The Dominators

Written by:
Norman Ashby (Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln)
Directed by: Morris Barry
Starring: Patrick Troughton
Year: 1968
Video Availability (NTSC Version): Try Amazon

I always think that if Doctor Who seasons were regarded by production blocks, then they'd be a lot less favoured. For example, the popular (but, in your heart, you know it's not really all that good) season five opener The Tomb of the Cybermen was actually made in the season four block. The same goes for The Dominators, the extremely badly made season six opener, that should have concluded season five. So, a season five that's Tombless and ends with eleven episodes of lacklustre SF instead of six? (The Wheel In Space) Would it still be a "classic" season then?

Anyway, The Dominators itself. The best way to watch it, for me, is to look at it as a loving homage to 30s Saturday Morning serials, or the B Movies of the 50s. That way, the appalling "flying saucer" effects that open this episode won't seem so painful. The stilted (I would say stylised, but style doesn't come into it) acting of the titular villains would be seen as post-modern. And the lousy acting of the Dulcians wouldn't make their reading of lines like "Refund? What am I saying, they haven't even paid me yet!" seem so inept.

It's nearly eight minutes in before we see The Mighty Trout and the Tardis crew. While his referencing of The Evil of the Daleks is a unique example of a repeat being tied into the show's continuity, the fact that you can see the back of the empty police box in only its first scene shows how the director just simply didn't give a shit. And TMT sits down without even offering Zoe a chair. Rude man!

The horrendous use of flat painted backdrops for the alien planet jars badly with the location footage used, and remind one of the Hartnell SF stories. I was advised to rewatch this one to see TMT's worst performance in the lead role. It's strange, but while you can sense he's bored with the feeble script, instead of phoning in his performance he overcompensates by going completely manic. Keep an ear cocked for how many times a hyped-up Trout nearly forgets his lines (And Zoe for that matter).

As a season opener then this is extremely disappointing. As there's only four more complete Patrick Troughton stories left to release on DVD then I wonder when this will see a release? Somehow I don't think many will be excited by its presence in a schedule, and even in 1968 this sort of stuff must have been hopelessly outdated and old-fashioned. Seen in 2003 and it's so naïve it's almost impossible to enjoy. The only decent bit is when Jamie interferes around the Doctor's bum and TMT irritably snaps "Jamie, don't do it!" The Quarks, kept over to the cliffhanger, were actually so crap that the viewing figures dropped the following week.
* *

The central concept of this one is actually quite appealing: how does a pacifist race defend itself against aggressors? However, it's not a question the story (or the entire series, come to that) has an answer for, and so sensibly the Yeti writers famously took their names off the credits. What kind of aliens call themselves "Dominators" anyway? Do they come from the same galaxy as the "Conquerons" and the "Kickyerheadinandcalltyermumaslagerons"? The Troughton years are almost arguably the least sophisticated years of Doctor Who, yet work exceptionally well despite - or maybe even because - of it. Yet this isn't such an example, with a kiddified version of science fiction concepts that even the kindergarten audience would have found tiresome. The Dominators, world-conquering race, are even so pig thick that they leave their enemies with a powerful, functioning gun.

Cully is supposed to be an archaic, young and impetuous member of the Dulcians. I mean, come on - he's got no bloody hair! He looks old enough to be your dad, and yet he's the young rebel of the group? What next, Thora Hird comes on in a Stanner Stairlift as the boisterous teenage daughter? (With all due respect to Dame Thora, who sadly passed away recently).

God, this is bloody dull. I'm not saying the acting is bad, but the best actor in it is the guy off Playaway. (Brian Cant, whose name has interesting connotations when said in a Cockney accent). This is just so relentlessly, unremittingly third-rate that the only thing left to do is remark on what a nice arse Zoe has.
* *

That dress isn't very flattering on Zoe, is it? Anyway, while all the acting (except for, just, TMT and Frazer) is universally crap, a special mention must go to Johnson Bayly and Felicity Gibson who bring new levels of woodenness to the series. It's also notable how stagy Wendy is, though it's only her second story, so cut her some slack. A nice arse can excuse a multitude of sins, and that IS a very nice arse. Ronald Allen went on to work on Crossroads, and after this probably thought it was a highly polished series.

