“The Sensorites”

First Doctor, Season One, Serial Seven

reviewed by Tom-Tom

Safe from the Aztecs, the crew of the TARDIS arrives in a spaceship wherein everyone seems to be dead yet carefully preserved. So begins “The Sensorites,”a suspenseful episode featuring an alien menace with psychic prowess around the Sense Sphere (perhaps in the neighborhood of the Ood Sphere from The Tenth Doctor’s time). The crew of the dead ship awakens and fearfully explain that they are the prisoners of the eponymous aliens who “won’t let [them] leave but make no attempt to kill [them].” It quickly becomes apparent that they have their own secrets. The ship plummets toward the Sense Sphere and mysterious hands appear out of nowhere to burn out and remove the lock on the TARDIS. The closing moments of the first episode has a sort of Twilight Zone feel to it which must have been pretty scary back in 1964.

Barbara and Susan get trapped with a poor guy driven mad by the Sensorites and constantly under psychic attack. Time Lords will much later show themselves to be adept at hypnotism and mind control through characters as the Master, The Rani etc but here, for the first time, through the character of Susan, who finally shows that she good at something other than screaming and twisting her ankle reveals a powerful psychic ability. She uses it to defy the Sensorites. The claustrophobic environment with creepy looking aliens aboard perhaps behind any one of the seemingly hundreds of automatic doors makes for a great amount of suspense as the motives of the aliens slowly reveal themselves. They communicate with stethoscope-like devices they press to their foreheads which connect them to their homeworld. This serial begins what is to become a frequent Doctor Who theme in that even hideous looking aliens have lives, wants, fears, and rights. The Doctor and Susan have their first real argument which is a joy to behold as Susan only ever cowers under the will of her grandfather. It’s nice to see her finally grow a spine if only for a few seconds. It’s the beginning of a break that will eventually result in her departure from the show next season. After the Aztecs adventure, this serial is sort of a continuation as it is revealed that the Sensorites are suffering from a plague seemingly brought upon the people by previous humans. The world’s leaders have their own divisions. It is a show of how seriously the writers and producers take the serial that the aliens are given the same motives, deceit, self preservation, xenophobia as humans. Each Sensorite is an individual not the hive mind of senseless creatures. They provide the standard for countless races of aliens to appear on Doctor Who, benevolent and malevolent forces occupying a complicated world to which the TARDIS crew falls in the middle. The Doctor treats them no better or worse than all people he meets. The mysterious poisoning of the lower castes is revealed and a race begins to find a cure. Xenophobic forces emerge to topple the well-meaning but ineffectual First Elder and murder the travelers. There are dark journeys into creepy aqueducts, creepy tidings of dark plots from the brain fried ship crew member, disintegrators, monsters in the dark and all sorts of fun to be had. The writing is much better than perhaps any serial this season, each character almost fully realized both human and Sensorite. The villainous City Administrator makes for an intelligent and ruthless foe:  husky voiced, quick minded, and adaptable. An unforeseen plot point rounds up this serial in spectacular fashion making this episode quite memorable with its myriad plots as complex as the darkened aqueducts in the Sensorite home city.

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