Doctor Who: A Desperately Confusing Venture

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 6: A Desperate Venture

So, quick recap on where we are at this point. After uncovering the former City Administrator and current Second Elder as their mystery foe, the Doctor and Ian headed off into the aqueducts to search for proof of his guilt. Before departing though, the Administrator (let’s just agree to call him that) managed to hatch one final scheme, having their weapons and map sabotaged before sending them off into the aqueduct’s labyrinthine depths.

Then Carol the astronaut went and got herself kidnapped, which is precisely where we pick up this week, with Carol hauled into the Administrator’s lair so he continue wreaking havoc on the humans.

Now, far be it from me to criticize the Administrator’s villain skills, so far he’s concocted some pretty wicked schemes, but I’m at a real loss to understand his latest brainstorm, in which he forces Carol to write a handwritten letter explaining her disappearance.

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BBC

Show of hands who thinks that’s going to work?

Needless to say, his plan goes immediately off the rails with Carol’s friends not only seeing through her silly note, but immediately copping to the fact that she’s been kidnapped.

As they attempt to work out where she is being held, The Chief Elder tells them about the disintegrator room, a rarely used building in another part of the city.

As they head off to rescue Carol, we cut to the Administrator’s lair, where the kidnapper has taken up his boss’ tradition of weirdly poetic monologues.

“All human creatures are naive, they live while they have a purpose, as soon as that purpose is achieved their life has no value left.”

As he stands there engrossed in poetry, John manages to slip into the room and sneak up behind him, only to be discovered at the last second.

The alien grabs some weird sci-fi gadget off the wall, then threatens to fry Carol with it.

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BBC

Carol, however, quickly disarms the situation by simply reaching over and unplugging his weapon.

With nowhere left to go, the thug is taken back into custody.

Back at the palace, Susan and Barbara interrogate the alien, which seems like a job that should probably be handled by law enforcement officials, but I suppose a London school teacher and her teenage student is close enough. The thug refuses to reveal his accomplice, but does admit to sabotaging the supplies he gave to Doc and Ian.

As Barbara and Susan cook up a plan to save their friends, the Chief Elder pledges to help them in whatever way he can.

Meanwhile, down in the aqueducts, the Doc and Ian are wandering around lost. They hear some kind of monstrous growling, then notice something moving in the shadows.

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Ian quickly arms himself with their most powerful weapon, a rolled up piece of paper, then movies in to investigate. As he gets closer, he sees what appears to be a human man.

The two tussle briefly before the the man runs off, leaving Ian clutching a patch from the figure’s clothing. After examining it closely, the Doctor reasons that it must be a survivor from the spaceship that exploded years ago.

You’re probably scratching your head over that last sentence, so let me take you waaay back to the third episode of this arc, where one of the Sensorites tossed out a throwaway line about how a group of humans had previously visited their planet, then turned on one another before blowing up their ship.

That’s right, that obscure, half-forgotten detail is now the payoff of our seven part story.

While you wrap your head around that, we’ll head back to the Sensorite palace where Barbara and Susan have cooked up what is actually a pretty good rescue plan. Susan will remain in the palace near a map, while John and Barbara head down into the aqueducts with one of the Sensorite mind transmitters. That way, they can check in with Susan periodically for directions.

As Barbara and John leave, we get an interesting scene between Susan and the Chief Elder, during which she talks briefly about her home planet, “It’s quite like earth, but at night the sky is a burt orange and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.”

It’s kind of a throwaway moment, but significant, given that the show really hasn’t done much with the Doctor’s background.

From there we cut back to the aqueducts where the Doctor has taken to marking the walls with chalk as a means of charting their direction.

After making his latest mark, he and Ian head down a dark corridor only to find themselves surrounded by what appears to be two homeless men wielding giant number 2 pencils.

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The shabby men tell Doc that they’ve been expecting him and ask if the Sensorites are all dead.

Doc decides to play along and they lead him away to meet their Commander.

Meanwhile, John and Barbara come upon their friends’ abandoned map, then notice the Doctor’s markings on the wall. Barbara checks in telepathically with Susan, who is able to chart their location using her offical Doctor Who: Sensorites playset.

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BBC

As John and Barbara head off in pursuit, the Doctor and Ian are brought in to meet this guy.

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And yep, he’s as crazy as he looks. Turns out he’s the one whose been poisoning the water as part of a guerrilla war against the Sensorites.

The Doctor tells him exactly what he wants to hear; the aliens have been wiped out and that the planet is now his.

That’s about the time John and Susan show up and nearly blow everything. The Commander accuses them all of being Sensorite spies, but the Doc manages to B.S. him into believing Susan and John are members of a special committee there to welcome him back to the surface. Yeah, that should work.

As the Doctor leads the Commander and his men back to the surface, Barbara’s Sensorite companions are busy setting up an ambush.

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BBC

His men go peacefully enough, but the Commander bullrushes the alien, getting a nice shot of the stun ray for his troubles.

Back at the palace, Carol and John agree to take the Commander and his fellow poisoners back with them to earth and the Chief Elder explains that the human’s homicidal urges were probably brought on by mental illness stemming from experimenting with the alien’s mind transmitters.

Not only does this not make much sense, it completely undercuts the thematic underpinnings of the story. The Commander’s appearance makes for a pretty bad payoff storywise, but they could have really done something with it, playing the xenophobic Administrator off against the equally intolerant Commander.

Stranger still, is the lack of resolution regarding the Administrator, who we never see again. That’s right, despite serving as the central villain for a full seven episodes, we never actually get to see his comeuppance. Instead, he is arrested at some point off-camera, with the Chief Elder revealing he will be “banished to the outer wastes.”

Then, because this episode hasn’t been nearly crazy enough, everyone climbs aboard the TARDIS and as they watch John and Carol’s ship depart on their viewscreen, Ian casually says, “At least they know where they’re going.”

This somehow causes the Doctor to go into one of the ugliest meltdowns he’s ever had, yelling, “Implying I don’t? So you think I’m an incompetent old fool, do you? Since you are so dissatisfied my boy, you can get off my ship and the very next place we stop I shall take you off myself and that’s final.”

Fade to black.

Wow. Not even really sure where to begin. I mean seriously, what the hell was going on behind the scenes on this one?

“Okay, this Administrator guy, he’s got to go.”

“But he’s the villain. The whole story’s written around him. We can’t just get rid of him.”

“Don’t worry about it, no one will notice. No, what we need is something outside the box, I’m thinking….cave people. You know how popular they are. Crazy army cave people. With sticks!

“I’m not really sure that’s–“

“Oh, oh and what if at the very end of the episode we have Hartnell completely freak out, just lose it, you know, make the audience feel really uncomfortable right before the credits.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.”

“Are you kidding me? It’ll be brilliant.”

Well that’s it for The Sensorites I guess. Join us next time for Season One’s final story arc, The Reign of Terror.

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