034 – A Race Against Death (The Sensorites Part 4)

The City Administrator continues plotting against the humans while The Doctor attempts to find a cure for Ian’s illness.

Sir, you have been de-frocked!

“These people have fine qualities.  The Second Elder and I have misjudged them.”

It doesn’t take long for The Doctor to work out the water as the cause of the Ian’s illness.  He mixes salt and water to act as a way to slow the poison, but he demands access to The TARDIS which has supplies and equipment he could use to find a cure for both Ian and The Sensorites.  After consideration and advice, The First Elder refuses to return the TARDIS lock, which infuriates The Doctor, leaving him to work with what supplies The Sensorites can provide him.

The City Administrator and The Second Elder are put at odds a bit more.  The Second Elder even threatens to remove The City Administrator from his position.  John makes the realization that the evil he senses is actually The City Administrator.  Then Carol sets up the idea that to the humans all Sensorites look the same.  If it wasn’t for their sashes of office, they the humans wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.  “I had not thought of that,” says The City Administrator, obviously trying to use this information to his advantage.

Next we are given a science montage where The Doctor and The Sensorite Scientists analyze water from different districts, The First Elder holds a piece of paper, and Ian thrashes about on a couch.  All joking aside, it accomplishes what the story needs and doesn’t go on too long.  The Doctor discovers that District 8’s water is poisoned.  This doesn’t explain why people are getting sick in every district, but it does prove there is poison in the water.  Since all the water comes from the same source, it is reasonable to assume everyone is being poisoned in the same way but that the poison doesn’t affect all areas at the same time.  Regardless, The Doctor makes a quick antidote and sends one of his assistants to deliver it to Susan and The First Elder.  Meanwhile, The City Administrator kidnaps The Second Elder and takes his sash of office for the purpose of imitation.

The Doctor decides to go with one of the scientists to the aqueducts to investigate the water source.  The City Administrator intercepts the antidote and, believing it is poison, smashes the vial.  “This will prove if the young man is faking, one way or another,” he cheers.

Upon arrival at the aqueducts, The Doctor finds he must enter alone.  The aqueducts are both dark and supposedly full of loud monsters.  The Doctor dismisses his assistant, remarking on the convenience of the water source being located at a place which naturally fills The Sensorites with fear.  Susan, worrying about the antidote, goes to the scientists and gets a back-up antidote and cures Ian, who then goes rushing after The Doctor into the aqueduct.  As the episode comes to an end, The Doctor finds a few sprigs of Deadly Nightshade and hears a ferocious roar!

So, I must admit that this viewing of The Sensorites hasn’t been nearly as bad as I remember.  I have a theory to explain this.  When I first watched The Sensorites it was all in one go.  This time I have only watched an episode or two per day, writing a review between each.  I think this actually improves the viewing experience.  As Doctor Who has always gone out one episode at a time, week to week, this simulates (to a degree) the way it was originally intended to be watched.  Thus, sometimes concepts or plot points are sometimes repeated.  This was way before home video.  In addition, each episode, while slow by today’s standards, is paced fairly well.  I never thought I would say this before, but I am actually enjoying The Sensorites this time around.  These days, shows are made with full expectation that they will be going to DVD.  This – consciously or unconsciously – will affect the writing.  It affects the pace.  If people can go back and re-watch something, there is no real need for a recap or restatement of plot or ideas.  Contrasting this season of Doctor Who with the most-recent (New Who series Five) we see a stark difference in plotting.  Okay, there are many differences between William Hartnell’s first season and Matt Smith’s first season, but one of those differences is the acknowledgement that the viewers of Matt Smith’s first season will almost certainly watch and re-watch each episode many times, even doing a frame by frame analysis.  This level of detail may seem a bit obsessive, but if the show is being written with that in mind, then Steven Moffat and the other writers for Series Five are giving the fans what they want.  This is very clever plotting.  On some level, I also find it irritating.  While I do agree somewhat with the idea that the devil is in the details, if all you focus on is the details, then all you have is the devil.  You have details but no story.  Thus far, Moffat is still giving us an entertaining story, but I have to wonder if Doctor Who in its current incarnation will become so focused on the obsessive details at the expense of being a well-told story.  Or, to put it in storytelling terms, are we getting details or are we getting clues?  Are we getting Easter eggs or are we getting foreshadowing?  These are not the same thing.

Anyway, The Sensorites: still entertaining.  Will it hold up past episode 4?

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2 thoughts on “034 – A Race Against Death (The Sensorites Part 4)

  1. You may be right about the obsession with details in new Who. Steven Moffat must have an high opinion of Ghost Light, with all its fine details, though I think that story had a much greater level of sophistication than what we got in New Series 5.

    I was very disappointed with the finale. I thought it was all about clever visual ‘nuggets’ and lacked a strong cohesive narrative.

    • I admit that for the most part I enjoy the revived show, but it doesn’t quite seem the same as the classic series. But television has changed so much during the gap decade(s). I am quite eager to get through the classic series and start reviewing the new series because I really want to see how my perspective changes from watching every episode in order. Plus, I plan on being more critical of the new series, not because I don’t like it, but because I feel that New Who has more working for it than the old series ever did. It has a good budget, it has good writers, it has good directors, and the support of the BBC. The new series has so much in its favor and as such, I believe it deserves more critical analysis than the old series.

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