LOOKING FOR TELOS – “The Sensorites”

τέλος • (télosn (genitive τέλεος or τέλους); third declension

completion, accomplishment, fulfillment, perfection, consummation

The Whoniverse is wide, and rich, and crazy.

And sometimes, bits of it go overlooked. There’s no way around it, we, at DoWntime, are children of the New Series. Our cultural sensibilities and our tastes in Who have been shaped by it. And of course, when we’re embarking in the big task of producing Discourse, we naturally tend to tackle recent events, controversies and stories. But that doesn’t mean the twenty-six seasons of Classic Who are undeserving of some in-depth coverage – and what better way to deliver said coverage than to watch it.

ALL of it. In order. Without skipping anything.

We’re looking for our telos, and it starts now.

 

EPISODE 1: STRANGERS IN SPACE

TIBERE: It’s always a good time to mention I love these opening credits.

SCRIBBLES: I think, in particular, it’s a good fit for this opening, too. I think the closest point of comparison is The Edge of Destructionfor this opening. Character work responding to past adventures and mysteries regarding the TARDIS and where it’s materialized. There’s something haunting and austere but wonderful that matches everything those titles set out.

TIBERE: Yeah, that first little bit of bonding and camaraderie is just absolutely fantastic – from a “curiosity in a junkyard” to a “great spirit of adventure”. It kind of builds from something I noticed last week – that “The Aztecs” felt like a season finale, a climax to the character threads woven all throughout the first four serials. This feels a lot like the beginning of a new season, or at least of a new era in the inter-character interactions – they are at a level of comfort and ease you really didn’t see in the previous serials.

SCRIBBLES: I like Barbara’s quip as they exit the TARDIS. “Just the unknown, then.” That’s really what happens when the TARDIS doors open, and what keeps viewers wanting to see them do it again. In this case, a great opening for haunting menace, the crew coming across motionless bodies and feeling a sense of foreboding. Great little horror mystery to offset the finely-tuned character unit.

TIBERE: “Grandfather, he’s still warm!” – yeah, that’s pretty chilling. Also, there’s some lovely character stuff within the scene, with the Doctor lamenting the death of the young female pilot, and how she’s barely older than Susan. The family dynamics, family dynamics everywhere.

SCRIBBLES: The heart resuscitator reveal is a glorious little disturbing sci fi concept. It makes plenty of sense for long-distance travel and introduces Who to the ease with which things like death can be subverted with sci-fi, but the way it makes Barbara and the others try to explain to the pilot that Carol’s dead… that’s chilling all the same. It works particularly well in contrast with our present day characters and the present understanding of mortality.

TIBERE: Speaking of sci-fi subversion – it’s really cool how the spaceship crew know about London and immediately identify the TARDIS crew as time travellers. It’s … not a plot beat you see very often in Who, is it? Anyway, I like it. It kind of strengthens the atmosphere of uneasiness – you get the impression that the standard rules of the show and its plots don’t apply this. Also, there are a lot of good lines here – Ian’s little chuckle when the Doctor tells he has learnt not to meddle in other people’s business is a thing of beauty.

SCRIBBLES: And from there, the mystery just opens up. As problems are solved, we get more. The crew they just met and bonded with are prisoners by some mysterious “Sensorites,” kept alive but trapped with their hearts stopped. That’s really screwed up as a predicament, and intriguing as a mystery as to why they’re being kept like that. Plus, as often is the case in something like this, but novel here, the TARDIS is taken out of the equation, the lock burnt away. Add some great lighting and shaky cam and a strong hysterical performance from Carole Ann Ford and it’s genuinely unsettling.

TIBERE: That era really uses the performances of the leads to great effect, doesn’t it? Like, they don’t have enough technology to pull off certain effects, but they definitely find smart ways around it. I can’t praise enough the direction of this first season, and the actor’s direction is certainly no expression. Their performances are allowed to structure the scenes and action in a pretty nice way.

SCRIBBLES: The concept of the Sensorites having psychic powers and making the crew lose hope is utterly disturbing. “It was an exercise in fear and power.” God, I should think making the ship nearly crash into the planet would be terrifying!

TIBERE: “They can control; they can frighten” – it’s interesting to see some themes from the previous sci-fi serial, “The Keys of Marinus” resurface here. Control of the minds and emotions in a futuristic society. You really feel that this first season has a unity of themes, and purposes, and aesthetics – which makes sense, because I’m pretty sure the writers and producers had a long, long talk about how exactly they wanted the show to feel and the values they wanted it to embody before launch.

