Review and Competition: Doctor Who – The Sensorites on DVD

Your chance to win the Doctor Who classic on DVD

The Sensorites

BBC Shop Badge Starring: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford
Writer: Peter R Newman
Director: Frank Cox
Price: £20.42 (Amazon price: £12.99; BBC Shop price: £12.99)
Released: January 23rd 2012

I have to confess that I’m not the most diligent of DVD reviewers. Give me something that I can watch in an hour or two and I’m fine. Give me something that lasts two and a half hours and that also has commentaries and epic amounts of extras and basically, I’m not up for that. Call it being busy, call it being lazy – it ain’t happening.

But sometimes, I’ll give it a try. In this case, the BBC Shop, in their infinite wisdom, sent me the six-part William Hartnell Doctor Who story The Sensorites to peruse. Now, I hadn’t seen this in about 20 years and beyond a slight reference to it at some point when the Ood popped up in modern Who, it had almost completely escaped my mind. Feeling semi-dedicated, I decided to give The Sensorites a go. See how I fared after this trailer and the jump.

So I endeavoured to sit down and watch all six episodes of The Sensorites. I lasted two. It is brain-sappingly dull. But that’s not to say it’s entirely bad.

The general plot is that the Doctor and his companions – his grand-daughter Susan plus her 1960s high school teachers Ian and Barbara who’ve been dragged along for the ride – land inside a spaceship that heads off from Earth a few hundred years from now. It’s stuck around a planet called the ‘Sense-Sphere’ that’s run by some aliens called the Sensorites, who look a bit weird, particularly in the foot department, and not only are telepathic, they can partly control people by telepathy as well. The Doctor and co then have to work out why the the Sensorites are being so mean to the humans on the spaceship, particularly once the Sensorites steal the TARDIS’s lock and then abduct Susan.

There’s probably about enough plot in the whole six parts, IIRC, to fill a single episode of nu-Who, and while the whole thing moves along at a glacial pace, it does have a few things to recommend it if you can stay awake. This is one of the very few episodes featuring Susan in which she gets to do more than scream and fall over. She does scream in this, but she does do other things, including be telepathic as well.

We also get more character development for Ian and Barbara, who have moved from being unwilling abductees to willing explorers, with the Doctor mellowing accordingly. We get back-references to Marco Polo among other stories, highlighting just what a serial show this was back in the day. Hartnell’s not on best form and is clearly having trouble remembering his lines, but you can say that for big chunks of his era and isn’t a criticism unique to The Sensorites.

Like a lot of the Hartnell era, there are some good attempts to do hard sci-fi, aliens that actually look alien and things like the TARDIS transitions from inside to outside are handled in a way that’s eye-opening if you only have a few pre-conceptions about what old Who and its effects were like. And while the plot does move slowly, condensed down, it is intelligent enough, echoing stories like Galaxy Four where nothing is what it seems and the goodies may not be the goodies – or everyone might be equally bad and good. You’ll have to have stamina – maybe watch one episode a week like God and Verity Lambert intended – but it’ll probably be worth it if you can handle the much-neglected Hartnell era.

In terms of extras, there’s masses:

  • A commentary track featuring William Russell (Ian), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Joe Greig (2nd Sensorite), Martyn Huntley (First Human), Giles Phibbs (Second Human), director Frank Cox, designer Raymond Cusick and make-up designer Sonia Markham
  • Looking for Peter: Toby Hadoke goes in search of the writer Peter R Newman
  • Vision On: an examination of the role of the Vision Mixer
  • Secret Voices of the Sense-Sphere: Clive Doig reveals the origins of the Sensorite voices
  • Photo Gallery
  • Production Subtitles
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Radio Times Listings
  • Original Design Drawings as PDFs on the DVD-ROM
  • Coming Soon Trailer

The main feature has also been digitally remastered.

I have to confess, I watched none of those extras. Sorry. I’m not that dedicated a reviewer. But like most Who DVD releases, some of them sound good, some of them sound like a waste of money. But you can’t argue that a lot of effort hasn’t been put into this.

Competition time!
Anyway, in case you haven’t guessed, I don’t want this particular DVD, so I’m going to give it away in a competition. Aren’t I generous?

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below or email me! Usual competition rules apply and you have to live in the UK. Closing date is Sunday 11th March 2012 at 11.59pm.