Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Dominators written by Norman Ashby and directed by Morris Barry



This story in a nutshell: The cure for insomnia…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: Looks like the Doctor is exaggerating his holiday destinations again…he calls Dulkis a perfectly splendid place! Troughton could light up even the dreariest of stories and he truly has his work cut out for him with this story but I did smirk as he grabbed his deckchair, beach ball and fishing net as thought they were all going on holiday! He’s definitely not the Doctor of old, he cannot remember if he checked the radiation levels before leaving the TARDIS. He has intelligent eyes, apparently. I love the shots of the Doctor (not Troughton but they are shot in such a way that you might believe that it was) juggling the bomb and running in the last episode. After five long half hours of enforced inactivity it is great to finally get to see the Doctor doing something.

Who’s the Yahoos: A simple brain with signs of recent rapid learning. ‘Just act stupid Jamie, do you think you can manage that?’ says the Doctor trying to convince the Dominators that they are unintelligent enemies. The test that they are subjected to finally allows for some entertainment as Troughton and Hines get up to some monkey business pretending to be daft apeths arsing about with guns! There is a scene where Jamie leans his head gently on the Doctor’s in the travel capsule and I was struck by the relaxed intimacy between the two actors – this really is the ultimate Doctor Who bromance.

Brainy Beauty: Zoe is used to a sterile and event free life on the Wheel and landing on Dulkis she is confronted with corpses and explosions and it clearly shocks her. She lets out a few belters as the observation post is destroyed by a bunch of Quarks. Zoe tries to rouse her fellow Dulcian prisoners to riot and fight back but she’s wasting her time. As expected, Zoe is still rather prim and proper in this tale, the girl from the Wheel taking her first steps into the universe. It is only when she is confronted with the truly bizarre, illogical events of The Mind Robber that her character really starts to soften and adapt.

The Good Stuff: The have no idea what the Quarks are doing to those adventure seekers but my word it looks nasty - the effect makes it look as if the girl turns into a cardboard cut out and her face melts. Their method of dispatch is clearly much nastier than their appearance. Cully’s ship sure goes up in an impressive gout of flame. On the odd occasion The Dominators offers a really impressive visual like that (such as the tracking shot of the Doctor running with the bomb in episode five) which is highlighted against all the dreary point and shoot direction elsewhere. I really like the groovy screens inside the Dominator ship – when the only thing I can find to praise is the interior design of the most tedious alien race in the universe then a story is in serious trouble. I’m quite fond of the laser guns that blows great flaming holes in the walls. They remind me of similar weaponry seen in The Tomb of the Cybermen. One episode ends with some appalling direction as a set is junked in an explosion but it is the most exciting thing to have happened in an age so it deserves points for that. The sad truth is that the lava pouring towards the TARDIS at the end of story is just about the most attention grabbing moment in the story and that is only there to serve as a cliffhanger lead-in to The Mind Robber.

