To acknowledge the arrival the proper release of “The Sensorites” on DVD, I’m reprinting my original VHS-based article herein - incorporating a few additional thoughts , adding an enumeration of the disc's "extras," and essentially turning what I ran before into a full fledged DVD review like others we’ve run in the past - for thoroughness, posterity, continuity, and all that. Added musings are visible via colored text below.
By the way: this article, in all likelihood, represents (what is to my knowledge) the world's first and only application of the word "Moffle." Which makes this a very important document. Or not.
This Season/Series also marks the first time the show will be filmed in the new Roath Lock Studios in Cardiff.
CAMELOT and LAW & ORDER: UK's Chris Chibnall is also coming back, he scripted "The Hungry Earth" and "Cold Blood" in S5, and "42" back during the Russell T. Davies era.
No word on an offical transmit date for Season/Series 7 - but every indication points toewards later this - Fall/"Autumn" - for a run which should rely less heavily on two-parters than S6 (if they're any at all). The Docback will be here for Season/Series 7. Wondering. Contemplating. Waiting.
As mentioned above, S7 will move Amy and Rory off the playing field. My personal, completely uninformed prediction for a new companion? Is probably very, VERY off base... But for purposes of discussion...
-- I don't have his exact quote in front of me at the moment, but Matt Smith recently made an allusion to seeing Australia "soon"...
-- My personal guess and probably erroneous extrapolation is that the Doctor's new companion will be Aborigine, and said companion will initially be encountered in the Outback. A scene from THE RIGHT STUFF, one of my favorite films of all time.
Can you see it? I can...very much so. Although this would admittedly be out of far left field, having an existential companion who's "connected" to the universe in some way could be a very interesting spin on the commonly understood companion conceit.
Regular Docbackers may recall a fateful day back in June. On that day, I set out to watch every DOCTOR WHO ever made (this includes Telesnap reconstructions of episodes available on VHS, but not DVD yet, like this one). Starting from the show's earliest 1963 episodes and working my way forward, more or less in sequence).
At that time, many Docbackers warned me that rough patches lie ahead ("The Web Planet," "The Twin Dilemma") - that certain episodes may strain my patience, and even the show's overall credibility, to the breaking point. With this in mind, and with some sense of budgetary and political context (by "political" I mean the show's sometimes strained interaction with BBC back in the day), I soldiered bravely foreword and have…on the whole…enjoyed what I've seen immensely. I can not express how much I've enjoyed making my way through DOCTOR WHO on the whole. My boundless gratitude to my friends Ken Plume and Paul Alvarado-Dykstra for nagging and pestering me to "try it out." WHO, both vintage and current, has been instrumental in rekindling my belief in the creativity of others - and helped ignite a much needed fire under my own ass as well.
Sure, nearly every episode was imperfect. A few stories were grand on the whole but let me down somewhere along the way. Other stories were quite capable and solid, but not as fully realized as they might've been with a larger budget (such is the reality of many television series). But, in general, the experience of watching WHO has been remarkable, eye opening, and in many regards, transformative. DOCTOR WHO - especially the show's current Moffat Model (Moffle?) - has truly re-jiggered my perception of storytelling, mythology, and the hows, whens, and whys of imagination. Where and when to hold back, where/when to apply them, etc. Until now, as funky as DW could sometimes be, I hadn't once encountered a WHO that was anywhere near as rank as I'd been expecting…or as deeply unfortunate as folks had warned me the show could occasionally become. I was beginning to wonder if readers were being too critical of the show, or if I was, perhaps, being too forgiving.
Then came "The Sensorites."
In what is,
fortunately, his soul script for the WHOverse, Peter R. Newman opens his story with The Doctor (William Hartnell) arriving on a disabled Earth vessel with companions Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell), and "granddaughter" Susan (Carole Ann Ford).
Crew members Maitland (Lorne Cossettes), Carol Richmond (Ilona Rodgers) and John (Stephen Dartnell) are still onboard the vessel, having been forced into a dormant state by the inhabitants of the planet below. That planet, we quickly learn, is called The Sense Sphere - and its occupants are called Sensorites. "They are hostile, these Sensorites. But in the strangest possible way. They won't let us leave this area of space, yet they don't attempt to kill us..." ponders Maitland in one of his waking moments (which are often difficult to distinguish from his sleepier mode).
