Doctor Who: The Dominators (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros freely admit to meeting the odd Dominator or two in their time...
The Doctor never has been any good at picking a relaxing spot for a holiday, and once again he lands himself and his companions in the middle of a war-torn hot-spot rather than one of the sun-drenched variety.
The planet Dulkis was once a peaceful planet, where war had been phased out in favour of an idyllic existence, and our man from Gallifrey had spent a lovely vacation in the past. Unfortunately, the TARDIS is not the only spacecraft to touch down at that moment, bringing the warlike Dominators to the happy little world. With the aid of their robotic soldiers, the Quarks, they intend to turn the planet into a huge ball of raw, radioactive matter to fuel their mighty fleet of star fighters. It’s up to the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe to stop them exploding a bomb in the planet’s core and send the Dominators packing.
As seasoned fans of Doctor Who, and particularly of Mr Troughton, it pains us to say that the above reads as the variables for another adventure which adheres to the tried and trusted format yet again. Get this: The TARDIS materialises in to the middle of a war. The group is split up, with one party captured. The free characters attempt to ally themselves with the good-guys. Said free characters are promptly imprisoned, and eventually the repressed rise up to smash the baddies. Then they all went home for tea. OK, we lied about the last bit, but it definitely sticks to the formula which started putting some people off when it first went out.
It almost seems pointless to go into detail about the secondary characters, as they are all ciphers for maintaining that the Dulcians are timid and oppressed, whilst the Dominators are a bunch of bastards who have no compunction about destroying a world and its people in the quest for advancing their military status in the galaxy.
Even one of the variables might seem familiar to an audience raised on Nu-Who, as the rather ingenious plot of an enterprising—though morally bankrupt—alien race turning a peaceful planet go atomic so as to harvest it for star-fuel has been done since. The Slitheen tired the same thing to fuel galactic cruise liners, whereas the Dominators seek to use the material for military application. Even still, the Dominators managed to go about things without a surplus of farts, but with the lacklustre writing and surfeit of plot incident, both alien races leave a bad smell under the nose.
There are some who would argue that there really isn't much justice in the world. The wiping of videotapes and the junking of film prints (not to mention the subsequent returns of prints) of Doctor Who had little or no pattern. Good stories and bad were junked, but the Troughton era suffered the most, with only five stories existing in their entirety. Four of these were from Troughton's final series (season six), and—certainly in our opinion—two of the ones that survived ( The Krotons and The Dominators) don't exactly fall into the category of ‘classic’. It's a crying shame that some second-rate Doctor Who titles survive in their entirety, whilst others (like Fury From the Deep) are missing completely.
The Dominators kicked-off the sixth season of Doctor Who, which saw plucky young astrophysicist Zoe Herriot become a full-time member of the TARDIS crew. There are many who view the Second Doctor-Jamie-Zoe triumvirate as being the quintessential Doctor-and-two-companions grouping. Patrick Troughton's impish, but fiercely intelligent Doctor played wonderfully well against Fraser Hines' earnest (and occasionally flippant) Jamie and Wendy Padbury's capable, logical and periodically terrified Zoe. We make no secret that Victoria got on our tits, with that annoying whinging catapulting the woman to the top of the ‘reasons to hate’ list, but the induction of her smart, computer-literate replacement was just what Troughton’s time on the show needed. The fact that all three of them (both on-screen and off) had an impish side to their personalities is what made the chemistry so undeniable, and really filtered through to the viewers.
Writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were asked to come up with a robotic adversary with the same sort of appeal as the Daleks (at the time, creator Terry Nation was currently shopping the Daleks around in the US in order to get their own TV series); Haisman and Lincoln were no strangers to creating popular monsters in Doctor Who, as they were responsible for creating the Yeti for the show. The end result of putting their thinking caps on was the Quarks—short, squat robots with almost child-like voices and weapons that appeared from their chests in the forms of arms. Whilst creating them, Haisman and Lincoln had merchandising possibilities on their mind, as the Beeb was still trying to come up with a Doctor Who monster that could be as money-spinning in merchandising terms as Nation's barking pepper-pots.
The production of The Dominators was a troubled one—it was originally conceived as a six-part story, but after episode five was delivered, it was decided to pare it down to five parts and transfer the surplus episode to the subsequent story ( The Mind Robber). Producer Derrick Sherwin and writer Terrance Dicks rewrote episode four and squeezed the events of parts five and six into one episode. This was too much for the writers to take and they subsequently asked that their names be removed from the project, being replaced by their requested pseudonym Norman Ashby.
Haisman and Lincoln also wanted to move Doctor Who into more Star Trek-like storytelling where the science-fiction nature of the show would allow the writer to explore socio-political matters in a manner that would work on more than one level—the kids would lap up the action/adventure and monsters, whereas older viewers would find the subtexts in the stories interesting. It was a bold move—one that would be fairly commonplace in Doctor Who (one of the most blatant socio-political satires would be Jon Pertwee's The Monster of Peladon), but their idea was ahead of its time and Haisman and Lincoln's refusal to tone down the satire was one of the reasons why much of it was rewritten without their consent or approval.
Things eventually got worse, as a legal dispute ensued over the ownership of the Quarks—relating to merchandising, ironically enough—with Haisman and Lincoln threatening to get an injunction in place to prevent the transmission of The Dominators. Fortunately, a deal was made that was acceptable to both parties and episode one of serial TT was broadcast on 10th August 1968.
The Dominators themselves looks pretty silly, but at least they're menacingly silly. The outfits they wear give them an unfortunate disadvantage when in battle, as their hunchback-like uniforms mean that their field of vision is compromised and just doing little things like glancing back to see if there are enemies behind is much harder for them than many other humanoids. The silly costume faux-pas is compensated by their sheer nastiness, as they take great delight in man-handling and kicking around the peace-loving Dulcians.
