Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Serial 44: The Dominators

Doctor: Patrick Troughton (2nd Doctor)
Companions: Jamie, Zoe

Written by: Norman Ashby (aka Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln)
Directed by: Morris Barry

Editor's Note: Hello, gentle faithfuls! It's Matt here introducing another round of Cassandra, here to this time talk about "The Dominators", and by "introducing" I mean apologizing profusely (I didn't know it would suck this bad when I gave it to her. I'M SORRY). But she's back and again she has a story that is... not strong. Le sigh. But all is well! She will have some good stuff in the future. That is a guarantee! I'll be back next week with some fun goodness but for now let's see if Cassandra can find anything redeeming in "The Dominators."

Background & Significance: It all comes down to merchandising.

Season Six is a really interesting season of Doctor Who, one that is at the same time both incredibly rocky and incredibly important. I say rocky, because in comparison to the previous season (which, barring "The Wheel in Space," is pretty phenomenal story quality wise across the board), it's fairly up and down. To go from a story like "The Dominators" to one like "The Mind Robber" (which we haven't talked about yet, but we will, and it'll be fantastic) just shows you what I mean. It reminds me a lot of this past season of Nu-Who (also a season six, hmmm), with the massive fluctuations in quality episode to episode. But I digress.

The people behind Doctor Who at this time (then-producer Peter Bryant specifically) were always looking for a new monster to take the world by storm in the way that the Daleks had. Upon their introduction in Season Four, the Cybermen proved to be serious contenders for another "Dalekmania"; likewise, Season Five introduced a lot of other cool monsters, including the Yeti and the Ice Warriors. But they all never quite reached the popularity of their fellow aliens from Skaro.

Following the relative success and great fan reception of the Yeti in the previous season, Peter Bryant approached the creators, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, to come up with a new monster that would be potentially as marketable as the Daleks. What they came up with are the Quarks, and "The Dominators" would be their introductory story.

Needless to say, since you've probably never heard of quarks outside of physics class the creepy little robots never showed up again, "The Dominators" is a pretty terrible story, and the Quarks' attempt at dethroning the Daleks in the toy department failed hardcore. But that's what you get when you put merchandising ahead of storytelling.

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1

At least this one exists. 

We’ve been watching a lot of recons lately, and recons always tend to bum me out, because it takes a lot more for me to concentrate on listening to something than it does to watch it. So I’m grateful for this existing.

But I’m actually a little mad that this story exists as opposed to something like, say, “The Enemy of the World” (which was really great). Ah well. C’est la.

This first part is honestly better than I remember it being.  It’s hard to muck up first parts, and this one’s pretty good.  There’s a nice balance between establishing the Dominators and the society/people of Dulcian.  The Doctor and crew show up without too much time passing, and it’s a pretty decent time.

I have to reiterate how much I love this TARDIS team.  Jamie is great as always, and Zoe’s a good match for him, I think. They feel like a brother and sister pair to me, even this early on, and I love that dynamic.  It’s kinda a shame that this is Zoe’s first full story as an official companion, though.  That’s okay, because the next serial will make up for it.

Troughton is good in this too.  That’s what I love about Troughton, he always tries to bring it in some way or another, even if the script is shit.  That’s the mark of a good actor, my friends.  And I love me some Patrick Troughton.

I feel like this blog is going to be incredibly short, because it’s only the first part and already I’m running out of things to say.

The direction on this is pretty good so far, I think. It’s directed by Morris Barry, who also directed “Tomb of the Cybermen” which is a fantastic Doctor Who serial on all accounts.  He does a good job trying to pump up the material, and I really like some of the shots and angles in this first part.

Not a huge fan of the production design.  We’re very obviously in a quarry (again), and I don’t really think there’s much of an effort made to disguise that fact.  The Dominators’ costume design is incredibly silly (shoulder pads, anyone?), and the same goes for the Dulcians, who are dressed like they are at a perpetual toga party.  Perhaps this stems from the Latin-influenced names of the characters and planet, or the fact that they’re non-violent and almost utopic, which is reminiscent of Plato and his Republic?  I have no idea, I’m just bullshitting at this point. 