By the end of the story's opening episode we're introduced to The Sensorites themselves - who we first see crawling around on the outside of the ship's viewport like bugs an a car windshield.
(l - a Sensorite, r- Burl Ives)
As the second and third installments of this six part tale unfolds, we learn more about the mystery of why this human ship has been deliberately kept in Sensorite space. The current situation stems from an interesting backstory involving the species' failed first contact with humans ten years earlier - the Sensorites now fear that the catastrophe which befell their people the first time around may be compounded by this new batch of humans. Furthermore, the Sensorites' telepathic perception tells them that one of these current visitors may be scheming to plunder the resources of the Sense Sphere, which doesn't help matters at all.
That's a great set-up, and I've always been a sucker for stories exploring the ramifications of troubled first contact scenarios (Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, several episodes of the original STAR TREK series, and much of human history being good examples of this. Bradbury was Best Man at my parents' wedding, by the way). After a bit of hemming and hawing, our heroes make their way to the Sense Sphere in the hopes of brokering new and anxiety-free relations between humans and Sensorites. Alas, a hyper-isolationist faction of Sensorites feels that healthy interaction with humans is impossible and should not to be trusted, and is willing to do anything to reinforce this point.
So, "The Sensorites" is essentially STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, but told 27 years earlier and spun with considerably less budget and vigor. Which is completely fine - DOCTOR WHO has proven time and time again that large budgets are not required to advance solid storytelling and sometimes remarkable characterizations and interpersonal moments. The problem with "The Sensorites" is several fold, but chiefly lies with the Sensorites themselves.
They just aren't interesting.
The culture and internal machinations of the Sensorties is hugely meaningful component of how this story unfolds, but the presentation of these titular entities is hamstrung by stiff and shoddy make-up which doesn't allow actors to project through their appliances, as well as Sensorite performers' slavishly tedious presentation of their dialog. Even when we're unable to see an actor's face, remarkable nuance can be brought to performance through voice alone (Christopher Gable's Sharaz Jek character in "Caves of Androzani," for example)
. But no such thought was devoted here
. Here, every Sensorite sounds like a contemptible city council person during a disagreeably long meeting. Or that tiresome teacher we've all had at some point in our lives. You know…the ones who don't inspire? The ones you wished would just…shut…up
Worsening matters is their basic conceptualization. Their use of "telepathy" seems inconsistent and appears to support the requirements of the narrative at any given moment rather than any continuous logic or common sense. They recoil when shouted at and are terrified of the dark (good thing they have no problem drifting around in space then!) Would The Doctor forcing them to return a much-needed/stolen item truly be as difficult as this episode would have us believe? The doddering old Doctor could have easily shouted the Sensorites into submission, or tortured them into compliance by merely flipping off a light switch. Even when they're doing something vaguely menacing, they're not believable foils, and they lack the force of presence to make the problems they create believable.
I do understand that the Sensorites aren't meant to be presented as "big bads" here - but too much drama hinges on their flimsy essence. Thus, the story unravels around them, climaxed by a desperate plot machination which hinges on all Sensorites looking alike - even though their faces are clearly distinguishable from one another, and each of their body types are radically different from those around them. This is clumsy madness.
To be fair to the woefully inadequate denizens of the Sense Sphere, their human irritants don't come across much better. Lorne Cossettes, Ilona Rodgers, and Stephen Dartnell are all equally lost in this episode - their performances suggest an OTT, soap-operatic grab at this material rather than any innate comprehension of the universe they're inhabiting (there's even a cheesy orchestral 'duh-duh-duuuuummm' music cue when something important is discovered).
Episodes five and six of "The Sensorites" were directed by Frank Cox, who'd helmed the vastly superior "Brink of Disaster
" for DOCTOR WHO previously. Not sure why he didn't fare so well this time around, but given the profoundly muddled mess that this episode represents, he may've never had a chance.
