I Wouldn't Touch: The sets of the spaceship. Some may say they look dated now, but I think of it more as period and nostalgic. It's that great retro 60's "pathfinder to the moon" kind of look.
A Review by John Greenhead 17/1/08
It is a notable feature of the Hartnell era that many of its non-Dalek SF stories put a great deal of emphasis on not trusting in appearances. The Sensorites is the first example of such a story, and the result is an interesting, if overlong, tale that tries hard, and with considerable success, to depict a convincing alien culture. The story is quite clever in subverting the viewer's expectations. The first half invites us to view the Sensorites as aggressive, threatening enemies who have taken a spaceship and its nice, pleasant crew hostage while regularly knocking them unconscious and damaging their minds. The outlandish appearance of the aliens is also exploited to make us - and the TARDIS crew - mistrust them, notably when one appears at the spaceship window in the memorable cliffhanger to the first episode. It looks like another classic case of good humans versus evil aliens, but as things turn out the Sensorites are really quite a gentle, civilised race whose only real fault is excessive suspicion of outsiders. The City Administrator and his henchmen aside, the chief villains are actually humans, albeit deranged ones, intent on poisoning the Sensorites' water supply. This twist is quite enlightened and refreshing, though the story also shows clear traces of 60s idealism in its hope that different races can overcome their mutual suspicions and intolerance and coexist in harmony.
Admirable as the script's intentions are, the execution leaves a fair amount to be desired. This is the first Doctor Who story to really suffer from excess padding, stretching out over six episodes what could easily have been told in four. The padding is blatantly obvious in the second episode, where an interminable amount of time is given over to showing Ian and Barbara backing away from the Sensorites down the spaceship's corridors. Later on, the City Administrator fills time by endlessly repeating his justifications for his campaign against the Doctor and his friends, while he also shows a tiresome fondness for spelling out his dastardly plans to the audience. His kidnapping of Carol at the end of episode five seems to serve no other purpose than to provide a cliffhanger and pad out the final episode a bit more, which is rather ironic given that the ending is rushed and sloppy. Having built the City Administrator up into a big villain, it is a shame that we don't actually see him get his comeuppance - we have to take the First Elder's word for it that he has been punished. The story also suffers from an unusually high number of line fluffs, and there are problems with some of the human characters. Stephen Dartnell is quite good as the anguished, tormented John, but Carol and Maitland are both rather bland and are not acted particularly well; their uniforms look a bit silly too.
In contrast, the Sensorites are well-designed and generally come across quite convincingly, with the partial exception of Peter Glaze's rather hammy turn as the City Administrator. They aren't the most memorable aliens to appear in the show, but Peter R. Newman did put considerable effort into making them three-dimensional characters, providing quite a lot of detail about the organisation of their civilisation, while also informing us of their physical weaknesses (aversion to light and excessive noise) and their abilities (notably telepathic communication). Raymond Cusick's impressive sets for the Sense-Sphere scenes also help us to to believe that these aliens are intelligent and cultured. As for the insane humans in the aqueduct, I thought they were actually portrayed quite well, particularly their deluded, militaristic leader. They are amusing, and rather tragic at the same time.
The story makes good use of the telepathy device, not least because it transpires that Susan also has this ability, giving her a central role in the action for a change. This is undoubtedly Susan's best story, as her telepathic gifts help to establish trust between the Sensorites and the TARDIS crew, while she also gets some nice lines in which she describes her home planet, the first description of Gallifrey in the series. She even rebels against her grandfather at one point, when she tries to go down alone to the Sense-Sphere with the Sensorites. She soon backs down, but the argument does at least give her some much-needed character development and hints at the fact that she is growing up, preparing the way for her eventual departure from the series. In contrast, Ian and Barbara don't get a great deal to do here, but Russell and Hill ensure that the characters retain their normal stoic, reassuring personalities, and Ian and the Doctor have some amusing scenes together in the aqueduct.
