Doctor Who: The Sensorites

The classic Doctor Who DVD range takes a trip back in time to 1964...

My history with this particular classic serial dates back to my childhood in the late '70s and a Doctor Who card game I used to own. In amongst the hand-drawn pictures of such popular characters from the series as Davros, the Cybermen, Annie Oakley and Thor (seriously, half of the set was made up of spurious historical and mythological figures) was one that meant absolutely nothing to me - the Sensorites.

Nobody I knew back then could tell me anything about this strange figure, dressed in a red jumpsuit and pressing a stethoscope to its head. My only clues came a brief description on the card, 'A race of alien telepaths, from the planet known as the Sense-Sphere, able to take over and control human minds' and the fact that they scored '5' for Mental Ability, '7' for Special Powers and a meagre '2' for Weapons. It appeared that not even the classic Doctor Who character Sherlock Holmes (you guess it, he also featured in the game) could have solved this mystery.

In recent years, as my interest in classic Who has been rekindled by the excellent DVD range, I've found out considerably more about the Sensorites and their self-titled serial. It was the seventh serial broadcast during William Hartnell's first year as the Doctor, it runs for six episodes and modern fan consensus suggests it's an absolute chore to watch. But, as I've discovered many other times in the past, my own views don't appear to toe the line with accepted fan wisdom. Which means I was rather looking forward to finally encountering the mysterious Sensorites for myself with this new DVD release.

Unfortunately, on this occasion fandom definitely got it right and The Sensorites is unlikely to find too many reclaiming it as a forgotten classic now that it's been released on DVD. This rather ramshackle effort struggles to marry its rather ambitious story to the production values available at the time, resulting in a rather tiresome tale of mystery and alien politics that's only occasionally enlivened by some neat visual flourishes (I'll gladly tip my hat to the director for an early shot out of the TARDIS console room into the interior of the space ship it's landed inside), a beefed-up role for the fabulous Carol Ann Ford as Susan and the fun you derive from spotting the many production goofs and fluffed lines that occur along the way.

Picture: While it's hardly going to measure up to a modern series, The Sensorites looks far better than you'd probably expect from a TV serial dating back to 1964. Once again the plaudits rest upon the shoulders of the Doctor Who Restoration Team, who have once again pulled out all of the stops and made use of modern restoration and digital processing technology to restore this six part story to its original glory. Contrast levels are generally excellent throughout and detailing is of an incredibly high standard for a series of this vintage. If there's any complaint to be made, it's that there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash of a distorted frame following a cut between two shots, but that's the only negative I can really find about the disc's 1.33:1 black and white transfer.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: The Doctor Who Restoration Team has also done a splendid job with the serial's soundtrack. No, the mono mix isn't going to give your 5.1 speaker system a workout, but it is a painstakingly restored presentation of the original audio track- flubs and all (it's easier than ever to make out one of the most famous goofs/glitches  - so much so that it actually gets its own special feature). So even if it won't really set you heart racing, there's still plenty to admire about the work that's been put into restoring this mix to its original quality.
Audio quality: 3/5

Extras: The Sensorites comes to DVD with a pleasing set of extra features that prove to be far more interesting than the serial itself In place of the usual retrospective Making of... documentary the range specialises in we have Looking for Peter, a fascinating investigative documentary following actor/comedian/Doctor Who fan as he tries to track down more information on the serial's enigmatic writer Peter R Newman. It's a fascinating and ultimately touching film that finally lifts the lid on the life of one of the show's most elusive of writers.

Vision On and Secret Voices of the Sense-Sphere both feature interviews with vision mixer Clive Doig. The first (and more substantial of the two pieces) looks back at his work on the serial, the role of a vision mixer and his memories of working with William Hartnell. The second (clearly an off-cut of the main interview) quickly addresses a technical issue during recording that led to a mysterious voice being heard in episode six.

The disc also delivers a fascinating commentary track featuring a revolving door of participants including William Russell, Carol Ann Ford, Ray Cusick, Joe Greig, Frank Cox, Sonia Markham, Martyn Huntley and Giles Phibbs, plus another excellent Production Subtitles track that provides even more info and trivia about the making of the serial. Finally, there's a photo gallery, PDF materials (Radio Times listings and production drawings) and a trailer for the forthcoming Revisitations 3 boxset.
Extras rating: 3/5

We say: Not one the best example of classic Doctor Who, but the disc itself is as good as ever.

2entertain Ltd., R2 DVD, £20, On sale now