Doctor Who Reviews: The Dominators

Following on from the announcement of less than stellar DVD choices for 2010 - guess what? More clunkers were announced, including two Cybermen duds and The Dominators, the story that kicked off Season Six in mediocre style. The key problem with The Dominators is that it doesn’t really sum up the ethos of the Troughton years at all.

Scary monsters? Well, there are monsters, but they look like a set of galumphing mobile toy bricks. The Quarks admittedly have devastating firepower - there’s a cool moment in the first episode when snotty blonde student Tolata ripples and disintegrates like molten wax after being hit by a Quark. Even the other deaths work quite well, although the pouring smoke from the victims looks like the early Cybermen weapons. The Quarks though, look rather silly, and it’s hard to take them seriously, especially since they have the voices of a cutesy kids cartoon character.

Base under siege? Season Six admittedly breaks the mould with the tried and tested formula, which makes for a nice change of pace. Stories such as The Mind Robber, The Invasion and The War Games are more expansive in scope, and even The Dominators doesn’t really feature an enclosed environment, since the action is set all over the planet of Dulkis (a planet that really lives up to its name - The Dominators really puts the Dull into Dulkis). Both Cully and Zoe and then The Doctor and Jamie travel in nifty travel capsules to see Cully’s boring old dad and his equally boring group of friends.

Right-on Sixties message? The likes of The Macra Terror and The Ice Warriors had cool hippy messages about thinking for yourself and not following the crowd. Well, The Dominators has none of that. By contrast, it’s a rather reactionary rant against how people should stand up to bullies. It’s the whole Thal problem all over again - The anti-pacifism message of The Daleks came on quite strong, but compared to The Dominators, it’s a barely audible whisper.

OK, so the message in a way makes sense. If someone’s giving you a hard time for whatever reason, the last thing you’re going to do is simply give in meekly and accept it. The problem with The Dominators though is that not only is the message so heavy-handed, it’s also conveyed in a really boring way. The whole plot of The Dominators can be read as: Two bullies invade Dulkis and give a load of grief to a bunch of hapless wallflowers. Doctor defeats them. End of. Not exactly the most stimulating of plots, and to make matters worse, the Dominators themselves wouldn’t exactly give Gripper Stebson a run for his money in the nasty bully stakes.

Basically, the two Dominators aren’t much cop. Rago and Toba, as they like to be called, stomp around looking like a cross between The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ross from Friends when he dressed up as The Holiday Armadillo. It’s hard to take these Dominators seriously, with their silly dress and their OTT eyeshadow. If someone like that came up to you in real life, it’d be hard not to laugh out loud in their face.

That’s about the only laughs they’d ever encounter though. Rago and Toba don’t smile much. In fact, they look like they’ve never laughed in their entire lives. Both possess the look of two undertakers who have just been subjected to a 24-hour repeat marathon of Mrs Brown's Boys. Although this may be because they’re too busy arguing amongst themselves. Toba, in particular, always seems to be on the receiving end of Rago’s angry temper - simply because he’s never given a chance to prove his worth. You could almost say that Toba serves no function whatsoever but to act as Rago’s gimp. Rago’s in charge. Rago gives the orders. Rago rules. Toba, instead, seems only good for making the tea.

Poor old Kenneth Ives (Toba) and Ronald Allen (Rago) get a raw deal here - they do their level best under difficult circumstances, but in the end, both Dominators lack credibility, as a result of poor scripting, bad costume choice and non-stop bickering. Mind you, the same could be said for all of the characters.

In a bid to look just as silly, the Dulcians glide around in togas and tutus, as if it's national Up Pompeii day. Cully aside, none of the Dulcians are a bunch of spineless goons. Likewise, Senex and his mumbling group of buddies are such a bunch of useless old bores, that it’s almost gratifying when Rago and a Quark barge in.

It’s left to the three regulars to at least provide some form of entertainment. Troughton, being Troughton could read a decade’s worth of telephone directories and make them sound interesting, but in The Dominators, he’s on fire. Whether he’s goofing around in the travel capsule or playing dumb in a bid to fool the Dominators, Troughton is on top form in this story. And so are both Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury. Hines makes a great comic double act with Troughton, especially when they are trying out the tests on the Dominators’ ship. Padbury too, makes a good first impression - it’s refreshing to see her give as good as she gets when it comes to making an escape plan from the Dominators, and she also makes an unlikely but amusing double act with Cully.

Otherwise, there’s very little to recommend The Dominators. Morris Barry’s direction is lacklustre and uninspiring. The location work is unremarkable, and it’s blatantly obvious that The Doctor is played by Troughton’s stunt double.

Whilst not quite the worst example of Season Six, The Dominators is still a rather duff way to kick off proceedings. Heavy-handed morals and laughable monsters never mesh; throw in a boring plot to boot, and you’ve got a recipe for insomnia.

* Make a Quark, sorry, quick visit to Amazon where my Doctor Who ebook guides are now on sale!