The Sensorites (1964)
About this serial
This is a six-part serial, first broadcast between 20th June - 1st August 1964. The serial was written by Peter R. Newman, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Mervyn Pinfield and Frank Cox. The script editor was David Whitaker.
The Tardis lands inside a spaceship, and once more the Tardis crew find themselves caught in the middle of conflict.
It's interesting to compare this story to the slightly earlier 'Keys of Marinus'. In 'Keys', we have a couple of fairly traditional science-fiction stories that are competently told. In 'Sensorites', we have a story that is full of interesting and innovative ideas, but that is being let down by the execution.
The main problem is that the first episode is great, the second is still pretty good, but things go downhill from there. To be more specific:
- The first two episodes have atmosphere and tension, and much of the story is 'shown' rather than 'told'. At the end of part two, however, the serial seems to run out of steam. The remaining four episodes are high on dialogue and low on action, even if the serial picks up the pace near the end.
- The first two episodes are set on a spaceship, which looks great. The four remaining episodes are set on the Sensorites' home world which, though it's obvious that a lot of thought has gone into the design, very much comes across as a set rather than as an actual alien world.
- The other problem is that we spend much of these final four episodes looking at Sensorites, who are particularly unattractive aliens.
There are also some puzzling plot points:
- In episode two Ian and Barbara decide to search the spaceship for Sensorites. Though this gives us some nice, tense scenes with the two of them creeping through the spaceship's corridors, it becomes obvious that, once they've found the intruders, they've got no idea what to do next. This results in a prolonged impromptu retreat that stops the story right in its tracks.
- At a later point in the story one of the Sensorite officials decides to impersonate another official by donning the latter's badge of office. It's unclear why he apparently expects this to succeed since, even if the general populace never sees either official up close, there are several Sensorites who have regular contact with both and who should be able to tell them apart. One possible explanation might be that Sensorite society is so hierarchical that the Sensorites only see the badge of office and not the individual wearing it, but the serial makes no effort to 'sell' this idea.
- Much of the action in the later episodes involves an aqueduct where the Sensorites are afraid to go. Why, or how, the Sensorites would build a structure that they themselves are unwilling to enter is anyone's guess.
Still, this serial does give us some things to enjoy:
- Great performances from the regulars and the spaceship crew.
- Excellent incidental music.
The bottom line
Tough call. If you value ambitious stories you should see it, but if you're primarily looking for entertainment you might as well give it a miss.