The fact that the Dulcians are a nonviolent, exceedingly peaceful people are brought up and hammered home repeatedly in this first part.  Part of the premise behind “The Dominators”, actually, is that it’s intended to be satirical of the hippie movement (we’re in the 60s, remember).  So you have the Dulcians, who are incredibly peaceful and focus on education and everyone seems pretty gentle and have this airy quality to them, especially the girl student on the island that Jamie probably has the hots for.  And then, in contrast, you have the warlike Dominators, who are all about destruction and blowing shit up.  It’s odd, though, that in a story intending to satirize and make fun of and disagree with the hippie movement, that you don’t make the Dulcians the bad guys. 

Which leads me to the Quarks.

I kinda like how they keep the reveal of the Quarks to the very end, at least, what they look like.  The Dominators repeatedly use them to do their bidding throughout the episode, but we only see them in the context of their viewscreens, much like with the introduction of the Daleks.  Which makes sense, since they were intended to replace the Daleks, in a way.  

Their design is okay, I guess?  It’s a little weird, and it’s really obvious that they were designed with toys in mind.  The voice, however, is really unfortunate.  I can barely understand what they’re saying, which is a problem, since the cliffhanger of this episode is built around the little buggers and the threat that they pose to the Doctor and Jamie.  But they get points for effort, I suppose. 

Part 2

Yeah, this is about where my patience wears thin with this story.  But Cassandra, we’re only in episode two! Yep.

There’s not a whole lot to talk about.  This was originally supposed to be six parts, but due to the quality of the scripts that the writers were churning out, script editor Derrick Sherwin decided to cut it short, and use the extra episode as a prologue to the next serial.  So this part has quite a lot of runaround, more than I think it would have normally if this story started out as four or five parts long.

I’m also pretty sick of this society and their stupid hang ups about exploration and curiosity or whatever.  Obviously this is supposed to be a dig on the ultra-pacifism that this society practices, but come on.  It’s just ridiculous at this point, and I’m tired of it.  We get that you think the hippies are stupid, let’s move on, shall we?

But no, apparently we can’t.  And so Cully, the guy who is different from everyone else, gets ragged on for being correct and adventurous and not content to sit around in his own pacifist hippie ignorance.  Which is also tiring, because it just keeps. happening.  And I’m really over it.  Especially because it happens so much in this episode.  We get that he’s random and different.  He’s like the boy who cried wolf, and no one believes him or his wacky antics.  Only this story isn’t a lesson in crying wolf and why it’s bad and whatever, so I don’t understand why we have to keep coming back to it.  It’s just a case of telling versus showing, and it’s not really working that great, to be honest.  It’s just annoying.

One thing I do like about this episode is Troughton and Jamie (surprise, surprise).  I just really enjoy watching them because they are so wonderful and make me feel better about this, if only a little bit.  I like when Troughton’s acting stupid for the Dominators to kinda throw them off about the true nature of him and Jamie.  And I enjoy their good-natured ribbing, it’s always fun.

I think that’s what I enjoy the most about the Second Doctor’s relationship with his companions, and Troughton’s take on the character as opposed to Hartnell’s.  While Hartnell was very literally portraying the grumpy but good-hearted grandfather, Troughton’s take (and I’ve heard this in several other places as well) is more of a mischievous uncle, and I really adore that about his Doctor, and the layer that adds to the character.

Part 3

Damn, that one Dominator loves blowing shit up.

To be fair, if I had the power of the Quarks with their shooty lasers at my disposal, I’d probably like blowing shit up too.  But he is being pretty wasteful, as his superior keeps pointing out.

I don’t think anything happened in this part.  A few of the Dulcians are persuaded to fight, but they don’t do anything, really.  It’s Jamie who fires on the Quarks at the end, after all, not Cully like they’d planned.  

And the old council members in the capitol are even worse.  It’s ludicrous how they just sit around and chat about what to do.  At least one of them has the common sense to say that there are 3 options open to them: fight, flee, or submit.  But somehow, the council finds a fourth option in sitting around and waiting some more.  I do get that it’s part of the satire, but man.  It’s kind of ridiculous and very heavy-handed.  I prefer my satire more subtle, or at least more clever.  Please and thank you.

