The Doctor agrees to investigate the disease in exchange for the Sensorites’ help in restoring John to full health, as well as for the safe return of the TARDIS door opening mechanism. But as they sit discussing the situation further, Ian begins coughing—he’s drunk from the water supply used by the lower levels of Sensorite society. He tries to stand up, but collapses to the ground…
I was going to write that I never understand the kind of deep-seated, mutual distrust and sense of malice that sometimes exists between groups of people or even some individuals, such as the Sensorite City Administrator’s enmity and animosity toward the humans from Maitland’s ship, and to a certain extent, that true. On the other hand, given the historical context, I can respect that some grievances and fears cut very deeply, and we can begin to understand the City Administrator a little more clearly.
The recent history of the Sense Sphere is elaborated on a little more in A Race Against Death: ten years ago, another human expedition to the planet apparently brought a disease that has been killing the lower castes of Sensorite society seemingly at random. It claimed twenty percent of the population in the previous year along, and thirty percent are affected in the current year. The first group of humans are long gone—their ship exploded as it was leaving the Sense Sphere—but the disease remains. Furthermore, John’s discovery of molybdenum and the pictures in his mind of a fleet of vessels arriving to plunder the mineral wealth of the Sense Sphere lead to an understandable reluctance on the part of the Sensorites to trust Maitland’s party, to say nothing of the time travelers. From that perspective, the City Administrator’s acrimony is more understandable, even if his actions are truly unjustifiable.
(As an aside, however, the City Administrator’s fears are ultimately proven correct. In the New Adventures novel Original Sin, the Seventh Doctor reveals that the Sense Sphere is finally annexed into the Earth Empire in the thirtieth century. The Sensorites’ capitulation ended the Wars of Acquisition. Nine hundred years after that, the Ood, who reside in the same solar system as the Sensorites and share their telepathic abilities, are enslaved by humans for the next several hundred years. The Tenth Doctor emancipates them in 4126, though the ultimate fate of the Sensorites remains unknown.)
Unlike The Daleks, which clearly drew its inspiration from the very real fears surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of global nuclear war, there’s no clear indication of where writer Peter R. Newman drew his inspiration for The Sensorites—regrettably, there are so many incidents of this type in the history of the world that writing such a situation probably comes more naturally than any of us would care to admit.
For his part, the Doctor quickly suspects that the disease isn’t a disease at all, but rather atropine poisoning in the water, and he works with the Sensorite scientists to determine which city district is the one responsible. His hypothesis is ultimately proven correct (naturally), and an antidote is formulated that saves Ian’s live, and will save the lives of countless Sensorites, too.
The Doctor rightly points out that while a cure is good, a better solution would be to eliminate the source of the poison altogether, and the Chief Scientist escorts him to the District Eight aquaduct and the source of the contaminated water. The Chief Scientist is reluctant to go further—the Sensorites are apprehensive of the darkness of the caves (which they’ve been unable to light well, despite repeated attempts), but then there are the unseen “monsters” that howl and roar and have caused numerous deaths.
The Doctor sends the Chief Scientist back to the city, and proceeds alone into the cave system. He quickly discovers an Atropa belladonna—deadly nightshade—plant from Earth, and the source of the poison. But his jubilation is short lived, as the terrible roaring of an unseen monster pierces through the darkness…
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.)