SCRIBBLES: I can’t wait till you see how this serial takes it. It’s not a well-regarded story by the fandom, as I recall, but it’s an utterly vital step in the growth of the themes of the show. This serial makes a big leap forward in some notable ways.

TIBERE: I mean, come on, “not well-regarded by the fandom” is basically the best argument to make the both of us like stuff. We’re contrarian arses like that.

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SCRIBBLES: The set design of this ship is absolutely phenomenal, I have to add. The way the doors all look like eyes is stunning and fascinating, round with lined ridges on top. And they’re a good way of breaking up locations, so we can get tension like Barbara and Susan, isolated and banging against the door while under threat by the mysterious third crew member.

TIBERE: Not a very large set, either, from what I can gather. But damn, they use it really well and are able to convey a real sense of danger and awe through both camera movement and physical acting. Speaking of eyes – the look of the crew member Susan and Barbara are trapped with, with that deep, vacant look, is really striking. Especially when he starts crying – which is both a nice reversal of the expected dynamic of the scene (I mean, chase scenes rarely end up with tears), and a plain lovely visual. Big face full of emotion close to the camera in glorious black and white, lovely.

SCRIBBLES: I also like, speaking of reversing expected dynamics, I love how crew members Carol and Maitland argue about whether intervening with their crewmate John’s attack, with Carol being the braver and more active one, pointing out that “It’s only fear that makes us weak,” while Maitland is busy doing the bog standard man in adventure story trick of fearing for her when she can handle herself. Making her and John engaged adds a great character drama angle to it, too.

TIBERE: I mean, some previous serials definitely have inflicted that kind of treatment on the leads, but I still definitely appreciate the surprising complexity of the gender dynamics within that first season. And damn, that episode does deliver the scares, doesn’t it? The locked-up crewman suddenly turning on the lights to attack Susan and Barbara made me jump a little.

SCRIBBLES: Even the sound is really effective, with a high-pitched whine to announce the Sensorites’ impending arrival, followed by them slowly looming into sight through the window. It’s really investing in a slow buildup of suspense, and it’s paying off.

TIBERE: Honestly, the Radiophonic Workshop’ work on those serials is a thing of pure, pure beauty. Between this, the storm in “Marco Polo” or the different ambiances of Marinus, it’s just a really, really awe-inspiring collection of creative, extremely effective sound designs. The dialogue is not bad either – I love how the Doctor both rejects physical violence and yet insists that they should defend themselves, but through their intelligence, which is the best weapon both of offence and defence.

SCRIBBLES: Having the episode end on the monster reveal actually works magnificently here, because the tension is so well-done. Just, the close-up on William Russell, selling a hell of a reaction shot, followed by the Sensorite silently climbing on the window in the vacuum of space. It’s brilliant.

TIBERE: God damn, that’s a fantastic shot. It reminds me a lot of that incredibly famous episode of “The Twilight Zone”, “Nightmare at 20 000 feet”, one where a plane passenger catches a glimpse of a monstrous figure on the wing of a plane.

SCRIBBLES: Absolutely!

TIBERE: It aired in 1963 as well, albeit a few months after “The Sensorites”. Eh, who knows, maybe Who inspired it!

SCRIBBLES: It also reminds me of the Doctor Who point of comparison, the Cyberman leaning into the airplane window in “Death in Heaven.” It’s fantastic horror imagery of creatures well outside where we’d expect to see things like that, invading a familiar but comfortably empty space. It worked in the 1960s and it still works now.

TIBERE: Considering how many references the Capaldi era makes to Hartnell’s, I wouldn’t be shocked if that one was intended. I mean, Rachel Talalay is known for making episodes full of little visual gags and references – I’m thinking the “Night of the Hunter” hommage in the series 10 finale, for instance.

 

EPISODE 2: THE UNWILLING WARRIORS

SCRIBBLES: Having the Sensorites’ normal procedure play out with the TARDIS crew reacting in full control of themselves works remarkably well. Carol and Maitland staring straight ahead while Ian and the Doctor try to work out the situation and move about is great. Barbara and Susan comforting a crying John, fighting in his own head against them, is great. I love how Barbara and Susan try to convince John there’s no danger, too.

TIBERE: They’re using the expecting genre tropes (“you’re a man, please protect us!”) as a way to force him to rise up. Good writing, gentlemen, good writing.

