Doctor Who Sunday: The Sensorites
Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.
We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…
Before this: The Aztecs
Season 1, Episode 6: The Sensorites
Background: The Sensorites is a six-parter story, which is most notable because it contains mentions of Susan and the Doctor’s home planet, as well as Susan’s telepathy skills. Also, the actor who played “John” also played the Voord leader in The Keys of Marinus.
The Sensorites was another excellent story, although very slow to get started. A common trait that has become apparent watching these early Classic Who stories is that they all have some form of moral or issue that is being dealt with. For example The Aztecs deals with the idea of altering history, and how it isn’t permitted; likewise in The Mutants the concepts of pacifism and violence are explored as options, as well as the fear of nuclear annihilation and racism. In The Sensorites, the big issue dealt with is trust: trust between different peoples, and trust between the servants and leaders. Whilst greed is also an issue that is touched on, it is trust which makes this story riveting. Also, Susan’s seemingly development of psychic powers is intriguing and enjoyable aspect of the story, which could have been explained a little further.
One of the best features of the story was the depiction of the alien race, the Sensorites, as a fractured society. Whilst there was a strict caste system, individual Sensorites have ambitions and desires which transcend their societal requirements. As opposed to the Daleks who obey all orders and their hierarchies are sacred, the Sensorites are much more relatable as aliens. The other aspect that made the Sensorites a fantastic alien species was their transition from villains to allies. In the first episode, the Sensorites only appear in the last scene, as a menacing figure outside the space ship. However, they have managed to completely incapacitate a crew of humans, driving one of them insane in the process. This initially leads the viewers to believe that the Sensorites as a whole are villainous in their intent. Only after they make a more regular appearance to they become less sinister and more pathetic as villains. Despite their seeming strong psychic powers (which the Doctor is immune to, and Susan seems to master), that is the only advantage the Sensorites have over the humans (and Time Lords). Eventually, the Sensorites become much less threatening, indeed allies, minus a few paranoid nationalists within their ranks.
Another interesting part of this story was Susan and telepathy. Possibly because Time Lords/Ladies have mild telepathic abilities themselves, Susan seems to be particularly susceptible to the Sensorite attacks. As a result of this possible maturing of her character, she and the Doctor have their first major fight, which results in the Doctor angrily lashing out at her. Whilst the fight seems quite unexpected, it is also important to reflect how worried the Doctor is for his grandchild at this point in time. It is also their first major fight, which indicates that this is really the beginning of her maturation as a character. Whilst this is seemingly unimportant at this stage of development, especially when she once again gets a background role after the first three or so episodes, it does have ramifications later in the series. However, the fight also shows how close Susan and the Doctor are, as well as how close Susan and the human companions, Ian and Barbara are. Whilst the psychic link is never really explored, I personally like to believe that it is actually a sign of Time Lords/Ladies maturing, similar to puberty in humans, although on a more sophisticated level.
Overall however, The Sensorites was enjoyable. Despite its slow start, the surprising turnaround of the alien Sensorites from mysterious villains to potential allies, ambitious nationalists aside, make a very interesting concept, and one not often explored in modern television series. The other enjoyable part of the story was Susan’s psychic powers, which could have been explained further. However, despite the few minor problems (and hilariously outdated costumes – which is even made fun of during the show), The Sensorites is a very enjoyable serial.
The Sensorites is another alien episode, which is a good start, because despite the cardboard sets and the laughable costumes, classic Who does great alien stories. Maybe it’s because their stories are so much longer and have much more time to mature, but despite being long, The Sensorites is thought-provoking and a good watch. The episode starts off with our time travellers arriving inside a ship, with the pilots dead. But they’re not really dead; they’re in a sleep state due to the psychic powers of the mysterious aliens on the planet below them, who keep them alive but refuse to let them leave the vicinity. There’s a lot of intrigue in that first episode: who are the Sensorites? What do they want? Why are they set on trapping but not killing everyone on the ship? The alien race known as the Sensorites only appear briefly on screen at the end of the episode, similar to the Dalek reveal at the end of the first episode of The Mutants. It’s a luxury that a six-part episode can afford – the new episodes just don’t have the time to draw out the introduction of their antagonists over 25 minutes.
However, they’re not even really antagonists, as we find out later. Another interesting thing classic Who does is generally refuse to lump a species of alien together as uniformly ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There are some exceptions – the Daleks are nasty, while the Thaal are mostly good, but the alien races in The Keys of Marinus are diverse, as are the Sensorites in this episode. Of course, there are societal problems, the main one being that there is a caste system. The higher-ups are confident that the plebs are content, but who really knows? But that’s not really all that relevant here. What is relevant is the fact that Sensorites all look more or less the same, even to each other, and that there are some Sensorites that believe that humans are all greedy and dangerous. It’s a good look at how distrust of “different” people can be destructive, and obviously does not turn out well for the Sensorites in question.
One of the more interesting things to happen in this episode is Susan’s psychic abilities. She briefly gains the ability to communicate telepathically – how Sensorites communicate over distance. Her skill pops up in this episode only to vanish immediately after, but it’s good to see her doing something. In addition, this skill is a point which she and the Doctor disagree on. It’s one of their first real arguments, which leads on to something bigger in later episodes. It may seem out of character at first: one of Susan’s defining traits is the fact that she loves her grandfather, and often, if not always, obeys him. But she has defied him before, such as when she leaves to find an antidote in The Mutants. It is simply a sign of her growing maturity, which is nice to see, even if she ends up doing what the Doctor says in this episode.
All in all, a pleasing story, even if the Sensorites look ridiculous close up.