This story is such a yawner that I can't even get worked up over it and produce any bile. I genuinely suffer from insomnia, but this cures it, no problem. Also, a correctional apology: I've said before that the only place the logical, clinical Zoe screams is in the illogical world of The Mind Robber. However, I was wrong, as her girly yelps at the start of this one testify. I make no excuse for it, this one is so unmemorable that none of it sticks in the mind, save for the callous ending - of which more later.

Cod psychosexual theories, intertextual referencing… none of them have a place in analysis of this story. It's all a series of stock SF clichés roped together in vague semblance of a narrative. Actually, this is Frazer's story all the way - TMT's boredom has to make way on this occasion for the only cast member who actually gives a toss. And as for Johnson Bayly - was he reading it off cue cards or what? Maybe he just had wind, senile old git.

You might note that I'm not really discussing plot elements or episode specifics in this review - what plot elements? What episode specifics? It's just the same elements, rejigged and banded around to fill five instalments. Someone argues with the council. Someone else gets captured and tested by the Dominators. The Quarks blow something up. And so on and on and on, ad infinitum. Thank God for Brian Cant, who turns up 16 minutes in. Play a way, way, way a way - Playaway!

One last remark for the "comedy" moment where TMT falls over, legs akimbo, in the shuttle. Desperately forced and desperately unfunny, though you do get to see Zoe's thighs and bare back, so I give this tedious piffle an extra half star:
* * ½

As I've said on many occasions I get no pleasure in being negative about the work of The Mighty Trout. But while I remembered this one as being weak and slow, it's really far, far worse than that. In fact, it lacks even the energy and fun that made his weaker tales - The Underwater Menace, The Krotons, The Space Pirates - enjoyable despite themselves. This makes the crime of being boring, something so very few Doctor Who stories are. Say what you like about dross like The Three Doctors, The Trial of a Time Lord or Battlefield - they were never dull, just utter garbage. And I had immense fun spouting vitriol and bitterness about them. But The Dominators has no such perverse pleasures, because as I watch it I actually begin to lose the will to live. I feel apologetic for not giving this one the good kicking it really, really deserves, but it's all I can do to stay conscious.

Why weren't the Quarks used again in the series, though? They're such good villains, aren't they? (Yes, I am being sarcastic - they're utter crap) When they fire they lean back and waggle their arms around as if in coital ecstasy - possibly an overlooked subtext? But why "Destroy! Destroy! Total destruction!" never became a catchphrase to rival the best of Bruce Forsythe's oeuvre is beyond me.

How do you reckon Morris Barry directed this one? Did he use all the technique and myriad stylistic touches of Kurosawa, do you think? Or perhaps he just said "say the lines, lads, I'm pissing off down the off licence for two cans of lager and a packet of woodbines." You decide.

Anyway, just for a change, an episode reprise opens with the Quarks destroying a building where a companion is hiding. The Dominators argue over the action. Again. To be fair, this is one of the few (only?) Doctor Who stories to possess the concept of continents on a planet. Well whoopee shit! If that's the only positive I can say about it then it says little, especially as the continent is called "The Island of Death." Presumably right next to the stream of a really bad headache and the valley of a kick in the knackers.

Actually, with one of the Dominators demanding that the other submit, you might be able to wangle a homosexual or sub/dom subtext out of this, but does anyone care enough to do it? The two Dominators have a heated debate that actually lasts for three-and-a-half minutes - that's nearly 15% of the episode given over to a single row. I haven't even begun to mention the services above and beyond the call of duty to polystyrene that this story presents. The countless scenes where someone is threatened to be crushed under the stuff they use in packing crates is almost too much for me to bear, a scarred memory that I've pushed to the back of my mind and will need counselling to recover from.