SCRIBBLES: Oh, absolutely. Barbara has a little smile there that’s something between reassuring and a smirk at using that play, I think. I like how Susan, talking personally to Barbara, doesn’t even pretend it’s anything but then protecting him, too. “Look, if they can use their brains, why can’t we use ours?” To which Barbara replies, “To defend him?” Brains as weapons, and Susan and Barbara as women warriors wielding them. It’s good stuff.

TIBERE: That concept of thinking the words to make them happen, beyond being in line with the ethos of the show, also carries a specific brand of mysticism. I’m no Phil Sandifer, but I’m certain you’d be able to use that in a dissertation about Who and magic. And of course, it’s very similar to what Neil Gaiman does in “The Doctor’s Wife”, with the password to the console room having to be telepathically transmitted.

SCRIBBLES: And, finally, we see the Sensorites speaking, in wonderfully calm voices and holding a little device on a cord up to their forehead. You can see why Planet of the Oodreferenced the Sense-Sphere, the Ood really do owe a lot to this. Yet again, things that worked in this serial genuinely do work repackaged and reimagined for the modern world.

TIBERE: And another lovely low-key character beat (that serial has a lot of those, doesn’t it?) when Susan asks what a spectrograph is, and then cuts short Ian’s explanations three seconds in because she has figured it all out quickly. Honestly, she’s a really good character. Not without some writing flaws, but she’s just a lovely part of general character dynamics.

SCRIBBLES: You know how I mentioned Marco Polowas her big showcase? Well, minor spoiler, but this is her other one. But yeah, that whole character scene is excellent. I love Barbara explaining the travel situation to Carol, and Susan suggesting that the not getting back home is more exciting than the actual arriving. And, of course, that leads into a nice Doctor-y exposition moment of the valuable Molybdenum deposits on the planet below, which sets up a pretty straightforward engagement with human greed, capitalism, and a fair few other things. “Beyond the dreams of avarice,” indeed. It’ll be good to see that play out, given the dialogue already telegraphing that as a flawed pursuit with words as loaded as “avarice.”

TIBERE: We then get a lot of slow ambiance scenes with the characters walking through the spaceship’s corridors. A bit on the slow side, and the music overcompensates a bit, but still, the direction is able to largely pull it off. And Barbara proves herself a complete badass again – “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to!” “Nonsense.” She really is the best. And that leads to a confrontation with the Sensorites. You know, it’s interesting – in terms of special effects, they’re a lot weaker than most of what we’ve seen so far (well, I guess they’re still better than the Voord?), but there’s something … Almost naturalistic in the way they are filmed and framed. They’re not playing up the scare chords and the horror potential (good thing too, ‘cause that would have aged terribly) – they just film them as a life form, like just another person in the spaceship. I think the monster acting goes a long way, here – the performers are kind of human-like, but imbue that with a level of uncanniness that really works. It’s also interesting to note how they seem to grow increasingly humanlike – that first episode cliffhanger has them looking and moving almost like animals, and now they are talking and interacting with other people.

SCRIBBLES: I think it helps that the costumes, while simple, look very, very good. Like the Ood, they’re very elegant and look rather natural, even though they’re obviously just men in masks. It’s just a very fluid design, matched by a very fluid performance. And having Susan, who we first met as a fluid but uncanny, unearthly force, be the one to take charge and open the door up to them is really fitting.

TIBERE: A great One moment, with “Don’t hurt them or … Or I shall fight them!”. Ah, him improvising that last bit to reassure the people around is just so damn One. He’s so loveable.

SCRIBBLES: And the twist about the nature of the Sensorites and why they were holding the crew hostage is so, so Doctor Who. I’m curious what you make of it. This is your first time seeing it, and the first time the show’s done something like it.

TIBERE: The aliens being the good guys, wronged by the human? Yes, it’s a classic twist – but I feel it’s well-done here. They tread a nice line between being morally right and frightening.

SCRIBBLES: It’s nice how they fit science into the Sensorite world-building, too, with the discussion of eye dilation and cats. As ever, the desire to fit educational material adds a nice realism to these stories. They look weird, but they act like us, and they work on principles true to our world. And to really subvert all the fear, we get a nice moment where the Doctor suggests he’s a bit telepathic, too. But the really, really good stuff, once again, gets saved for the cliffhanger.

TIBERE: Susan is really taking control of the narrative, this week, and I’m all here for it. She accepts the offer of the Sensorites – to join them on their world, lest the whole crew be killed. And it ends on a great shot, with the door closing on Susan and two Sensorites standing at her sides. Kind of symbolically loaded, when it comes to her character development, I think – she is, in many respects, the pupil, the one being taught, the one the educational aspects of the show are centered around; so it would make sense that she is eventually asked to exert her own agency and will. And they do that by having her literally cross a threshold – the mysterious door you’re not supposed to open is a very symbolically loaded image, that ties a lot to the fairytale aesthetics the impish Susan kind of channels every now and then.

