The Sensorites ***

The Doctor and Susan clash over telepathic, Ood-inspiring aliens from the Sense-Sphere

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
The Sensorites  ***

Season 1 – Story 7

"Grandfather, it was the only way. They knew I'd agree... To go down with them to their planet, otherwise we'll all be killed" - Susan

Storyline

The time team materialise inside a spaceship and discover its human occupants, Maitland, John and Carol, in thrall to beings called the Sensorites, around whose planet they are orbiting. The aliens trap the Doctor and his companions by removing the lock from the Tardis, and all except Maitland and Barbara are taken to the planet, or Sense-Sphere. There, Ian falls prey to the same illness that has been killing Sensorites. And while the Doctor tries to find a cure, suspicion about all the visitors' activities grows among their hosts, especially the City Administrator…

First transmissions
1. Strangers in Space - Saturday 20 June 1964
2. The Unwilling Warriors - Saturday 27 June 1964
3. Hidden Danger - Saturday 11 July 1964
4. A Race against Death - Saturday 18 July 1964
5. Kidnap - Saturday 25 July 1964
6. A Desperate Venture - Saturday 1 August 1964

Production
Filming: May 1964 at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: May/June 1964 in Television Centre 3 (eps 1 & 2); June in Television Centre 4 (ep 4); June/July in Lime Grove D (eps 3, 5 & 6)

Cast
Doctor Who - William Hartnell
Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill
Ian Chesterton - William Russell
Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford
John - Stephen Dartnell
Carol - Ilona Rogers
Maitland - Lorne Cossette
Commander - John Bailey
Sensorites:
First - Ken Tyllsen
Second - Joe Greig
Third (City Administrator) - Peter Glaze
Fourth - Arthur Newall
First Elder - Eric Francis
Second Elder - Bartlett Mullins
Scientist - Ken Tyllsen

Crew
Writer - Peter R Newman
Incidental music - Norman Kay
Story editor - David Whitaker
Designer - Raymond P Cusick
Producer - Verity Lambert
Directors - Mervyn Pinfield (1–4); Frank Cox (5,6)

RT Review by Mark Braxton 
While Doctor Who's early historicals are consistently strong, the futuristic stories struggle for the same evenness of quality. For every Daleks there is a Keys of Marinus…and then there is this curate's egg of a caper, which falls somewhere in between.

The most notable feature of Peter R Newman's sole Who contribution is the eponymous race of telepaths. The Sensorites are a triumph of realisation, in their appearance (noseless, elongated gnomes with polo necks and pancake feet) and in their hierarchy, culture and customs. Their sinister introduction at a spaceship porthole contrasts with their gradual revelation as a meek, intelligent and sociable species.

The cast, from beneath restrictive masks, do their utmost to distinguish one from the other – Crackerjack's blustering double-take supremo Peter Glaze makes a memorably irksome baddie. The creatures clearly struck a chord: Russell T Davies even claimed they were an influence on the spaghetti-dangling Ood of recent times.

But the story's greatest success may also be its downfall. Newman appears to have developed the guest aliens at the expense of the terrestrials. Though Stephen Dartnell is upsettingly good as the psychologically damaged John, his astronaut colleagues are a bit of a shower – an alienatingly posh one at that. As a parable of trust and tolerance, The Sensorites ticks all the boxes, but it's dramatically lame because there's no real escalation in the heroes' plight; it just potters along and then peters out.

Having said that, it's a great story for the Doctor, whose endearing knack for name-dropping really takes off (he and Henry VIII threw a bit of chicken at each other; Beau Brummel admired him in a cloak). His anger, unprovoked or random in previous stories, has genuine motivation now. The protective patriarch is in high, lapel-grasping dudgeon whenever his companions are threatened, especially granddaughter Susan. Their close bond is affectingly played both by William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford.

It's a key story for Susan, too. Her hidden talent for telepathy is unveiled (sadly, it was never explored further), and she's gifted a juicy description – one that would have been lapped up by contemporary viewers aching for more back story for her and the Doctor: "It's ages since we've seen our planet. It's quite like Earth. But at night the sky is a burnt orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver." Evidently Russell T Davies loved it, too. He borrowed it in 2007 for the Doctor's chat to Martha in Gridlock, then visualised it in budget-blowing style in The Sound of Drums.

Another slice of TV history is conjured up in more physical fashion. As the Doc squad take their first tentative steps into the spaceship, the camera follows them from the main console out through the Tardis door, in one continuous take. Anyone researching a list of the show's magic moments should put that one high up.

- - -

Radio Times archive material

There was a small introduction for the story in June 1964, and William Hartnell was profiled in the 18 July edition. July also saw the publication of an amusingly prescient RT letter

RT billings
1. Strangers in Space 
2. The Unwilling Warriors 
3. Hidden Danger
4. A Race against Death
5. Kidnap
6. A Desperate Venture

[Available on BBC DVD and BBC Audio CD]

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