The Doctor does better out of the script, as arguably for the first time since the show began, he really takes the undisputed lead in solving the problems faced by the TARDIS crew, working hard to solve the Sensorites' poisoning problem and coming across as more heroic than in any previous story. It is just a pity that the effect has to be spoilt at the end by his threat to throw Ian and Barbara off the TARDIS in response to a very mild jibe from Ian - it is a wild, unbelievable overreaction on the Doctor's part and makes the story conclude on a completely unnecessary sour note.
For all its flaws, I think that overall The Sensorites deserves the benefit of the doubt. It is my least favourite story from the first season, but it has a lot of intelligence and sincerity about it, and in spite of the padding there is enough substance and incident to make it a diverting adventure, if not a particularly memorable one.
Let Boredom Be Unconfined by Joe Briggs-Ritchie 30/1/10
If ever there was a prime example of a Doctor Who story falling to bits after its first episode, The Sensorites is it. The promise of episode one is completely laid waste by the remaining five episodes and the whole thing quickly descends into an endurance test for the viewer. The Sensorites wants so badly to be a superb example of building up an alien civilisation and culture from scratch but it just doesn't work. Given that the Sensorites don't have names, they just refer to each other as City Administrator, First Elder, Engineer, etc etc bloody etc. You can't tell them apart and quite frankly it just isn't sustainable over six episodes. I wasn't really sure what to make of the bad Sensorite saying "these silly names, no signs of office, how do we distinguish them?" I can only conclude that Peter R. Newman was taking the piss. Clearly he was if he expected any reasonable person to have their interest sustained for the duration of this story.
The Sensorite masks really are very good, they have something menacing about them but as soon as they are revealed to be cuddly and friendly, the masks start to work against them. Because they don't really have any distinguishing facial features, they become bland. It might work on the Autons or Silurians or Sea Devils because they're evil and therefore more entertaining. But because the Sensorites are essentially good, they're not really that interesting. Combine this with their lack of personal names and you're left with something that's utterly boring to watch.
I don't think much of their mind communication thingies either. They just seem silly and the sound effect used for them is clearly a theremin. The Sensorites as a culture are spectacularly dull. It actually comes across as laziness on the part of Peter R. Newman, as though he wanted to create a believable alien culture but just couldn't be bothered to put the leg work in. As scripts go, it has nothing to enliven it, no spicy dialogue. It does its job and that's about it. A good script can save any amount of ridiculous monsters, bad acting or shoddy effects. But it just isn't there this time and as a result, the story sinks.
Anyway, episode 1. This is by far the best part of the story. The setup is intriguing right from the off with the three crewmembers in some kind of coma. The obvious fear that they have for the Sensorites once they regain consciousness helps provide much of this episode's menace. The spaceship set isn't much to speak of but it does the job and the monochrome visuals probably help matters. The crew uniforms look a bit daft, with the rockets sewn into the front. They're like something out of Thunderbirds. I mean, as if anyone is going to be using rockets in the 28th century. I can just about forgive it; it was the Sixties after all. The cliffhanger for episode 1 is seriously freaky. I mean let's be honest, the Sensorites do look pretty scary which is all the more pity that their potential is squandered by making them all kind and friendly. The bad Sensorite whose name/rank/designation/whatever/who cares escapes me right now is the obvious exception but by that point I was past caring. They were also fairly effective when they were stalking Ian and Barbara through the ship. By episode 4 they'd lost all sense of being remotely interesting to me, they merely came across as a bunch of relatively short, tubby men in jumpsuits with bland characterisations and no names. There feet are just plain ridiculous. Also, I fail to see how they could burn the lock out of the TARDIS when the Doctor and co are standing about two feet away and their cutting tool is creating rather a lot smoke. Suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for watching Doctor Who but this is just taking the piss.