SCRIBBLES: I think the strongest aspect of all is that she keeps it all to herself. She doesn’t tell the Doctor until it’s too late for him to do anything, and that’s clearly deliberate on her part. She won’t let the Doctor make her choices for her. And really, she’s growing up and asserting herself as a grown woman. It works. It feels like the next logical step in the development of this crew. Like you were saying, by The Aztecs,” it feels like we’re in a position of completion with the initial character arcs. Having Susan make these choices and become a source of conflict is only natural as the direction to move on.

 

EPISODE 3: HIDDEN DANGER

TIBERE: Barbara and Ian, rescue team. They are … Rather menacing, aren’t they? I can get why the Sensorites are intimidated.

SCRIBBLES: I like the Sensorite talking to the other Sensorite about his fear of humans, that’s a pretty lovely little beat. Speaking of lovely beats, I like the Doctor being chauvinistic and patronizing toward Susan, with her clearly being in the right. He’s being truly awful here, ordering her not to go with them and doubting her abilities. But at least that’s portrayed as the wrong thing. Even Ian’s doubting her, wondering if Susan was mind-controlled. Barbara’s the only one realizing it’s just Susan growing up and being assertive in a positive way. But, of course, Barbara is nearly always in the right, or at least in the moral place.

TIBERE: This basically is Susan’s teenage crisis. It’s actually not a bad idea – her craving independence and wanting to assert her own agency.

SCRIBBLES: God, she sounds practically abused in places, though. “Look, I’m not saying I’m as clever as you, of course I’m not.” It sounds like all her life she’s been talked down to and devalued, doesn’t it? Because she’s clearly clever, a good learner, and very practical. But she feels like she’s been victimized all her life.

TIBERE: Yeah, there’s this weird thing about her being sort of defined by her age, by her childishness, before anything else. The character she is, and the part she plays within the narrative can be at odd – and I feel like that episode is addressing that tension a bit; which is good. Less good is the fact it comes off as kinda iffy as far as power dynamics are concerned …

SCRIBBLES: The Doctor’s gotta be lying when he says they’ve never argued before. That’s bull. Utter bull. If anything, he just feels that way because he’s always gotten his way, that’s what it feels like to me. And for the time being, he does again, with her saying she’ll do as he says despite her being totally in the right with her decisions. It’s frustrating and uncomfortable to watch, but there is at least something of a sense it’s trying to be. I like how, when negotiating, Barbara still accepts the offer to go along to the sense-sphere. She’s validating Susan when nobody else does.

TIBERE: I guess it’s good that the story at least bothers to bring that kind of tensions to the front of the episode – better than letting them fester. The issue is, of course, without the writers making a real arc, a progression, out of that beat, it might just feel very insulated, and a problematic, unpleasant artifact that can’t quite manage to bring anything good to the show. With that said, I do feel the episode tries to criticize the Doctor – see for instance his reaction when the Sensorites tell him they sense great knowledge in him. He’s … a bit full of himself, to put it lightly.

SCRIBBLES: He’s being tremendously controlling and chauvinist, too. It’s uncomfortable. It’s good to see the flaws brought to the forefront, like you said, but god, it’s complicated and messy. You’re hitting at a good point in that a lack of organized arc could make for issues, though. I can assure you, pretty much everything good with Susan here is ignored by the following serial.

TIBERE: On a lighter note – the costumes of the Sensorites elders are kind of hilarious. They’re like regular ones with big white Santa mustaches? Interesting, if simple parallels, too – the antagonistic forces on each side seem to be the Doctor, and the Elders, which are both these kind of ancient, problematic old people. It’s a bit of a regular theme this series, old wise rulers, too – the Khan, the Keeper of Marinus, even the old woman in the prehistoric parts of “An Unearthly Child” …

SCRIBBLES: Interesting, isn’t it, telling a story about xenophobia with humans as the aliens? I don’t think that’s one that’s really been done often. Doctor Who is so often predisposed with using aliens as metaphors for the other, but here, we’re getting a subplot about a xenophobic sensorite who wants to destroy all humans, while other sensorites have different political views and don’t fear all humans. It’s kinda bizarre, but damn, it’s intriguing. What’s next, are they going to try to build a wall and make Earth pay for it?

