Thursday, 12 February 2009

February 2009, Week 7: The Sensorites


  1. Now this was a weird one!
    It was like a mixture of everything I've loved and loathed about Doctor Who thus far.
    So. let me attempt some kind of coherent review.

    The first two episodes were ace. really creepy, and atmospheric and at times downright scary.
    The Tardis team were on top form, with Susan restored her former glory, and proving to be quite the little alien.
    The sensorites themselves were really nicely done, especially that very creepy shot of a sensorite outside the spaceship window. He should have given us a little wave. Bless him.

    The acting of the crew was pretty good, with the character of John being really good.

    However, by the time we started to get into episode three it started to get a bit sloppy and disjointed for me.
    Granted, Susan's argument with her grandfather was superb, and shed a lot of light on their relationship. But once we got to the planet it was all a wee bit silly.
    Was it just me, or did anybody else find themselves shouting "ITS THE WATER!" at the screen? It felt like a pantomime as the Doctor and Susan tried to figure out why Ian had collapsed, after a ludicrous bout of coughing.

    Then there is the whole Sensorite hierarchy system. I won't go into it here, as its been well covered elsewhere, but the idea that a sash is all it takes to physically distinguish a Sensorite did stretch credibility.

    That aside, it did pick up again as it went along, but all in all it was a bit slight for me really. especially strung out over 6 episodes.

    It's odd, because I did like the Sensorites. I just didn't love it.
    Overall I liked many of the elements, but equally was dismayed by some of the sloppy bits.

    It DID feel like an alien story. The Sensorite culture was interesting. The overall feel was great.
    I'd give it a 5/10 as an average Doctor Who story.

    Here's my list of good and bad.

    What's good?

    When Susan started recounting life on her home planet.
    Susan's telepathic abilities.
    The Doctor's indignant retort, after being told that John has white hair... "Yes? and what's wrong with that?"
    Stealing the Tardis lock.
    The First Elder.

    What's bad?

    The doors in the space ship are either heavy or very light. depending on what the plot requires.

    The Sensorites freak out when anyone shouts. Due to their sensitivity to sound. Although, sometimes they don't. Depending on what the plot requires.

    Ian's poisoning by water and the Doctor losing his brain for about 2 minutes trying to figure it out.

    The Sensorite hierarchy system. They need a new one IMO.

    Monsters in the aqueduct? Just how did the Doctor's coat get shredded? and what is making all that noise?

    The bendy destructor key.

    Any clues as to where the human survivors got that deadly nightshade? :-)

    Most hilarious moment?
    When one of the Sensorites steps on the other's foot.

    A new category: Who's on holiday this week?
    Jacqueline Hill.
    (Who pointlessly stayed up in the ship for two episodes)

  2. A strange one this. The opening episodes on the spaceship are really sinister, perhaps the most sinister we have yet seen, starting with the discovery of the apparently dead spaceship crew. They wake but have no free will to escape the planet they are orbiting. The creepiness is slightly diluted for me at this point as the performances aren't great with Captain Maitland particularly theatrical. But the approaching threat of the Sensorites is superbly conveyed by the use of sound. And all topped by the Sensorite appearing at the window. Marvellous.
    There is a lovely performance by Stephen Dartnell as John, driven mad by the voices in his head but desperate to protect Susan and Barbara. When he is cured he becomes far less interesting. And on the subject of Susan... HOORAY! Alien, intelligent Susan is present and correct. What a relief. And I love the fact that she is the tekepath, not her grandfather. It gives their relationship a balance that has not been there before and hints that she is growing up.
    The story falls apart somewhat when we leave the ship and go down to the Sense-Sphere. Dan has discussed Ians sickness so I will just add yes, I scream"it's the water" too. The Doctors coat gets shredded but by what? I f the survivors are waiting for humans why would they attack them? Maybe there is a monster down there that lives on fabrics? If Sensorites are so scared of the dark how come one appears to be in the tunnels eavesdropping on The Doctor and Ian? Most glaring of all, the city administrators plot is based on the fact Sensorites can't recognise each other. Ridiculous and implausible. Though the moment when Peter Glaze looks at the camera and says "I had not thought of that" is priceless.
    So this story has plot holes, some poor performances, Sensorites standing on each other, and the last 2 episodes in particular are fluff central with almost everybody mucking up their lines. My favourite is "I heard them over... over.. talking". And that is the weird thing. Despite all these problems it has a charm most stories would kill for and you cant help liking it. It has a good alien race, proper Susan, a Doctor at his tetchy best, and some great lines. The Doctors response when told Johns hair has gone completely white is a joy. "Nothing wrong with that".
    There is plenty wrong with this but I just like it. Hope you guys do too.
    An enjoyable 5/10

  3. Can I just say I know the Doctors line about he and Susan never arguing is very good, but surely not true. After all, Susan threatens to leave him and the Tardis in "An Unearthly Child" so surely that counts. Nice to see the Doctor blinded by affection for his grand-daughter.

