BBC has just released the classic Doctor Who serial “The Sensorites” on DVD. This six-part tale is from season one of the series, originally airing in the summer of 1964. The Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian (William Russell, Harriet’s Back in Town), and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill, Romeo & Juliet) find a spaceship whose inhabitants are apparently dead. Or so they think until the “dead” begin to wake up. But the ship is trapped, forced to stay in orbit of the Sense-Sphere, where the Sensorites live. This race has had a bad encounter with humans, and it’s unclear whether they mean to harm the travelers. Can the Doctor broker peace?
“The Sensorites” introduces the Sensorite race, which isn’t a particularly memorable one. They are a scaredy-cat species, at least as afraid of the humans as the humans are of them. They are terrified of the dark and loud noises, and quite oddly, cannot recognize members of their own race. This particular characteristic is incredibly weird, and surely not realistic. It is hard to comprehend how a culture could function when they can’t tell one individual from another. This is not delved into in depth, but on the surface, at least, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The Sensorites, despite their timidness, do still prove a threat, or at least, certain Sensorites do. Some of these aliens wish to kill the Doctor and his companions, while others just want their help in curing a disease inflicting the race. Which want which? Again, impossible to know, because no one can tell which Sensorite is which, making it easy for one in power to be replaced.
One thing that “The Sensorites” can be credited for is being the frontrunner to the rebooted Doctor Who race, the Ood. The Ood are from the Ood-Sphere, which is, apparently, in the same solar system as the Sense-Sphere. Many consider the Ood a better set of characters, but those fans should thank “The Sensorites” for laying the groundwork, which in present day has been built upon.
As much as the Doctor is the star of the series, Susan is center stage in “The Sensorites.” Like the aliens, she possesses telepathic abilities, which allows her to help solve the mysteries that the group faces. She also speaks of her home planet, enriching the back story of a character not well known. Ford is up to this challenge, really making Susan quite interesting in this installment, and it’s too bad that she doesn’t get more focus more often.
In the end, it is discovered that the Sensorites are being poisoned by humans on the planet, who have become monsters. The offenders are stopped, and sent home to be treated for madness. It’s an unexpected twist, and not one that seems particularly brilliant. There isn’t really a set of clues that leads to this discovery, but rather, it’s tossed in at the last minute. Slightly disappointing.
What “The Sensorites” does well is deliver a sci-fi experience. The look of the alien world is pretty, well, alien. The set builders use lots of curved lines to differentiate the architecture of the Sensorites. Being that this is made in 1964, and predates most filmed science fiction, Doctor Who really had room to play at making a new environment, and they do so very well. There is also a general level of creepiness infused in much of the adventure, owing to the slow burn unfolding of the plot, wonderfully capturing a tone of unease in this strange place.
“The Sensorites” DVD comes with some pretty great extras. Twenty-one minutes are devoted to looking into the writer of this serial, Peter R. Newman, who, strangely enough, has only one other screen credit. There is a seven minute extra examining what a Vision Mixer does, and two minutes cover how the Sensorites’ voices were developed by said mixer.
The commentary track has a lot of voices on it, but it is moderated to avoid being too confusing. The performers behind Ian and Susan are present, as well as some guest stars, the director, Frank Cox, and a couple of crew members. In all, there is a wealth of information to be gleaned from these tracks. Also included is a photo gallery and PDF materials, which include some design sketches. Pretty neat.
For a serial so old, “The Sensorites” looks good. The audio and picture have been remastered, of course, and perhaps that’s why it took so long to reach release. The work is fantastic, and one may be surprised at how nicely it is presented, considering.
Buy Doctor Who – “The Sensorites,” available now on DVD.