Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Sensorites (Part 1 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

It’s that time of the week folks, today I’m writing live from the outskirts of Devon to bring you my take on The Sensorites. A story with some flaws but with some great moments, and lets Susan shine for the first time in the series. 

Let’s take a look! 

We left the team confused about how the TARDIS could have stopped, but the instruments show they still moving. Everyone has changed clothes. It’s been at least a few hours, even a sleep, for our humans before they all return together to the console room. It’s Ian’s turn to wear a polo neck jumper, Barbara’s in a pretty dress and Susan’s in a dress. With this change of dress comes a fresh attitude to their next adventure. In fact, the conversation they have before they leave the TARDIS to explore is one of my favourites!

Our content TARDIS team, Susan, Barbara, The Doctor and Barbara.

IAN: There’s one thing about it, Doctor. We’re certainly different from when we started out with you.
SUSAN: That’s funny. Grandfather and I were talking about that just before you came in. How you’ve both changed.
BARBARA: Well we’ve all changed.
SUSAN: Have I?
BARBARA: Yes.
DOCTOR: Yes, it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a, quite a great spirit of adventure, don’t you think?
IAN: Yes. We’ve had some pretty rough times and even that doesn’t stop us. It’s a wonderful thing, this ship of yours, Doctor.

Look at that development! It’s lovely to watch how this four before used to really despise the idea of being together and having to rely on each other (see Edge of Destruction). Now, not only are Ian and Barbara so willing to leave the TARDIS for adventure, they accept there is danger. It still appears that they still have hope the Doctor will still get them home, one day. 

So, off the TARDIS they go and they find they are on a spaceship, and the two crew are dead. Except they’re not. Suddenly, one of them wakes and asks for a heart resuscitation device, which they use on him and his colleague. The two members of crew, Maitland and Carol explain they were not dead but in a deep sleep. They said they were put there by The Sensorites; aliens who live on the planet The Sense Sphere. They have been orbiting the planet for as long as they can remember, as it appears the aliens are using mind control to attack them.

One of the more fun moments in this episode is finding out that the crew are from 28th Century Earth. Excited about this knowledge, Ian and Barbara want to learn about their future. They then learn not only is there no more Big Ben but that London is now part of ‘Central City’. It’s the first time the series dealt with the future of Earth before, even though we had a futuristic sense of time from Marinus and The Daleks. It’s a good clip to watch these humans of the 20th Century get excited about the future they will never live to see, unless the Doctor has his way of course…  They also learn that Maitland and Carol have another crew member called John. He’s somewhere else on the ship, having been the most affected the most by the Sensorites and could be temperamental. The team decide they shouldn’t get involved or learn too much about the future; but when they go back to the TARDIS to leave the lock has been completely removed! They haven’t got a choice now but to get involved in this mystery.

The Crew and the TARDIS team in the Observation Deck.

Moments later the Sensorites attack the group telepathically again rendering them hopeless. Luckily, it doesn’t affect the Doctor or his companions. The affect on the crew causes the ship to try and go out of orbit and crash which fortunately the Doctor stops. These creatures being able to make such a difference without being present is quite a powerful thing. When the situation has solved itself, Barbara and Susan go looking for water but find John instead. He’s moving around in a zombie like state and terrifies them. Also, as the door shuts behind them it can’t be opened again. Now Ian and The Doctor can’t go to help them so they have to deal with John themselves.

The whole sequence is actually quite creepy. Despite the reuse their corridors in this episode, Barbara and Susan do a wonderful job of convincing us of the threat. They hold hands and stand their ground together against the threatening, deranged crew member. Finally, John breaks down in front of them, weeping at the horror of being controlled. Always the mother figure, Barbara strokes his hair as he lays in her lap, comforting him in their predicament. She’s hoping that the others will break through the door so they can all be reunited.

Meanwhile as Maitland is trying to cut through the door to get to them, they here another sound. It’s the the transport the Sensorites use to get onto the ship makes a low whining noise, which they can all hear. This is our first cliffhanger of the serial ends, with the Sensorites finally being introduced outside the window, peering through the observation deck.

So this is how we meet the Sensorites. As a NuWho fan, you might recognise this look from somewhere. If you look at a picture of an Odd from the Tenth Doctor era you’ll see resemblances. The mild mannered poses, the larger heads and the eyes being small are all comparable. In fact, The Tenth Doctor tells us that the races planets revolve around the same sun, which is a cool piece of canon that Russell T Davies created when he made them. 

Either way, though the Odd can appear a evil at times, the Sensorites don’t appear as threatening as their actions have been. They disappear from the observation deck window to enter the ship. The Doctor and Ian have to wake up the crew again as they have been made to fall asleep. Once awake, they can continue to cut through the door. Meanwhile, poor John is still being affected by the Sensorites as they closer to him. This time, Barbara and Susan are there with him. They tell him, to build his confidence, so that they feel safe with him now he’s on their side. This moment is when Susan shows a beautiful moment of intelligence and cunning that I wish we had seen more often in her character development. She tells Barbara about how they should try and use mental telepathy of their own to fight back against the Sensorites. She suggests that if they think about something clearly in their mind they could then defend themselves together, with the same thoughts. 