As an aside, I really like the fact that Planet of the Ood has tied the Ood in with the Sensorites. I believe the Doctor refers to their home planet as the Ood-Sphere which is a very nice touch and makes sense when one considers that the Ood and the Sensorites do look fairly similar.
The human characters are serviceable but that's about it. The guy playing Maitland is terrible. Really terrible. Fantastically terrible. I'm not sure what he's doing but he certainly isn't acting. Carol is ok but she's a bit pathetic. John is by far the best of the three and comes across as being genuinely damaged by what the mental torture that the Sensorites have inflicted upon him.
The regulars are ok but Carole Ann Ford is awful. I've never been particularly enthralled by her performance as Susan and this story is a good example of why. Her hissy fit in episode 2 (or was it episode 3? - it's all merged together in my memory due to incredible dullness) because the Doctor won't listen to her is meant to have us believe that she's a young woman who's being stifled by her grandfather's overbearing ways but it just doesn't convince me.
Barbara is a far more interesting character but she disappears halfway through and then reappears towards the end. I know that this was due to the finer details of Jacqueline Hill's contract but having her disappear and letting Carole Ann Ford take the limelight is not exactly making sensible use of one's human resources. William Russell and William Hartnell are both very good, although the Doctor does seem somewhat out of character in episdode 1. He just seems a bit too ready to abandon the humans to their fate and clear off in the TARDIS.
Productionwise, the Sensorite city is dullness made manifest. The story does perk up a bit when we reach the aqueduct and the little comedy moment when the Doctor and Ian are ambushed is really quite good but by then it's very much a case of too little too late.
I can't imagine I'll think any better of this story when I watch it again in five years time.
A Review by Jameson Lee 23/10/11
Sandwiched between two fantastic historical adventures (The Aztecs and The Reign of Terror), The Sensorites has a reputation for being dull and uninteresting. However, there are a number of remarkable aspects to this six-parter that are worth noting. Written by Peter R. Newman, this story reads like a proto-Star-Trek script more than Doctor Who with cardboard astronauts and aliens to match. Expositionary dialog is all over the place as characters are more than happy to act as walking encyclopedias, giving whole swathes of data with a smile.
Nevertheless, this story does feature an unusual opening sequence in which the TARDIS crew recount their previous adventures (as if bringing the audience up to speed), a strange decision given that only script editor David Whitaker would have thought to have included this little touch. It also acknowledges that all four characters have changed somewhat from the people they were in the opening episode. Ian and Barbara are no longer whinging prisoners and are now willing companions on the Doctor's craft, while the Doctor himself has warmed to his new passengers and softened from his crotchety and shifty persona into a more heroic figure. The only character who has remained more or less static is Susan, whom neither the writers nor actress Carol Anne Ford can seem to get a handle on.
Following this opening dialog, the Doctor and his companions exit the TARDIS, but rather than simple cutting to the other side of the Police Box prop, this time the cameras follow the actors through the interior doors. It's a little thing, but it makes a big impact as a visual shift.
The Doctor soon becomes involved in a very complicated affair between the humans and the Sensorites. It appears that after John discovered that the Sense Sphere contained a valuable mineral, molybdenum, his greed was like a wild yell to the telepathic race who, in seeking to quiet him, drove him insane. Perfectly understandable... I guess. When a pair of Sensorites arrive to perform a periodical check-up of the astronauts, they find the TARDIS and remove its lock to prevent it from being a threat. This has to be the weirdest plot contrivance to keep the Doctor and his companions in the story and it also flies in the face of previous and forthcoming stories that present the Doctor's ship as impenetrable. But this is still the early days of the program and analysis of the stories 40 years on was certainly not a possibility that the production team had anticipated.
The Sensorites establish a psychic rapport with Susan, who promptly rebels against her grandfather and attempts to offer herself up as a trade so that the others can be free from harm. Ian and Barbara stand by the Doctor Who is furious at Susan's behavior. Given that Hartnell had a unique perspective of Carol Anne Ford as being a young child, the performance is very strong and convincing!