The Bad Stuff: I have absolutely no idea what is going on in the first few seconds of this story except it is a hastily chopped together mixture of poor video graphics and poor model work that gets the season off on precisely the wrong note. Can someone clear up for me if that is instrumental music when the Dominators emerge from their ship or just a discordant sound effect to announce their presence? Cully’s ship looks oddly like a thimble and not a very impressive one at that (can thimbles look impressive?). Was this story filmed at the end of the last season? That must be a reason that it all looks so cheap…the dreadful flat looking quarry backdrop outside the Dominator craft fails to convince on any level. Landing on an atomic testing island should make for the most gripping installment of the series to date but the first episode is so ponderous and unexciting. The Dulcians must be the most soporific race the Doctor has ever encountered, certainly the most relaxed in the face if potential domination and I could help but hope that the Dominators would attack far sooner and torture them horribly just so they would actually emote something other than apathy. After all that (for want of a better word) build up (well, a couple of odd POV shots) the Quarks are singularly unimpressive. Can you think of a duller design of robot than these stompy cuboid cuties with their clumpy feet and rectangular arms? How cheap is having the Troughton and Hines pretending to be stuck to the wall? Rago and Toba are the ultimate married couple in Doctor Who, snapping at each other the slightest issue and getting into more bitch fights than the average gay couple. There is a scene in episode four where they stare at each other discussing mutiny and such is their proximity and intensity I swear they were about to snog each others faces off. You would think it an impossibility to find a location more sleep inducing than the nuclear testing island but then we visit the capital of Dulkis and it’s a bunch of characterless officials debating dreary matters of state with yet more unpersuasive backdrops and some hideous (supposedly opulent  furniture. Cully wonders why he is treated like a child but his juvenile strops hardly encourage people to tackle him with any maturity. I get the impression that the part was supposed to be played by some young, gorgeous slip of a boy which would make the dialogue make a lot more sense (‘Why can’t I be treated as an individual and not as the son of the Director?) but coming from the mouth of the weighty, middle aged Arthur Cox the effect is rather jarring. I have to wonder if the idea was to make the Quarks look so inoffensive that people will simply dismiss them until they are close enough to face blast you to death. Surely the only explanation for these cuddly machines of death. The Quarks recharge by making a lot of noise and waving their arms about...but surely that would drain energy? Even the Quark voices are desperately cute, about as far from the ruthless robots the Dominators want you to think they are. They are precisely the sort of thing that BBC Worldwide would love to see making an appearance in the New Series now (probably on the side of the good guys though) because they are imminently marketable. The Dominators are masters of the ten galaxies…I bet those galaxies are bit embarrassed about that. I wonder of some of those also belong to Porridge from Nightmare of Silver - he owns thousands! It's one of the few stories when you are glad to see the native species subjugated and forced to commit torturous manual labour, just so they feel something. Can you believe the Dulcian council members are still lounging around debating the threat of the Dominators in episode three? I thought it took the Thals a long time to spring into action (the last story to examine the idea of pacifism as a way of life was The Daleks) but this bunch take inactivity to the point of indolent stupidity. If I were the Doctor I would grab Zoe and Jamie and high tail it back to the TARDIS and let them get wiped out. Frankly they don't deserve the Doctor to rescue their asses. Cully struggles with some polystyrene rocks lent to the production team by Star Trek (I jest). One Quark is blown up, his arms shooting off around the quarry and all that are left are his stumpy little legs. I felt quite sorry for him which possibly wasn't the effect the writers were aiming for. So many of the cliff-hangers follow the same pattern that it gets old very fast - the Quarks doing something vaguely unthreatening with a whacking great close up on Toba's smug face. Like all big bullies Toba is fine when things are going his own way and he can intimidate people but as soon as they start to fight back he proves to be a bit of a wimp, often losing himself in a panic attack. I love the Dulcian who says ‘You better make an appointment!’ after Rago storms into their council chamber with a Quark. You just know he is going to be first to whipped. Who thinks this shit up? ‘A Dominator must be obeyed!’ – I bet they all have small cocks, their names, attitude, even their dress sense suggests compensation for something. I cannot believe that they repeat the scene of Rago interrupting Toba about to hurt/kill/torture over and over and over and over…after a while you start to wonder if you have been caught in a Dominator timewarp and all the events are repeating themselves with no way out. The scene of the Doctor running with the bomb in the quarry is clearly not Patrick Troughton. The Dominator ship blows up in an unspectacular model explosion. Five episodes of build up…for that?

The Shallow Bit: What’s up with those huge Dominator shoulder pads? All the men walk around in dresses made out of curtains, which probably should spice things up more than it does. Kando is a welcome touch of beauty in drab looking story. When Zoe gets changed into Dulcian gear it looks like she is wearing silky underwear.Something for the guys at least.

Result: Can The Dominators really be so bad that the writers were justified in disowning it and the producer for lopping off one episode and giving it to the next story? In all honesty, yes and I can’t imagine being forced to sit through another episode of this muck. It's rare to find a Doctor Who story where both the alien menace and the native populace are this mundane and the episodes suffer interminably from some monotonous direction and a general lack of incident and character. Russell T Davies once said that in order for a Doctor Who story to work you need some kind of human connection and this story made up of entirely alien characters (except for Jamie who is from the past and Zoe who is from the future which means there is still some distance between them and the audience) almost seems to set out to prove him right. It's hard to give a flying fuck about the Dulcians because they are so laid back about the whole affair of being subjugated you have to wonder why the Doctor doesn't just hop back into the TARDIS and leave them all to their fate. The Dominators are equally drab, indulging in the same argument over and over again, stalling the plot with their constant bickering. You’ll never see Troughton and Hines working so hard to try and provide the entertainment that is lacking in the scripts and the fact that they manage to provoke a handful of moments that amuse is a testament to their skill given the obstacles they have to overcome. Morris Barry can deliver some dynamic results when he is commited to the story but it feels as though he has given up at this point (in the same way it felt that Chris Clough had come Silver Nemesis - a general feeling of apathy about the whole piece). This is one story that commits every sin you would might imagine sixties television is capable of; cheap sets, drab location work, static performances and a general feeling of greyness to the whole piece. In truth very little of black and white Doctor Who is anywhere near as bad as this - it's something of an anathema, certainly when compared to some of the other gems to come in season six (The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The War Games). The Dominators is a hugely embarrassing opener to a generally great season and easily the weakest second Doctor story: 1/10

3 comments:

Peakius Baragonius said...

Thank you for this lovely and well-deserved shredding of one of my four least favorite Doctor Who stories of all time, the others being "The Armageddon Factor", "The Twin Dilemma" (sorry Joe), and "Last of the Time Lords".

Joe Ford said...

Hahaha! I do know somebody who is a massive fan of The Dominators...but I'm not entirely sure if he is right in the head! I have a soft spot for Armageddon but as for Twin Dilemma - shoddy! But saved by some wonderful performances :-)

im903yearsold said...

To answer your question, The Dominators was filmed as part of the previous season, as was The Mind Robber.