Doctor Who (Classic): S01E07 “The Sensorites”

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

When you produce 42 episode in a year, it is very difficult to maintain quality throughout especially when there is no real formula to fall back on and plenty of creativity required to create new alien races. Even with the reduced episode runs in the modern day, Doctor Who just occasionally tosses up a real stinker. While they already had a serial that fell short of being good in “Marco Polo”, “The Sensorites” is the first time the show has failed so badly.

The show fails right off the bat as the Sensorites are just terrible looking and may be the worst looking aliens the show has ever done. I know they can’t all be as great as The Daleks, but they are disgusting to look at (and not in a good way) with their awful fake beards with upturned ends, large scrotum-like heads, and Greendale human being styled body suits. Their low voices are way too weak and they are reduced to whimpering messes by the mere act of turning off the lights. It’s hard to effectively convey telepathy (their main gimmick) and while they do provide the opportunities for the guest stars to comically overact while their brains are being invaded, they don’t even have the power natural and must raise a small metal objects to their heads each time to use it making it little more useful than a cell phone in practical use though it also doubles as a weapon (which just seems odd to need to have). They also have the worst system of identifying each other with one Sensorite being able to disguise himself as another simply by wearing that person’s sash making Clark Kent seem like a master of disguise by comparison.

The story returns to a single long story with little to break up each episode and this is not a story which can sustain itself for six long episodes. The story is essentially The Doctor and his companions are again trapped by aliens while he again fixes their problem this time the problem being the mystery of why so many of them are getting sick and dying (so much of an opportunity to set up a parable about invading people from Earth killing natives through disease which is mentioned but not taken advantage of). There is also the desire to keep them from leaving because previous Earth missions (including the one the Tardis landed on) have discovered supplies of Molybdenum and they do not want their planet exploited. Even with Ian falling ill at one point, there never seems to be much propulsion to the story and no apparent rush to save them. It takes a bit to even get to the villainous group of Sensorites who seek to oppose their efforts and gain power and even then their plans are left way too vague. Maybe it’s just the proximity to a rewatch of the episode, but the villainous group of Sensorites who think their species is being weakened through kindness of the Earth people gave me flashbacks to Santa Claus Conquers the Martians though I am also reminded of last week’s far superior “The Aztecs” which was better able to justify a similar fear.

This serial follows up a quick bit of foreshadowing “The Keys of Marinus” by confirming Susan’s latent telepathic abilities and there are attempts to use it for their advantage but it still seems underwritten as we are never really given a reason for why she would have them. It’s as if a horror series crashed landed into the show and it rates at best mild surprise. There are also hints The Doctor may have a mild form, but this is quickly forgotten and never followed up on.

There is also an attempt to do another take on the “none of us are capable of being evil”, but it already feels too similar to the pacifist Thals of “The Daleks” and the characters of “The Keys of Marinus” under the effects of the Conscience of Marinus. They seem to make little attempt at actually following through with the idea (why do they have weapons then if it is such a peaceful society and shouldn’t they have been quickly defeated by those capable of evil) aside from just as an excuse for them to continue to doubt The Doctor and companions and there isn’t even a reason given for how any of them can be evil (though there already seems to be a policy in place for dealing with evil Sensorites). There’s also another group of humans who are long hinted at but not seen until about half way through the final episode and then quickly defused. They are villains almost in name only (they are the ones responsible for the poisonings but have apparently gone insane into thinking they are at was with The Sensorites) and there appearance does nothing but kill time in an episode sputtering to its conclusion. Even the issue of the evil Sensorites is anticlimactically resolved with the head bad guy quickly disarmed and then shunted off with most of the final episode to go. The stores of molybdenum that was supposedly the entire basis for both Earth missions haven’t gone away and there’s no reason to think Earth won’t send out another crew, but the story just forgets about it and acts like it is a happy ending. There’s potential hidden in the story, but all that comes through is a dull mess that is one of the lowlights of the First Doctor’s run.

Grade: D

Stray Observations

– “Stop treating me like a child”. Stop acting like a child Susan and maybe people will treat you like an adult.
– Like others before her, Barbara awkwardly takes off two episodes in the middle so Jacqueline Hill could have a vacation a continuing side effect of producing so many episodes a year.
– “It’s quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burnt orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.” We finally get our first description of the still unnamed Gallifrey from Susan though we are a long way off from actually seeing it.
– The Sensorites were apparently a big influence on the development of the Ood so I guess that is one point in their favor, but the Ood are a much better execution of a similar concept.
– This week in cliffhangers: Despite having shown to have no clue where they are going each time and having admitted as such in the past, The Doctor inexplicably blows up at a joke from Ian and tells him that he can get off at the next stop.

Next Up: “The Reign of Terror” on Friday as we close out Season 1.