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Not one of Hartnell's best but still intriguing
on 19 June 2014
Like many of the first season episodes of Doctor Who that were never repeated, The Sensorites never developed much of a reputation even among the show’s fans, creeping out on video and later on DVD as one of the last titles after most of the good stuff had been cherry picked. Yet it’s a perfectly decent story even if the production values are a bit shonky in places (the boom mike deserves a credit of its own after making three appearances in one episode while the sound of a PA calling out the shots gets its own featurette on the DVD) and there’s a somewhat unusual delivery from one of the guest cast in the first episode that doesn’t help the rhythm of the show.
Setting the template for many of the later stories, this seventh story in the series sees the Doctor and his companions materialise in a spaceship in trouble – in this case with a comatose or mad crew trapped in orbit outside the Sense-Sphere by the planet’s inhabitants, who fear if they return to Earth their planet will be strip mined of its valuable minerals. The Sensorites aren’t malicious, but the situation is more complicated than it first appears: coming from a world where trust is given rather than earned, their attempt to prevent the humans from returning without physically harming them is psychologically crueller than killing them. Even when the Doctor tries to broker a solution there are complications thanks to political infighting (though viewers of a certain generation might have trouble with the fact that Crackerjack’s Peter Glaze is the villain of the piece). Intriguingly, the story also emphasises the alien nature of the Doctor and his granddaughter, even coming up with a nostalgic description of the nights on their still unnamed planet years before the Time Lord mythology was invented for Patrick Troughton’s last story. While not the best of the early William Hartnell stories, it’s far from negligible.
The Sensorites themselves were clearly the inspiration for the Ood in the NuWho seasons, though it’s Russell Tedious Davies who gets the contractual credit for their creation rather than Sensorites writer Peter R. Newman. The latter provides the DVD’s most substantial extra: for long a mystery among Whovians and with Hammer’s bleak antiwar film Yesterday’s Enemy his only other produced script, it manages to fill in the gaps by tracking down his surviving family in a finally rather touching way. There’s not much else in the way of extras – the traditional group audio commentary, an interview with the show’s vision mixer, stills gallery and trivia track – though the episodes themselves have been nicely cleaned up from their previous video release.