Thursday 16 August 2012

Story 7 - The Sensorites

In which the TARDIS materialises aboard a spaceship from 28th Century Earth. On the bridge are two crewmembers, apparently dead. It transpires that they are in fact in a deep trance which mimics death, and they soon revive. Captain Maitland explains that they are being kept in this state by the Sensorites - inhabitants of the planet Sense-Sphere, which they are currently orbiting. One of the aliens is also onboard, and it steals the TARDIS lock.
Barbara and Susan go off in search of water, and encounter the third crewmember - John. He has been driven mad through contact with the Sensorites. He had discovered that their planet is rich in the mineral molybdenum. Sensorites have strong telepathic abilities, enhanced by special devices. They make contact with Susan and insist she travel down to the planet with them. The Doctor, naturally, refuses to allow this - discovering that the creatures are susceptible to loud noise and darkness, which he uses against them. They eventually allow him and Ian to accompany Susan to the Sense-Sphere, along with John and fellow crewmember Carol.

John is given over to the care of the First Scientist to be cured, whilst the others meet the First Elder who rules this world. He explains that ever since a previous expedition from Earth visited their planet, many Sensorites have died from a mysterious illness. That expedition was destroyed when their ship exploded on lift-off. The Sensorites fear exploitation and further contact with aliens. They read John's mind when he discovered the molybdenum and so drove him insane and placed his colleagues in their trance-like state - to prevent them reporting the find to Earth.
Ian succumbs to the illness, and the Doctor discovers that it is atropine poisoning of the water supply which is the cause. The City Administrator fears the strangers and does everything in his power to destroy them.
Ian is cured, and the Doctor discovers that three Earthmen from the previous expedition are still alive and living in the darkened aqueduct - believing themselves to be at war with the Sensorites. They have poisoned the water with Deadly Nightshade. They are captured, and the treachery of the City Administrator exposed. He is sent into exile. Maitland and his crew are free to return home. They will take the other humans with them.

This six part story was written by Peter R Newman, and was broadcast between 20th June and 1st August 1964. This was Newman's sole contribution to the programme. Very little was known about him - until a great piece of detective work for the recent DVD release of this story. It's worth buying for this alone, as the story overall is a bit of a disappointment. There is a very strong opening couple of episodes, set aboard the darkened spaceship. The silent Sensorites and the potentially dangerous John add tension. The ending to episode one - with the appearance of a Sensorite at the window looking in at the travellers is downright spooky.
Things fall apart when we get down to the Sense-Sphere. It is a brave attempt to create a realistic alien society, with its strict caste system, but it is difficult to find interest in their politicking. Xenophobia is a running theme of this story, and it is this which drives the chief villain of the piece - Peter Glaze's City Administrator. He is willing to murder his own people and commit treason in order to protect his society from the humans.
The Sensorite costumes and masks are quite effective. They won't return to the programme again, but they will go on to inspire the new series' Ood. (The Ood-Sphere neighbours the Sense-Sphere).

Of the guest cast, special mention must be made of Stephen Dartnell as the initially deranged John. He had previously appeared in the final episode of The Keys of Marinus, buried under rubber, as Yartek.
After a strong role in the previous story, Barbara has little to do in this tale - being left behind on the spaceship so that Jacqueline Hill could have her fortnight's holiday.
Carole Ann Ford has cited this as one of her favourite stories, as it came closest to realising the early potential of her character. Susan's telepathic abilities appear in this story for the first - and last - time.
For the first time in the series, it is the Doctor who takes the lead throughout - solving the mystery of the illness by scientific investigation, exploring the aqueduct on his own, then leading Ian back into the tunnels to confront the previous expedition members.
Episode endings for this story are:

  1. Strangers in Space - Ian stares at the window. The ghostly image of a Sensorite appears.
  2. The Unwilling Warriors - Susan appears at the door to the bridge, flanked by two Sensorites. She must go with them to their planet.
  3. Hidden Danger - Ian collapses - victim of the poisoning, for which there is apparently no cure.
  4. A Race Against Death - The Doctor has gone alone to explore the aqueduct. He hears the roaring of a savage creature somewhere in the darkness.
  5. Kidnap - Carol is, er, kidnapped...
  6. A Desperate Venture - As they watch Maitland's ship fly off, Ian comments that at least that crew know where they are going. The Doctor takes umbrage at this and threatens to throw the teachers off at their next destination - no matter where, or when, it is.  

Overall, a strong opening couple of episodes, but things go a bit flat with the latter planet-bound part of the story. There is a lovely scene at the beginning where we see the bridge of Maitland's ship through the TARDIS doors. The travellers walk through and we turn to see Susan locking the ship - giving the real impression that they have materialised onboard, thanks to the positioning of the two sets. We also have the first spaceship model work of the series.
Things you might not have known:

  • Jacquline Hill appears to have made it further than Bognor Regis for her holidays - her tan is noticeable in the final episode. Perhaps Maitland's ship has a solarium... There might also be a hairdressers - as Carol manages to get her hair done midway through the story.
  • There was a one week gap between episodes 2 and 3. This was due to sports programming (Wimbledon). This will be the only time a break will occur in the middle of a story. 
  • Can this really be the first time the TARDIS has materialised onboard a spaceship? The dialogue at the opening (and the ending of The Aztecs) suggests that it is.

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