There’s also a huge emphasis on the “robots,” aka the Quarks.  No doubt this is because they were trying to sell the audience on the fact that they were cool and awesome.  It’s just… if they wanted so much attention on the Quarks, why didn’t they make the Quarks the villains instead of just the robots that worked for the villains?  Why just cut out the middle man of the Dominators, and have the Quarks looking to take over everything?  I guess it would be too much like the Daleks and the Mechanoids, but since they were looking to mimic the Daleks (or, more aptly, their success), I don’t see why they didn’t just go ahead and do that.   Maybe they didn’t want Terry Nation to sue their asses.  Who knows.

I hate how this story is just a huge marketing ploy and it’s so boring and not as quality as it could be.  It reminds me a lot of Return of the Jedi, and the emphasis on the Ewoks and how they were so cute and cuddly, and oh, wouldn’t they make the sweetest toys.  This is basically George Lucas Star Wars tactics 11 years before it even occurred to George Lucas.  I mean, I know Doctor Who tends to be ahead of its time a lot, but this too?  Come on.

This story is really awkward and feels wrong to me because of the stance that the Doctor and his Companions are forced to take, that of a violent, fighty stance.  It really reminds me of “The Daleks” and how the Doctor and his companions then were trying to goad the Thals into fighting against the last of the Daleks.  The same basic thing is happening here.  We have a peaceful people who need to rise up against their oppressors (who happen to have Dalek-like robots), and it’s the Doctor and those traveling with him that are the impetus for this fighting.  

The thing about “The Dominators” versus “The Daleks” is that this stance feels so forced and uncomfortable at this time in the show’s history.  Maybe it’s just me throwing my personal feelings on top of it, but it makes sense to have the more violent stance at the beginning of the show, because we’re just beginning to explore and understand the Doctor’s character.  He hasn’t been fleshed out yet.  But six years and a regeneration later, and we’re taking the same stance in what is basically the same story?  That ignores a ton of character growth that the Doctor’s experienced.  And the Doctor, while he’s made it his personal goal to be the champion against the evil forces in the universe, tends to use the least violent means at his disposal.  At least, that’s how I interpret it.  

So I get the sociopolitical relevance of having a story like this, but I think it’s out of place as a Doctor Who story.  Or, at least, it’s very poorly executed.  Perhaps if they were focusing more on the story instead of how the Quarks would serve the franchise, it’d be better.

Part 4

It’s always unfortunate when a story is so uneventfully boring that you just slip into a state of apathy about it.  At least if it were ungodly awful, I’d be upset and riled up and have more things to say, but that’s not the case with this.

Frankly, it’s subpar and middle-of-the-road mediocre, which, fun fact, is the least exciting story in the world to talk about.  There aren’t a lot of things that are astonishingly bad about it, nor are there a lot of good things.  But I shall try.

One thing that I’m noticing that is present in a lot of Doctor Who stories is the recurrence of the upstart youngin’ or whoever alien that’s intent on gaining power and overthrowing or at least challenging his superior.  The example of this that I always think about is in “The Silurians,” and the young Silurian who stages a coups and when he wins, he looks directly at the camera and goes “I am the leader now.”  Hilarious.

The same thing happens here, only less entertaining.  It’s a passable attempt at adding some tension to the story, and it does work on some level, but it’s not the greatest.  I wish it were (un)intentionally hilarious like the Silurians, though.  That would make this a bit more fun for me.

Jamie and Cully’s adventures and shenanigans in this episode are pretty fun, though, once they get out of the bomb shelter (yet another attempt to add some stakes and tension, let’s cut off all the air vents and suffocate them).  I’m always down for people throwing rocks at robots.  Again, very reminiscent of “The Daleks” in that people are throwing rocks at robots, and that it actually works.  So funny.

I’m also fairly sure that we see Frasier Hines’ naughty bits in this, too, which makes me laugh.  There’s a scene where Jamie’s running downhill towards the camera and his kilt is going a little too all over the place, if you get my drift.  I wonder if the director/camera person realized the unfortunate angle whilst shooting the scene.

Also fairly hilarious is the part where the Dominator shows up in the capitol and just pimps into the council chamber.  Very direct, these Dominators.  You want more slaves?  Go directly to the leader.  None of this capturing random people where you can find them shit.