TIBERE: They have great disintegrators. The best. They’re tremendous. The crooked Doctor doesn’t know what is waiting for him. Sad!

SCRIBBLES: I do wish the Sensorites had individual names and physicalities, though. Having them all have differing political views and complex social debates is great, but it’s hard to see them as anything beyond an abstraction of such concepts because they lack that individuality.

TIBERE: They are setting up their big laser guns. Fire and fury, people, fire and fury. It’s gonna be a “Requiem for the Rocket Men” soon.

SCRIBBLES: I like the Sensorite in the bondage harness.

TIBERE: I was thinking “security belt”. I guess that tells us something about your tastes …

SCRIBBLES: I’m just saying. It looks a lot like one.

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TIBERE: The dialogue builds pretty nicely on the racism themes, though. The foreigners are mistrusted, until they can prove they are “reasonable”. I don’t know, it might be a coincidence, but it does feel, with a 2017 point of view, quite politically loaded.

SCRIBBLES: I feel like I’m getting a lot more out of it in 2017 than I did three or four years ago, and I enjoyed it a lot then. It’s just too resonant with the current political moment.

TIBERE: That’s part of the interest of doing a Who marathon now, honestly. Trying to bring a certain political sensibility to a reading of the Classics. Of course, not everything was intended to be read like that in 1963, but media changes with time and is perceived differently, and that in itself is interesting.

SCRIBBLES: Funny how the interchangeable appearance of the Sensorites is lampshaded: they can’t tell themselves apart, either, not without special sashes. It’s bizarre and a bit iffy, but amusing just to see a story actually go there. It could be a bit of a “all foreigners look the same” racism, but instead it feels like a weirdly earnest bit of stilted worldbuilding that’s ever so slightly riffing on the production difficulties of an interesting alien design with distinct individuals.

TIBERE: More thematic continuity – we have a bunch of rebel locals wanting to overthrow the government. Like within the prehistoric tribe, with Teganna, the High Priest of Sacrifice … Even the Thal/Daleks fight, in a way. And it all ends up on a really good cliffhanger, with Ian being poisoned and apparently dying. You know, I really like how much they put Ian in these kind of life-threatening, “damsel in distress” situations. Last serial only, we had him at the mercy of an Aztec warrior and then almost drowning in sewers, and now, bam! Poison. Poor Ian. He’s getting through a lot.

 

EPISODE 4: A RACE AGAINST DEATH

SCRIBBLES: Next time I go to a restaurant, I’m definitely saying “I want some sodium chloride, and I want it quickly.”

TIBERE: The best dish for hipsters. Of course, it’s some classic “teach science to your audience” – with salt and water being used as an antidote.

SCRIBBLES: Speaking of engaging with the audience, the Doctor just utterly shattered the fourth wall, glancing to the camera and wondering aloud, “Will they let me into my ship?” Genuinely bizarre moment there. Just feels like a stylistic trick out of a totally different series. I don’t know what to make of it. There’s a lot of good in this story, but that feels like it’s out of a kids show in a less good way. Which feels odd alongside some of the sophistication here.

TIBERE: “I will do everything in my power to protect and defend my city!” God, you’re right, this really, really is nationalism satire, isn’t it? The Racist Sensorite even complains about the ugly names of the foreigners. Jesus Christ, he’s going to start a radio show and rip his shirt in front before people. While selling them magical vitamins.

SCRIBBLES: “I am the enemy of all Earth creatures, and any Sensorite who defends them shall be swept away.” It’s very unsubtle with its politics, but it’s really refreshing to see it inverted this way around. Nothing can so efficiently humanize them as exploring our problems through them. It’s great. And on a less human note, God, I love how the interchangeable appearance of the Sensorites is being played off. It’s hilariously naff. Carol mentioning they could change badges and sashes and nobody would know the difference, only for him to turn to the camera and say “I had never thought of that” is an utterly amazing punchline. The actor just really goes for it, just a whole body dawning realisation. Brilliant.

TIBERE: It’s smart commentary, too. They literally are just empty uniforms. Ranks mean more than the person. “These creature are defeating us with smiles and gentle words!” Daaaaaaamn. That … That is kinda too close to home, uh? I mean, just replace some words here and there and you can make this a story about migrants.

SCRIBBLES: It’s definitely hitting close to the modern day. Even a bit of new series aesthetics. Ooh, the Doctor’s even pulled out the brainy specs, as “Time Crash” called them! Is this the first time he’s done that? It really fits Hartnell’s style.

TIBERE: They suit him.

