How do you tackle the weighty argument of pacifism versus aggression; a true 1960s ideology that – in a microcosm of society – played out with America’s unrest over the war in Vietnam?
Well, if you’re Doctor Who, you stick two men in comedy armadillo costumes, add some walking pizza ovens (with paddles sticking out the front and a spikey disco ball attached to the top), throw in a listless Roman orgy of extras from Up Pompeii and then argue the case throughout five over-stretched episodes with a neat sideline in Three Stooges action from the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe.
So, stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Richard Nixon! Right on!!
Okay, perhaps I’m being a little disingenuous. There’s a severe lack of stories in the archive for Patrick Troughton’s impish Second Doctor (due to the BBC reusing expensive video tape rather than storing their TV output) and a lot of hardcore fans complain that they’d rather swap this story for any other. In other words, set on the world of Dulkis, this story sounds like the word you’d use to describe the moment when you’re expecting bedroom action and all you get is a peck on the lips.
[pullquote align="right"]First of all, a little background. And there is little background in The Dominators. Just another deserted quarry and spares sets.[/pullquote]However, as with any hive mentality, the popular opinion of fans isn’t always the right one. It’s slow, yes. But, this is television that moves at a slow pace unlike the fast-paced direction of today’s epileptic frenzy of editing and ‘get-to-the-point’ plots of 45-minute episodes. Nothing much happens, yes. But, again, this is more about the argument being played out than an adherence to an action set-piece every 5 minutes.
I’ve raised this argument before, for ‘60s Doctor Who. It isn’t designed and made for viewing entire stories in one sitting. This is proper episodic television and should be treated as such. If you watch one episode a week (or every couple of days, if you’re impatient), then you’ll get a better appreciation. Stories back then weren’t expected to be viewed again and dissected and poured over in the same way that stories of today are. So, watching The Dominators in its entirety in one sitting isn’t a good idea.
But, what is The Dominators about? It’s about one episode short. Ahem. This is a story that has caused a lot of friction and bitterness behind the scenes, if the participants are to be believed. The two writers, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, had created the incredibly popular robotic Yeti who were controlled by The Great Intelligence – which came to light again in the Matt Smith era of the Eleventh Doctor. These featured in two stories, which are widely considered to be so-called ‘classics’ – The Abominable Snowman and The Web Of Fear. So, why is this story credited to a Mr. Norman Ashby? Well, apparently, Script Editor Derrick Sherwin decided that six episodes of this morality argument was too long a time and told his commissioned writing duo not to finish a sixth episode. Instead, he extensively re-wrote it and the now-final fifth episode to give the story an early conclusion. The non de plume was a mixture of Haisman and Lincoln’s grandparents’ names, as they wanted their names taken off the credits.
First of all, a little background. And there is little background in The Dominators. Just another deserted quarry and spares sets. The budgetary limitations of the series were perhaps in evidence with the lack of material used to dress the inhabitants of Dulkis and the creation of the boxy Quarks – who epically fail in their design and build as spectacularly as the Daleks brilliantly succeed. But, whilst Terry Nation was off trying to flog his copyright-created Daleks to Hollywood, the BBC was trying desperately to come up with a monster that would catch on just as well (another reason for the falling out between the writers of this story and the BBC was over copyright to who owned the Quarks – both parties assuming the Quarks would have the same financial and creative impact as the Daleks. It’s like fighting over the creative rights to market ‘Crime Traveller’ action figures).
Here’s my advice to anyone who travels with the Doctor: if he offers to take you on holiday, decline at once. Every time the Doctor suggests a holiday, he either ends up on a totally different planet or the planet he visits is nothing like he remembers. It’s like going to Thomas Cook and asking for an all-inclusive holiday in the Bahamas and being given self-catering in Bognor Regis. In this story, his companions Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) are given a holiday on the planet Dulkis. But, of course, when they arrive they are straight into some murderous action and running for their lives.
