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The Sensorites

Novelization of the Doctor Who serial
Daniel Spotswood

I was really surprised at how well The Sensorites came off as a novel. For a story that drags itself across six television episodes, this is a nicely paced adaptation; building on and improving on the story that was televised. This is, in my opinion, what the novels of the stories should do – embellish the nuances and subtleties of the story to take the reader down a few paths that may not have been fully explored on television while staying true to the plot development and the action.

Nigel Robinson has done a good job with this novelisation. Noting that this novel was published before The Edge of Destruction, Nigel has taken a step down from here as this is the superior work of the two. The most obvious difference is the prose itself – it seems less laboured with a much smoother flow. Perhaps the obvious extra scope of the story (four more episodes) helped as not once did it seem that he was embellishing too much, or drawing out every possible expression or event to make up the page or word count. Nigel also captures the atmosphere of the story, particularly early through those chapters that correspond to episodes one through three of the television story.

The Sensorites themselves are more interesting in the novel too – aspects of their society are more visible and their pacifist nature more evident.; particularly their use of telepathy and of the mineral wealth of their planet. Again we find the TARDIS crew, particularly Ian, frustrated trying to make a pacifist race stand up and take action in their own defence (see The Daleks, referring to the Thals).

The Sensorites are the third ‘non human-looking’ alien to appear in the series – and the first to not be instinctively threatening. Theirs is an introspective, utopian society; the Sensorite menace in the story is individual rather than the societal; the agenda of that individual (who is the City Administrator) being in opposition to the base values of his society. This story is as much about political and potential commercial exploitation as anything else; parallels to current affairs of the mid 1960’s are quite stark.

In spite of the good bits, there are still a few stones left unturned – which are more plot holes in the story itself rather criticisms of Nigel’s novel: How can a Sensorite move in space without the aid of a space suit of some kind? How did the Deadly Nightshade plants get to the Sense Sphere? If only one outlet from the Sensorites’ aqueduct is carrying poisoned water, why are efforts to stop the poison focused on the aqueduct itself and not this outlet? While I have mentioned them, these are minor points and don’t take anything away from the overall reading of the novel.

In all, The Sensorites makes for a nice afternoon’s reading; strongly recommended for your next rainy day.