|(Doctor Who Story No. 7, starring William Hartnell)
- written by Peter R. Newman
- directed by Mervyn Pinfield (episodes 1-4)
and Frank Cox (episodes 5-6)
- produced by Verity Lambert
- music by Norman Kay
- 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each:
- Strangers in Space
- The Unwilling Warriors
- Hidden Danger
- A Race Against Death
- A Desperate Venture
Story: The Doctor and friends find themselves on
a spacecraft orbiting a planet known as the Sense Sphere.
The ship's human crew are found in a catatonic state induced
by strange attacks from the Sensorites, mysterious hidden
beings from the planet below. Have the humans done or
discovered anything to provoke these mental battles? Do the
Sensorites conceal hidden agendas of their own? In the midst
of this web of intrigue, the Doctor finds that loyalties
amongst his fellow TARDIS travelers are tested as well....
DVD Extras include:
- Audio commentary by Carole Ann Ford (Susan),
William Russell (Ian Chesterton),
Joe Greig (2nd Sensorite / 2nd Scientist),
Martyn Huntley (First Human),
Giles Phipps/Phibbs (Second Human),
designer Raymond Cusick,
director Frank Cox,
make-up designer Sonia Markham,
and moderator Tobe Hadoke.
- "Looking for Peter" featurette on writer Peter R. Newman (21 min.)
- "Vision On" interview of Vision Mixer Clive Doig
on how most of the "editing" was done "as live"
during recording of early Doctor Who (7 min.)
- "Secret Voices of the Sense Sphere" featurette (2 min.)
- Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
- Photo Gallery
Buyers' Guide Review
by Martin Izsak
(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended
for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed
Here we are with another of the good stories of the William Hartnell era,
although this one is a bit more uneven than its more highly regarded
predecessors. The story's strengths are in the middle episodes,
while early episodes are a bit padded and the last episode gets a bit too
unfocused. Still, the basic premise is refreshing and thought-provoking,
and time is taken to examine it from many interesting angles. This story
certainly holds its own against many of its rival season two and three
William Hartnell adventures.
Episode 1: Strangers in Space
Verity Lambert decided that there was not enough drama
in the original episodes three and four of the
"Planet of Giants" story
("Crisis" and "An Urge to Live"), and so she gave the order
to have those two episodes condensed into one, resulting in the
episode three that we have all come to know and love ("Crisis").
If only she had adopted that same practice here! The first two
episodes of "The Sensorites" have a lot of good and even
excellent tidbits in them, but there isn't half as much decent
drama as is required to fill out two 25-minute slots, and a lot of
what might have been made good under a creative director turns
out to be rather lame here.
Episode 2: The Unwilling Warriors - directed by Mervyn Pinfield
The transition out into the spaceship from the TARDIS interior
to the police box exterior is of one the best seen since the very
first story. The exploration of the bridge, and the tidbits of
"science" teaching aren't bad - the science is real, including
spectrographic studies of stars and planets, and the information
is rather interesting, at least for us astronomer types in the
The actual events in the space ship are a bit of a let down.
Things get worse as the characters explore deeper into
the ship - I've never encountered more dead air-time anywhere
in television. Many of the new characters are presented
somewhat as unknowns... but that doesn't automatically also imply
a threat to any civilized mind.
Oh, if only a few of the basics in creating suspense were
Perhaps what little suspense was in the writing simply remained far
too internalized, and not enough thought was given to how the
production could successfully externalize this horror so they'd have
something to shoot in the studio.
Another problem with the directing is as follows:
If the characters are going to move,
let them get to wherever they're going in a decent time frame.
The Doctor Who Magazine Archive article for this story
suggests that director Mervyn Pinfield wanted
slow movement to make the sets appear larger. Who cares how
big the ship is? Better suspense in a smaller ship would make
a more interesting story.
If the characters are
going to sit and stare into the shadows, and glance back and forth,
there are things one can do to encourage the audience to feel it
with them - cut from their faces to
show the things that draw their fearful attention - the wind-up
toy monkey that spontaneously starts to jump and bang cymbals
together (a Steven Spielberg favourite), or a shadow dancing
quickly (and I do mean QUICKLY) across the passageway, or an
echoing clattering sound from the room around the corner,
or soft, padding footsteps, or a flickering light on an electronic
door-lock that lets you know that some unseen person or thing is
fiddling with it from the other side. I've mentioned sound effects,
but music is important too - unfortunately this is the only
thing that is used in these sequences, and there just isn't
enough of it to cover the amount of screen time in all such scenes
without ad nauseum repetition, which would have backfired. So
a lot of stone-dead silence reigns. A track that was only used
in the rejected Unearthly Child pilot makes numerous re-appearances
in this story, and in these scenes - it's all right for spooky
listening music, and worked well behind the Rorschach drawing,
but it's not enough to do all that these scenes require of it.
Great suspense can be done on Doctor Who within the limitations
of its first year of production -
"The Daleks" (story no. 2) proved that!
This is not a very impressive debut for Mervyn Pinfield as a
Doctor Who director! He seems to be good in the technical
and visual departments, but not so in dramatic artistry.
On the plus side, Susan finally gets to be an alien again
in this six-part story, and demonstrates abilities
that will aid her friends enormously and do her character a
lot of credit as well. Very nice touch!
Episode One's cliffhanger has a good final shot, but the
one leading up to it was not well thought out.