  4. Oh dear.

    Where to start?

    Okay, let's start with the good. Raymond P. Cusick, who you may know from such classic designs as "The Daleks" once again performs an absolutely smashing job, giving us a lovely alien city and spaceship.

    I don't know how much the Sensorites themselves are Ray, and how much they're due to costume designer Daphne Dare, but they look marvellous. And truly alien, with their outsize heads, and wispy hair, and giant feet. Lovely bit of work.

    Oh, and there was that lovely first episode cliffhanger, with the sighting of a Sensorite: Alien, able to breathe in vacuum, and suddenly, terrifyingly there. It actually made me jump.

    And I like the Doctor's solution to the poisoned Ian: feed him salt water until he throws up. That'll get him some time at least.

    And then there's... um. There's... ah.

    And then there's the rest of it.

    We find ourselves on an alien spacecraft. Fortunately, Barbara and Susan are able to rustle up dinner for everyone!

    Let's take a closer look at that. Our two girls are making dinner for the boys. Where's the ballsy Barbara we know and love?

    A good story needs a good villain, and the villain of this piece is the City Administrator. Who hates humans. For some reason.

    First he tries to disintegrate them... but gets told not to.
    Then he tries to poison them... which gets cured within 15 minutes. And most of that was trying to figure out what the poison could possibly be delivered in... ooh, could it possibly have been in the water? Think quickly, Doctor Who, our lives depend on you not being a screaming idiot!
    Then he tries to disintegrate them again - but the key gets bent.
    Then he tries to disguise himself as someone else by wearing a black sash instead of a collar - and succeeds!

    Perhaps, evolutionarily, evil Sensorites have never needed to be particularly clever, seeing how monumentally dumb the rest of the race are.

    I must admit that the title of episode five was a bit of an odd one. It's called KIDNAP right up front. There is one kidnapping. It happens at the end of the episode, and takes maybe three seconds of screen time. A better title would have been THE CITY ADMINISTRATOR LAUGHS EVILLY AND TWIRLS HIS MOUSTACHE, because, once more, that was the majority of the episode.

    The Chief Sensorite does fall in love with Barbara at the end though, when she finally comes down to the planet. So it's nice to know that he, at least, isn't completely stupid.

    Finally, I see the Tardis Engineers have been injecting heroin into their eyeballs again.

    "Yeah, let's make the lock detachable."

    "Brilliant - and then if you try to get in without the lock - the inside of the Tardis'll dissolve!"

    "High five!"

    "I can't, my veins have collapsed. Also, I need to sit down for a while."

    Hoping for better from The Reign Of Terror. Which was an answer in the Sunday Times crossword this weekend, so it's true: The historical series are educational!

  5. We will see many stories like this over the next few years.

    The first episode promises so much. It is tense, otherworldly and culminates in a spectacularly weird and chilling cliffhanger. Unfortunately the following five episodes don't quite deliver on that initial promise.

    On the other hand this is the first real science fiction story since The Daleks, and the first attempt at creating a realistic alien society (as opposed to single-minded Nazi-a-likes). It isn't hugely successful on this front. The weaknesses in Sensorite society and evolution have already been mentioned here. They look fantastic though, with their lovely upside down faces and great flat plates o’meat! Even their tights and beer bellies add to the alien look, poor frog-legged Sensorites. It is however ludicrous to expect us to believe that they have no names and cannot identify another of their race without a sash to help them. It didn’t help that after the second episode I somehow mentally cast Rich Fulcher as all the Sensorites, which amused me no end.

    Susan has a good turn here, given something interesting to do for once. Her argument with the Doctor puts their relationship in a different light; her telepathic skills render her central to the plot and the idea that she may be growing up is sown here. Perhaps she will soon strike out on her own time travelling adventures..?

    If I were to try and argue that the Sensorites was a classic I’d be fighting a losing battle. It is an entertaining story that shows the programme finding it’s (flat) feet in terms of sf storytelling. Personally I like it.

    Best Bits;

    *) The Sensorite at the window in episode one.
    *) The Doctor’s character defining decision to stay and put things right.
    *) ‘I had not thought of that!’
    *) The frightfully bally British lost patrol in the sewers. Good bloody show, what?

    Better than – The Keys of Marinus
    Not as good as – The Tribe of Gum