Classic Doctor Who: Slogging Through Sensorites (Part 2)

Classic Doctor Who (Classic Who episode list here; next entry here.)

Season 1, Story 7, The Sensorites, Episodes 4-6 (Click here for Episodes 1-3)

Onward! A Race Against Death! Will the Doctor save Ian?? (I mean, presumably yes.)

Incidentally, the First Elder is certainly NOT very optimistic.

Nobody’s clued in that the mysterious illness doesn’t affect the Elders??

Thankfully the Doctor figures it out. And he’s requesting…salt?

The First Elder is despondent because nobody’s lived longer than three days once they develop symptoms; the Doctor’s all “as long as that??” That’s forever to the Doctor; what if he gets bored?

He’s promising to cure all the Sensorites, which is possible, but admittedly optimistic. Although he’s possibly using this as a bargaining chip to get back into the TARDIS.

The Doctor’s giving Ian salt water, “an old-fashioned remedy;” Susan’s trying crossing her fingers, another old-fashioned remedy. Oh. I think the “old-fashioned remedy” was to make Ian throw up.

The First and Second Elder are conversing, with the Second Elder painting awful pictures of what the humans may do if the Doctor gets his ship back. The First Elder points out that the Doctor wouldn’t leave his friend behind, which…is actually not guaranteed at this point?

Sensorite scientist is sciencing.

The City Administrator wants poor John killed off. Also, the City Administrator is annoyed that the Doctor and friends have names, and don’t have helpful clothing symbols to tell them apart. I like the turnaround of “they all look alike”—to the Sensorites, all the humans look alike, sure—but it doesn’t quite work, since in fact the humans are all wearing COMPLETELY different clothing.

Uh-oh, the City Administrator is convincing the Second Elder to stop trusting the Doctor. Well, to trust him even less. John doesn’t help matters much by randomly declaring “evil…evil.”

Carol pops back in and casually points out that all the Sensorites look the same, and the humans wouldn’t be able to tell them apart if they started changing their clothes around. Don’t give him ideas, Carol!

The Doctor’s ANGRY!

Unfortunately, the Second Elder interferes just before the First Elder lets them go back to the TARDIS.

The Doctor won’t stop shouting, which makes the Sensorites very upset. Susan keeps shushing him, but he’s REALLY bad at using his inside voice right now.

Sigh…”The girl Carol gave me an idea.” Uh…the Sensorites can’t tell each other apart either?

The Doctor is going on about atropine. Ah, the scientists HAVE tested the water. They’re more sensible than we were given to believe, then.

Science montage!

The first appearance of the brainy specs!!
Sensorites, helpfully taking notes in lovely English script.

Yay, the Doctor’s found the answer!

He’s very excited about holding poison.

Unfortunately, the Second Elder is getting kidnapped just in time to stop the progress. Yikes, the City Administrator is holding his family hostage! What a jerk!

At least they’re just tying him up, not killing him. So far.

The Doctor gives the antidote to a Sensorite to take it to Ian. No, no, Doctor, take it yourself!

Sigh, the Doctor’s planning an expedition. And ignoring John, who’s doing his loopy best to warn him about plotting.

Oh no, the fake Second Elder is nabbing the antidote! And smashing it. Jerk.

Here’s the Doctor’s expedition. He and the head scientist are wandering around the aqueduct, and apparently Sensorites are afraid of the dark AND monsters. Loud monsters. Even the scientists are afraid of monsters?? Sheesh.

The Doctor’s making bad puns. With nobody around to hear them, so he’s the only one who’s amused. Actually, “he’s the only one amused” is pretty much the case whenever the Doctor makes a pun.

Susan’s managed to save Ian, thankfully. Nobody’s figured out that SOMEBODY’S CONSPIRING AGAINST YOU!

However, the scientist and First Elder are quite concerned about the Doctor going into the aqueduct. “Didn’t you warn him?” “He took no notice.” Sensorite scientist, summarizing most of the show there.

The Sensorites are helpless to go into their own aqueduct, which, seriously, you can’t just NOT BE ABLE to monitor your water supply.

