|(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
In-Depth Analysis Review
by Martin Izsak
WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for
those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers,
read the Buyers' Guide version instead.
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" story 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 suspenseful under a creative director
turns out to be rather lame here.
Episode 2: The Unwilling Warriors - directed by Mervyn Pinfield
The audience misses out on the materialization effect
again in both the visual and sound departments, but at least
we do get a nice explanatory interior scene to begin with.
We get a quick list of previous television stories (do I
detect story-padding anyone?), which is not half as interesting
as the non-television adventure that the Doctor spontaneously
remembers. Although very well and humorously told, the
thrust of it is once more a deceptive non-involved scurrying
back to the TARDIS (snore). One of the characters even
wonders why they even bother to ever go outside of the TARDIS.
Good question. We're off to a very exciting and adventurous
start in this story aren't we? Some writers haven't learned
the basics then, obviously. Later in the spaceship, the Doctor
supposedly defends his motives by announcing that he hasn't
got an ounce of curiosity in him. If that were really true, which
"The Dead Planet" (episode 1 of story no. 2)
obviously proved it isn't, it's likely
that no audience would be very interested in watching the show!
Nothing to be proud of, Doctor, even if it were true, so don't
push for it! We like you curious and meddlesome!
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.
With Carol and Maitland, we get two more characters who remain
incoherent for far too long a time - they take too long to explain
themselves and their situation, which they don't really understand
all that well. A bit of action ensues when the spaceship drops
towards the planet and needs a quick course correction, but the
real battle is between the sound effects and the dialogue over
which of them will be louder and heard more clearly. The
sequence ends up being more confusing than suspenseful or exciting,
although I suspect a good DVD audio restoration could correct
this and make it good again. As of yet, only the last two shots
were durable enough to remain worthwhile - first
an excellent view of the planet streaking by the viewscreen
in front of Barbara as the ship veers off, followed by a clear
one of Maitland asking himself why he couldn't operate the controls
properly. At last the sequence makes some sense, but it's a
Yet another writer involves the time travellers with
the typical, poor season one plot device - they are prevented
from entering the TARDIS and leaving. It is particularly
ridiculous in this adventure, with the Sensorites removing
the lock entirely. Even if the block-transfer-computation-generated
TARDIS Real World Interface actually DID allow
part of itself to be removed, you'd think the doors would
be swinging open in the wind after that! Thankfully,
the plot only dwells on this to a bare minimum extent
after episode two, and so the rest of the story is not
a total loss.
Things get worse as Susan and Barbara explore deeper into
the ship - I've never encountered more dead air-time anywhere
in television. The two women stare at John, and John stares
blankly into space, and the three of them take tiny baby steps
back and forth as slowly as possible, the odd plot-dead muttering
doing little to keep the heavy, suffocating silence from
smothering the story altogether. Such empty scenes continue
to be prolific in these first two episodes, with Ian and the
Sensorites adding more of the same to the proceedings.
Oh, if only a few of the basics in creating suspense were
applied here! First the writing:
there is little about the characters of John or the Sensorites
that makes them threatening, in what others say about them, or
in what they do, and they don't get a chance to say anything
of consequence in the first two episodes either. They are presented
somewhat as unknowns... but that doesn't automatically also imply
a threat to any civilized mind.
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.
Second, the directing: if the characters are going to move,
let them get to wherever they're going in a decent time frame.
The DWM Archive 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 telepathic 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. Ian, of all
people, is chosen to walk slowly around the console, and
stare out the window for a painfully long time, with only a
word of dialogue at the end - a formula for obtaining a scene
with a wooden performance if ever there was one.
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 - not
all aliens (or foreign cultures) are nasty, and some
conflicts are simple misunderstandings gone too far.
(A great pity this conflict of misunderstanding was so
dramatically empty while it lasted though.)
Episode 4: A Race Against Death - directed by Mervyn Pinfield
We take a trip down to the planet, confusingly
called the Sense Sphere (couldn't they come up with anything
better?), and we are introduced to many Sensorites
whose differing characters and points of view are soon
made clear. The plot thickens, as our friends are challenged
by both a mystery regarding a disease and a conspiracy
among the members of the Sensorite government - at last some
palatable conflict to keep dramatic interest in the story high.
We also get a real villain in the City Administrator.
