Doctor Who: We Don’t Talk About John

Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.

Warning: the following contains spoilers.

Doctor Who: Serial 7 The Sensorites, Episode 1: Strangers in Space

We pick up at last episode’s end, with the crew of the TARDIS escaping from Aztec era Mexico only to find themselves stranded when the TARDIS’ instruments begin feeding them contradictory information. One set of sensors tells them they’ve stopped, while another insists they’re still moving. 

As the Doctor and his companions puzzle over this latest problem, they begin reminiscing about old times.

“Boy, we sure we have changed a lot these past few months, why remember that time we fought the Daleks?”

We sure have had some wild times - BBC

We sure have had some wild times – BBC

Its so strange, that for a second I genuinely thought this was turning into a clip show.

Fortunately, the Doctor opens the door a few minutes later, sparing us all from a “very special episode”.

Leaving the TARDIS, they find themselves on the bridge of another spaceship, where a man and a woman sit slumped over the controls. After a quick check of their pulses, Ian discovers that both of them are quite dead.

Making things even stranger, the bodies are still warm, meaning they’ve only just died.

Seeing that there’s very little to be done, the Doctor and company decide to just call it a day and head back to the TARDIS for another round of reminiscing. Then, just as they’re getting ready to leave, one of the dead astronauts starts to move.

The man gets them to retrieve a strange rectangular object, which he presses to his chest, then insists they do the same to his female companion. Barbara does as he tells her and within a few seconds, the weird box resuscitates her too.

BBC

BBC

This sudden resurrection leaves everyone with a fair amount of questions, but the man, who introduces himself as Captain Maitland, sets them at ease by explaining that the object was a heart resuscitator and that, “When you found us, we were in a very long sleep, but we weren’t dead.”

Um, okay.

The Doctor asks if the two of them are from earth. Maitlind says that they are and Barbara gets very excited.

“How’s it looking?” she asks.

His companion, who is named Carol, answers that there’s “still too much air traffic.” As in flying cars.

When Ian tells them that he and Barbara are from London, the man looks at him strangely, then reveals that he and Carol hail from the 28th Century.

Captain Maitland and Carol Richmond - BBC

Captain Maitland and Carol Richmond – BBC

Then just about the time everyone’s starting to get along, Carol goes and ruins things by insisting that they all leave.

Maitland agrees, telling them, “There is only danger for you. You must go.” Which is certainly one way of getting rid of unwelcome house guests.

The proud crew of the TARDIS, however, haven’t been schooled in the finer points of hospitality and refuse to leave without an explanation.

And what an explanation it is. It seems the spaceship is positioned in orbit around a planet called the Sense-Sphere. The aliens that live there, the Sensorites, actively prevent them from leaving orbit. They’re able to do this by exerting power over not only their craft, but over their minds as well, using their influence to place the astronauts into periods of death-like sleep.

Strangely enough, despite all this, the Sensorites never do anything to actually hurt them, and in fact, take a hand in keep them alive, feeding them during these forced hibernations.

As Doc and the others brainstorm various ways of helping them, someone wanders over to the TARDIS and begins waving a 1950s TV antennae over the lock.

Meanwhile, back on the deck, Susan suggests they just bring the two astronauts with them, but Carol says they can’t on account of someone named John.

Then Barbara smells something burning.

Cut to: our antenna-wielding villain who burns the lock off the front of the TARDIS.

Eventually, after Maitland’s eighth straight plea for them to leave, the Doctor decides that’s actually a pretty good idea. Only problem is the lock’s been stolen, meaning they can’t reenter the TARDIS.

That’s about the time the whole ship starts shaking. The Sensorites take control of Capt. Maitland and set the ship on a collision course with the planet.

The Doctor grabs the controls from him and manages to steer them away at the last second.

As they all unwind from their near death encounter, the Doctor tries turning the conversation back to the astronauts’ third crew member John.

It seems that John’s is something of a sensitive topic, and after revealing that John was the only member of their crew to have direct contact with the Sensorites, Maitland suddenly clams up.

As everyone puzzles over this unusual situation, Barbara and Susan start preparing rations from their ship. They head off in search of water, stumble on a massive hatch and decide to go inside.

Inside, they find a long hallway along and a series of doors. Then, just as they disappear from view, some catatonic stranger shows up, closes the door behind them, then starts staggering down the hall. Ladies and gentlemen I think we’ve just met John.

On the bridge, Maitland and Carol remain close-lipped about their crew member until they realize Barbara and Susan have wandered off. This prompts a full-scale freakout as they try chasing after them, but alas, the hatch is locked, trapping the two girls inside.

With that, we finally get an explanation of what’s going on. Carol and John were engaged, but when the Sensorites attacked, he took the brunt of the attack and it shattered his mind.

At that moment, inside the hatch, John staggers towards the two women. He opens his mouth like he’s going to speak, then promptly pitches over onto his face. Unfortunately, much like a Romero zombie John doesn’t stay down for long.

He goes after Barbara and Susan once again, then suddenly drops to his knees and starts weeping.

BBC

BBC

Being the sensitive soul that she is, Barbara comforts him, while outside, Maitland and the others use a fantastic space torch to try cutting through the door.

BBC

BBC

Then, all of the sudden a high-pitched whining sound starts up, signaling the return of the Sensorites.

Maitland tells the Doctor and Ian, “No violence unless the Sensorites start it first.”

To which Ian responds with the episode’s best line, “Why no violence? Surely we have a right to defend ourselves.”

The ship’s instruments stop responding and the scanners go dead. Then Ian looks out the window and sees this.

BBC

BBC

God! Alright, looks like I’m not sleeping tonight.

And with that, our episode comes to a close. Pretty good overall, maybe my favorite episode so far. Its got a real creepy Twilight Zone vibe to it that manages to turn the shows limited resources into an asset. The way the writer establishes the Sensorites long before their arrival is a great way of scaling up the tension. Then there’s that reveal, which is really unnerving. It reminds me a lot of the famous Shatner episode of Twilight Zone, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, released a year earlier.

The Twilight Zone - CBS

The Twilight Zone – CBS

 

Not sure if it’s a conscious influence or not, but they make for an interesting comparison.

This story’s just getting started. Tune in next time for episode 2: The Unwilling Warriors.

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