SUSAN: He’s quiet now, but we can’t be sure the Sensorites won’t make him help them. Look, if they can use their brains, why can’t we use ours?
BARBARA: To defend him?
SUSAN: Yes, and ourselves. Grandfather and I landed on a planet once called Esto. The plants there used thought transference. If you stood in between two of the plants, they set up a sort of screeching noise. Grandfather said it was because they were aware of another mind.
BARBARA: Breaking in on their communications.
SUSAN: Yes, exactly. I thought if we both tried together.
BARBARA: Well anything’s better than just sitting here.

It works! The Sensorites crumple and can’t fight back. Though it causes Susan faints it means that there probably is a way to keep themselves safe. This happens just in time for Ian and Maitland to be able to cut through the door to save them and bring them back to the observation deck to safety.  

It cuts from that scene to later on in time. The Sensorites appear to have left them to their own devices for now. Ian puts John to bed, who mumbles the phrase “the dreams of avarice.” Ian shares this with the others. This leads to the team to try and figure out why John’s reaction to the Sensorites is bigger than everyone else by seeing what he was doing before the Sensorites affected him. The Doctor puts his finger on it. He notices that John’s job, studying minerals in the Sense Sphere, meant he saw that the planet is rich in molybdenum. This is a precious material and it could make them all rich! All the intentions of the Sensorites make sense. This is why they’re keeping them hostage, but not wanting to hurt them but not wanting them to leave. 

Once that happens, the Sensorites attack telepathically at the crew again. This time, Ian and Barbara go running through the corridor to go looking for them but when they do. Ian orders Barbara to find a way to lock the doors, rushing towards the observation deck but Maitland can’t help. Meanwhile, Ian raises a hammer to defend himself from them as they move backwards as they move after him. It’s a horrendously tense moment that made me shiver to watch. Barbara runs to get John who could help her instead at the Doctor’s request but she observes when they return to him that Ian is never attacked by the Sensorites. John closes the door, it’s a relief but a wonder as to what they will actually do now they are on the ship….

Back on the observation deck when they are all back together with all the doors locked. Now, the Sensorites try something new… Susan gets a message from them, asking if they can talk. Clearly, she is more telepathic with her than the other TARDIS team in this moment. The two aliens enter the room to speak to the Doctor and the crew for the first time and they give their demands. With the discovery of the material on their planet they can’t let the Doctor go or the crew, as predicted, but they don’t want to hurt them. They offer instead to give them a place of their own to live on the Sense Sphere.

The Doctor refuses. In fact, it leads to one of the first time that we see how the Doctor is with another alien race when threatened. Something that he wasn’t like previously except with perhaps the Daleks, and even then he was their prisoner standing his ground. Now, in this moment, despite not knowing how to defeat them, he is in his element here that we recognise more in future episodes. 

DOCTOR: Now listen to me, both of you. You’ve taken the lock of my ship and I want it returned immediately.
SENSORITE 1: You’re in no position to threaten us.
DOCTOR: I don’t make threats. But I do keep promises. And I promise you I shall cause you more trouble than you bargained for if you don’t return my property!

The Sensorites leave, temporarily to ‘decide’ on what they want to do next. Meanwhile, The Doctor has noticed more things about his enemy. Their possible weaknesses with dealing with darkness could be a help to them. Also, there was a really interesting comment made by the Doctor in regards to telepathy…

BARBARA: Well, how can you be sure that the Sensorites will be frightened of the dark?
DOCTOR: My dear Barbara, wouldn’t you be afraid if you couldn’t see your enemies, hmm? Thank you for your admiration, dear boy. Thank you.
IAN: I never said a word.
DOCTOR: Telepathy. You know, telepathy isn’t only a prerequisite of the Sensorites. I know sometimes what you’re thinking.

Now is this intentional to suggest that The Doctor, like Susan are telepathic. They are aliens after all, and not humans, perhaps there was an intention here to show the difference again. After all The Doctor and Susan as opposed to the rest of the crew are supposed to be more alien. This telepathic streak is played on before in the future with NuWho and the Classic Who era, so it’s really awesome to again speculate if this was the intention or not. I wonder if this was what led to the use of telepathy with the Doctor later on… 

And speaking of telepathy…

Susan with the Sensorites…

It’s then when Susan is getting another message for the Sensorites. Worriedly, they watch as she listens and replies to them out loud before moving away from her friends and towards the door. Turns out that they told her if she didn’t go live in the Sense Sphere, they would kill them and she couldn’t have that on her conscience. This left us with a cliffhanger, both for the following week in the past all those years ago and now with this article. 

So! Part Two will show us the best parts of Susan Foreman, The Sense Sphere and just how much the crew need Barbara Wright. This week I don’t have a doodle because I’m actually away from home.  

But have a picture of my brother in law watching the Sensorites with me instead.