So we did, after all, go to the future from the past. From ancient Mexico to an age when humankind has ploughed the depths of space, and a space ship is trapped orbiting the Sensphere. I hadn’t heard of these Sensorites before, but I was interested to find out about them. There are many telepathic races out in the Universe, I’ve met a few of them myself.
The first episode, entitled ‘Strangers in Space’, was an interesting affair. Very atmospheric I thought, the design of the space ship was excellent if limited. I gather this story was shot in a very small space. The futuristic episodes especially seem to have a pattern of the Doctor and his team arriving and spending most of the first episode exploring and finding out where they are, this was no exception.
|Barbara and Susan meet Crazy John.|
They didn’t have so much to explore this time, but we were introduced to slightly melodramatic Maitland (Lorne Cossette) who is the sometimes sleeping sometimes awake captain of the vessel. There is something claustrophobic and scary about most of the first episode. Some good acting from Stephen Dartnell are the unbalanced John adds to that feeling. It all builds nicely.
Then the head of a Sensorite pops up on the screen and that kinda killed it to a certain extent.
It’s not fast paced, and the Sensorites masks are rather abysmal to be brutally honest. It’s almost like a sock over the face with needless beards. No female Sensorites either, and they definitely come across as male rather than sexless. The actual costumes are plain and uninspired. The best of the serial comes from the psychological build up that really dissipates in episodes three and four when they are down on the planet.
Naughty Sensorites who wish the Doctor harm are written and played so predictably that it’s tedious before that strand of the storyline even begins! However, Peter R Newman, who wrote this possibly true tale for its video visual interface, adds a nice twist. The real villains of the peace are actually EARTHMEN who are poisoning the water supply and killing the poor Sensorites. That was a nice twist indeed, and probably very radical for 1964. If this was fiction that is. And I really am not sure. I just know my adventures most certainly did happen to me!
The Sensorite who is very xenophobic is the ‘city administrator’. What is very strange is that he takes of some rings and plonks on a sash and fools everyone into believing he is the first elder. Even in black and white with poor definition the Sensorites look slightly different to the casual viewer. Surely other Sensorites wouldn’t be fooled? And then his demise is not even shown. The First Elder says he suddenly admitted to everything. Very loose piece of plotting. Unless it really happened like that.
This is a good story for William Hartnell as the Doctor. He gets to do stuff. Sadly we miss Barbara for a couple of episodes as she is stuck on the ship. William Russel gets sick for a bit too so the Doctor and Susan carry a fair bit of the storyline. Perhaps too much is carried by the Sensorites themselves. I liked the idea of them but not the realisation. It makes it very difficult to comment on the general acting too.
Nevertheless, I didn’t hate this story, was interested by it at points and thought some of the mood created early was excellent. I’d challenge anyone though to honestly say it doesn’t drag!