6.1 – “The Dominators”
After introducing Zoë to the horrors that could await her travelling with Jamie and The Doctor, the TARDIS crew land on Dulkis. All is not as it seems on this peaceful planet, for the Dominators have arrived with their robot servants the Quarks with the plan of converting Dulkis into rocket fuel. Just how will The Doctor and co thwart this evil plan?
Oh dear. After writing the intro to this story, I feel that anyone who hasn’t seen “The Dominators” will think that it will be an all time classic. However the truth is far from it and that pains me to say given the fact that I am a massive Patrick Troughton fan. The Dominators want to convert the peaceful planet of Dulkis into fuel. Landing on a radioactive island, they absorb the radiation from the area and set to work, despite their differences. The TARDIS crew land and get caught up in the middle with a group of Dulcian scientists who have to warn their leaders of the troubles that lie ahead. It won’t be as simple as it sounds as the Dulcians are a civilisation that have rejected all weapons. Between threats and power play, the Dominators (and their robot servants the Quarks) start their plan to drill into the planet to create a radioactive chain-reaction to power their war fleets by detonating a nuclear fission seed into the planet. Thankfully The Doctor with the help of some Dulcians dig a tunnel (with a little help from the Sonic Screwdriver) to intercept the seed, which The Doctor then runs to the Dominator’s ship with and places inside just before lift-off. With the Dominators realising too late that they have left with the seed still on-board, they are destroyed and Dulkis is saved from being turned into starship fuel.
So while “The Dominators” may look like a good idea on paper, in reality it isn’t so clean cut. The biggest problem is design and execution. The Dulcian outfits look like someone has simply made them from a pair of curtains, without taking out the pleat from the top. The Dominators appear as if someone went way over the top with their armour, leaving them looking like they are seriously over-compensating for a lack of something in the trouser department. Then we come to the Quarks. The idea of robots that are there to kill and to serve is normally something that can be done well in science fiction and in Doctor Who it has been done very well on occasion (“The Robots Of Death” and the Raston Warrior robot from “The Five Doctors” being prime examples). And while being ideal on paper, the Quarks are poorly realised on screen. Cumbersome, silly looking (I have heard somewhere that they look like a sex-aid that went seriously wrong in the design process) with voices that sound like a small child on helium blowing bubbles, they don’t appear to be the threat that they are intended to be, more the comic relief robots that you would see in the original Star Wars films.
Compared to the Daleks, Cybermen and Yeti, the Quarks just seem like a Blue Peter winners entry to a Design The Monster competition. It’s funny that, in the comics of the time, they would be pushed as an even bigger threat, though they would not have the limitations in comic form that they would have on the TV screen. The simple fact is they look boxy, have limited arm abilities (sure, Daleks have sink-plungers but you tell them that and see what happens), and they could be easily defeated by pushing them over, especially if you tie the legs like Jamie does in the last episode. The Quarks are probably the most unthreatening ‘threat’ that The Doctor has ever encountered at close range. Hell, Adric could get into a scrap with one of them and probably win.
What of the writing? Norman Ashby may not seem like a familiar name to Doctor Who fandom, but the writers behind the pseudonym are that of Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. Both are better known for the introduction of both the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, yet this story does not seem to do their previous stories justice. Originally a six-parter, reduced to five by script editor Derrick Sherwin, I could see that this story would have made a far better and tighter four-parter than the five we got. It suffers from padding and I don’t just mean in the outfits. However the ideas contained within the story, that of a race using the planets core as a source of fuel and another that have done away with war, are good ideas in themselves even if they are not strong enough to hold over the full five episodes. Haisman and Lincoln would leave the project as they felt their story wasn’t faithful to the original (plus other issues with regards to the Quarks), yet I wonder just how far changed it had been from the original version and if this was better or worse than the end result.
The double team of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines had got to a point by season 6 where they knew how to feed off each other in acting terms, yet with the introduction of Wendy Padbury the team takes a change again. With her first full story as an on-board companion, it takes time for Wendy to get into the swing of things and, in my opinion, she didn’t really have that chance until the following story, “The Mind Robber”. The guest cast is not as impressive as previous stories, but does have some known names who carry the story the best they can. With Brian Cant, Walter Fitzgerald, Arthur Cox Ronald Allen and Kenneth Ives being the main people to watch, each try their best to work with a script that is very padded and with (for the Dulcians at least) dull characters with little expansion through the story. The interaction between Ronald Allen (Rago) and Kenneth Ives (Toba) deserves the most attention here, due to the difference in portrayal that both undertake. Allen takes Rago to a logical conclusion of a cold, calculating leader who is also mindful of killing due to the waist of energy, yet Ives takes Toba into the realms of pantomime villain in some moments of the story, instead of showing us a psychotic man who is determined to gain leadership and power at all cost. He could almost have a crowd in front of him shouting “Behind You!”. This is probably not helped by the Quarks either and the strange voices they chose to use for them.
Of all the season openers for the Second Doctor, “The Dominators” is easily the weakest of the three. It suffers greatly from being a story that struggles to hold onto the viewer over the full 5 episodes. If they had limited this to 4 episodes, it could have been (with it’s ideas) a great opener but, with padding in both story and costume, it can only get a 5/10 from me.
Written and edited by Alexander James Wilkinson