SCRIBBLES: Ooh, this feels as stylistically innovative as the first few serials here. We’re getting a full-on montage. The calligraphy, Susan helping Ian, the Doctor’s science…it comes together compellingly.

TIBERE: Definitely. I love me some insert shots – focus on some vials, on writing … It’s a great, stylized sequence. That kind of silent, environment-driven storytelling is something Who in general could use a lot more of, to be honest.

SCRIBBLES: I will say, it took me a moment to register what was going on with Susan sitting above a wriggling Ian in bed, though. It was a bit of a double-take.

TIBERE: You are a very dirty man, Scribbles. And believe me, I know all about that. I’m French.

SCRIBBLES: In seriousness, though, what a magnificent way to continue all the subplots alongside each other and get weight out of their juxtaposition. And seeing Susan having to hold Ian down to look after him, that’s genuinely gut-wrenching and painful to watch. He’s really going through hell here.

TIBERE: Interestingly – the two most masculine human figures on the planet are both in states of extreme vulnerability and pain. Ian – and the insane crewmember.

SCRIBBLES: I like the antagonist’s suspicions driving his actions in such a misguided fashion. It’s pretty well-developed characterization.

TIBERE: He thinks people want to poison the superior race, uh … Well that’s … A totally fictional belief no one would ever hold. I mean, nobody has ever ranted about chemicals in the water turning the freaking frogs gay. Kinda reminds me of the American General in Doctor Strangelove, which came out the year after that episode.

SCRIBBLES: The Doctor’s talking to the camera again. What’s with that? I mean, Hartnell’s having a blast doing it, clearly, all twinkle and charm as he goes off to fight monsters in the dark sewers, but it’s very form breaking.

TIBERE: It works in “The Edge of Destruction”. Here … Not so much. We do get a pretty nice plot development, though – with the Second Elder’s sidekick realizing he has misjudged the humans and trying to convince his master to do so.

SCRIBBLES: If only we were getting more of that from Trump’s aides…

TIBERE: “He’s dead! The others near dead! I see VICTORY FOR ALL MY PLANS!” Well, they’re going to start chanting “Sense Sphere!” “Sense Sphere!” “Sense Sphere!” very soon …

SCRIBBLES: The cliffhanger’s naff, isn’t it? The Doctor alone in the sewer, finding evidence of poison using an earth plant only to hear some distant monster roaring. But it’s kind of charming. The Doctor’s just so in his element venturing out to confront monsters. There’s something kind of archetypal about that.

TIBERE: Plus, some absolutely stellar lighting work on that scene. Leaving the episode with a close-up of Hartnell’s face, in the darkness … Yum.

 

EPISODE 5: KIDNAP

TIBERE: Okay, but, just, what is up with that title? Not even “kidnapping”? Just … “kidnap”. Okay then.

SCRIBBLES: Well, it’s more active that way. It’s like Blink,” just a single short word of action.

TIBERE: Some good world-building – the sensorites are a sophisticated society, but they seem to rely a lot on well, senses, which we would usually associate with irrationality. They’re so reliant on them that high-pitched noises and darkness are their main weaknesses.

SCRIBBLES: Meanwhile, we just passed a lovely continuity niggle that bothers people: the Doctor just referred to his “heart.” Singular.

TIBERE: There’s the ordinary explanation – that the Time Lords only grow their second heart after their first regeneration. It’s referenced (and made fun of) in the recent Eddie Robson audio, “Time in Office”. My take on the matter is much simpler: who cares?

SCRIBBLES: That’s the easier train of thought.

TIBERE: Making sense of the Who continuity, as an exercise, is pretty much as simple as juggling with living, rabid bear cubs on a wire above a sea of lava while Kenny G plays “You’re an All-Star” on sax backwards. My point is, it’s hard and painful and it’s just better to embrace the joyful anarchy of the show.

SCRIBBLES: Pretty messed up that this reactionary sensorite is holding his underling’s “family group” to ransom. Does again sort of hit at the oddness of the Sensorites as a creation, though. It sometimes feels like they are a self-aware joke about a generic alien society.

TIBERE: His menace is kind of undermined by easily the worst line flub since the beginning of the show, though.

SCRIBBLES: There’s a particularly high number of those in this serial, yeah. It’s odd, it’s quite well-directed on the whole, but there’s definitely a few takes like that. Wonder if there was less time to rehearse?

TIBERE: I don’t mind it when Hartnell does it, honestly. He makes it part of his performance in a lovely way. But yeah, they are aplenty – I assume our readers are pretty hardcore fans who are aware of that, but just in case, I’m gonna state it again: the show, in 1963, was filmed in one take every time, so the actors had to rehearse a lot and really really avoid messing up during the One Big Take.

