As the time travelers and the humans discuss what the best course of action is, Susan receives a telepathic message from the Sensorites. We’re privy to only one side of the conversation, and she makes an agreement with the aliens in exchange for the others’ safety. Telling her friends to stay where they are and not move, Susan opens the door, and stands with the Sensorites. She intends to go with them to the Sense Sphere…
If Carole Ann Ford was dissatisfied with the relative lack of development in her character in the series so far, then its interesting to hear Susan’s side of the story, too, which, in many respects, mirror Ford’s own gripes. She’s tired of being ignored and marginalized, especially by her grandfather, and when she acts on her own, the Doctor is furious. Frankly, I didn’t buy the shortsighted belief that the “grown ups” had all the answers when I was sixteen, and I don’t believe it now; it’s hard not to sympathize with Susan.
From our vantage point nearly fifty years later, and knowing what we know about the longevity of the Time Lords, it’s equally hard to take the Doctor’s admonishment of Susan seriously without a sense of the pot calling the kettle black. The First Doctor was far younger than his visage of an old man would lead anyone to believe, and Lungbarrow suggests that he was “only” around 300 years old when The Sensorites takes place. But this is all part of the baggage that modern viewers of the program bring with them, and as I’ve pointed out before, the Doctor and Susan were no more than human beings who came from “another time, another world.” It’s telling, though, that the Sensorites can feel the misery in Susan’s mind of being constantly disregarded by her own grandfather.
Ian doesn’t pick up on the real issue—that Susan’s growing up—but Barbara certainly does, and its clear that she understands the way Susan is feeling, probably from her own experience. Once again, she steps in as “mother,” and tries to reassure Susan, urging her to be patient. Good advice, but not something that teenagers in any era really want to hear.
Finally, though, the story moves off the human spaceship, as the Doctor, Susan, Ian, Carol, and John are transported to the Sense Sphere to meet with the Sensorites’ First Elder, while Barbara and Maitland remain onboard as prisoners. It’s a welcome change of scenery. The Sensorites hasn’t been boring in the same way The Daleks was boring, but the spaceship setting doesn’t work as well as it could, especially considering Mervyn Pinfield’s unenthusiastic direction, to say nothing of Norman Kay’s forgettable incidental score (there’s incidental music?).
The Sensorites aren’t keeping the humans trapped in orbit just for the money or the dangers to their planet and society if humans were to come looking to exploit the molybdenum; it’s for their own health, too. A previous group of human visitors to the Sense Sphere bought a deadly disease that killed a significant percentage of the population, and the Sensorites are naturally wary that more humans could mean more deaths from the sickness that still plagues the population, but only in the lower castes that drink from a different water supply (I think it’s clear where this is going). The distrust is so great that the city administrator is willing to kill Ian, Susan, and the Doctor, but is stopped at the last moment by the Second Elder who, like the First Elder, believes the Doctor can be trusted.
Indeed, 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…
It’s not unfair to describe this era of Doctor Who as not languid exactly, but far more leisurely, which is all the more clear when you consider that we’re already half way through this serial, and the only two significant things that have occurred are the theft of the TARDIS lock and Ian collapsing, probably as a result of drinking contaminated water. This isn’t a Terry Nation scrip by any means, but I can only hope the next three episodes are better paced—at this point, though, I find myself looking more forward to The Reign of Terror, another new-to-me First Doctor stories, than how The Sensorites is ultimately resolved.
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.)