When a Dominator strides into the Dulcian chamber uttering threats, he is answered with "if you'd care to make an appointment…" You see? If this was better made (and it couldn't be much worse, right?) then it could have been a first-rate satire. (Albeit one that's ultimately from a right-wing point of view) As it is, "take that, ya wee tin kettle!" is the sort of thing that makes me contemplate suicide as an option.
* *

Episode five, and I thank the Lord that it's only around twenty-four minutes left to go. How many times have you seen The Dominators anyway? This is probably my fourth time, and I must confess the first time I saw it I thought it was mind-numbing tedium. The second and third I saw it as a charming curio. Well, obviously between watches 2-3 I'd undergone some kind of mental breakdown, hadn't I? Because this really is migraine inducing pap. When Jean Paul Satre wrote that Hell is other people, he clearly hadn't seen The Dominators.

The episode begins with, as uncanny as it may seem, the Dominators arguing with one another. Like Frontier in Space, The Dominators is a possible precursor to the movie Groundhog Day. Yet as world-devouring slayers, the Dominators really are the most inept tacticians ever seen, aren't they? Or is discussing your plans in front of the enemy really a good strategic move? Yes, yes, I know, it's supposed to show their arrogance and how they underestimate all their enemies, but this is really Scooby Doo territory, and crushingly unsophisticated. Just how much of this did the original writers actually draft, anyway? My guess is two lines.

There's so much to bitch about I almost haven't even got room for it all. Take the Dominators's costumes. The silly undergarments that look like one of those paper trees you used to make for primary school plays. And that's not to mention the baby romper suits they wear over the top. This one has them discussing the destruction of the planet while Jamie and the Doctor listen in, out of sight. Despite the fact that they hear it, and we hear it, we still get another scene where they explain exactly what we've just heard for the benefit of the secondary characters. In fact, the ultimate plot exposition scene - TMT patronisingly explains it in moronic terms while Padbury squeaks away like she's in a panto revue - is painful. Thank God for Frazer Hines, who desperately tries to put some pep into proceedings, laughingly saying his lines like a man poking an elderly, mucus-bedecked relative with a stick. After remarking on how he and Cully are getting good at destroying Quarks (possibly laughing because he falters on the line), he's met with Arthur Cox saying "yes, it certainly seems to stop them working" like a man reading a tax statement. It's a dull work party with everyone wanting to talk about accountancy. Frazer is the only fun person there, trying his utmost to at least get a decent soundtrack on the stereo. Sadly for him, everyone else is driving and can't drink, and has to be up early the next morning so must go to bed by nine. And speaking of soundtracks, that's a point - there isn't one, is there? If there was any stock music then I hadn't noticed it. Not that a few violins would improve it much - you can put a bow tie on a turd, you still wouldn't send it for a job interview at Harrods.

"Sounds as though they're having great fun" says the Doctor of Jamie and Cully. Yeah, it's a shame the rest of us aren't. We then get the return of the lazy writer's device, er, sorry, the Sonic Screwdriver, which can this time burn through solid walls, something even the Pertwee years wouldn't conjure up. TMT saves the day by hiding in a hole in the wall when the Dominators throw an atomic device down a tunnel... and catches it! This is actually an episode so inadequately directed that Morris Barry gives us a close-up on Troughton's location double.

The Dominators doesn't make many people's top tens, but I have it on good authority that George Bush loves it. In an incredibly abrupt ending he places the bomb on the Dominators' ship, destroying them. Okay, it's self-defence and there was no other way, but does he have to laugh and smile so much about it? Maybe some would prefer a story where there's no cheesy wrap-up and false goodbyes, but it does feel odd without one. Still, at least it's over, eh?.
* *

Frankly, it's crap.
* *