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‘Doctor Who – The Sensorites’ vinyl review

William Hartnell stars as the First Doctor in a 1964 classic serial with linking narration by William Russell.

Doctor Who the Sensorites
Credit: Demon Records

The classic serial ‘The Sensorites’, a six-part adventure from the very first ‘Doctor Who’ season in 1964, is the latest title to be released on vinyl by Demon Records. This attractive triple vinyl box set comes with an additional stunning embossed art print on firm card depicting the striking cover art featuring Susan with the Sensorites. The three records are moulded in ‘Sense-Sphere’ marble on 140g.

The TARDIS lands on board a spaceship, in orbit around a planet known as the Sense-Sphere. At first they think that all of the crew on the deserted ship are dead. But the Doctor and his companions soon learn that the humans have been imprisoned on their craft by the Sensorites, who blame them for the introduction of a fatal disease. When the Sensorites steal the TARDIS lock, the travellers are forced to go with the aliens to their planet and attempt to broker peace between the races. But many dangers lie ahead…

Dialogue-led 1960s television translates well to the audio medium. Any gaps are filled by linking narration from William Russell, who played companion Ian Chesterton. His warm and precise voiceover, recorded for a 2008 CD release, immediately recalls his iconic role even after almost half a century. William Russell, now the elder statesman of ‘Doctor Who’, is one reason for the show’s initial success, and his character rightly remains hugely popular among fans. He starred opposite the late Jacqueline Hill. They played two ordinary school teachers who are kidnapped by the Doctor and taken off in the TARDIS. Ian and Barbara provide a relatable guide for audiences needing ordinary and likeable characters to root for. By the time of ‘The Sensorites’, Ian and Barbara were essential members of the TARDIS crew. Their banter with the Doctor in this serial indicates that a deepening friendship is developing, superseding the initial hostility followed by grudging respect.

Doctor Who the Sensorites
Credit: Demon Records

‘Doctor Who’ hit the ground running with a remarkably strong opening season that introduced the Daleks, provided an epic adventure with Marco Polo and saw the TARDIS crew become caught up in the French Revolution. ‘The Sensorites’ is one of the stories that is strongly science-fiction in genre, rather than historical. It is unusual in that it was the sole contribution that writer Peter R Newman made to the series. The opening episode is very strong and sets up an engaging mystery. As crewman John, Stephen Dartnell gives a fine performance in what is undoubtedly the first depiction in the show’s history of someone suffering from mental trauma. The audio experience adds greatly to the claustrophobic atmosphere of the story. The Sensorites themselves are an intriguing and distinctive alien species who are similarly treated with maturity. They have a developed civilisation and legal system that becomes integral to the story.

On the negative side, ‘The Sensorites’ doesn’t quite sustain over six episodes, especially when it becomes a courtroom drama later on. Such variations in tone within the story indicate that in the early days, the show was still bedding down its style. On the plus side, the cast is excellent, particularly John Bailey as the Commander. ‘The Sensorites’ was the first of three roles he would play in ‘Doctor Who’, later appearing in the Troughton classic ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ and the Tom Baker serial ‘The Horns of Nimon’ .

This audio version, which is produced to a high standard and attractively packaged in a sturdy box set, is an excellent way to enjoy the story and will look great on any collector’s shelves. The limitations of grainy black and white footage are instantly dispelled, allowed you to focus on the telling of the narrative. It’s welcome to see an often-overlooked serial from the earliest days of ‘Doctor Who’ having its moment in the sunshine. Given the sophistication of the species, it’s a shame that the Sensorites never returned to the show, but their brevity at least ensures that this collection of six episodes is unique in the annals of ‘Doctor Who’.

Doctor Who the Sensorites
Credit: Demon Records

Cast: William Hartnell, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Stephen Dartnell, Ilona Rodgers, Lorne Cossette, John Bailey Writer: Peter R Newman Director: Mervyn Pinfield, Frank Cox Running time: 150 mins Released by: Demon Records Release date: 22nd June 2022 Buy ‘Doctor Who – The Sensorites

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