Oh, for goodness sake, Ian’s trying to volunteer to go. Ian, ten minutes ago you were a day away from being dead! And Susan lets him! Sheesh, where’s Barbara when we need her?

The First Elder is now determined to tell the Second Elder that the humans are good—oh right, telepathically. That’s not going to go well.

The City Administrator’s forcing the Second Elder to tell him the message. Why don’t you just lie, dude??

Anyway, the City Administrator’s now certain that the Doctor and friends are all going to die, since that’s the only possible outcome of going into the aqueduct. That’s a bit short-sighted for someone as paranoid as this dude.

The Doctor is happily discovering poisonous plants. And we end the episode with an ominous roar! Well…kind of a growl. Like a very upset stomach.

The Doctor seems determined to save this entire alien race from poisoning. I think this is new for him? In previous stories, he’s just been focused on getting the heck out. With or without his companions, actually, until recently. I think he could have just given the Sensorites the antidote and left them to deal with the source themselves (or not, apparently). “Passing through, helping out, learning,” seems to be starting now.


Onward to “Kidnap,” which is an interesting title. Who’s going to get kidnapped? The Second Elder is already kidnapped…maybe the Doctor and friends will get kidnapped by the mysterious aqueduct monsters? Or maybe the City Administrator will kidnap MORE people.

The Doctor actually looks…alarmed at the oncoming noise.

Ooh, he shouted at something to get away! Good thing Ian and Susan are nearby! Yikes, that’s a lot of clothing damage!

Tragic end for a noble garment.

Back at the Sensorite capitol, Carol seems to be taking on Barbara’s role of “omg, let’s get moving and rescue my friends!” When’s Jackie coming back from vacation?

The Sensorites are changing the subject. “John’s better; don’t be upset about the other people who are definitely dead!”

Thankfully, the Doctor’s figuring out all the conspiracies.

Wait, how was there a Sensorite lurking in the aqueduct??

John’s still trying to communicate in single words. It’s not working. Carol and the Sensorite scientist are discussing species differences; apparently the Sensorites think that they have a perfect society, built on trust, which probably explains their problems.

The City Administrator’s still being a jerk to the Second Elder. Uh-oh, now he’s conspiring to get that disintegrator key back.

The Doctor spots the exchange, and I think is suspicious, and finally Ian and Susan are remembering Barbara!

Susan’s being speciesist, as usual, making fun of the Sensorite running.

Ooh, the Second Elder finally gets brave, and destroys the key! And gets killed for his trouble.

Uh-oh, they’re going to blame the Second Elder for everything, and say they saved everyone by killing him, aren’t they?

At least the Doctor gets a lovely cloak to replace his coat! And gets to do some name-dropping, one of his favorite activities.

Oh—they’re blaming the Doctor for killing the Second Elder! But ha, Ian’s taking the lawyer role on the Doctor’s behalf this time!

You’re CERTAIN it was THAT man in THAT cloak??
The Doctor, cloaking dramatically.

That was a quick “trial.” NOW they’re blaming the Second Elder for everything.

The City Administrator is now officially the Second Elder. The Doctor and friends are NOT clueing in. And the First Elder is still firmly holding the Idiot Ball. None of my people could have possibly done something bad!!

Ooh, John’s looking better! Aaand he doesn’t remember anything. Go figure. And as usual, the City Administrator is conveniently nearby to successfully manipulate everything. He reminds me of Tegana that way.

For some reason the scientist has memorabilia from the other humans who were here before and got killed. Honestly I don’t even remember when that plot thread got mentioned before. Anyway, one of them was very interested in the aqueduct, which I’m sure will be relevant.

Oh, Susan’s figured out the City Administrator’s the enemy! About time. Not sure why the scientist isn’t reacting to any of this. Seriously, he’s just standing there between them, not reacting to their discussion of BLATANT TREASON.

Ok, the Doctor and Ian are planning to go into the aqueduct, but the City Administrator is disabling their weapons and altering their map.

Aaand the Doctor’s deciding to make the aqueduct trip without telling Susan. Zero chance that’s going to go well. Plus, she’d probably be safer in the aqueduct than stuck in the city with the Administrator.

