This story doesn’t really sit still for more than an episode or two, so I will try to give a basic overview that won’t be too complicated.
The planet Sense-Sphere is home to the Sensorites, and also possesses very expensive molybdenum, which the Sensorites do not want to have taken from them. The Tardis lands on an exploration spaceship, in which there are 3 members of the crew, Carol, John and Captain Maitland. John has gone effectively mad, being affected by the Sensorites, who hold their ship in a fixed position and feed them, but will not let them move in fear of them taking the molybdenum.
In contrast to Marco Polo taking the Tardis key to stop them from getting away, the Sensorites decide to cut out the middle man and just remove the lock, leaving the door stuck closed.
The Sensorites then make themselves known. Not by entering the ship via their spaceship pods, but instead by one of them pressing itself against the window in space. Does it make sense, or ever get explained why they do this, after they have already been inside to remove the lock? Who cares, it makes for a great cliffhanger, right?
I was quite pleasantly surprised to see an authoritative female in the spaceship crew, and have her actively assisting rather than being captured and screaming – apart from at the end. However I also noticed that while the Doctor, Ian, Carol and Maitland try to solve the problems, they have Barbara and Susan making lunch, before becoming damsels in distress. One step forward, two steps back.
When Susan and Barbara go to look for more stuff for lunch, they encounter John who chases them around for a bit. The girls then decide to hide in the worst hide-and-seek spot ever; one which means that John actively has to walk out of the room sideways to avoid seeing them. And it works!
Oh and the Sensorites, while starting out as looking quite scary, take a turn for the adorable when it turns out that they are scared of the dark and loud noises – often cowering when someone speaks too loudly. I mean, while actively having a stand off against the Doctor and Ian, one Sensorite turns to the other and says ‘They have got no weapons, yet I am scared of them.’
Very cute. Turns out that one Sensorite is pretty sassy too. When Barbara tries to talk down to one, about how they can defend themselves and hold their own; the Sensorite replies by saying ‘You have only proved that you can lock doors.’
It made me audibly chuckle.
You may have noticed how I am not being very specific about the various names of the Sensorites, and with good reason. They don’t have names. They are usually referred to as ‘Second Elder’, ‘First Elder’, ‘Head Scientist’ etc. Although I disagree with the general belief that it is hard to tell the Sensorites apart, and you can’t tell which one is talking; it doesn’t help the cause when they don’t have names.
Speaking of the look of the story, I have several good things to say about the set design. The spaceship had pretty convincing circular doors that retracted on cue, the science labs on the Sense-Sphere had flashing lights up the walls, and there was a sweet little water fountain in the square. It doesn’t seem like much, but on a shoe-string budget, it gives the sets a lot of character and makes them more memorable.
Back to the plot; upon the Tardis crew and spaceship crew becoming wary allies with the Sensorites, they accompany them down to the planet where they discover a poisoned water supply and also try to get John better. In order to help John, the Sensorites plug him in for an episode or two. Barbara stays in the spaceship along with Maitland, in order for actress Jacqueline Hill to have a couple of episodes on holiday.
The plan for stopping the poisoned water is to work out where it is coming from. Meanwhile a small group of Sensorites don’t trust the humans and plot against them, resulting in only mildly confusing identical Sensorites impersonating each other.
They then stop the rebellious Sensorites and find that the ‘monster’ that had been poisoning the water was a group of men from a previous crashed spaceship. They, like John has gone mad due to the mind reading powers of the Sensorites. The powers, by the way are not really made explicit; they can communicate with each other telepathically, but also use it as a weapon to turn people insane but only when the plot requires it.
At the end of the story the spaceship crew are allowed to fly away with no casualties, the Sensorites had no more poisoned water, and the Doctor and crew were allowed to fly away. It is at this point that Ian majorly pisses off the Doctor by simply noting that the spaceship crew are able to navigate but the Tardis cannot. The Doctor completely over reacts and states that Ian will be forced off the Tardis at the next stop with no exception.
It feels like really forced conflict since the Doctor and Ian in particular have been rescuing each other constantly for the past two or three stories. I hope that this behaviour is explained in the next story, The Reign of Terror. If not it will continue to really jar for me at the end of this story.
There are a couple of really nice points that stood out for me in this story. Firstly I absolutely love that we get close up looks of the Tardis console. It is one of my favourite designs of the entire history of Who.
Secondly, at the beginning, in the Tardis, the Doctor and company are discussing their previous adventures and stating that although it all started off in a junkyard, it has now turned into a great spirit of adventure. This is a sentiment that I felt too. All of the main cast feel so comfortable together in every story now, which makes the fallout of Ian and the Doctor even less believable.
Apart from anything else, I think I have set a record for how many times I have typed the word Sensorite in this post; and it probably won’t be the last time I type it. The Sensorites is a good story as a whole, but does sometimes feel like it flits about too much from one location to the next. The Sensorites are a good alien species and well realised. I wouldn’t mind them reappearing in the new series either, as long as their look isn’t changed too much.
I am going to award this story seven Sensorite heads out of ten.
P.S. I counted 18 Sensorites in this post including that one.