I continue to love DOCTOR WHO deeply and forever, but in many relationships there's a quality about our companion which simply doesn't sit well with us…and possibly even makes us insane. That's what "The Sensorites" represents to me in this dynamic. It makes me want to pull (what hair I have left) out. It makes me feel vaguely abused, even though it never raised a finger. I disapprove of this episode in the same way Steven Moffat disapproved of Matthew Watterhouse - it's just plain unwelcome. "The Sensorites" is a sloppy, under-developed, tedious, and generally joyless wreck that begins with bizarrely misplaced exposition about our travelers' past adventures in the TARDIS (including a Henry the 8th story we've never seen), and then sticks around for about 110 minutes too long.
This story does bring two noteworthy contributions to the WHO mythos (besides apparently being some sort inspiration for the Ood - I love me some Ood - Oodles of Ood still wouldn't be enough): 1) for the first time in DOCTOR WHO that I can recall, the future history of Earth is alluded to pointedly and interestingly, and 2) this is the first instance I can recall instance of The Doctor posturing like a badass - i.e. that "don't fuck with me" thing they do. In this case, we get one great and memorable line from the carcass of an otherwise heinous embarrassment:
"I don't make threats. But I do keep promises. And I promise you I shall cause you more trouble than you bargained for if you don't return my property. "
Oh yeah - to Docbacker Hornorsilk, who once affectionately taunted me
because I'd yet to see this episode? I now respond, "Yeah. Whatever…"
FURTHER ADDENDUM : In my journeys through DOCTOR WHO, there've been a umber of episodes I felt could use tweaking - i.e. the "Special Edition" version we get with updated effects, and all that (a la "Day of the Daleks"). But "The Sensorites" is the only episode I've seen so far that I wish someone would, simply, remake entirely. NOT tweak ("Keys of Marinus"), NOT revisit ("The Web Planet")...but remake entirely. I know this is never going to happen, nor should it, I'm expressing this merely as a point of Geeky conversation.
The core notions driving "Sensorites" are remarkably strong. To me, "The Sensorites" is about the inherent duality of our existence. It considers xenophobia - its perils and assets. It contemplates power of several varieties, how it can be used and misused both deliberately and unintentionally. It assess fear, and how it can be both an empowerment and an obstacle. These equate to the soul of this episode, and are very heady and potent conceits. Alas, the script feels like it is in desperate need of focus and polish, and directors and simply failed to recognize the potential that was already there. A Perfect Storm of fail.
I've come across a number of STAR TREKy moments in DOCTOR WHO, but "Sensorites" may be the most STAR TREKy episode I've come across when assessed as a whole. Its predilection with social machination and its contradictory exaltation and skewering of human nature could've made "Sensorites" a dazzling and potent and memorable installment of the show, even WITH the crappy creature design of its title characters. As is, it's a woefully missed opportunity which feels a bit like a write-off when all is said and done. This a tremendous disservice to the complexion of that era's WHO, and to the innate concepts which glide under the surface of this peice...concepts which remain more or less unrealized and obscured from view even now.
The new DVD looks and sounds quite nice, and should definitely be checked out by WHO completists - or those interested in figuring out what the hell I'm ranting on and on about. But don't approach it as a classic, and don't expect much from it. in terms of "fun" factor. View it as a lesson of what can go hideously wrong on a show like WHO, and as an intriguing hint and grim monument to what might've been...
Extras on the new DVD include...
"Looking For Peter" (21:15)
"Sensorites...didn't even have the decency to get wiped, so that we could all mourn its loss and imagine how brilliant it must of been..." - Presenter Toby Hadoke
Hadoke hunks down information about Peter R. Newman, who passed away in 1969 and 1975 depending on sourcing. (Peter Richard Newman, a "writer," died in 1975, according to death certificates in Westminster).
Along the way, he makes some fascinating and emotion-filled discoveries about the elusive and mysterious author of "Sensorites": Newman wrote YESTERDAY'S ENEMY - an uncompromising and a-typical Hammer film about war and its violent methods. He was commissioned for several other scripts but he priced himself out of the market and they were never produced, worked "Sensorites" on DOCTOR WHO, but those are those only two known credits.
