Doctor Who #36: A Desperate Venture

"Oh, it's ages since we've seen our planet. It's quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burnt orange; and the leaves on the trees are bright silver..."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of the Sensorites. First aired Aug.1 1964.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor finds insane humans in the sewers, and the evil Second Elder is caught.

REVIEW: There is a scene in here that is a memorable gem, and in fact, important to the Doctor Who mythology. That's the bit where Susan describes (the still unnamed) Gallifrey (see quote above). It's a description taken up by the 10th Doctor in the new series, so you might recognize it. Sadly, most of what surrounds this scene is badly written and directed. There are bright or at least interesting spots though. Barbara's return is most welcome, and she immediately starts acting as the voice of reason and a calming influence. To keep Susan from becoming a deus ex machina in the future, it's explained that she tapped into the telepathic field on the Sense-Sphere, so likely won't be able to do so elsewhere. The Doctor is confident, however, that she could continue to develop her abilities when they get back to their planet and it's strongly hinted that they aren't exiles so much as lost in time because of that fussy old TARDIS. Maybe it's all a big misunderstanding. Maybe the Doctor did steal the TARDIS, but thought he'd be home for tea, no one the wiser.

Otherwise, A Desperate Venture is a big mess. The Doctor and Ian find the humans who have been poisoning the water supply, and they've gone insane from exposure to Sensorite telepathy. They are in the ridiculous position of having no way to know if the Sensorites above are alive or dead, but allowances must be made since they're clearly mad. Still, since they are the root of all the problems, it would have been nice to get to know them. As it is, the writer doesn't even give them names. It's the Commander, Number 1 and Number 2. Sheesh. The Sensorites aren't any better characterized, as the First Elder continues to refuse to believe a Sensorite could commit crimes when he has one jailed at that very moment. That their society is built on trust is fine, but makes no sense given the City Administrator's behavior. Since the Doctor cured the plague, he can no longer be motivated by wanting to protect his people. He's just evil now, and wants power for its own sake. The cliffhanger in which the Doctor snaps at Ian and promises to throw him off the ship at the next destination is a likewise suspect piece of writing.

As for the direction, Frank Cox is surely one of the worst directors to work on the program (he also directed the previous episode, and the second part of The Edge of Destruction). Pinfield's one good staging idea, the dark aqueduct, is now fully lit. The less of those pipes you see, the better, in my opinion. Worse, it leads to a terribly staged struggle between Ian and one of the madmen, which ends with Ian telling the Doctor - who was only a few feet away - that he thinks it was a man and not a monster. He produces a piece of cloth torn away as evidence. Well, that's all very fine with it occurs in pitch darkness, perhaps with the torch creating abstract shapes, but the scene is fully lot. The dialog makes no sense in that context. The worst sin of all is that the former City Administrator, now Second Elder, is caught and punished... off-screen! With 6 episodes, you'd have though there'd have been room for a final confrontation, a moment where he is defeated. Instead, the First Elder seems to have finally accepted the evidence against him and tells the cast it's all been taken care of. We're denied the satisfaction of seeing this unpleasant character get what he has coming.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - There's that stand-out scene, and the cast performs quite well. The story itself is mishandled in the extreme.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Low - Though there are some historically meaningful moments, and perhaps an Ood connection for New Who fans, the story is almost uniformly badly written, designed and directed. Too bad, because it announced itself as a strong vehicle for Susan's character. No wonder she's starting to say she'd like to put down roots.

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