Directed by Mervyn Pinfield and Frank Cox
Starring William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill
This early Doctor Who adventure features an alien species that hangs around in pajamas all day. That’s not very alien to this reviewer.
The TARDIS crew find themselves in a ship adrift in space, with its three-person crew under mental imprisonment from the Sensorites, an isolationist species of a local planet who try to protect their people and world by keeping everything secret. Now that the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and her teachers Ian and Barbara are also unable to escape, they must combat the Sensorites’ prejudices in order to broker peace and stop the disease ravaging the Sensorites… and one of their own.
The meat of the show is pretty solid. An alien species is as mistrusting of us as foreigners as we would be of them. Only the wiser, calmer heads of the Doctor and friends on both sides can overcome the fear-mongering of those wanting to eradicate the other. Everyone learns the dangers of blind anger, as well as blind trust, and that people must be open and try to learn about one another so we can get along. Always a good lesson and usually always topical.
The actors do a good job conveying their emotions of fear and anger, as well as earnest hope and understanding. Unfortunately conveying their lines is a separate matter, as several stumbles should have underwent another take.
The main drawback to the show is its length. Six episodes already sound like a lot, even with being a half-hour instead of the hour episodes of modern Who. However, this could have been done in five or even four. The characters take too long to piece together the machinations of the main anti-foreigner Sensorite faction, which the audience already knows. The audience is left impatiently waiting on the Doctor and friends to finally catch up.
A rough barrier of entry will also be William Hartnell’s Doctor. This isn’t the manic and dashing hero of modern day. Hartnell’s Doctor is a temperamental old man. The show in general more subdued and talkative, which will probably be too slow for some. The black and white footage and cheap affects may also turn away some, but they don’t detract from the story. In fact, the black and white probably helps cover for the cheap effects and costuming (although nothing can help the Sensorites’ pajama uniforms)
It’s a decent show with a good story, but it drags too long and probably won’t be what newer fans are looking for.
The Video and Audio
This is an old TV show that simply hasn’t stood up to the test of time. Shown in original 4:3 fullscreen and black and white, the footage will occasionally have a cloudy haze and even motion blur. The mono audio as well isn’t well recorded, sounding muffled and unclear.
The soundtrack is sparse for background and mood music, which seems to be on purpose. Commentary with actor William Russell (Ian) actually mentions a trend at the time against mood music. It almost works given the in-story weakness the Sensorites have against loud noise, but there is still often too much quietness.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This one-disc feature is in standard packaging, with a Sensorite on the cover looking a bit more life-like and alien than they do in the actual footage.
The bonuses add educational trivia about early television production, and most of it is pretty good. From the cast and crew commentary to interviews with the vision mixer, it’s neat to learn about how shows were produced then versus now.
The one that falls flat is the well-produced documentary on writer Peter Newman, which really doesn’t detail anything about making the show, instead simply explaining about the man who otherwise isn’t very interesting.
Overall (Not an Average)
Even remastered, The Sensorites suffers as a product of its age, both in the quality of the actual production (hazy video and muffled audio), and the ideas of production that don’t hold up today (drawn-out plot, little background noise). It’s a worthwhile story, and most of the bonuses are decent enough, but there are simply better shows and even better Doctor Who stories in specific. Unless you’re a completist or a student of ‘60s television production, this one can be passed over.
The Series 6/10
The Video and Audio 3/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5/10