[pullquote align="right"]Here’s my advice to anyone who travels with the Doctor: if he offers to take you on holiday, decline at once. It’s like going to Thomas Cook and asking for an all-inclusive holiday in the Bahamas and being given self-catering in Bognor Regis.[/pullquote]In a nutshell, the Dominators of the title are two angry young men played by Ronald Allen (Rago) and Kenneth Ives (Toba). Their names of Rago and Toba sound like a curry you’d order when drunk and, to be fair, they act like they’ve got perpetual hangovers; all frowns, anger and impatience with each other. They land on the planet to suck it dry of its core, to use as rocket fuel for their ship. The inhabitants were once a war-mongering race who’ve long since turned to pacifism and live in a perpetual state of politeness. So, they are easy pickings for the robot Quarks, who are the lumbering machines brought along by the Dominators to do their dirty work.
From then on, the story is about the Doctor urging the population of Dulkis to fight for their right to party and trying to stop the Dominators from enforcing a curfew on the fun. This is done via lengthy chin-wags and meaningful metaphors, which don’t always engage the attention as much as they should if you watch it without an episodic break. However, if your mind begins to drift, you’re always brought back to the story by “The Three Stooges” (the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe), who entertain, amuse and engage in a variety of ways. The acting interplay between these three actors showcases how much they got on off the set, as well as on. They are definitely the best dynamic of the Troughton era and it seems a real shame that, when Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines returned for The Two Doctors (in Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor era), they didn’t bring Wendy Padbury along to enjoy the Spanish sunshine.
So, we get a sort of retread of the second Dalek story, where a bomb is planted at the planet’s core and the Doctor has a race against time to save it from exploding. Of course, he does this and – in his own bumbling yet sadistic way – blows up the Dominator’s spaceship instead, with Rago and Toba (and the Quarks) on board.
[pullquote align="right"]The direction of the story, by Morris Barry, is as impressive as his handling of The Tomb Of The Cybermen – with some fantastically framed shots and a keen eye for keeping the viewer interested instead of irritating them.[/pullquote]With operational weapons still in a Museum, to show how far they’ve come from the race they once were, you sort of wonder why a whole planet’s population couldn’t just nip in and grab something to finish off two Dominators and a few unsteady Quarks (who walk like toddlers, tottering along with the constant expectation of a nasty fall at any moment, and speak a little like them too – making lots of high-pitched noises that don’t make any sense), instead of allowing the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to inspire a couple of individuals to act on their own. But, the population have obviously been living in decadence for so long that they’ve become as inactive as the weapons they show off. As a generic argument pitching the passive society of the ‘60s against the aggressive society, it seems a little too exaggerated and forced but – as always with Doctor Who – it’s amazing these big issues of the day are shoehorned cleverly into what was thought of as a children’s show. This continued to happen, with similar overtness, right through the entire ‘classic series’ run and provides an engagement for adults if it does go over the heads of the younger ones.
The direction of the story, by Morris Barry, is as impressive as his handling of The Tomb Of The Cybermen – with some fantastically framed shots and a keen eye for keeping the viewer interested instead of irritating them. Often, a mediocre story can be enlivened by how it is presented and the way the actors interpret it. So, for those people who think it is an uninteresting story as it is, think how much worse it could have been without a decent Director behind it.
Barry Newbury makes the most of a tiny budget, with his recreations of the outdoor quarry locations and the aesthetic of the Dulkis interiors, and the soundscape of the story is unusual in the fact that it’s mostly provided by the Radiophonic Workshop (which provides atmospheric sounds rather than actual incidental music). This, in itself, lends it an air of individuality that somehow makes everything feel more alien.
So, if any story is worthy of a re-watch and re-evaluation, I really do think The Dominators is the one to try. It will never be described as a ‘classic’ but, then again, that term is appropriate only to a person’s taste – one person’s The Seeds Of Doom is another person’s The Seeds Of Death. If the only thing you need is a Patrick Troughton fix, then the Second Doctor’s impish yet impressive character is really firing on all cylinders here. Give it a go, let it dominate you, and I’ll give you a dull kiss afterwards for reassessing it.