SCRIBBLES: In some cases, they almost feel more real. I mean, in real life, people do stumble over their own words. And in some cases, it’s just awkward.

TIBERE: Season 1, with its mood full of gritty, down-to-Earth survival, and historical realism, is good for those.

SCRIBBLES: That it is. And here, there’s even scripted stammering, with the lying sensorite realizing the jig is up. So it does, to a degree, fit in rather well.

TIBERE: Lovely emotional scene between the two crew members reuniting. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you smile”. Daaaaaw. Bless.

SCRIBBLES: Aw, and here we are, the first joke about aliens not knowing how to shake hands in this show. And it’s just a sweet little beat, with humans explaining and the Sensorite scientist accepting. There’s something gloriously optimistic about that.

TIBERE: Lovely optimistic positivity. So very much Who. I’m not going to lie, though – this is the first time since the beginning of the show where I do find the pacing really, really on the slow side; or at least, in a way that damages the episode instead of improving it (“Marco Polo” couldn’t work in four parts!).

SCRIBBLES: That’s pretty fair. It’s an enjoyable enough six-parter, but it’d be far stronger in five, or even four. The first two episodes in particular earned their pacing, but the events once on their world are a bit too slow.

TIBERE: There are a bit too many scenes of Sensorites arguing between them, if you want my opinion. They haven’t learnt their lessons from “The Daleks”, apparently. Speaking of references to previous serials – trapping someone in the aqueducts, that’s very “The Aztecs”.

SCRIBBLES: Even with pacing issues, yeah, there’s plenty of good beats. I love the Doctor explaining his ethos toward guns. “I’ve never liked weapons at any time. However, they’re handy little things.” That honestly sums it up. For the Doctor, weapons are just very culturally loaded tools, which he will use if he must though he prefers not to on ethical grounds. And in terms of slow scenes of supporting cast, Carol and her fiance’s scenes work. I love them talking about their future after the incident with the Sensorites and little things like missing steak. They’re some of the better drawn supporting allies this era has had, among many good ones, and it’s a shame the focus is on them so little.

TIBERE: Also, these scenes are a bit too obvious a set-up for the cliffhanger, where the female half of said couple gets snatched away. Not bad, you know, but the thread isn’t subtle.

SCRIBBLES: I think the thing that really showcases the pacing problems of part 5 of “The Sensorites” is that the titular “Kidnap” is the cliffhanger. It’s an entire episode about waiting for a plot event to happen.

 

EPISODE 6: A DESPERATE VENTURE

TIBERE: The evil leader of the Sensorites gathers supports by promising high offices to his accomplices. Ah, good ol’ nepotism. I’m gonna call that henchman Jared, I think. Unrelated note – it’s weird, episode 6 of both this and “Keys of Marinus” start with one of the female characters being kidnapped and detained by the main villain.

SCRIBBLES: I like how Barbara immediately works out the evil Sensorite is using xenophobia just to gain power, rather than genuine belief. Speaking of, damn it’s good to have her back. I don’t know if we commented on her absence, taking a break like the Doctor in Marinus, but it accounts for a slower last installment.

TIBERE: She’s the action hero, dammit. You can’t have a story without the action hero! Speaking of – there seems to be a bit of a gender divide running through this serial, doesn’t it? First, Barbara and Susan being trapped behind the door on the ship; and now, you get the Doctor and Ian exploring the sewers while Babs and Susan are negotiating with the Sensorites. Not sure there’s much meaning to it, but you do feel like the gender lines are drawn harder here. Anyway: Susan is going to stay there while Barbara goes to help the men in the sewers (I mean, they’re men, of course they need the help of Barbara, our Queen and Saviour). It’s nice to have Susan take that kind of critical role – it feels like she finally gets a chance to express herself and show the skills and spirit the Doctor doesn’t allow her to express. Especially considering she’s working on convincing an old, patriarchal, morally-driven figure – the Sensorite Elder, who is as we established a bit of a parallel to the Doctor.

SCRIBBLES: She’s doing what she’s set her mind to since the second episode, and it’s lovely to see. I like how they showcase her alien-ness as driving her character, describing Gallifrey for the first time and focusing on her telepathic abilities and merging that to her own character needs of home versus travel. It really does feel like it’s paying off the development she has gotten quite well.

