The Sensorites: A Desperate Venture

Unaware of the new Second Elder’s betrayal, the Doctor asks the First Elder not to tell Susan that he and Ian have gone back to the aqueduct until they’re well on their way. Back in the lab, Susan, Carol, and John are waiting for the others so they can eat. Carol decides to go look for them. As she’s crossing the courtyard, an unseen Sensorite accosts her…

After all the starts and stops and delays because of work and sheer apathy, I’ve finally make it through The Sensorites, and to be honest, I’m tempted to write, “Thank God it’s over,” and move quickly on to The Reign of Terror.  That would be cheating though, and in all fairness,  A Desperate Venture, like Kidnap, moves along at a fair pace, and wraps the story lines up in a more or less satisfying way.

The First Elder bids Ian and Barbara farewellThat said, The Sensorites as a whole is a wasted opportunity—it could have been so much more compelling.  In Strangers in Space, the Sensorites were an unseen force that used fear to manipulate the humans on Maitland’s ship to behave in a certain way, yet they’re reduced to timid bureaucrats and administrators traipsing around generally being nice to everyone by the very next episode.  Only the City Administrator is remotely menacing, and even he is more or less just a stock villain.  It’s disappointing, and it feels more like a bait-and-switch from the first episode to the rest of the serial.

The commander of the previous expedition to the Sense SphereA far more interesting story would have involved the humans from the earlier expedition to the Sense Sphere at a much earlier stage in the narrative, rather than limiting their presence to this final part.  The idea that they’ve gone mad from years of isolation in the darkness of the aqueduct system while believing they’re fighting a protracted war against an unseen enemy would have made an interesting alternative perspective in a dark meditation on the nature of fear.  And yet, even they are more comical than threatening in the end, easily hoodwinked by a few lines of not-very-convincing dialoge from the Doctor.  Again, it simply feels like a bit of a let down, and it’s surprising this got past the desk of script editor David Whitaker at all.

Susan describes her homeworld to the First ElderTwo things stand out in A Desperate Venture that are worth mentioning.  First, Barbara is certainly a sight for sore eyes, having spent the last two episodes up on Maitland’s ship, and it seems clear from her performance that Jacqueline Hill enjoyed her two-week holiday.  More intriguingly, though, Susan reveals that she and the Doctor aren’t human, or at least they’re not from Earth, a detail that has mostly been left ambiguous at best, but from a world with a burnt orange night sky, and trees with silver leaves.  The First Elder senses Susan misses her home, but she’s conflicted, too, wanting to travel with her grandfather.

Susan communicates telepathically with BarbaraIn retrospect—and to give Newman (and Whitaker) a little benefit of the doubt—I have to wonder if my feelings toward The Sensorites are in any way influenced by the modern series, and this answer is a resounding probably.  After all, viewers of modern Doctor Who are spoiled by Steven Moffatt’s incredible vision for the series, amazing writing, and an impressive special effects budget—and not one flubbed line as far as I’ve noticed.  At the same time, I think it’s patently clear by this point that with the possibile exception of Marco Polo, Doctor Who serials longer than four parts just don’t work as well as they could, since there’s usually just not enough narrative to fill five or more episodes.  This makes me a little apprehensive about The Reign of Terror, but at least that story has the benefit of being new-to-me: I don’t know what to expect from it.

The time travelers watch Maitland's ship departSometime later, the time travelers have returned to the Ship after having bid farewell to Maitland, Carol, and John.  “Well, at least they know where they’re going,” Ian comments as they watch Maitland’s ship fade from view on the scanner.  The Doctor takes umbridge at Ian’s innocent remark, and vows to throw him off the Ship at their very next landing…

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)

What do you think? Please join the discussion!