Huh, Carol’s the one who gets kidnapped? That was abrupt. Cliffhanger!


The final installment is called “A Desperate Venture.” I’m going to guess that the venture in question will take up a little more of the episode than the kidnapping did in “Kidnap.”

The Second Elder is threatening Carol into writing a letter to John. For some reason, Carol will guarantee the success of his plans. I don’t see how, but sure. Why does nobody think of coding a message into these letters they’re forced to write? Or writing something the other person would know they didn’t write?

Ha, Barbara’s back, and so they know Carol didn’t go to the spaceship! John doesn’t get why they would kidnap Carol, and I don’t either. But Barbara sees things more clearly.

The First Elder is now intrigued by humans’ concern for each other. Uh…don’t Sensorites have this too? We certainly saw the original Second Elder being worried for his family.

OMG, the First Elder STILL can’t conceive that a Sensorite would do something bad, like kidnapping Carol. Barbara and Susan are trying to explain things logically, and John’s all, WHERE IS MY GIRLFRIEND??

…And Susan’s all “Where’s my granddad?” The First Elder caves and tells her (seriously, that’s what should have happened in the first place), and reassures them that there’s no danger because they have a map and weapons…

Cut straight to Ian and the Doctor figuring out their weapons and map are useless!

Meanwhile, the City Administrator/Second Elder’s assistant is being a jerk to Carol, and generally a jerk about humans. Uh-oh, here’s John!

Ooh, Carol saves herself by sensibly pulling the plug on the deadly weapon! The assistant guy gets arrested, again. Isn’t somebody going to figure out that the Second Elder is the head bad guy??

The Second Elder is still manipulating the First Elder, and the humans aren’t even trying to make a case against him. But they ARE trying to rescue Ian and the Doctor.

“Whatever’s out there hasn’t attacked us yet,” says Ian, which is a really unwise thing to say. Ian’s trying to stalk whatever it is with…a roll of paper? Anyway, he figures out it’s a human. And the Doctor figures out it’s the previous astronauts.

Fear my very dangerous weapon!

Ok, Barbara and John are going into the aqueduct, and Susan’s going to stay here and direct them telepathically. With a Sensorite warrior to protect her. “Someone you trust implicitly.” “I trust all Sensorites,” says the First Elder. OMG, NO YOU DON’T! You know at least one of them is still out there deceiving you!

Psusan’s Psychic Pstance

The First Elder gives probably the best character summary of Barbara you could wish for: “A very capable human being. Gentle, yet with strong determination and courage.”

Susan’s trying to get the First Elder to stop being so excessively trusting.

OMG, it’s the description of Gallifrey!! “At night the sky is a burnt orange, and the leaves on the trees are a bright silver.”

I’m not crying…
…actually, yes, I probably am.

The Doctor’s sensibly tracking their route with chalk marks, but NOT sensibly ignoring this guy standing in the doorway. Oops, both doorways!

Ha! Pointy sticks!

Do what we say, or we will most definitely harm you with these giant pencils.

These guys seem a bit batty.

Yay, Barbara and John have found the Doctor’s chalk marks!

“The Commander” is very excited to see the Doctor and Ian. Ha, they’re convincing him that the humans have won “the war with the Sensorites.” Clearly Rule 1 (The Doctor lies) has been firmly in place since the beginning.

Pretty sure the Doctor just called Ian “Question.”

The Commander is immediately getting paranoid about the Doctor and Ian getting interested in the molybdenum, which I still can’t spell. Barbara and John are crashing the party, just in time to stop Ian and the Doctor from getting court-martialed by a paranoid cave-dweller!

Sensorite ambush! They kill the Commander. Oh—no, they didn’t kill the Commander. They’re sending him and his other cave-dwellers back to Earth, because their brains are a mess, apparently resulting from Sensorite thought-exchange exposure. Talk about creating your own villains.

FINALLY, the First Elder believes that the Second Elder betrayed him.

“Go your way now, and take the gratitude of the Sensorites with you.” You will never be forgotten. Our children will sing of the Barbara-Ian—oh wait, wrong species.

Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS, Susan is a little sulky. At least the Doctor notices. Oh, she’s annoyed that she won’t be able to keep using telepathy away from the Sense-sphere. OH, she’s ACTUALLY bothered that she doesn’t belong anywhere, and maybe she’d like to stop being a wanderer. “Still, I’m not unhappy.” SURE you’re not.

Next, Ian makes an innocent comment about not knowing where they’re going—almost word for word what the Doctor just said to Susan—and the Doctor goes OFF on him. In fact, he’s going to put him off the ship at the next stop. Dang, Susan’s comments must have REALLY rattled him. On to a Land of Fear! What horrifying landscape will we encounter?? (Just kidding; I already know.)

Thoughts on this serial:

Well, there’s certainly a lot of padding, and some of the twists are glaringly obvious ahead of time. The Sensorites are an odd combination of elaborately manipulative and childishly easy to fool. But the basic plot is sound, and I actually liked the twist that tricky, deluded humans were behind the poison problem.

From a broader perspective, a couple of important things happen in this serial:

First, The Doctor’s altruism begins to flourish. There’s never any real doubt that he’ll save Ian, which is nice, but more importantly, as far as I can tell, this is the Doctor’s first foray into species-saving for its own sake. Once he’d created the poison remedy, he could have been done, but he insisted on solving the whole problem at its source, at considerable risk to himself, given the dangers he encountered in the aqueduct. He figured out early on that humans were behind the problem. If he’d left them there, they might have tried something different later, so he made sure to find them—saving the humans AND the Sensorites. A very good solution, and very Doctory from our modern Who perspective.

Second, Susan’s development is interesting here. There’s some definite rebellion, although she still caves pretty quickly when the Doctor gets upset about it. And he has NO idea how to handle it. He may be getting more altruistic, but he’s NOT good at listening to others.

Now I’m ANGRY!

Next entry here!

6 thoughts on “Classic Doctor Who: Slogging Through Sensorites (Part 2)

  1. Well done! I love The Sensorites, I really do, but the plotting is (to put it kindly) very basic. You have to wonder if the Sensorites’ civilisation deserves to flourish, considering the fact they’ve not been able to work out the connection between them taking a sip of water and then keeling over (let’s be generous and say Ian, due to being a human, was affected a good deal quicker). They’ve had years to ponder this question though, so clearly their scientists aren’t up to much ….

    As ever with the Hartnell era, even if the story isn’t great shakes, the interactions between the regulars is a great compensation. I’ll never get tired of watching Hartnell in full flow, or if I do then I know that I’ve lost my love of the series forever.


    1. Yes, the Sensorites spend a lot of time in the “too dumb to live” zone! I suppose we could be generous and say that they’ve become overly dependent on their advanced technology (e.g., telepathy), and that they aren’t used to dealing with other cultures, so the idea of anyone hiding in an inaccessible (to the Sensorites) area and deliberately poisoning their water just wouldn’t ever occur to them. But it still doesn’t explain why the First Elder is so easily manipulated by HIS OWN people. If he’s a skilled enough politician to reach his leadership position, shouldn’t he have encountered manipulative behavior at some point??

      And yes, the interactions and development of the regulars go a long way to make up for it.


      1. I guess it all depends how the Sensorites elect their leader. Later, this might have been the opportunity for a spot of political satire but at this point we just have to take the First Elder’s staggering lack of judgement at face value.

        I suppose we could accept that the City Administator is the one rotten apple in the whole Sensorite nation, but that seems unlikely.

        Overall, there’s a nice, if simplistic, morality at work here – we see different cultures overcome their fears and suspicions of each other (was Newman making a political point here – attempting to draw a parallel with an isolated nation like China maybe?).


      2. Yes, I do like the basic concept at work—these people look different from us and have different abilities from us, but underneath they’re basically the same, with the same kind of personality variation and boring political intrigue that we have. It seems to be a very common theme in this era (coming to an anvilicious high point in Galaxy Four).

        Thought I was having deja vu, because I felt like I’d written about this before—but it’s just because I HAVE written this before, ha! It was in my Marco Polo essay over on the Pure Historical site.

        Liked by 1 person

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