Doctor Who #31: Strangers in Space

"Now let the intelligence be our only defence and attack!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: The is the first episode of The Sensorites, a story that will be released in January (Region 2) or February (Regions 1 and 4). I can't stop and wait, so I watched it on Dailymotion. First aired Jun.20 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The TARDIS lands on a spaceship where the small crew is beset by creatures called Sensorites who can control their minds and prevent them from leaving their area of space.

REVIEW: The word "hack" comes to mind. I know SF is popular with the kids, but at this point, it's what Doctor Who is worst at. The production design on the ship is cheap, but that's expected. What it doesn't need to be is silly, and that's exactly what the ship crew's uniforms are. What is this, pilots with rockets pointing at their ties? We've also got Barbara and Susan missing "WATER" signage that's so big it can be seen from across the room, white on black and the only one at that, and no one noticing them opening the door that should not be opened only a few feet away from them. We've got musical stings in the "Tan-tan!" mold. We've got Sensorite ships incoming that look like Lima beans. We've got a lot of fists-on-temples "get out of my miiiinnnnd" acting. And it all starts with a forced recap sequence that almost launches us into a clip show (thankfully, they hadn't been invented yet).

But it's not all bad, even if none of it is particularly good. Though the "we've all changed" scene doesn't tell us anything about that change, the characters really do seem more at ease with each other in the episode proper. Ian and Barbara have settled into the role of adventurers and are positively giggly when the Doctor claims he never interferes or feels curious. Barbara and Susan are immune to Sensorite mental attacks because they don't feel fear, which is certainly a welcome development (if it sticks). The mystery presented has potential. I don't mean the seemingly dead crew members who suddenly wake up from suspended animation (geez, it must be uncomfortable to fall into a deathly sleep in those chairs), but rather the untold reason why the Sensorites would want to keep visitors around and in a state of terror, but not kill them. Prolonged exposure to their mental attacks has turned John into a potential threat, so his colleagues have locked him up in a section of the ship. Because Barbara looks like his sister, the girls are able to pacify him, and it doesn't devolve into a zombie movie. Susan's empathic skills are once again hinted at (though Barbara has a certain intuition too, and guest character Carol seems more resistant to the fear projected by the Sensorites... a girl thing?).

As usual, there's a reason for them to stick around - it looks like Terry Nation's "melting lock" safeguard first mentioned in "The Daleks" has bit them in the ass. Either the Sensorites melted it on purpose or they were trying to get inside, but this is probably where the TARDIS loses that silly feature. The characters' deduction that the Sensorites came and did this, then left and now return for the cliffhanger is nonsense, of course, because they'd have been warned by that whining sound. So the Sensorites must be coming to get their saboteur who was already aboard. I do like the look of the Sensorite outside the ship's window in the cliffhanger, though it looks more adorable than dangerous. Like a suction cup animal in your car window. Fan wisdom would have it that the Sensorites are rubbish-looking, and I'm not disputing that (the gloves fiddling with the TARDIS lock offer some proof), but in the limited exposure they're given in the final shot, they are striking. I've slammed the production a lot, but I will give props to the special effect of Barbara looking out the viewscreen at the Sense-Sphere during the averted crash sequence. Primitive, but does the job.

THEORIES: In Planet of the Ood, a graphic will reveal that the Ood-Sphere and the Sense-Sphere are in the same solar system, so you might want to look at how the Sensorites and the Ood resemble each other as we go through these episodes.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - Almost everything about this episode is shoddy.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know anything about this story, so from the image you posted I though that the Sensorites somehow changed the Doctor's face (presumably to give Hartnell the week off). That picture still looks to me like Barbara and Susan with "the Doctor"

Siskoid said...

No, but it IS a make-over for... Yartek!


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