(l-r) Cameron and Jonny, Nephews of friend and WHOTININNIES cohort Ken Plume , as the 11th and 10th Doctors for Halloween 2011.
..with a look at "The Sensorites" - available on VHS (yes, you read that right) but not DVD...yet. "Sensorites" DVDs are coming next year. While I suspect my current lack of enthusiasm for this episode will have galvanized into full-scale loathing by that point, we'll revisit this story when the DVD hits nonetheless - looking at extras and whatnot. Maybe they'll help us to determine what happened here?
Huge thanks to Docbacker Bytor for setting me up with the necessary vids. Hugely appreciated!
Before we get started...
DOCTOR WHO SEASON/SERIES 6 SCORE CDs NOW UP FOR PRE-ORDER!!
Murray Gold has been scoring DOCTOR WHO since its 2005 relaunch - his music has subsequently grown, evolved, and morphed as fully as the show itself. I strongly contend that his scores for Season/Series 5 & 6 represent the best original music on any current television series - both ranking high among the greatest television scores ever composed (the original STAR TREK series would be another example of a truly bold and classic TV score).
I found Season/Series' 5 score a bit more fully realized than the recently concluded Season/Series 6 - but S6 is still a doozy in itself, and you can now pre-order a 2 CD set of S6's score HERE in the UK.
No sign of US pre-orders yet, but I seem to recall Season/Series 5 was available digitally Stateside before the actual CDs hit...or am I misremembering the matter? Please correct me in the Docbacks below if I'm wrong, which I may well be.
Meanwhile, Gold's extraordinary score for DOCTOR WHO Season/Series 5 is still available HERE in the U.S. and HERE in the U.K. Both links offer CDs, and/or downloads of either individual tracks or the entire score.
Via DOCTOR WHO News Page.
WHERE'S THIS WEEK'S WHOTININNIES PODCAST??
I dunno. We're working on it. Will post links.
"THE SENSORITES" (Story # 7)
Regular Docbackers may recall a fateful day back in June. On that day, I set out to watch every DOCTOR WHO ever made, starting from the show's earliest 1963 episodes and working my way forward (more or less in sequence).
At that time, many Docbackers warned me that rough patches lie ahead - that certain episodes may strain my patience, and even the show's overall credibility, to the breaking point. With this in mind, and with some sense of budgetary and political context (by "political" I mean the show's sometimes strained interaction with BBC back in the day), I soldiered bravely foreword and have…on the whole…enjoyed what I've seen immensely.
Sure, nearly every episode was imperfect. A few stories were grand on the whole but let me down somewhere along the way. Other stories were quite capable and solid, but not as fully realized as they might've been with a larger budget (such is the reality of many television series). But, in general, the experience of watching WHO has been remarkable, eye opening, and in many regards, transformative. DOCTOR WHO - especially the show's current Moffat Model (Moffle?) - has truly re-jiggered my perception of storytelling, mythology, and the hows, whens, and whys of imagination. Where and when to hold back, where/when to apply them, etc. Until this week, as funky as DW could sometimes be, I hadn't once encountered a WHO that was anywhere near as rank as I'd been expecting…or as deeply unfortunate as folks had warned me the show could occasionally become. I was beginning to wonder if readers were being too critical of the show, or if I was, perhaps, being too forgiving.
Then came "The Sensorites."
In what is, fortunately, his soul script for the WHOverse, Peter R. Newman opens his story with The Doctor (William Hartnell) arriving on a disabled Earth vessel with companions Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell), and "granddaughter" Susan (Carole Ann Ford).
Crew members Maitland (Lorne Cossettes), Carol Richmond (Ilona Rodgers) and John (Stephen Dartnell) are still onboard the vessel, having been forced into a dormant state by the inhabitants of the planet below. That planet, we quickly learn, is called The Sense Sphere - and its occupants are called Sensorites. "They are hostile, these Sensorites. But in the strangest possible way. They won't let us leave this area of space, yet they don't attempt to kill us..." ponders Maitland in one of his waking moments (which are often difficult to distinguish from his sleepier mode).
By the end of the story's opening episode we're introduced to The Sensorites themselves - who we first see crawling around on the outside of the ship's viewport like bugs an a car windshield.
(l - a Sensorite, r- Burl Ives)
As the second and third installments of this six part tale unfolds, we learn more about the mystery of why this human ship has been deliberately kept in Sensorite space. The current situation stems from an interesting backstory involving the species' failed first contact with humans ten years earlier - the Sensorites now fear that the catastrophe which befell their people the first time around may be compounded by this new batch of humans. Furthermore, the Sensorites' telepathic perception tells them that one of these current visitors may be scheming to plunder the resources of the Sense Sphere, which doesn't help matters at all.
