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24 September 2014

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The Sensorites

Production Code: G

First Transmitted

Strangers in Space - 20/06/1964 17:15

The Unwilling Warriors - 27/06/1964 17:15

Hidden Danger - 11/07/1964 17:15

A Race Against Death - 18/07/1964 17:15

Kidnap - 25/07/1964 17:15

A Desperate Venture - 01/08/1964 17:15


The TARDIS arrives on board a spaceship in orbit around a planet called the Sense-Sphere. The alien Sensorites have trapped the ship's human crew, Captain Maitland, Carol and John, in a state of semi-permanent paralysis. When the Doctor investigates, the aliens steal the lock mechanism from the TARDIS, thus trapping him and his companions.

The Sensorites allow all but Maitland and Barbara down to the planet, where Ian falls ill from a sickness that has been wiping out the Sensorites. The Doctor finds a cure. His investigations into the cause of the sickness are hampered by the subversive activities of the City Administrator, but eventually he uncovers three deranged human survivors from a past expedition who have been adding deadly nightshade to the water supply.

Episode Endings

The whistling sound of the approaching Sensorite ships stops and Carol can sense the creatures all around. As the travellers wait apprehensively, it is Ian who first sees the shape of a Sensorite pressed against the ship's viewing port.

The Sensorites telepathically contact Susan and she accedes to their request. Telling the Doctor and the others to stay where they are, she opens the control room hatch and reveals two of the alien creatures waiting for her beyond. She explains that she has agreed to go with them down to their planet. She leaves with them and they close the hatch behind them.

Having drunk some of the aqueduct water provided by the Sensorite leader, Ian quickly falls sick and starts choking. He collapses to the floor and the First Elder sadly confirms that there is no hope; Ian is dying.

The Doctor goes to the aqueduct in the hope of finding the cause of the poisoning and finds some deadly nightshade. He looks up as a low animal growl sounds in the darkness.

Carol is on her way to see what is keeping the Doctor and Ian. Suddenly a hand is clamped over her mouth and she is dragged away.

Watching the image of Maitland's ship heading back to Earth on The Web of Fear Ian comments that at least he and his crew know where they are going. The Doctor takes offence at this comment and determines to eject Ian from the TARDIS at their very next port of call.


Yangtze Incident.

Fireball XL5 (xenophobic dome-heads).

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "It all started out as a mild curiosity in the junkyard and now it's turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure."

City Administrator : "Weakling! Betrayer of our people! Coward! I should imprison you in some room wherein no light can shine and fill that room with noise!"

Maitland : "Did you know, his hair was almost white?"

The Doctor : "Nothing wrong with that!"

Dialogue Disasters

City Administrator : [Turns to camera, having been informed that the Sensorites all look the same without their sashes] "I have never thought of that!"

"It is useless to resist."

Double Entendre

John : "I know there was a plot."

Ian : [Fondles Susan's knee while she's treating him] "Yes, Matron"


The Sensorites can control spaceships and human brains and are able to suspend humans' heartbeats, leaving them in a death-like trance. Their hand-rays burn, cut (even the TARDIS exterior), activate photoelectric cells, stun, and paralyse for an hour at a range of 30 yards. They depend on a filament inside the handle. The Sensorites can cause static on scanning equipment, and can survive in a vacuum [or perhaps the one outside the ship is a mental projection].

The First and Second Elders live in a palace inside the city controlled by the City Administrator. Around the city are the Yellow Mountains (where the crystal water is taken from a pure spring) and the outer wastes of the desert (where animals live). The Sensorite caste system includes Warriors (led by the Chief of Warriors), Scientists (led by the Senior Scientist), the Elders, and the Lower Caste. In between are possibly the general body of Sensorites who 'work and play'. Their planet, the Sense-sphere, has a slightly larger landmass than usual.

They use a forehead disc to send telepathic messages, but can receive them without it. They dislike loud noise (it stuns their brains and paralyses their nerves) and darkness (their eyes dilate in the light, and contract in the dark, making them near-blind. They have no eyelids.) Their hearts are in the centre of their body. They think of humans as ugly. Their ships can achieve orbit, but seem not to be able to travel the distances the TARDIS can. They have disintegrators that can be beamed anywhere. They eat fruit and are susceptible to Deadly Nightshade poisoning [a very similar plant must grow on Sensesphere, possibly brought accidentally by the humans]. They have family groups, have invented torches, and manufacture cloaks. They have prisons, although the death penalty also exists. They measure distance in yards [a translation convention].

The Doctor knows the signs of poisoning, carries a magnifying glass, and has his coat ripped up. He can be hurt by being hit under the heart [he has only one heart at this point]. He can fly a spaceship. He tells Ian that he can read his mind [but it's an obvious joke]. He's familiar with the INEER organisation (but see Myths). He and Susan have travelled together for years, and have never argued.

