Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Sensorites"

Aired June 20 - Aug 1, 1964

Episode 1 – Strangers in Space
Episode 2 – The Unwilling Warriors
Episode 3 – Hidden Danger
Episode 4 – A Race Against Death
Episode 5 – Kidnap
Episode 6 – A Desperate Venture

Story 7

Written by Peter R. Newman
Directed by Mervyn Pinfield (Episodes 1-4) & Frank Cox (Episodes 5 & 6)

Synopsis

Landing aboard a 28th Century Earth spaceship, the travellers step out of the TARDIS to explore and are shocked to discover three seemingly dead people who then inexplicably revive. The captain, Maitland, tells them that he and his crew a forced into a state of catatonia for long periods by a race of aliens called the Sensorites. The humans have no idea why the Sensorites are doing this, or what their aim may be.

Susan, who is an unusually gifted telepath, manages to make a connection with two Sensorites who board the vessel. Togethe,r they manage to work out an arrangement by which Barbara and Maitland will remain aboard the ship while the Doctor, Susan, Ian and the rest of the crew head to the creatures' planet, known as the Sense-Sphere, to enter into negotiations.

There, they meet the First and Second Elders, leaders of the Sensorite society. The elders tell them they have discovered valuable molybdenum deposits and are afraid that Earth will come to exploit them. The Sensorites are paranoid of humanity after and earlier Earth expedition visited, and after departing, the Sensorites were stricken by a deadly and mysterious disease. The Doctor volunteers to look into this epidemic, and the Elders agree, however another Sensorite leader, the City Administrator, begins plotting to sabotage the peace efforts.

After experimenting, the Doctor isolates the cause of the palgue, which not a disease at all but rather the result of deadly nightshade poison in one of the city's water tanks. Ian and the Doctor head into the aqueducts of the city and discover survivors from the previous Earth expedition are behind the plot to poison the Sense-Sphere. The three men have become unbalanced after experimenting with the telepathy of the Sensorites. The City Administrator's machinations are also discovered and he is exiled while the Elders forge a new era of understanding with the people of Earth.


Analysis

The Sensorites is the first story to exhibit a problem that will pop up to plague the classic series quite a bit; a six-parter that only has enough story for four parts. The actual story presented here is by no means a bad one. It's actually quite interesting. It's a successful story about a clash of cultures, neither of which is especially malignant, but a lack of understanding creates a clash that only an outsider like the Doctor could solve. No one is entirely evil in the same sense as villains like the Daleks. Even the City Administrator is acting out of fear and a desire to preserve his way of life, and how many conflicts in our own world have started that way? The humans act out of greed or madness or simple lack of understanding. 

The problem is that, while the concepts themselves are interesting, the story is in fact pretty basic, and there is simply not enough material to create six exciting episodes. The serial winds up being repetitive and actually commits a sin Doctor Who commits very rarely; it talks down to the audience. The first two episodes could have been shortened into one, for example, and certainly there is a huge amount of padding in the middle that results in repetitious scenes and stalled momentum.

While Carole Ann Ford finally gets to play Susan the way she should have been written all along, and the first episode is very well done with tons of creepy moments, there are just too many flaws. The design of the Sensorites is just silly enough to take away from the frankly quite good masks they wear. Their circular feet are just ridiculous, detracting infinitely more than they add. The idea that the Sensorites have no problem telling each other apart (sensible for a race of telepaths) even if we see them as identical is interesting, but it's not entirely pulled off here. 

In the end, this is a story with some intriguing ideas let down by pacing and padding it out to a six episode length.

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