The Sensorites themselves are quite impressive costumes for the 60's and the mouths are cleverly hidden by strange 'old man hair' that seems to grow in all the wrong places. The race is very soft spoken and terribly sensitive to light, a weakness that Ian seizes early on to keep them from taking Susan captive. One of the many plot points involves the fact that all of the Sensorites look alike aside from sashes or collars on their uniforms. Quite why a telepathic race would rely on their eyes to recognize each other is a mystery to me, but it allows the wily revolutionary Sensorite administrator the perfect opportunity to strike.
As a six part adventure, it's far too long. In fact, there is a lot of time spent on the spacecraft orbiting the planet that could have easily been cut. The first cliffhanger of a Sensorite creepily hovering by the main view screen must have sent many a child scurrying to his/her bedroom in fear, but aside from that there isn't all that much of visual interest. The character of John the mineralogist is interesting and all, but the poor actor is plagued by endless scenes demanding that he froth at the mouth and stare off to convey madness. I quite like the explanation that his extreme emotion left his mind open and overly susceptible to influence, but it goes on a bit and looks silly in the end.
The Doctor is depicted as a very heroic and brilliant character in this story, which I like. Depicting both otherworldly knowledge and common wisdom, this is exactly the kind of Doctor that I like to see; just as likely to rewire alien technology as he is to use a cricket ball to escape a tight spot. Hartnell is in rare form and while he does fluff a few lines, he still exhibits a commanding air of authority that cannot be denied.
He also looks quite dashing in that long black robe, doesn't he?
Strangely, the Sensorites are closely related to the Ood of the new Doctor Who series. Writer Russell T Davies stated that he wanted to evoke the classic monsters with the Ood (something lost on me, though I enjoyed the creatures in their first appearance).
The Sensorites has not been released on DVD as yet, but as 2 Entertain is nearing the end of their license, I expect that we will be hearing something soon. It will no doubt be a shame to see the Sensorite masks in a cleaned up image as every tiny flaw will be made all the more clear (a complaint made by Peter Purves regarding the Ark DVD). It's strange to remember that these stories were initially seen on very tiny grainy black and white televisions, without commentary, documentaries or the like.
Hardly one of the best stories from the 60's, The Sensorites was the first step toward what would later develop into the 'hard sci fi' approach in Doctor Who. There are problems involving the acting, costumes and effects but the inspiration to take what was still considered a children's program into the realm of a more sophisticated story is worth recognizing.
Star Trek at a snail's pace? by Michael Bayliss 4/7/12
There is no denying that the first two episodes successfully maintain a creepy atmosphere with some memorable moments (the Sensorite's face outside the ship in the cliffhanger to episode one is particularly well done). For the most part, however, the tension never peaks as it should and the scale of the script struggles against the limitations of the very cramped sets, resulting in a largely stoic, plodding affair.
Things pick up in Episode 3 within the Sense Sphere, not only because the story finally becomes visually engaging, but also because the viewer is treated to Doctor Who's first portrayal of a visibly alien race with individual and complex personalities. One feels immersed in the Sensorite culture, which is exotic and fascinating, although it is unfortunately presented in a very archaic and prosaic manner very evident of its time, very reminiscent of 60s Star Trek actually.
Nevertheless, the story is clever and imaginative, painting a sweeping moral palette across greed, trust and conformity. Although the City Administrator takes on a fairly expected role of the bureaucratic villain (although he is disappointingly absent in the final episode), it is a nice twist that a group of humans are the main antagonists.
Aside from that, there are many, MANY line fluffs in the story (not just from the Doctor this time) that provide a few instances of unintentional humour. The story's most noticeable weakness is the almost deathly slow pace, and while this is problematic to modern audiences watching much of the Hartnell era, this one especially feels at times as though reaching a standstill.
