Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Thirty-Two: The Unwilling Warriors (The Sensorites, Episode Two)
It's January 2008. I've recently moved out of home for the first time, and I'm living with a fellow Doctor Who fan called Alex. I don't know if Alex reads the 50 Year Diary, but I hope he does. Hi Alex.
Anyway, around the same time, I'd gained a new girlfriend, who when she was back from university on one occasion told me she wanted to watch Doctor Who. Hooray! Good times! What was even better is that she wanted to watch it from the start. Apparently, I was raving about the classic stuff so much, she wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
So the deal was made, we'd watch one story a week, during her couple of days back from uni. We started, of course, with An Unearthly Child, followed by The Daleks (Though I seem to recall skipping most of this one because it was boring!) and then The Edge of Destruction. We skipped Marco Polo, as a description of a recon had met with a stoney stare. For some reason, we ended up skipping The Keys of Marinus and The Aztecs, too. If I had to guess, I'd say that by this stage, she'd given up on wanting to watch them all, and decided to just go for ones she liked the sound of, instead.
So, The Sensorites was the next on the list. I was excited, I'd never seen it before! What's more, living with Alex meant that I suddenly had access to all the Doctor Who stories that I'd never owned on VHS or DVD. The whole library! In the same house as me! I remember setting up The Sensorites in the VHS player (having to take the plastic wrapper off first. Evidently, Alex hadn't ever watched it, either…), watching Episode One, thinking it was quite good, starting Episode Two…
And the tape cut out. The tracking went all weird, then the screen went to static. Fast forwarding back and forth brought some brief images of men in a sewer (I'm guessing that's still to come) and not a whole lot else. We more-or-less gave up on trying to watch the classic ones after that.
The one thing I did get to think at the time, thanks to seeing the first few minutes of this second episode before the tape cut out, has still held true today, though. Basically; 'How does the cliffhanger look so good at the end of Episode One and so stupid at the start of Episode Two?!'. The cliffhanger works so well because of the eerie way that the Sensorite is pawing at the window. Here, he just stands there like an over-familiar neighbour watching you eat dinner through the window.
Thankfully, standing around staring is still very effective when used in the right way - and John is pretty unnerving while he's in contact with the Sensorites. There's something about the way he stares right down the camera lens at us that really jars with what we're used to in the series, so it leaves you feeling a bit on edge. It's one of the things that's saving the story for me.
I can't say I've yet seen why it's got such a reputation among fandom. Sure, it's not the most action-packed of stories, but it's not bad (at least so far). If anything, I found that this episode held my attention even more than the last had. There's some unusual things in here, such as a full two minutes in which only two lines of dialogue are shared, while Ian and Barbara explore the ship looking for the Sensorites.
What does strike me as odd, though, it the way Ian reacts to them. He finds something to use as a weapon, and scares them with it if they try to move. Doesn't he even think to try talking to them? It seems a bit strange, especially given that they're perfectly willing to have a chat just a few minutes later…
So far: not as bad as reputation suggests. It's just bog-standard Doctor Who …
Next Episode: Hidden Danger