Monday, January 9, 2012

REVIEW: The Sensorites DVD

STORY
I was quite surprised to discover that The Sensorites, a 1964 William Hartnell tale, had a bit of an iffy reputation in Who fandom. When I first watched it, back in the late Nineties (on a recorded~off~the~telly VHS tape no less!), I thoroughly enjoyed it. My enjoyment was enhanced to see the Sense Sphere, the home of the titular aliens, get name~checked in 2008's Planet of the Ood.

Coming back to it again, for the first time in many years, it's quite easy to see some of its flaws. The story's production is abysmal with so many in~shot booms (and even more very noticeable shadows), shoddy camerawork and fluffed lines (not just Billy H) that The Sensorites is, at times, laughably bad in its execution (though you can quite easily ignore it and just go with it).

But at the heart of it is a great story that demonstrates some interesting character traits on behalf of our heroes. The Doctor is as delightfully crotchety as ever - never have the words "hissy" and "fit" seemed so apt for the young Time Lord. His anger and impatience at the Sensorites is fascinating to watch and comes off as quite a nasty piece of work; almost over~bearing when it comes to his attitude towards Susan. It's an engaging watch, all to easy to forget that even back then, characters had "arcs".

Ian and Barbara notice this all too well with the former acting with more intelligence and care than The Doctor for the majority of the story. They both seem to be more in control of themselves and the situation than their designated driver. The eponymous aliens themselves are on odd bunch - scared of the dark and noise, and either entirely trustful of strangers or not. Quite a divisive bunch.

At six episodes, The Sensorites does slightly outstay its welcome (though I can only think of a few six+~parters that actually warrant their allotted time) and some of the performances are stagey (a common occurrence) but it's a good old tale of trust and friendship with alien intrigue. It mirrors the paranoia of the day and still makes for fun viewing (especially if you play the "Boom In Shot/Fluffed Line" drinking game).

EXTRAS
Leading the special features is an unusual documentary looking at the writer of the story, Peter R. Newman. I say "unusual" as Looking For Peter is not the normal "behind~the~scenes" stuff with interviews with cast and crew, it is, as you may have guessed from its title, an investigation into the mysterious Newman. Presented by comedian Toby Hadoke and directed by BAFTA nominee Chris Chapman, this piece is a most welcome diversion from the norm (though, I should say, the norm is always very good).

It's also fascinating, especially in this information~laden world we live in, that so little was documented about the man - a wonderful glimpse into the past. Hadoke brings a warmth and sense of joy to the proceedings and one hopes for similar outings in the future.

The commentary is a lovely affair with the legends that are William Russell and Carole Ann Ford accompanied by designer Ray Cuisik (who takes less than 10 seconds to mention the Daleks), make~up artist Sonia Markham, director Frank Cox and actors Joe Greig (Sensorite), Martyn Huntley (First Human) and Giles Phibbs (Second Human). Some pop in and out over the six episodes which are moderated by Toby Hadoke, who seems to be all over the classic range these days (having just performed moderator duties on recent boxset, The U.N.I.T. Files).

Elsewhere, there's Vision On with Clive Doig who talks through the role of the vision mixer (an especially important role in 60s Who) and Secret Voices of the Sense Sphere which is amusing little look at some mysterious voices that appear in the background of an episode (down to a production error). As always there's the essential production notes subtitles, photo gallery and original production design work on PDF.

If you've heard bad things about The Sensorites, I suggest you put these voices to one side and dive right in to some satisfying, if slightly uninspiring, Doctor Who story~telling. Even if you're slightly disappointed by the main feature, those extras will validate the cash well spent.

THE SENSORITES
is released Jan 23
BLOGTOR RATING 8/10

Thanks to 2|entertain
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