A Review by Paul Williams 14/12/18
The Sensorites is really a story in two parts. The first two episodes are claustrophobic horror aboard the spaceship, focusing on a fear of the unknown, which has been a recurrent theme in the first season of Doctor Who. Then the story becomes a political drama set on the Sense-Sphere where the enemies are known. Not to the TARDIS crew but to the viewer with the villain identified and sufficient clues to the poisoners of the water.
We don't see much of the planet, just a few rooms in the palace and the aqueduct. That wouldn't matter if the characters revealed enough about their culture and society, as happened in The Aztecs. The Sensorites are one-dimensional. Some positive traits in the Administrator and more doubt from the First Elder would have given the depth and ambiguity required. The best dialogue gives insight into Susan's character, although she is still underused. As Barbara stays on the spaceship, the Doctor takes central stage. Hartnell gives his finest performance yet, engaging and enthusiastic. That's not quite enough to lift the second part of the story, and the conclusion is rather lame.
A Sense of Brilliance & Boredom by Matthew Kresal 25/7/20
The first season of any TV show has its highs and lows. If you've watched the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, then you very likely know that fact painfully well. Doctor Who's opening season, running from late 1963 into the late summer of 1964, bucked that trend, by and large. Even with the issues that An Unearthly Child and Marco Polo have, they are still solid tales told in those serials. Which brings us to The Sensorites, I suppose.
It unquestionably starts off well. The opening episode, Strangers In Space, has some fine building-up of tension as the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan explore the spaceship they've landed within. In the space of twenty-five minutes or so, they do some exploring, meet the craft's human crew, and have a mystery laid out before them. This episode, minus the daft moment of a Sensorite stealing the lock from the TARDIS door, is one of the archetypal pieces of writing for the series. It takes what Terry Nation did with the opening installment of The Daleks and turns it up to eleven. It's no accident that you can find echoes of it in the best episode of The Space Museum or the opening installment of The Ark In Space. It is genuinely a great piece of Doctor Who writing, encapsulating so much of the show in one place.
All of which makes the five episodes that follow all the more frustrating to watch. There's a particular school of thought that insists Doctor Who is a children's show and, if you watch The Sensorites, that would be an easy mistake to make. Peter R. Newman might have written one of the archetypal Doctor Who episodes, but his others are simplistic to the point of being laughable. The actions of all the characters, from the Sensorites to the humans -- both on the spaceship and, as we learn later, on the planet below -- make little logical sense. The dialogue, too, is pretty atrocious, a good example being a sequence in which one Sensorite asks another where human hearts are. The Writer's Room podcast took the story apart in a 2014 episode, and I can only point readers there to give it a listen as Erik and Kyle do a far better job than I can here.
Worse, The Sensorites commits one sin that isn't easily forgiven: it's dull. Even by the standards of the time, it's a slow-moving tale. Part of that is down to Newman's writing and the six-episode structure he has to play within. A good chunk of it, though, is down to the direction of Mervyn Pinfield and Frank Cox, who take the script and turn it into a static, even lethargic, piece of work. What might the story have been like in the hands of directors such as Christopher Barry or Richard Martin, one wonders?
Which isn't to write off the entire story, as The Sensorites does have moments of interest. Beyond that opening episode, it does give Carole Ann Ford her most interesting material as Susan when the Senstorites tap into her latent psychic abilities in the story's middle. It is Susan, and indeed Ford, at their most interesting since the series began -- or, if you want to be more accurate, since the unaired version of An Unearthly Child. Raymond Cusick hands in some more interesting design work as well, adding visual interest where the direction is lacking. All of which helps to salvage the story to a degree.
But only to a degree. Yes, there's a spectacular opening episode. Yes, there's some interesting stuff for Susan and some interesting design work. Yet there are also five episodes paced at the speed of molasses drying, with little effort made to give them any sort of flair. The end result is the weakest story of the opening season by some margin, unfortunately.