In which we meet The Sensorites.
“So far you have only proven you can lock doors. We can unlock them.”
Okay, first thing is first. Occasionally on Doctor Who when a new episode starts they will replay the footage from a previous episode as a recap. Other times they re-film footage. Strangers in Space ended with a great cliffhanger as Ian Chesterton looked with horror upon a disturbing visage gazing into the space ship. The Unwilling Warriors begins with this same sequence re-filmed, but to much less effect. Ian’s fearful gaze is shortened to a look of shock as he calls immediately to The Doctor. Our first look at a Sensorite even shows the costume to look different from what it was in the first episode. How disappointing. How underwhelming. What was once a great shock and ominous cliffhanger has been reduced to a mildly odd shot of a strange, yet not horrific, creature gazing at our heroes. Again, disappointment.
In this episode we learn why The Sensorites have been keeping the astronauts prisoner on their ship. It turns out that when John did a mineralogical reading on The Sensorite planet (The Sense-Sphere) he discovered high quantities of a mineral called molybdenum. Molybdenum has a high melting point and is used as an alloy in steel for ships. Whoever could mine The Sense-Sphere would become rich. John’s thoughts of wealth were picked up by The Sensorites, and they imprisoned the astronauts as a defense mechanism. It seems that humans had tried to get at The Sense-Sphere’s molybdenum once before and there was some sort of “affliction.” This hasn’t yet been explained. Regardless, the fear The Sensorites have of the humans is justified, even if their methods for defense are extreme. But this is an interesting portrayal of xenophobia, not human of alien, but alien of human. This is also a far cry from the all-to-typical portrayal of all aliens as a threat to humanity that exists in more modern Doctor Who stories. Yes, The Sensorites start off as villains, but they have a motivation that is understandable and in the end we are merely witnessing a diplomatic catastrophe.
We learn two additional things in this episode. First, The Sensorites’ eyes are fully dilated. The Doctor theorizes that they will be unable to see in low light or darkness. Second, it would seem The Sensorites can telepathically communicate with Susan. Finally we have some characterization of Susan that extends beyond panicking and screaming. Carol Ann Ford is able to do some better acting, more in line with her portrayal of Susan from An Unearthly Child, which was the last time the character seemed at all interesting. Susan even agrees to accompany The Sensorites to The Sense-Sphere if they will spare the lives of the people on the ship.
In all, this was a more interesting episode. Despite its disappointing start, this episode cracks along at a nice pace and we start getting pieces that answer questions that have already arisen and the author starts putting other pieces into play that will be addressed later. So, an improvement over the previous episode. What does the next hold?