The Sensorites is infamously mundane. That is to say, it takes tedium into a new dimension. Yet I am quite fond of it, and while the middle episodes may be far from essential viewing, there's two things of high note in this story - one in the first episode, and one in the last.
We'll get to the first in a minute. First, we get the normally naturally charming original Tardis crew spelling out their appeal in a moment of twee nauseum. "It all started out as a mild curiosity in a junkyard…" It's a terrible scene, the verbal equivalent of Ian Chesterton wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "aren't we cute and loveable?" on it. However, after this, something extraordinary happens. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe that this is the only time in twenty-six years of Doctor Who that there was an attempt to show the crew walking through the large interior, onto the place they've landed, and then walking on with the small police box behind them - all in one self-contained sequence! What's more, it's done in such an understated way, far from director Mervyn Pinfield saying "hey, is this cool or what?" Which he could well have done - it rocks like a daddy! It's such a simple little thing (and an illusion - there's actually a cut to a second shot, but the brain doesn't take it in) yet outrageously effective. I just can't understand why they never repeated such a trick in over 150 other stories. And if you think I'm bigging this up to much, then not only is it a first-class moment, but it's also just about the only thing to single out here.
The rest of it isn't bad, apart from the stinky lines - "It's a space ship!" indeed - but nondescript. The guest cast are criminally bad - Ilona Rodgers should have been shot on sight - while the dialogue is so leaden and blandly functional you suspect that Peter R Newman was just a pen name for Terry Nation. (See? Uncle Tel doesn't even have to write the thing to get the blame!) While The Edge of Destruction has a higher count per episode, this is also the first season story with the highest number of Billy fluffs. In this first episode alone we get "These are the non-winding time" as a challenge to the majesty of "There's not an ounce of curio-curiosity in me, my dear boy" and "I rather fancy that's, er… settled that little bit of solution." Again, for completeness' sake, those fluffs in full continue: Three - "Yes, rich in minb, min, minerals, yes, quite, go on…"; Four - "I'm going to find the, er first, er Elder, scientist, rather."; Five - "Otherwise I might have been in much stek - in a worse state than I was."
There's some interesting dynamic between the crew, not least Barbara and Susan's one-upmanship. Famously the only story where Susan has anything approaching characterisation, when Susan gets a psychic sensation, Barbara has to feel it too, while later Susan has to insist she can smell the burning just as well as Babs. But best of all is the Doctor exclaiming "Can't you go faster, Susan's in there", seemingly not giving a toss about Barbara. Though despite praise in some quarters, "Strangers In Space" is a deeply naff episode title. For the Tardis leaving scene alone I'd like to give this one a five-star rating, but the rest of it clearly doesn't match up to the promise this delivers. And as I'm watching this tot on a shaky fourth generation video and not the swanky vid-fired official release then I can't say I'm overly enthusiastic about watching the rest of it…
The Sensorshites - has it really taken me two episodes to come up with that gag? This is a pretty interminable instalment, full of woeful secondary cast members and a patronising spectrograph scene. As for the eponymous creatures - flat-footed, bald old men with stethoscopes that can be defeated by flicking off a light switch. The first time after I'd seen 'em I woke up to find I'd pissed the bed.
Actually, sorry, but this is crap. I love the Hartnell era, reappraise it whenever I can, and was all up for sticking up for this maligned story. But it's stodgily written and incredibly badly acted, with Billy in particular mawling his dialogue. And with a Hartnell story all you have to focus on is script and acting - there's no sets of which to really concern yourself with. It's also painfully slow, a regular complaint by fans of the era, though usually it's unjust. Here it's well deserved when viewing what is, in essence, a reasonable four-parter. Sadly, the reality is that The Sensorites was made as a ropy six-parter.
Before the super-powered Doctors we had a very vulnerable Doctor and associates, and this is the third story in a run of seven where the antagonists hold the Tardis hostage. "To them, we may appear ugly"… "what we must learn is trust" - blimey, it's Star Trek! What an interminable bore this episode is. Plus, one of the Sensorites has been at the pies - an uncredited early appearance from Colin Baker, perhaps?
Ian and the Doctor meet a rough-hewn rebel who speaks the Queen's English. The campest rebel you've ever seen, he minces "I have my men" at the earliest opportunity. He probably says other things as well, but I started to fall asleep so I couldn't tell you what they were. Of note is the discussion of Gallifrey, referred to as "our place" by Bill. I note that the last two episodes were directed by Frank Cox. I was going to suggest he was better than Mervyn Pinfield, but then I remembered Pinfield was behind the first. It seems that no matter who directed, there was no saving this pulp story. All the insufferable soapbox preaching about "the game of war" makes The Sensorites, again, a Nation-like tale. I bet Tezza took notes and had it in mind when they asked him to contribute for the tenth anniversary season, nest pas?
Yet I said that there were two worthwhile things about this story, one in the first, and one in the last. I wasn't lying to you. Because while this story is the televisual equivalent of Mogadons, the last scene is a killer. With minimal provocation, Billy totally loses it and blows his top at Ian, telling him he's going to throw him off the ship. Cracked me up the first time I saw it, I swear.
Sadly, I have to admit that this story really is as poor as they say. The dialogue, plot and situations can most charitably be described as "naïve", while the acting is uniformly stagy. The lack of anything even approaching ambition makes this worse than even The Keys of Marinus, which at least tried something new, however unsuccessful. The first season's historicals were a triumph, and Edge of Destruction a commendable experiment. The science fiction stories, however, now leave much to be desired.
Jokes too feeble, even for me, omitted from this review: "One of the Sensorites is played by Peter Glaze, the noted children's presenter. So he went from Crackerjack to Hackerjack".