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 on the spaceship with
With Ian also temporarily out of action via the disease,
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! After dealing
with the disease on a chemical level, during which 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 using the Rorschach musical track the
way it should be), the Doctor is quite prepared to boldly venture
forth into the aqueduct alone, and confront the disease's cause and
any monsters therein, despite the fears and warnings of the
Sensorites' toughest warrior. His first scene outside the
aqueduct with the Sensorite 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. Too
bad someone got a little clumsy with the spotlight at the
end of episode four.
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. Thankfully the spotlight
problem is fixed with a re-shoot of the cliffhanger moment.
Episode 6: A Desperate Venture - directed by Frank Cox
The plot continues to stay intriguing as the
City Administrator deftly sidesteps each challenging
revelation to keep his secrets secret, to take advantage of
misfortune, and to gain even more power. Shades of "The X-Files!"
This is great conspiracy stuff!
Thankfully, John also finally develops into a coherent and
likeable character (and it's about time!). The Sensorite 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.
The Earth people and the time travellers all figure out
who the Sensorite villain is near the end of episode five,
yet they don't tell the First Elder because they don't believe
they have the right evidence. Okay, so John's word isn't enough -
he's been too incoherent while gathering his information.
Would a warning or conveying of suspicion not be prudent under
the circumstances though?
Then our villain kidnaps Carol, threatens her, and later
John rescues her from a henchman. Carol has been lucid since
arriving on the planet, and she can identify our villain - is her
first-hand eye-witness testimony still not evidence enough for
them to mention something to the First Elder? She has several
subsequent scenes with the First Elder, and seems quite happy
to not even bring up the subject!
Barbara arrives on the planet at the beginning of episode
six, and tells Susan that the
Sensorite working against them must be motivated by a lust
for power and not just fear, and that she can see that
more clearly because she has been on the ship.
Not that that makes the slightest bit of difference in
convincing anyone to mention something to the First Elder.
"The Sensorites" is all over rather abruptly, reason being
that it lacks a scene that satisfactorily wraps up the whole
conspiracy plot. The Sensorite villain is never confronted and
subdued on-screen, and the drama has been so leading up to his
come-uppance! Rather, the non-Sensorite aqueduct expedition comes
back with an altered map, and this supposedly puts the blame firmly
and squarely on the City Administrator. Huh?? That doesn't make a
lot of sense to me, especially as our villain had one of his
henchmen do the alterations. Better evidence existed previously.
This plot is wrapped up with only a few asides between Ian and the
First Elder, and done quickly (probably in hopes that no one
will examine it too closely and notice how ridiculous it is).
Perhaps the whole point is to shift the villainy to the
"human" monsters in the aqueduct. A better way of doing this
would have been to put the final confrontation scene with the
City Administrator at the beginning of episode six, and not
wait until the very end of the story to side-step it clumsily.
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, as the Doctor and Ian encounter
the human villains for the first time, but this is quite short
and doesn't do the story too much damage at this point. The
commanding human villain takes charge of episode six's drama,
a truly tragic and understandable character, well portrayed by
John Bailey, who would return as Edward Waterfield in
"The Evil of the Daleks" (story no. 36),
and portray a similarly tragic figure in the final episode of
"The Horns of Nimon" (story no. 108).
The Doctor and Ian spend most of their time simply listening,
which is the wisest way of dealing with him, however when they
do speak, at least half of their lines contain out-and-out
falsehoods. This is a very disappointing display of lack of
character for the show's two heroes, and demonstrates a lack
of ingenuity on the writer's part. There was plenty of truth
to tell the human commander that would have done the same job
of pleasing his ears (such as the correct number of humans
on the Sense Sphere at the time).
Anyway, the ploy works to draw the human villains into
custody, and after too quick a wrap up scene with the First
Elder, we suddenly skip the space ship interior and the police
box to find ourselves in the TARDIS again for the final scene,
knowing that we've missed something somewhere. It's a great
scene though, finally doing justice to the Spaceship exterior
as it appears on the scanner screen, and 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 original 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 villainous 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 speaking humans in the
aqueduct and only two are credited. John Bailey's commander
refers to his subordinates as numbers one and two, so if you
don't happen to recognize him or have additional documentation on
hand, you are left wondering if either he has been left out
(a great injustice as he probably has more lines than anyone
else in episode six), or if a very confusing re-numbering has taken
place. Bailey has in fact been left out of Lionheart's credits.
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.
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