Doctor Who: The Sensorites
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Doctor Who: The Sensorites
For a series aimed at children, Doctor Who can take some tantalizingly eerie turns, and The Sensorites is a prime example. The Doctor (the very first Time Lord, William Hartnell) and his companions land inside of a spaceship where the crew, still seated at the controls, are dead--and then suddenly come back to life. An alien being with black eyes, a blank face, and a wispy, silken beard appears in a window that looks out into space. Stumbling around in a dark tunnel, the Doctor is attacked by an unseen roaring monster. This is the substance of childhood nightmares. Furthermore, as the Doctor investigates the planet of the Sensorites and uncovers a conspiracy to overthrow the government, the unveiling of the opposing sides leads to some surprising moral complexity. On the other hand, the pace of this six-episode serial drags at points, narrative logic is a bit hit-or-miss, and the quotient of scientific babble is pretty high ("Where's the power come from?" "Electromagnetics!"). It's best to approach The Sensorites not as a coherent story but as an unsettling dream. William Hartnell launched the Doctor with a grandfatherly air (one of his companions is his granddaughter, Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford), but the Doctor's high-handed intelligence, insatiable curiosity, and stern scruples are already there, as are hints of the capriciousness that would later become a more significant character trait. Extras include audio commentary, some behind-the-scenes stories from a "vision mixer," and an oddly intriguing investigation into the obscure writer of The Sensorites. --Bret Fetzer
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Top Customer Reviews
At any rate I enjoyed the story line very much....The Story makes me very thirsty as water is a much talked about resource & people could really act well in those days...Which is what has made the early DR WHO's enjoyable...Especially ones such as this.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Let me get the bad stuff out of the way first. Episode 3 was kind of boring, but it picks up again in episode 4. There are many stuttered lines in this story. The Sensorites feet look ridiculous. And at one point, you even see a wall in the spaceship start to fall down before it is quickly put back up again. But other than that, this is a great story.
The acting was pretty good - some of it was actually brilliant. The sets look great. The dark spaceship was very spooky as well as the aqueduct on the Sense-Sphere. The Sensorites were very creepy in the first two episodes. Episode 1's cliffhanger was, in my opinion, one of the best in the series. The plot and the story are great. It has a lot of mystery and adventure in it. It has a great surprise ending, and I really enjoyed Susan's character a lot more in this story than in others. Her character should have been like this from the beginning. This is also the very first story that has the Doctor himself taking on the heroic role instead of Ian, and he uses his mind and wits to defeat the enemy instead of brute force. I really enjoyed this one and I'm sure you will as well. Highly recommended!
The six chapter serial may seem to drag a bit, but there's enough political intrigue to keep this early adventure watchable.
Barbara is missing for most of the story, but that doesn't matter as the Sensorites are the focus of it.
Misunderstanding leads to fear and treachery and ignorance gets put in its place in this unexpectedly well acted show.
It's not perfect. Early BBC allowed many mistakes and goofs. There's missed cues and at one point late in the story you can see the microphone as if it was meant to be part of the cast of characters.
Those bits aside, William Hartnell is great as ever and Carol Ann Ford is not annoying at all.
There are enough special features, including a documentary about the writer of the episode, Peter R. Newman, to justify the expense.
I'd give it five stars, but the clunky sets are hard to get over.
The writing is fantastic, though.
I'm also a fan of season one because of the (generally) great scripts. And while The Sensorites is far from the best-written story of the season, I do think that Peter R. Newman's script features some compelling ideas. In defiance of Doctor Who conventions, Newman depicted the Sensorite race as mostly benign and sympathetic creatures (an interesting contrast to the show's usual "evil monster" aliens); indeed, the Sensorites only do "bad things" in this story in order to protect their planet from exploitation by humans who want to strip-mine the place. In a sense, then, this is the sort of left-wing (or at least politically aware) story that didn't become commonplace for Doctor Who until the Pertwee era.
The story's production design, meanwhile, is pretty good (given the era and budget). The Sensorites may look a little fake, but to me they're perfectly respectable aliens by 1960s TV standards; certainly, Doctor Who produced much stupider-looking aliens even in the 1980s (like the Ergon, to name one of many). Also, the set design for the human spaceship is effective, and enhances the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere of the opening episodes. Unfortunately, both the set design and the pace of the story take a bad turn once the action shifts to the Sensorite planet, but the drop in quality is not nearly as bad as some critics suggest.
In short, The Sensorites is an interesting story that lacks energy sometimes; it's not a classic, but it deserves to enjoy a somewhat better reputation. Unfortunately, given the lowly status of this tale in the Doctor Who canon, the BBC didn't put too much effort into giving us a great DVD. The special features, though not bad, are rather thin. The most interesting featurette involves Doctor Who fan Toby Hadoke investigating Peter R. Newman's background; he uncovers a surprising amount about the little-known writer, including some genuinely emotional material. Unfortunately, this feature is undermined slightly by Hadoke's snarky "I'm a self-aware sci-fi geek" persona. Also featured is a short interview with Doctor Who's vision mixer, which is less boring than it sounds.
While I wish I could give this DVD four stars, the presentation is pretty bare-bones and the actual story has a few flaws. So I'll settle for three stars, but it's more like three-and-a-half. If this is arguably the worst story of Who's first season, that's a testament to how strong the era really was.
A major benefit to this story is the growth of Susan Foreman. In the previous four stories her character is overly dramatic and incessantly whiny. With no strength of will or character she fit the mold of "damsel in distress" too often for an intergalatic traveler. In this story Carol Anne Ford had been able to play the character Susan should have been from the start. Willing to take risks and unafraid of the unknown. She is not afraid of the Sensorites, attempts to take matters into her own hand, and begins to realize that she has extraordinary telepathic abilities.
(I'm reminded of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Incredibly whiny, but in the end the character becomes intriguing and wonderful. Like Susan, he too has a strange "otherworldly" gift.)
Another benefit is that it's a good old fashion look into human emotions of fear and trust. It takes philosophical questions about humanity, and attempts to answer them in a sci-fi setting. This is the way Sci-Fi should be.
Jacqueline Hill unfortunately goes on vacation during this serial, so Barbara is not as active. This is forgivable, as it was custom to shoot film this way back then. One of my complaints is the off-scene ending confrontation with the City Administrator. The serial deals with his fear and xenophobia, but does not get to hear an ending speech from him or a suitable confrontation. Another is my complaint with the character Maitland. Dialogue suggests an intriguing relationship triangle with him, Carol, and John ... but this is never touched on again and the subject is never resolved.
Overall though, the growth and maturity of Susan's character is reason enough to buy this story.