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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Sensorites


Starring: William Hartnell
RRP: £20.42
Certificate: PG
Available 23 January 2012

When the Doctor and his companions land aboard a spacecraft in flight, something is decidedly wrong. Although the crew appear to be dead, they are, in reality, kept in a state of sleep, fed and presumably toileted by the race of Sensorites. This telepathic race has kept the earthmen in the Sensesphere for fear that their discovery will mean the end of their way of life. The Doctor discovers that, although powerful, the Sensorites do have weaknesses, including their fear of the dark. He uses this information to force a meeting with their leader, only to discover that the Sensorites are a dying race, plagued by an unexplainable disease...

The Sensorites is a six part, William Hartnell story, which was originally transmitted between the 20 June and 01 August 1964. It was the seventh story in the first season of the show.

The show suffers the usual weaknesses of Who stories of this age. The black and white picture hides a multitude of sins. The fact that they were shot live means that we can enjoy some more of William Hartnell hashing his lines up, sometimes reduced to an incoherent mumble. On the down side, most of the stories which ran over more than four episodes certainly have a pace which would have been improved by losing a couple of episodes along the way, Audiences used to the instant gratification of modern Who may find this story a little slow going.

By appearing on the ship first the audiences sympathies are invested in the crew. The initial appearance of a Sensorite is presented with not a little menace, although the sequence is more likely to engender laughter these days. What the story does nicely is to turn this perception on its head. It actually turns out that the aliens are a relatively innocent race full of weaknesses, which are afraid of what an invasion by earth people would mean to their world. Rather than kill the ship’s crew, they have done their best to look after them, so long as they do not attempt to leave with the news of the Sensespheres mineral wealth - although the issue of toileting is never satisfactorily addressed.

Being the first season the TARDIS has the full complement of its original crew. Alongside William Hartnell as the Doctor, William Russell appears as Ian Chesterton, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman. For fans of a certain age Peter Glaze - Crackerjack - puts in a reasonable dramatic performance as the Sensorite ‘Third’.

The story is not without its plot holes. Although the makeup for the Sensorites still holds up well today, they are designed so that they are difficult to tell apart, their rank denoted by the sash that is worn. Now, this works as a plot device for the humans, but when the city administrators power play is to steal the Second’s sash in the full knowledge that the disguise is perfect, by just wearing a piece of cloth, is absurd. That the humans cannot tell them apart is one thing, that the Sensorites cannot distinguish between themselves is absurd.

The disc has possibly the weakest set of extras so far. Looking for Peter (21 min, 20 sec) is a mini documentary about the writer of the show, Peter R. Newman. Apparently, he has remained an enigma in Who circles, with many an apocryphal tale associated with his name. Presented by Toby Hadoke, the piece explores the mystery surrounding the man, before solving it by the simple act of digging out his birth certificate and finding the surviving members of his family. I’m not sure if that says something about the apathy of Who fans, or proves that not a single one of them has ever watched Who Do You Think You Are and thought: "Hold on, I’ve got a cunning plan".

Vision On (7 min 05 sec) has Clive Doig explaining the role of the vision mixer and his time as the mixer on early Who, the piece is overlong at seven minutes. Secret Voices of the Sense Sphere (2 min, 05 sec) laboriously takes a look at some extra vocals on the soundtrack provided accidentally by one of the crew, if you missed it don’t worry they play it a number of times. You get the usual photo gallery, PDF materials, Coming Soon for the third Revisitations box set. The commentary is an interesting if muted affair.

With its new remastered picture the Sensorites looks pretty good, even if the show is very slow.


Charles Packer

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