Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: The Sensorites

Strangers in Space

"There's not an ounce of curiosity in me, my dear boy. Tell me, why are you in danger?"

A very eerie and atmospheric episode in which the TARDISeers explore their surroundings. Already this is looking like a "typical" first episode, naturally including a scene in which our heroes are separated from the Ship. Great line from the Doctor: "I learned not to meddle in other people's affairs years ago." Ian's reaction is great.

Other observations; the women are doing the cooking, obviously; the guest actors are a bit cardboard; that door sounds exactly like the ones in the Dalek story- will we be hearing this sound effect often?

The Unwilling Warriors

"Isn't it better to travel hopefully than... arrive?"

We get mentions of two untransmitted adventures here, involving Henry VIII and the telepathic plants on Esto.

Oddly enough, this is the first real "space opera" story, but I very much get the impression that the production scene are not too familiar with the tropes, which are not being used in anything like the shorthand way we'll be seeing by the Pertwee era. The colonialism theme that seems to be developing is treated very oddly; in this episode the TARDISeers almost seem to be siding with big business against the native people.

The Doctor's speech about the melting points of iron and molybdenum... er, what? Mind you, the Doctor's confrontation with the Sensorites leads to some top lapel clutching action.

Once again, it's noticeably that once a script gives Susan some characterisation (not that I want to praise the scripting too highly, mind!) Carole Ann Ford puts in a good performance.

Hidden Danger

"I don't agree with all this splitting up. It always leads to trouble."

It's a shame, but the argument scene between the Doctor and Susan doesn't really work; the script treats Susan as being basically a child, not only perceived as such. The bargaining with the Sensorites seems odd, and the Sensorites oddly reasonable to the point of gullibility, which never quite rings true; they hold all the cards at this point. It's a shame, but although the story still entertains from this point, as soon as the Doctor, Susan and Ian reach the Sense-Sphere it becomes increasingly obvious that this is aimed at a very young audience. Funniest line so far: "Are the hearts of the human creatures on the right or left side of their bodies or in the centre, as in ours?"

As soon as Ian starts coughing, having drunk water from the plebs' supply, it's perfectly obvious that this is where the "plague" comes from and that Ian has just contracted it. We can already predict the cliffhanger and half the next episode.

A Race Against Death

"Who is to know that I am not the Second Elder now?"

Carol's line to the City Administrator about not knowing what she's do if the Sensorites swap their sashes all but reveals to us the half of the coming episode's events we didn't already know! The City Administrator's comment "I hadn't though of that" amused me no end- these Sensorites are not very bright, are they? Their certain eventual fate under earth imperialist rule already looks inevitable.

Incidentally, if the Sensorites don't like sound or darkness, who built the aqueduct? And surely it's obvious that the poison is being made there?

Still, this is all good fun, even though it's clearly aimed at very young kids!


"We have the perfect society. All are contented."

Interesting comment from the Doctor: "Something hit me under the heart and it was most unpleasant". Once again, that's heart, singular. Another interesting line from the City Administrator's underling: "I heard them over... over... talking!" The City Administrator seems to dispatch the Second Elder rather suddenly and easily.

Oh, more namedropping from the Doctor- Beau Brummell this time! This seems to be becoming quite a feature. And the cloak is rather fetching, it must be said.

Hmmm. So the TARDISeers recommend the City Administrator for the vacant Second Elder position, and the First Elder duly states: "And once this order is made, only a betrayal of trust can set it aside." That's the biggest problem with this story; dialogue can give away what's going to happen, sometimes a long way in the future. The story is hardly brimming with suspense. Fortunately though, the sheer predictability of it all is quite hilarious. A brief conversation between Carol and the scientist immediately gives away the identities of the baddies in the aqueduct!

It's quite a surprise that the cliffhanger happens to Carol, a supporting character. And the kidnap which gives rise to the title only happens in the last few seconds.

A Desperate Venture

"All they had left was the game they played- the game of war."

The City Administrator is hilarious whenever he refers to "The Man John".

Susan gets a wonderful speech describing her home planet to the First Elder- the first of a fair few good character scenes for the regulars in this episode: "It's quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange. The leaves on the trees are bright silver". Carole Ann Ford is really quite excellent in this episode, as she always is with good material.

Incidentally, Stephen Dartnell is also excellent as The Man John (as he must always be called!) especially as he really brings out the contrast after he's cured.

The way the humans in the aqueduct are depicted is interesting; they remind me of those Japanese soldiers who remained deep in the jungle after the end of the Second World War. And for once the script seems to indicate an anti-colonialist viewpoint on the author's part, something we can take for granted in later eras. It's still interesting how the tropes of space opera are being handled with kid gloves here; little things like the constant use of "space ship" rather than "ship" stand out.

The conversation between Susan and the Doctor in the TARDIS at the end is fascinating, and capable of multiple interpretations- do they both want to get home if only the Doctor could steer the TARDIS, or is the Doctor just saying these things for Susan's benefit? It's very difficult not to relate this to the revelations of later eras but I shall try to resist! It seems Susan's eventual departure is being prepared for: "Sometimes I feel I want to belong somewhere, not just be a wanderer".

The Doctor gets a bit stroppy at the end, threatening to put Ian and Barbara off the Ship! The thing is, though, we've moved on a lot since The Edge of Destruction; we know he doesn't mean it.

Overall... well, that was all very silly, but rather enjoyable just the same. I know I've been ripping the proverbial out of it, and some of the exposition was laugh-out-loud hilarious, but at least it was never dull. Plus the TARDISeers were all well treated by the script. I'm in a good mood- 3/5.

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