Susan is only a few years younger than [the twentysomething] Carol, according to the Doctor. She doesn't come from Earth, but from the same planet as the Doctor. [Susan is the age she appears, a very young Gallifreyan indeed.] She's familiar with photoelectric cells and spectrographs. On Sense-sphere, she's a better telepath than the natives, sending and receiving messages without equipment, since she has a finely-tuned mind. This is a gift that can be perfected if she gets home. The Doctor cannot hear or send telepathic messages, and is surprised that Susan can. [This all fits in with the passive telepathic skills of Time Lords seen elsewhere, and the fact that the Doctor's getting old. He's amazed at how fast Susan's developing.]

[Gallifrey] is quite like Earth, but the night sky is a burnt orange colour and the tree leaves are bright silver.

Ian can read spectrographs.


The TARDIS Scanner



An Earth spacecraft and the planet Sense-sphere, 28th Century.

Future History

The astronauts are from 28th-century Earth. There's too much air traffic there, and the lower half of England is known as Central City. Big Ben [meaning the clock tower not, as would be strictly accurate, the bell] has been destroyed, and London hasn't existed for 400 years. The concept of marriage persists. They use miles and Mach numbers [not a translation convention if they're already speaking in English]. They take snaps [we don't see if they 're photos]. One Earth space-faring military organisation is INEER (see Myths), but we don't learn what that stands for. Mining rights on planets are sought after.



The Doctor once deliberately quarrelled with Henry VIII, had a parson's nose thrown at him, and got sent to the Tower of London, where the TARDIS was. Beau Brummel said he looked better in a cloak. On the planet Esto, he and Susan encountered telepathic plants that screeched when anyone stood between them, interrupting their communication (cf The Keys of Marinus).


When the Doctor and his friends leave the TARDIS in the first episode, the camera follows them, and then, in the same take, pans back to see Susan locking the doors. This simple sequence is effective in helping to establish the reality of the TARDIS's impossible interior dimensions.

Barbara does not appear in A Race Against Death or Kidnap as Jacqueline Hill was on holiday in the weeks when they were recorded.

Comic actor Peter Glaze (best known for his appearances on the BBC children's variety show Crackerjack) plays the scheming City Administrator.


The bearded and dishevelled human astronauts responsible for poisoning the Sensorites' water supply are members of an organisation known as INEER. (The initials 'INEER' seen by the Doctor and Ian on a piece of material torn from one of the astronauts' uniforms are intended to be the end of the word 'ENGINEER' - although undue confusion is caused by the fact that Hartnell fluffs his line and reads them as 'INNER'.)


In episode one, as the Doctor ponders 'or to kill us?' the camera hits the desk in front of him.

Maitland's drill marks are visible before he cuts them.

In episode two, the Sensorites stand on each other's feet.

It's also remarkable that they only recognise each other by the sashes they wear [the Chief Warrior just doesn't know the Second Elder by sight].

Sound carries in space [the Sensorites send it deliberately].

Fashion Victim

Rather charmingly, the Earth astronauts have rockets on their uniforms.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

1st Sensorite - Ken Tyllsen

2nd Sensorite - Joe Greig

3rd Sensorite - Peter Glaze

4th Sensorite - Arthur Newall

Carol - Ilona Rogers

Commander - John Bailey

First Elder - Eric Francis

First Human - Martyn Huntley

First Scientist - Ken Tyllsen

John - Stephen Dartnell

Maitland - Lorne Cossette

Second Elder - Bartlett Mullins

Second Human - Giles Phibbs

Second Scientist - Joe Greig

Warrior - Joe Greig


Director - Mervyn Pinfield 1-4

Director - Frank Cox 5-6

Assistant Floor Manager - Val McCrimmon

Assistant Floor Manager - Dawn Robertson

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Raymond P Cusick

Incidental Music - Norman Kay

Make-Up - Jill Summers

Make-Up - Sonia Markham

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - David Conroy

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Peter Murray

Studio Sound - Les Wilkins

Studio Sound - Jack Brummitt

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - Peter R Newman

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

It veers from sinister to unintentionally hilarious, with everyone fluffing their lines. The presence of Peter Glaze's familiar body language leads one to expect Don MacLean to burst onto set, tripping over his circular feet.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

One of the things that sets The Sensorites apart from many other Doctor Who adventures is its convincing and sympathetic presentation of an alien race and its culture. Just as the travellers' adventure with the Aztecs showed that human beings can sometimes be 'monsters' (to use Susan's description) so their encounter with the Sensorites, whose susceptibility to bright light and loud noise is rather charming and childlike, demonstrates that just because an alien race has a strange and possibly startling appearance, this does not necessarily mean that it is evil - even if, as in this case, it may be somewhat misguided. 'Although the alien Sensorites were strange, they were essentially good beings, whereas the evil-doers were deranged spacemen,' commented Stephen Poole in Oracle Volume 2 Number 5, dated February 1979. 'This angle of good versus evil was quite an original concept in 1964.'

