Soph Watches Classic Doctor Who – The Sensorites (Part 2 of 3)

By Sophie Iles

This week, I’m going to try something a little different, a little unorthodox to what I’ve been attempting before. Hopefully, you’ll hear me out. For the length of time I’ve been doing these articles, I’ve been splitting it into parts. I’ve wanted to cover everything in every moment that sometimes it feels that I start to lose what it is that makes these episodes magical to me.

So, whilst I will summarise briefly what happens in these episodes, Hidden Danger and The Race Against Death, I want to draw attention to aspects to the serial that I find important. I will also start doing an article per serial once i’ve finished writing about the Sensorites. Unless it’s an incredibly long serial that warrants some more talking!

Hidden Danger is basically splitting the team up. This leaves Barbara up on the spaceship, with Maitland, whilst everyone else goes to the Sense-Sphere to meet the aliens and see their way of life. They meet the wise leaders, The Second and First Elders, and also meeting corrupted and evil one out to kill them, aka the City Administrator. It turns out they don’t like humans because the last time they had humans, it started a disease which was spreading around their planet. At the end of the episode, Ian succumbs to this disease after drinking different water to Susan and the Doctor. This leaves them to have to look urgently for a cure and with the hope of curing the others suffering too. They discover it’s poison and have a remedy to cure Ian. The Doctor believes the source of the poison is coming from the Aqueduct and goes to investigate. Despite the warning he wasn’t expecting to be attacked. This leaving a cliffhanger at the end of Race Against Death as a recovering Ian and Susan go looking for him…

For forty minutes of Doctor Who, very little happens over the two episodes. What I want to focus on this week is Susan. In particular, I want to focus on something that carries into the rest of Susan’s appearance in the show: how her and her grandfather’s relationship has developed.

This was sparked because of the first ten minutes of Hidden Danger. The cliffhanger included Susan offering herself to be taken away from her grandfather and friends so that the others would live; to stay on the Sense-Sphere alone. It’s a brave choice for her. Despite my fears for her safety, it was never because I didn’t think she could handle herself. Why, in The Daleks she was the central figure to saving her grandfather’s and her teachers lives!

So seeing the Doctor so livid actually made me as an audience member quite tense. He’s fuming, shouting at the Sensorites before they can take her away. He’s also unknowingly causing the sensitive aliens pain. She listens to his commands but it’s not smooth sailing.

Ian and Barbara summarise the moment after, much better than I ever could.

BARBARA: Sorry, I was thinking. You know, I’ve never seen the Doctor so angry.
IAN: Oh, yes. Susan set him off, didn’t she. The Sensorites must have hypnotised her in some way.
BARBARA: No, I don’t think so. She’s just growing up, Ian.

Susan has done much in the short time we’ve gotten to know her, and that goes for Ian and Barbara too. This glorious teenager is growing up with the children watching the show. We can now see her worth within the team, and really being apart of it.

But even with such progression, is it still the feeling in this era that men still think they know better than women? Or is it just her youth? “Children should be seen and not heard?” Perhaps it is due to these ideas that Susan’s attempts at independence is shot down by the Doctor.

And when I say shot down, I mean shot down:

DOCTOR: What is all this, setting yourself against me, hmm?
SUSAN: I didn’t, Grandfather.
DOCTOR: Oh, I know you thought you were doing your best, child, in the circumstances, but I think I’m a better judge of that.
SUSAN: Well, I have opinions too.
DOCTOR: My dear girl, the one purpose in growing old is to accumulate knowledge and wisdom, and to help other people.
SUSAN: So I’m to be treated like a silly little child.
DOCTOR: If you behave like one, yes.

The Doctor is unwilling to let her explain why she is right in this situation, or listen to her point of view. We know that the First Doctor is a stubborn old fool, but even in the case of Ian and Barbara at this point, he has let them take direction, or listened to them both.

Susan on the other hand, perhaps because of her youth, is always treated with kid gloves. The poor kid can’t express herself without being chided by her Grandfather in this moment. Even when she offers advice with the Sensorites with his way of speaking, he barely listens.

It’s almost heartbreaking to watch, the way Susan finally relents and submits. The Doctor is constantly blaming the Sensorites for their argument but actually, if he had listened instead of barked orders, or spoke to her with a different tone of voice, the teenager that she is might have in fact been able to explain herself without sounding like she’s whining. The ongoing issue of most worried parents, not listening.

At least Barbara has the foresight to explain to Susan how this works, and why she is such a good figurehead for the show.

BARBARA: Susan.
SUSAN: Yes?
BARBARA: Look, I know how you feel, but your grandfather loves you.
SUSAN: Yes, I know.
BARBARA: Be patient. We’re all on your side really, you know.

Even as this episode progresses, Susan has a good head on her shoulders as she starts to see things the Doctor hasn’t noticed. John  being healed by the Sensorites being able sense the good and evil within a person. She can also seem to have more links to the aliens because of her telepathy. The Doctor is finally impressed with her and seems to have actually taken Barbara’s advice himself, be patient.

It’s a really interesting place to be, watching Susan and the Doctor’s relationship develop over these two episodes. Just in our first serial, Susan couldn’t bare to be apart from her grandfather, screaming for his safety. Now she’s standing on her own two feet, willing to take on large tasks to help their team.

And now of course, taking care of Ian as they go looking for her grandfather in the aqueduct with the hopes he’s not hurt, whilst Ian is not really in a good enough state to take care of himself. Who’s the teenager now? Who’s having to take control? The wonderful Susan Foreman that’s who. Susan is one of my favourites. If not for the lack of good stories to continue this for her after this point, she could actually be my favourite.

And that’s why, today, you get a picture of Susan as my doodle. Next week, I’ll look at the end of The Sensorites, and see just what sort of story it ended up telling….