That's a great set-up, and I've always been a sucker for stories exploring the ramifications of troubled first contact scenarios (Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, several episodes of the original STAR TREK series, and much of human history being good examples of this. Bradbury was Best Man at my parents' wedding, by the way). After a bit of hemming and hawing, our heroes make their way to the Sense Sphere in the hopes of brokering new and anxiety-free relations between humans and Sensorites. Alas, a hyper-isolationist faction of Sensorites feels that healthy interaction with humans is impossible and should not to be trusted, and is willing to do anything to reinforce this point.
So, "The Sensorites" is essentially STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, but told 27 years earlier and spun with considerably less budget and vigor. Which is completely fine - DOCTOR WHO has proven time and time again that large budgets are not required to advance solid storytelling and sometimes remarkable characterizations and interpersonal moments. The problem with "The Sensorites" is several fold, but chiefly lies with the Sensorites themselves.
They just aren't interesting.
The culture and internal machinations of the Sensorties is hugely meaningful component of how this story unfolds, but the presentation of these titular entities is hamstrung by stiff and shoddy make-up which doesn't allow actors to project through their appliances, as well as Sensorite performers' slavishly tedious presentation of their dialog. Even when we're unable to see an actor's face, remarkable nuance can be brought to performance through voice alone. Here, every Sensorite sounds like a contemptible city council person during a disagreeably long meeting. Or that tiresome teacher we've all had at some point in our lives. You know…the ones who don't inspire? The ones you wished would just…shut…up?
Worsening matters is their basic conceptualization. Their use of "telepathy" seems inconsistent and appears to support the requirements of the narrative at any given moment rather than any continuous logic or common sense. They recoil when shouted at and are terrified of the dark (good thing they have no problem drifting around in space then!) Would The Doctor forcing them to return a much-needed/stolen item truly be as difficult as this episode would have us believe? The doddering old Doctor could have easily shouted the Sensorites into submission, or tortured them into compliance by merely flipping off a light switch. Even when they're doing something vaguely menacing, they're not believable foils, and they lack the force of presence to make the problems they create believable.
I do understand that the Sensorites aren't meant to be presented as "big bads" here - but too much drama hinges on their flimsy essence. Thus, the story unravels around them, climaxed by a desperate plot machination which hinges on all Sensorites looking alike - even though their faces are clearly distinguishable from one another, and each of their body types are radically different from those around them. This is clumsy madness.
To be fair to the woefully inadequate denizens of the Sense Sphere, their human irritants don't come across much better. Lorne Cossettes, Ilona Rodgers, and Stephen Dartnell are all equally lost in this episode - their performances suggest an OTT, soap-operatic grab at this material rather than any innate comprehension of the universe they're inhabiting (there's even a cheesy orchestral 'duh-duh-duuuuummm' music cue when something important is discovered).
Episodes five and six of "The Sensorites" were directed by Frank Cox, who'd helmed the vastly superior "Brink of Disaster
" for DOCTOR WHO previously. Not sure why he didn't fare so well this time around, but given the profoundly muddled mess that this episode represents, he may've never had a chance.
I continue to love DOCTOR WHO deeply and forever, but in many relationships there's a quality about our companion which simply doesn't sit well with us…and possibly even makes us insane. That's what "The Sensorites" represents to me in this dynamic. It makes me want to pull (what hair I have left) out. It makes me feel vaguely abused, even though it never raised a finger. I disapprove of this episode in the same way Steven Moffat disapproved of Matthew Watterhouse - it's just plain unwelcome. "The Sensorites" is a sloppy, under-developed, tedious, and generally joyless wreck that begins with bizarrely misplaced exposition about our travelers' past adventures in the TARDIS (including a Henry the 8th story we've never seen), and then sticks around for about 110 minutes too long.
This story does bring two noteworthy contributions to the WHO mythos (besides apparently being some sort inspiration for the Ood - I love me some Ood - Oodles of Ood still wouldn't be enough): 1) for the first time in DOCTOR WHO that I can recall, the future history of Earth is alluded to pointedly and interestingly, and 2) this is the first instance I can recall instance of The Doctor posturing like a badass - i.e. that "don't fuck with me" thing they do. In this case, we get one great and memorable line from the carcass of an otherwise heinous embarrassment:
"I don't make threats. But I do keep promises. And I promise you I shall cause you more trouble than you bargained for if you don't return my property. "
Oh yeah - to Docbacker Hornorsilk, who once affectionately taunted me
because I'd yet to see this episode? I now respond, "Yeah. Whatever…"
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
DOCBACK CODE OF CONDUCT
AICN's Friday DOCTOR WHO Talkbacks - aka "Docbacks" - operate on a different set of standards than other AICN Talkbacks. These standards developed quickly and naturally, and we intend to preserve them. Accordingly, please take a moment to note a few guidelines which should help proceedings move along smoothly and pleasantly:
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO (with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)...
2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity. Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example. "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well. "**SPOILER** Why did everyone die?" Is NOT good.
And, above all...
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In short, it's easy. Be excellent to each other. Now party on...