The set-up is very nicely handled. The first two episodes, which take place on Maitland's spaceship, are full of the menace of the often spoken about but not yet seen Sensorites. We do not know who or what they are, only that they seem to have great powers and a strange ulterior motive for trapping the humans on the ship. This sense of threat is heightened by the mystery of the locked portions of the ship and the activities of John, banished from the control room as his mind has been broken by the aliens.

In a classic piece of sixties sexism, Susan and Barbara are given the task of preparing a meal, and it is their quest for water that brings them into contact with the sad and deranged John. This is a bravura performance from Stephen Dartnell, who manages to convey threat and hopelessness through his speech and actions. Maitland and Carol are also well defined, if a little wet around the gills. Although there would seem to be a way around the Sensorites' control, neither of them has tried to escape - instead they sit in petrified silence as the creatures board their ship.

What is odd is that Carol is able to sense the Sensorites' arrival in the second episode, and yet they must already have been on the ship at the start of the first episode (one of them took the lock from the TARDIS). The Sensorites' own ships were not heard at that point the first episode, so the theory that they returned to their planet and then came back again seems a little weak. These quibbles aside, when the creatures are eventually revealed, they fully live up to expectations. Short actors were hired to play them, and their almost balletic movements and whispering voices, combined with their strange faces and domed heads, bring over a sense of the truly alien.

The main theme underlying the story is that of trust and mistrust. The Sensorites implicitly trust all other members of their race (although, in the light of this, it has to be asked why they have a Warrior class and possess a fearful disintegrator weapon with which enemies can be eradicated from a remote location), and this is shown to be misguided as it gives the ruthless City Administrator the key to pursuing his objectives. Humans and Sensorites, on the other hand, do not trust each other at all.

The astronauts from Earth want to obtain quantities of the rare metal molybdenum, which can be found in great abundance on the Sense-Sphere, and the Sensorites know this. Rather than set up some sort of trade agreement, however, the Sensorites drive the humans mad (albeit somewhat inadvertently) and the deranged humans in turn determine to wipe out the Sensorites by poisoning their water supply. In the meantime, the City Administrator, feeling that the First Elder is a fool to trust the Doctor and his friends, takes matters into his own hands and through deception tries to discredit them. All this mistrust between races is ultimately shown to be equally wrong.

This leads to perhaps the most unlikely aspect of the plot. That the Sensorites are all alike in appearance is well established. They even wear badges and sashes to denote their role in the society - the First Elder has two crossing sashes, the Second Elder wears one sash, the Scientist has a decal on his chest, the Warriors have black bands on their arms and the Administrator has a black collar - and yet, amazingly, it takes Carol to point out to the Administrator that without these symbols it would be difficult to tell them apart. He then makes this the basis of his whole plan - if he wears the Second Elder's sash, he reasons, how will others know he is not the Second Elder?

The multiple strands of the plot unfortunately tend to make the story drag, and the resolution of the mystery of what may or may not be lurking in the aqueduct ('monsters' say the Sensorites, but not one of them realises that these creatures appeared at the same time as the original human visitors disappeared!) has to wait until the Doctor has found a cure for the sickness that afflicts Ian. This slowness of pace has alienated some viewers. Gareth Wigmore, for example, hated the story, as he explained in Matrix Issue 52 dated spring 1996: 'On several occasions, something happens, some spark of dialogue that makes you think Peter R Newman was trying to write serious, intelligent science-fiction here, but David Whitaker wouldn't let him - or maybe that Peter R Newman wrote dire, childish rubbish which David Whitaker tried to spice up with the odd good line here and there.'

Despite the shortcomings of the plot, The Sensorites has much to commend it. The final shot of Maitland's ship heading off into space is a marvellous piece of effects work (and is also the earliest instance of Doctor Who presenting a ship flying in space), and the Sensorite city, cleverly designed by Raymond Cusick to contain no angles, only curves, is both alien in appearance and effective. The Sensorites too are blessed with good make-up and simple but effective costumes.

As the first attempt by Doctor Who to present a truly alien culture, and one based unusually on peace and trust, The Sensorites achieves a great deal. Nevertheless, we will let the final comment go to Wigmore: 'Everything in the story is boring beyond comprehension... The ending is weak, we never see the growling monster, the men with the beards appear and are terrible, and suddenly, without having reached any kind of climax, the whole thing is over.'

< The AztecsFirst DoctorThe Reign of Terror >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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