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Visiting the Sense-Sphere
The Tenth Doctor mentioned the Sense-Sphere in the new series episode, ‘Planet of the Ood’!
That was a direct reference to ‘The Sensorites’, a six-part story in the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’! The story stars William Hartnell as the Doctor with William Russell as Ian; Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Carole Ann Ford as Susan. This is where the inspiration for the Ood in the new series came from.
I enjoyed seeing ‘The Sensorites’ on DVD, although it’s not one of my favourite stories in the series. I purchased the audio soundtrack on CD with linking narration by William Russell in 2008 before the DVD was released in 2012. I was looking forward to seeing this TV story after having enjoyed the CD.
I was intrigued by this story, since I realised the Ood and the Sensorites share common similarities with each other as well the Sensorites being the inspiration for the Ood. Both planets, the Sense-Sphere and the Ood-Sphere are in the same system by the time the Tenth Doctor and Donna visit it.
This story is by Peter R. Newman, who makes his first and only contribution to ‘Doctor Who’. This is a story where the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet a new group of aliens and discover more about them and their society. It’s a story about trust and how humanity can be seen by a new alien species.
Although I enjoyed ‘The Sensorites’, I must admit I found this story pretty average and didn’t find it exciting as other ‘Doctor Who’ stories. The story isn’t terrible by any means, but I found the pacing so slow in this one, especially when we’re on the spaceship compared to being on the Sense-Sphere.
The story was made by two directors, Mervyn Pinfield and Frank Cox. Mervyn Pinfield, who was the associate producer of ‘Doctor Who’, has been known to direct stories to be ‘slow to the point of static’, according to Maureen O’Brien when recording a DVD commentary for ‘The Space Museum’.
The earlier episodes of the story were hard-going for me, especially when aboard the spaceship with our TARDIS regulars. On the Sense-Sphere itself, things became more interesting when they get to the heart of the matter about the Sensorites and what was going on in their conflict with humanity.
Elements of the story were interesting, especially when a few Sensorites go rogue and become not as gentle and friendly as the Doctor and his friends seemed to believe. I would have liked this to have developed further by the story’s conclusion. Sadly it wasn’t the case which I’ll get onto later on.
I really liked that first scene in the TARDIS, where the regulars reflect on their time together since they started travelling in time and space from the beginning in ‘An Unearthly Child’. They remark on how they’ve changed and how they’ve grown to really like each other which is so reassuring for me.
William Hartnell delivers a superb performance as the Doctor. This is in his earlier travels with Ian, Barbara and Susan. He’s more serious at this stage and becomes very angry with the Sensorites, causing them pain with the sound of his voice. I sometimes got scared when the Doctor was angry.
I enjoyed the Doctor’s scenes where he was wearing his glasses and become very ‘professor’-like in his role. He works hard to find the antidote to this disease in the water which is somehow killing Ian after he drank the water. I like how the Doctor’s moralistic views stand out in this ‘Doctor Who’ tale.
Carole Ann Ford stands out very well as Susan in this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure. Susan becomes interesting as a character in this story. Here Peter R. Newman writes well for Susan and makes her more alien and unusual. Susan has telepathic skills, which she uses to hear the Sensorites speaking.
I found the scenes between Susan and the Doctor tense, especially when she volunteers to go down to the Sense-Sphere with the Sensorites and her grandfather forbids it. The Doctor is angry with Susan, but she’s trying to grow up when he’s belittling her. It’s an interesting development in their relationship.
I like the hints and references made by Susan and the Doctor about where they come from and what their home planet is like. Susan’s description of an orange sky and trees full of silver leaves is wonderful to hear. Although the name of the Doctor and Susan’s home planet isn’t mentioned, I know what it is.
I liked it when Susan uses her telepathy to help Barbara and John find the Doctor and Ian in the aqueduct. It highlights how alien Susan is and confirms that she isn’t a seemingly human school girl who screams a lot. I wish this was developed for Carole Ann Ford to play with as Susan in the series.
William Russell is pretty good as Ian in this adventure. I was anxious for Ian when he got ill after drinking diseased water on the Sense-Sphere. I liked it when he accompanies the Doctor and they both go down into aqueduct to find more information about what’s happening on the Sense-Sphere.
Jacqueline Hill is equally good as Barbara, although she doesn’t do much in this. Barbara is mostly absent from the fourth and fifth episodes, since Jacqueline Hill took a holiday during recording of those two episodes. I like how kind, gentle and determined Barbara can be during these adventures.
Aboard the spaceship, there’s Ilona Rodgers as Carol; Lorne Cossette as Maitland and Stephen Dartnell as John. John is badly affected by the Sensorites attacking his mind when he’s first introduced in the story. Eventually he’s restored to normal and I like the romance he has with Carol.
The Sensorites, I found rather disappointing. Although they are supposed to be the inspiration for the Ood, they don’t look that inspiring as aliens. I mean the fact they’re telepathic and are sensitive to bright light and loud noise is interesting. But the look of the Sensorites is pathetic in my opinion.
With the Ood, they had spaghetti-like beards which was pretty disturbing to see when watching a new series episode of ‘Doctor Who’. With the Sensorites’ beards and make-up, it’s not so impressive as their beards look pretty thin and the masks the actors wear aren’t that convincing for me to see.
It got interesting when there were different Sensorites within the community on the Sense-Sphere and having different ideas. There are the First and Second Elders that rule the Sense-Sphere and are very friendly. There’s also the City Administrator, who is power-crazed and distrusts the humans greatly.
I found the City Administrator an interesting Sensorite character. I wondered why he was so distrustful of the humans and what his motivations were. There’s a great build-up to what he’s going to do to ruin the Doctor and friends’ plans to save them. Sadly this is let down by a poor conclusion.
With the humans that appear in the last episode of the story. I’m sorry, but it felt rather tagged on in the story and wasn’t greatly expanded upon. Yes, I know they were humans from the spaceship that exploded on the Sense-Sphere. But this all seemed rushed and there wasn’t enough time to explain.
The story’s conclusion is rather flat for me. There is no big showdown with the City Administrator at the end, as he’s just arrested off-screen and it’s quickly resolved. I was hoping for something far more dramatic than that, but sadly it wasn’t provided. It also seemed things were solved too quickly.
The DVD special features are as follows. There’s ‘Looking For Peter’ with Toby Hadoke, who goes on a search to find more about writer Peter R. Newman. There’s also ‘Vision On’ with vision mixer Clive Doig as well as ‘Secret Voices of the Sense-Sphere’ with Clive Doig and a photo gallery of the story.
There’s a commentary with William Russell; Carole Ann Ford; Joe Greig (the 2nd Sensorite); Martyn Huntley (the First Human); Giles Phibbs (the Second Human); director Frank Cox; designer Raymond Cusick and make-up designer Sonia Markham, moderated by Toby Hadoke.
There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy. And there are PDF materials, including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story and ‘Original Design Drawings’.
There is also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for the ‘Revisitations 3’ DVD box set. It contains ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ with Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling; ‘The Three Doctors’ with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning and ‘The Robots of Death’ with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson.
‘The Sensorites’ is a pretty average story in ‘Doctor Who’. It was the seventh ‘Doctor Who’ story and the penultimate one of the first season. I enjoyed seeing it on DVD, but it’s not one of my favourites. The conclusion could have been better, as it felt so rushed at the end. But generally, it’s not so bad.
‘The Sensorites’ rating – 6/10
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