-- He was a frustrated writer who was not produced after "Sensorites." He ended up working at an art gallery.
This is a wonderful and touching little extra - VERY highly recommended, even if you don't like "The Sensorites."
"Vision On" (7:02) - presenter Clive Doig
A vision mixer was, essentially, a real-time editor who cut between cameras during recording of vintage WHO eps, based on the script's dialogue and a director's pre-prepared "camera script" (camera placement, shot descriptions, etc.) - the job also included integrating VFX on the fly, etc.
-- Doig describes challenges of actors (like Hartnell) deviating from lines, effectively convoluting ability to follow plans effectively
-- Discusses working with Verity Lambert (Producer)
"Secret Voices of the Sense Sphere" (2:02)
-- Vision Mixer Clive Doig returns to discuss a woman calling out instructions during a scene in Episode Six of the story - and conjectures what likely happened (technical glitch? Human error?) that resulted in the woman's voice being laid into the actual soundscape of the episode.
"Photo Gallery" (4:35)
PDF materials (Radio Times Listings, original designs)
...for "The Three Doctors" (Pertwee, Story # ), "The Robots of Death" (Baker, Story #. ) and "Tomb of the Cybermen" (Troughton, Story # ) - all coming to DVD in March.
[SEASON / SERIES SIX DOCBACKS]
"The Impossible Astronaut"
"Day of the Moon"
"The Curse of the Black Spot"
"The Doctor's Wife"
"The Rebel Flesh"
"The Almost People"
"A Good Man Goes To War"
"Let's Kill Hitler"
"The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" (2011 Christmas Special)
[RETRO-WHO DOCBACKS - MOST RECENT DOCBACK IS HIGHLIGHTED]
"An Unearthly Child" (Story #1)
"The Daleks" (Story #2)
"The Edge of Destruction" (Story #3)
"Marco Polo" (Story #4)
"The Keys of Marinus" (Story #5)
"The Aztecs" (Story #6)
"The Sensorites" (Story #7)
"The Reign of Terror" (Story #8)
"Planet of Giants" (Story #9)
"The Dalek Invasion of Earth" (Story #10)
"The Rescue" (Story #11)
"The Romans" (Story #12)
"The Web Planet" (Story #13) / SHERLOCK - "A Scandal in Belgravia" (Story #4)
"The Crusade" (Story #14)
"The Space Museum" (Story #15)
"The Gunfighters" (Story #25)
"The Colony in Space" (Story #58)
"Day of the Daleks" (Story #60) + Preview of the DotD Special Edition
"Invasion of the Dinosaurs" (Story #71) and SHERLOCK: "The Reichenbach Fall" (Story #6)
"The Android Invasion" (Story #83) and SHERLOCK: "The Hounds of Baskerville" (Story #5)
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (Story #91)
"The Sun Makers" (Story #95)
"The Awakening" (Story #131)
"Frontios" (Story #132)
"The Caves of Androzani" (Story #136)
"Time and the Rani" (Story #144)
"Paradise Towers" (Story #145) + New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits
DOCTOR WHO: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SERIES
Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor (How Merrick Got Hooked On DOCTOR WHO)
DOCTOR WHO Title Sequences & DW At Comic-Con 2011
"The Crash of the Elysium" (Manchester version - interactive DOCTOR WHO adventure)
Why Eccleston Left, Here Comes Caroline Skinner, And Season/Series Six Part 1 on Blu-Ray And DVD
New Trailer For Season/Series Six Part 2
DOCBACK CODE OF CONDUCT
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)...
2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity. Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example. "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well. " **SPOILER** Why did everyone die?" Is NOT good.
And, above all...
3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way. Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning. Lack of courtesy may receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated. Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning. One word posts intended to bump-up any Docback's figures on AICN's "Top Talkbacks" sidebar will be considered actionable Spam - they not only complicate efforts to access Docback from mobile devices, but impede readers' abilities to follow or engage in flowing conversation.
In short, it's easy. Be excellent to each other. Now party on...