Episode Two's cliffhanger is much better, pulling a bit of
a surprise and shocking plot-twist on the main party, with
some implied danger as well.
These first two episodes sat at the bottom of my rankings
of Season One episodes for a long time, scheduled to win
the dreaded Wooden Turkey Award for the year. However, even with
so many production disappointments, the four regular characters
have a decent set of mysteries and challenges to face, and they
sink their teeth into them in ways that capture viewer interest
far better than the backwardly motivated episodes 4 and 5 of
"Marco Polo" (story no. 4), even if that
story was better acted and shot. The good bits of
"Strangers in Space" and "The Unwilling Warriors" prevail,
earning "The Sensorites" somewhat greater respect as a story.
And thankfully, things get much better from here on.
Episode 3: Hidden Danger
The middle of "The Sensorites" is its strength, and episode
three immediately displays a vast improvement of quality.
The writing suddenly becomes rich and full. We get yet another
corridor scene, but this time it contains drama, action, and a
good pace, as the Doctor finally joins the creeping-about and
brooks no delay in investigating, strategizing, and making his
points to everyone present. The whole, very worthwhile
point of the story finally begins to become clear....
but of course I won't spoil it for you here.
Deeper discussions of that nature are saved for the
In-depth Analysis versions
of my reviews, so if you've seen "The Sensorites" already,
you should be reading that.
Episode 4: A Race Against Death - directed by Mervyn Pinfield
The story's setting and cast soon expand considerably.
The plot thickens, as our friends are challenged
by both a mystery regarding a disease and a conspiracy
- at last some
palatable conflict to keep dramatic interest in the story high.
Peter Glaze gives us a fine portrayal, as most of the Sensorites
do. Despite the cheapness of the masks, they actually look
and work quite well, and allow a wide range of emotions to be
successfully written and acted out by all.
It is Jacqueline Hill's turn to take a vacation, and
she is not only absent for episodes four and five, but also
only appears near the beginning of episode three as her
character is forced to remain behind.
The Doctor steps forward to command the main action of the
story. William Hartnell makes a good hero, if only his
Doctor would be written for it more often! Director
Mervyn Pinfield further redeems himself by adding an excellent
montage sequence to his already good dramatic work in episodes
three and four (and finally uses the Rorschach musical track the
way it should be). The Doctor is quite prepared to boldly venture
forth into another plot strand,
despite the fears and warnings of the locals'
toughest warrior. His first scene on the brink of this venture
is both brave and humorous,
foreshadowing traits of his fourth incarnation (Tom Baker).
This is one of my favourite scenes from the first season.
The cliffhangers continue to work well. You can see
them coming, which helps build their dramatic sense, but
they still manage to be minor shockers when they occur.
Episode 5: Kidnap
Frank Cox takes over the position of director for the
remainder of the story, and continues it in much the
same good-quality vein as Mervyn Pinfield had established
for episodes three and four.
Episode 6: A Desperate Venture - directed by Frank Cox
The plot continues to stay intriguing as the
conspirators deftly sidestep each challenging
revelation to keep their secrets secret, to take advantage of
misfortune, and to gain even more power. Shades of "The X-Files!"
This is great conspiracy stuff!
The chief scientist
has a nicely emotional scene with Carol - one of the best
behind-a-mask acting moments in Doctor Who history, I think.
Susan, continuing to be a well-scripted alien character,
adds a poetic and beautiful description of the still-unnamed
home planet that she and the Doctor come from - another nice
Unfortunately, the writing begins to take a slight downturn
in its plot, becoming illogical and indicating poor planning.
To avoid spoilers though, I'll save that lengthy discussion for the
In-depth Analysis version of this
Well, in the aqueduct there is a moment that comes
dangerously close to repeating the dead air-time and false
suspense of episodes 1 and 2, but this is quite short
and doesn't do the story too much damage at this point.
"The Sensorites" is all over rather abruptly.
find ourselves in the TARDIS again for the final scene,
knowing that we've missed something somewhere. It's a great
giving us a very humorous
moment between the Doctor and Ian that will lead directly
into their conflict in the upcoming first episode of "The Reign
The scrolling end credits for the guest characters in
"The Sensorites" are quite poor, as most of them are not identified
by the same titles as we have been hearing all throughout the
story's dialogue. Without extra documentation such as "Doctor
Who: The Early Years" by Jeremy Bentham, I would not know that
it was actor Peter Glaze who played the City Administrator
so well - his name is buried simply under a plain
Sensorite listing with a number that is meaningless to anyone who
does not happen to have a copy of the script handy. I'm still
unsure as to who plays the head scientist or first warrior.
Further indications of a poorly planned script, I think.
The North American "Lionheart" version of credits
on episode six further botched things up in its attempt to
cut out the "Next Episode" caption for the incomplete, unsyndicated
story that follows and appropriately list everyone for a
version of the story, as there are three new speaking
characters where only two are credited, and in fact the
one with the greatest number of lines has been left out.
Well, "The Sensorites" definitely has some problems, but is also
a very enjoyable and interesting adventure, remaining one of the
better tales of the William Hartnell era and giving his Doctor
a large helping of the right kinds of challenges and victories.
I think it soundly beats "Marco Polo" as a story, and may yet climb up
another rung on season one's ladder of success if a DVD restoration
can polish up a few technicalities....
This story is available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you
for pricing and availability:
|DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
|DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
for North America
for the U.K.
Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact
the author from this page: