Friday, July 31, 2009

"A Race Against Death"

The Historian here, along with Ketina, Ronelyn and Schmallturm, bringing you another tale from the Sense-Sphere. Let's skip the preliminaries and get to the summary!

Episode summary: First aired 18 July, 1964. Ian collapses and the First Elder tells the others he has the disease and they have no cure--he will die! The Doctor wastes no time; he questions the First and realizes the only thing Ian did that the others did not: Ian drank the water from the aqueduct, rather than that from the crystal spring. The "disease" must be due to a contagion from the water! The Doctor asks First for the return of the TARDIS lock so he might have access to his laboratory, but the First hesitates and says he must consult with the Second Elder. The Doctor suggests that no one be allowed to drink the aqueduct water, to which First agrees, telling the Doctor and Susan that Ian should have about three days, so they have time to find a cure. The Second, when consulted, tells the First he is uneasy about returning the lock; is it possible that Ian is only feigning sickness? Meanwhile, scientists are using a mind device to cure John. The City Administrator arrives, furious that resources are being wasted to save the human, it would be better to kill him! This is overheard by the Second, who again admonishes the Administrator. The Administrator again says he would do anything to assure his city's security, even if the elders would compromise it. He then tells Second that the whole "water" connection must be a lie to cause the Sensorites to question their basic resources. Second, having not thought of this, hurries off to consult with First. John looks at the Administrator and mutters, "Evil...evil...." He passes out just as Carol comes in, mistaking the Administrator for a scientist. He is angry at first, until she explains that it was difficult to see his collar of office from behind, making it hard for her to tell one Sensorite from another. This gives the Administrator the beginnings of an idea...The Doctor, meanwhile, is incensed that the elders have decided not to return the lock core. First tells him he will have full access to the Sensorite laboratories and equipment, which mollifies him somewhat. Leaving Susan to nurse Ian, the Doctor goes off to isolate whatever is contaminating the water. He believes, from Ian's symptoms, the contagion to be atropine. But they must first isolate the poison before they can cure it. Although the Sensorites have tested the water previously, they have not done so in a methodical fashion. The Doctor convinces them to test a sample from each sector, as the sickness seems to get better or worse in various sectors at various times, even though all the water ultimately comes from one source--the aqueduct. After a few negative results, he finally finds evidence of atropine in the water of Sector 8 and distills an antidote for it. The first batch is to be sent to Ian. Meanwhile, the elders confer; the Second has an appointment, but will then bear the First's congratulations to the Doctor. His appointment, however, is a trap and he is kidnapped by the Administrator, who steals his sash. After all, the way Sensorites who are not in close contact often identify themselves is with their badges of office, so he can convincingly pretend to be Second with the sash! He also warns Second that his family is being held as assurance for his good behavior. The Doctor goes to check on John and talks with Carol, telling her he will be making an expedition to the aqueduct, and soon they will hopefully all be able to leave. John tries to tell them of the plot against them, but they cannot understand him. The Administrator, meanwhile, proves his masquerade to be viable by intercepting a scientist on his way to deliver the antidote to Ian. The scientist gives it to the "Second," assuming he will deliver it, but the Administrator (after the scientist leaves) dashes it to the ground instead. If Ian dies, then the aliens are telling the truth, but if Ian lives, they must be lying, he tells his follower. Susan and the First wonder what's holding up the antidote's delivery, and Susan decides to go to the lab to check. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the chief scientist arrive at the aqueduct, a dark and forbidding place. The scientist tells the Doctor that all attempts to light it in the recent past have failed. When the Doctor proposes exploring anyway (he has a torch), the scientist warns that there are monsters dwelling within; anyone who ventures in has heard horrible growlings and shriekings. Sound and darkness--the two things Sensorites fear, the Doctor realizes. He tells the scientist to go back, he will explore alone. Susan has administrated another dose of antidote to Ian, though both she and First still wonder what happened to the first batch. The scientist enters and tells the three of the Doctor's expedition. Ian decides, weak as he is, that there's no choice; he must follow the Doctor. Susan demands to go along. First is touched and amazed by the humans' bravery; he decides he and Second had misjudged them. He uses telepathy to try to talk to Second, who is being held captive by the Administrator. Second no longer has his telepathic device, so he can receive, but not send. The Administrator demands Second tell him all he hears, on pain of his family's death. Second conveys the information, which includes the information that all three humans have gone to the aqueduct. The Administrator is delighted; no one goes into that darkness and returns alive! The scientist leads Ian and Susan to the aqueduct and gives them a light. They enter, looking for the Doctor. The Doctor, meanwhile, has gone further in and discovers exactly what he was looking for--a sprig of deadly nightshade, the plant atropine is made from. Suddenly he hears a terrible roar as something seems to be approaching him from the darkness....

As you can tell, quite a lot happened in this episode, although the team had surprisingly little to say. We agreed that some of us had been a bit hasty in joking about the "mystery" of the source of the contagion (i.e., the water) last week, since the mystery turns out to be not the source, but the why and the how! We're still in the dark about that (well, somewhat), but the mystery has been developed nicely. How has the poison been spread, once the water leaves the aqueduct? And why? By whom?

The one area of some disagreement was the montage showing the Doctor testing the water interspersed with Susan tending Ian. I quite liked it; it was a good reminder that the Doctor is supposed to be a Scientist with a capital S. We get to see him actually in a laboratory doing work. The bits with Ian and Susan simply emphasized the time limit he was under, giving an urgency to the work.

Another excellent point was the Doctor's deduction of the shenanigans going on at the aqueduct. It is as if someone who knows the Sensorite's weaknesses has specifically tailored the environment to keep them out. Hmmm.....

This is also the episode that has what my memory told me was one of the worst plot points in the history of the series: the idea that Sensorites can't even tell each other apart without their badges/sashes! Thankfully, the memory lies a bit, and the explanation the Administrator gives, that people not in the inner circle would only know the Elders at sight from a distance, is at least slightly more convincing that I remembered. (More convincing to Ketina and Schmallturm anyway. I'm still not totally sold, especially since the scientist the Admin fools is one who'd just seen the Second a few scenes before!)

As far as the regulars go, this is all the Doctor's show. He moves from infuriated to curious to gleeful to thoughtful, and none of it the least overacted. His joy at working with other scientists in a good laboratory is evident and well played. Ian and Susan are good considering their small part in this episode; William Russell does a convincing job of playing sick. The rasp he puts in his voice to indicate his sore throat was a nice touch.

The Sensorites are each marvelous. The more I see them, the more I like the masks. They're basic rubber, true, but they're still very effective and it's a tremendous credit to the actors that they do such a good job of conveying emotion through, basically, non-emotive masks. Story-wise, in this episode, they're generally well-drawn characters, with the possible exception of the Second who comes off a bit wet. Still the Administrator's semi-insane dedication to safety and definitely insane xenophobia work really well, as does the First's basic nobility--and his recognition of the nobility he finds in the humans. Very well-written aliens indeed!

And that's basically it for me this week. I'm really enjoying this story; it's developed well from the shaky initial episodes and I'm very much looking forward to finding out what happens next! Until then, I remain



Ketina here,

So, I can't complain too much about this one. There's an intriguing plot developing regarding why are the Sensorites being poisoned and by whom. The visuals are simple, but compelling.

The Silly:
However, I thought the montage where the Doctor is analyzing the poison, cut with shots of Susan tending Ian, was rather goofy. The music, checking off the list of locations in English by the aliens, and Susan's fretting, I all found very silly. And Sensorites have fantastic handwriting - apparently some Sensorites are nuns (okay, you probably only get that joke if you went to Catholic elementary school, like me).
And there was the awesome tubie device on John's head, as they attempted to fix him, and we even get a quick shot of one of the Sensorite apparently PAINTING it.
And then, the fantastic line from the First Elder, "I shall give the congratulations to my Doctor..." Awesome!

No screams this week, but heading into the dark with the scary monsters next week, I'm sure we'll get one or two.



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