Though it is sad that the only councilman with any common sense in him got killed.  Maybe this will spur the Dulcians into action finally?  I certainly hope so, because there’s only one part left.

Oh yeah, and that old guy on the island died.

Part 5
Woohoo! Last part!  And things happen! Oh, happy day!

I’m sorry for my snark, but I cannot take this serial seriously.  In fact, the first time I watched it, it ended up being on in the background while I laughed hysterically at gifs of animals being dicks.  So this time, when I actually had to pay attention to it, I didn’t really get much else out of it.  Which isn’t good.  

Though I did just notice that the main Dominator is totally wearing guyliner, and it kind of amuses me.

The similarities between this story and “The Daleks” just keep coming.  It’s weird how Doctor Who writers wish to create scary monsters like the Daleks or the Quarks, and then they undercut them by having something ridiculous be done to them to disable or defeat them.  It’s weird and sends mixed messages as far as the effectiveness of your main villains goes, but I will say that watching Jamie wrestle a Quark armed with naught but bed sheets is pretty funny and entertaining.

Similarly is the tendancy of the second, upstart Dominator to want to just destroy things constantly.  It was intimidating at first, but after a few dozen times it just becomes ridiculous and a caricature.  Seriously, learn to take orders, you schmuck.

It’s unfortunate, because I don’t think this part is that bad.  It’s actually a lot of fun in places, but I haven’t cared about the Dominators’ plan since the beginning, so the fact that it’s foiled is only mildly satisfying.  I will say that I kinda love the Doctor in this episode, though.  What’s a surefire way of not being a hippie?  Being a terrorist and building bombs out of medical kits, of course!

Seriously, it’s absolutely hysterical to me how delighted the Doctor is to be building little bombs to take out the Quarks with.  Also hilarious is Jamie’s idea to stop the atomic seed device thing: dig a hole that meets up with the drill hole and catch it as they drop it into the earth.  Fucking.  Hilarious.

I don’t think the science behind the Dominators’ plan to irradiate the earth is accurate at all, but whatever, it’s the 60s, they can do what they want.

I will say this episode is cool because the Doctor gets to act like Walter White and build bombs out of chemistry, and we see the Sonic Screwdriver in action.  I’m not sure that this is the first mention of the Sonic Screwdriver, but it’s pretty great in that it’s not really used as a screwdriver, but more of a blowtorch.  For digging.

Not to mention the fact that the Doctor is even more of a terrorist by the end of this and plants the Dominators’ atomic weapon on their own ship. Is it just me, or did this story get fun out of nowhere?  I wish this had happened sooner, and we could have just cut out all the bullshit runaround stalling that was the capitol and the Dulcian society in general.  I’m all for world building, but this was not good or used effectively.

And then we end on some stock footage of volcanos and lava.  Seems fitting, for some reason.

Final Thoughts?: Man, this story is dull.

You'd think that for a grand scheme to try and upset the Daleks as the most popular Doctor Who monster ever, you'd give the Quarks a better story. But that's what comes from focusing on the merchandisability of something, instead of how well it works as a story.

I honestly don't have anything else to say about this story that I haven't said already. Troughton's great, as are Frasier Hines and Wendy Padbury, and they just gel so well as a team. The greatest, most fun parts of this story inevitably featured one of them, which isn't surprising.

Just a typical, dull, mediocre story without much imagination, and a lesson to all you merchandising types, if Star Wars hasn't been enough of one already.

Next Time!: 5th Doctor! Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan! Fascinating aliens! A shocking twist! More robots? A great space walk sequence! And a TON of dancing! (No, really. Lots and lots of dancing.) Matt's back next week with his review of "Four to Doomsday"!


  1. I hope you get a MUCH funner story next time, Cassandra... I always enjoy your reviews but I feel bad that you have to sit through drivel like this first :/

  2. Thank you! I think I have another couple of crappy ones coming up, but hopefully I'll get another round of good stories soon. Thanks again for your support and readership. =D

  3. Oh! I loved Dominators! I thought the set and costume design were brilliant (same for Ice Warriors) - especially the control systems on the shuttle so un-60's computers! The quarks, yes well.