TIBERE: “Skies of a burnt orange colour”, and “leaves of silver”. It’s beautiful prose. Meanwhile, the survivors living in the sewers, who have poisoned the waters, are meeting the Doctor and Ian. I like how they have lost all sense of identity, just calling themselves “number one” and so – they hate the Sensorites, but they kind of have assumed the same system as them, with their Firsts and Seconds Elders, and so on … I sense some symmetry going on there. Which is nice. Unsubtle but nice. Also, shout-out to the editor: “You swear you’re alone?” “I swear” – cut to Barbara and the crew member entering the sewers. Honestly, good editing helps the pacing and feel of an episode so damn much.

SCRIBBLES: This is a pretty solid final part, really. I love the little character moments, too. Ian’s “I’m glad you’re on my side, Doctor” is utterly charming.

TIBERE: Yeah, my intuition was confirmed – the commander is just called “The Commander”, like his “Number One” (how Star Trek!).

SCRIBBLES: The reveal of the villain in general is quite a good beat. Human greed. All these years later, it’s still an angle that works. Planet of the Oodreally is quite the spiritual successor, isn’t it? And the Doctor bluffing to get the Commander, Number 1, andco out of the sewers by telling them they won the war and will get all the mineral wealthy profits is quite a good note, very cheeky and clever and Doctor-ish. And once dispatched, he gets the perfect line to sum it up. “Pitiful fellow. Oh, I know he did your people incalculable harm.” That just sums up that kind of cruel person, doesn’t it? Trump, for example. Pitiful, selfish people screaming out to be heard, be it through an aqueduct or through Twitter.

TIBERE: “The fact you didn’t kill him show great promise for your people” – and it all wraps up with the Sensorite society being changed for the better by the influence of our heroes. It’s not an iffy narrative of smart, white people civilizing the natives, though – I feel like it’s much more of a clever, dynamic dialogue and conversation that allows both party to progress and overcome their prejudices.

SCRIBBLES: Beautiful last scene, though, between Susan and the Doctor. Talking about going home, about wanting to belong, and about when they will go back. I think it’s clear her arc is nearing its end, but it feels like the right time after the development she’s gotten. Of course, there’s a few more adventures to be had, first.

TIBERE: The whole thread of nationalism running through the story makes it easy to carry that sort of emotional beats about home, really. The longing for a place of their own Susan and the Doctor show is paralleled with the dark mirror of jingoistic violence. Also, that special effect of the ship leaving is really damn good. Props to, well, hum, the props.

SCRIBBLES: Curious cliffhanger, though. The Doctor threatens to throw Ian and Barbara out, which is a pretty in-character beat and a great way to jump into the final story of the first series by going back to that issue, but it doesn’t really land because his outburst so comes out of nowhere.

TIBERE: I thought it was incredibly forced. It seems to start like a joke, and then the Doctor acts weirdly offended and seems completely out of character. I don’t get what they were going for.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

TIBERE: Probably the weakest story so far, I’d say. It drags quite a lot, and has its share of weird scenes and bits that don’t connect.

SCRIBBLES: I’m fond of it, but I’ll still admit it was weaker than I remembered. There’s a great story at its heart, and I’ll defend that. Always will. And those opening two episodes in particular are among the best of the era. But it’s just too long for its own good, even when the points it is making shine and the character beats glow.

TIBERE: Oh, I mean, I liked it. As said before – the themes of communication, and the home/nationalism dichotomy form a really thematic core and a great, consistent throughline that makes the episode much easier to appreciate and enjoy. But I do feel like, for once, it’s almost let down by the episodic format – you do feel like the writers are trying to give each episode a distinct identity, a central conceit, as per usual, which is certainly good and helps the pacing of the episode; but at the same time, that accumulation of twists and turns and complications, with that kind of length, feels very forced and artificial in places. And the central themes and ideas of the episode, to me at least, kind of demanded a more linear, straightforward execution. Still. It’s far from bad – and Susan, especially, gets a chance to really shine after being kind of sidelined in previous stories. As the signifier of both abstract wonder and childlike innocence within the show (she is a kid, but an alien, strange one with mysterious, almost magical powers – see her telepathy here), she really deserves more exploration and you can see loads of interesting tensions and contradictions bubbling under the surface of her character. It’s a shame a lot of the fandom, and even some writers, seem to treat her as “that one kid who screams a lot”, because she has much more to offer – it’s no coincidence if one of my favourite Big Finish audios, “A Storm of Angels”, is centered precisely around an exploration of her choices and agency. But yeah. Good stuff, overall – flawed, but interestingly flawed, which honestly always was the essence and joy of Who.

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