Friday, April 4, 2014

"The Dominators"

Aired Aug 7 - Sept 10, 1968


5 Episodes

Story 44

Written by Norman Ashby

Directed by Morris Barry


Synopsis

The TARDIS materializes on the planet Dulkis, currently under threat from two alien Dominators, Rago and his subordinate Toba, who have landed their spaceship on a remote island.


Aided by their robotic servants the Quarks, as well as slave workers drawn from the native Dulcian population, the Dominators set about drilling holes into the crust through which they plan to fire rockets into the planet's molten core. Their intention is then to drop an atomic seed capsule into the resulting eruption, turning Dulkis into a radioactive mass; fuel for the Dominators' space fleet.

The Dulcian Councilors, being pacifists, refuse to retaliate. Cully, the rebellious son of their leader Senex, has already joined forces with the TARDIS crew. The Doctor eventually defeats the Dominators by intercepting the seed capsule as it is dropped and surreptitiously placing it on board their ship, which is then destroyed shortly after take off.

Dulkis suffers only a minor volcanic eruption, as a result of the rockets fired into its magma. The Doctor and his friends narrowly make it into the TARDIS as advancing lava flows towards them.

Analysis

The Dominators is a strong competitor for the worst Doctor Who story of the classic series. That's not because it's poorly written and directed, though it's certainly not going to win any awards in those categories. It's because it's totally ill-conceived at best, or mean-spirited at worst.

The cornerstone of this story is the conflict between aggression and pacifism, which was certainly a timely and resonant one to explore. But it takes such an ignorant and simplistically intolerant view of the pacifist side in its depiction of the Dulcian as a bunch of weak-willed and dull morons. The Dominators are more interesting, certainly, and the power play between Rago and Toba is supposed to generate some intrigue, but Toba is so blatantly defiant of Rago's orders that he seems to be too stupid and nakedly insubordinate to believably be selected for such an important mission. Combine this with their lack of charm and add how much time we spend with them and they quickly become tiresome.

Part of what makes this story so disappointing is that the central themes are very powerful and should have made a complex and intriguing foundation for an exciting adventure, but the execution of these ideas is shoddy and unpleasant. The name Norman Ashby is a pseudonym for Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, who previously wrote The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. Haisman and Lincoln had their names removed when the planned six-parter was deemed too short to fill its planned episode count and Derrick Sherwin hastily compressed the scripts into five parts. No one's efforts made the story any more enjoyable however. Even the regular cast seem uninspired, with all of them giving uncharacteristically sub-par performances.

Finally, we have the Quarks. Haisman and Lincoln clearly wanted to create a new robotic villain similar to the Daleks, but they miss entirely what makes the Daleks work. The Quarks have no personality whatsoever, being simple servants of the Dominators. Without a personality, there's nothing to latch onto. This can work if the creature is monstrous in appearance, such as the Yeti, but it's a flop when they look like blandly designed robots. The decision to have the be unintelligible half the time, as well as always nearly out of energy, does not a compelling baddie make.

In the final analysis, it's not fun at all. Even The Underwater Menace is at least bonkers enough to elicit some entertainment. This is just tedious.


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