Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Thirty-Six: A Desperate Venture (The Sensorites, Episode Six)
It's nice to have Barbara back, but this is the first time that one of the regular cast's absences hasn't really worked. In The Keys of Marinus, it didn't feel strange that the Doctor was missing, because the rest of the characters were busy moving from place-to-place anyway. In The Aztecs, Susan gets a few brief scenes in every episode anyway, even if she is separated from the rest of the group.
Here, we see Babs returned as a part of the plot - she's reading the letter Carol was forced to write - and it just feels wrong. The rest of the cast have been down on the Sense Sphere for two-and-a-half episodes, so Barbara feels out of place here. It's even more jarring to have her taking part in the story, which has shifted considerably since we last saw her.
As for the rest of the story; it's been rather good. The story changes route again, as much of the action is set down in the aqueduct, moving us away from the Sensorite city, where things have started getting desperate. When the (former) City Administrator starts making people write letters to explain their absences, it all starts to get a bit too much.
It's a shame, having seen him plotting and scheming for so long, that the entire subplot about his character is swatted away so simply at the end with a very basic 'The map proves his treachery. We'll sort him out'. I was hoping for a grander denouement.
It's something which has become something of a theme with these longer stories - both The Daleks and Marco Polo stretched on for a long time, but the final episode had me wanting more. It always feels as though five episodes are sent setting things up, and then 25 minutes at the end isn't enough to pay it all off. A shame.
Meanwhile, with the Doctor and Ian, I really enjoyed the stuff about the survivors of the previous visit to the Sphere. I'd (sort of) pieced together what was happening in the Aqueduct, so it's nice to see that coming to fruition. What did surprise me, considering my complaints earlier in the story about how obvious the script was (the whole water instance, for example…) is how well it all ties together.
We're told early on that the previous spaceship had blown up when it tried to take off and that they suspected the other humans had stowed away on board. Here, we find that they'd been hiding down in the Aqueduct, and the destruction of the ship was their doing.
The warfare angle is an interesting one, and again, it all ties in to the way we've seen the Sensorite's mind-reading powers affecting John early on in the story. The captain of the little group is particularly fun, and it's a bit of a shame that we only get him for the one episode.
On the whole… The Sensorites is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be.
There are times - Episode Four, to be precise! - where I thought the reputation this story has gathered over the years was going to turn out to be entirely accurate, but then it manages to swing itself round quite well during the second half.
There's enough variation in the story to keep things interesting. The first two episodes are heavily focussed on the spaceship, before shifting to the city for episodes three, four, and five, and then to the Aqueduct for the final part. The dialogue is possibly the story's biggest failing, but even that improves as time goes on.
One thing, though… What was the 'monster'? Was it just the rebel group of humans trying to keep the Sensorites out of the Aqueduct? Why did they batter up the Doctor's coat if they'd been waiting for a 'human' as a sign that the war was over? That was a bit of a letdown…
Next Episode: A Land of Fear