Then there is the design of the Quarks themselves—they certainly fall into the category of ‘cute’, despite the sharp-looking points on their heads and the guns. Looking like a forerunner of the Gonk-Droids in Star Wars, the Quarks' main design weakness is that if you knocked one of them over, they would find it very difficult to get back up—the end result being very similar to tipping over a cow. The voices of the Quarks are fairly silly and not in the least bit imposing, but they're not as bad as the voices given to the Cybermen in The Invasion, who all sound like a bunch of Northerners—it's pretty easy to conjure up a vivid mental image of Mondas' former inhabitants wearing flat-caps and walking whippets on leads.
Whilst this story is flawed and dragged-out, feeling more like a six-parter than a five, there is still much to enjoy, particularly with this being the first story in the Troughton era to have Zoe on-board as a companion, thus completing what many would consider the ultimate Doctor-and-two-companions triumvirate.
Who says that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? When The Dominators was released on video back in 1990 it was arguably the poorest-looking out of all the surviving Troughton serials, not to mention the certain edits made because of previous censorings. The restoration work carried out by that diligent bunch of guys at the Doctor Who Restoration Team website is nothing short of miraculous. We have a friend who is absolutely obsessed with Troughton and we showed him some of this copy of The Dominators and he had to practically pick his jaw up off the floor when he saw how much of a drastic improvement this DVD release was over the VHS copy.
The first thing that hits you is just how much extra detail is revealed—there are many subtle things that keep popping up. The levels of contrast (essential when watching anything in black and white) are pretty damn impressive, and once the thing had been VIDfired, the result is that most of the episodes (apart from episode one, which doesn't quite have the level of clarity and sharpness of the others) are probably pretty close to looking how they were when originally broadcast—though the sole surviving episode of Troughton's Enemy of the Word takes that particular crown.
We should point out that this version of The Dominators is the unexpurgated one, as the video release was censored (the material was essentially excised from episode four), but has been restored here, presenting you with more Quark violence, and the opportunity to see Brian Cant meet his maker in a manner that rivals his dramatic demise at the hands (or should that be suckers?) of the Daleks during the Hartnell era.
Some purists will complain that the restoration work carried out shows that Troughton had a stand-in for some of his location work, but this is a small price to pay for such wonderful work.
The soundtrack has been cleaned up as much as possible for this release, with the dialogue sounding as clear as it possibly can considering the archive nature of the source material. The end result sounds clean and clear, with dialogue easily discernable. A very good effort.
Audio Commentary: Rejoice! Fraser Hines and Wendy Padbury are together once again to take a light-hearted look at one of the shows from their era. It's always great to hear them, as they still have great affection for each other, and for the show itself. Though they may gently rib certain aspects of Doctor Who, they never take the sort of pot-shots (or broadsides) that a commentary track with Peter Davison and Janet Fielding might. Padbury also injects a degree of seriousness to the proceedings by mentioning how see was treated decidedly in a less-than hospitable manner by director Morris Barry as she was the new girl on the set. Joining Fraser and Padders are fellow actors Giles Block and Arthur Cox, along with make-up artist Sylvia James, who all chip in with their own anecdotes, but fans will want to savour Hines and Pabury in one of the last commentary tracks to have them on it.
Recharge and Equalise: This look at the making of The Dominators is interesting in that although it features the participation of many of the guest cast, along with regular Fraser Hines, it is notable for the absence of Wendy Padbury and children's TV legend Brian Cant. It's fairly entertaining, with some interesting anecdotes and the odd amusing titbit about the making of this particular serial. What is interesting is that writer Mervyn Haisman gets to talk about his experience with the production, going some way toward setting the record straight about what occurred that resulted in him and fellow scribe Henry Lincoln leaving Doctor Who for good.
Tomorrow's Times—The Second Doctor: With the dwindling amount of TV and film material available to use as supplementary features on Doctor Who releases, Tomorrow's Times is an ingenious way to produce a featurette for each Doctor using press cuttings in a manner that is entertaining and informative. The idea is to have a Doctor Who-related cast member (one who is unrelated to the era being highlighted) present a Points of View-style show that gives a flavour of how the press regarded each Doctor's tenure on the show. Here, Third Doctor actress Caroline John (who played too-smart-for-the-show Liz Shaw) presents a series of views from several television critics who watched the show during the Troughton years. John reveals that press interest in the show had slumped so badly by the time that Hartnell left that his departure and Troughton's arrival was barely covered by the newspapers. This is absolutely wonderful stuff, presenting fans not around in that era with a pretty evenly balanced look at how the press viewed the show—we'll be looking forward to seeing more of these in time, especially ones for the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras.
Production Subtitles: As always, Doctor Who DVD releases can be relied upon to have an extensive and exhaustive set of subtitles that provide vast quantities of information about the production of the story they accompany. It's great stuff as always. We read recently that these are largely handled by Restoration Team member Richard Bignell—if you're ever on either Sheppey or the Isle of Wight, we'll buy you a beer!
Photo Gallery: This presents you with numerous images from The Dominators, all set to sound effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Coming Soon: August's box-set containing Tom Baker's Revenge of the Cybermen and Sylvester McCoy's Silver Nemesis is trailered here. Sure, a lot of people scoff at some of the fanciful (though under-funded) antics of the seventh Doctor’s story; it’s a damn sight better than all that arsing around in caves and poor CSO work.
PDF Materials: As always, the Radio Times listing are presented here for your delectation.
Easter Egg: We won't spoil the surprise, but what is included on here is another skit from a certain apparel-based theatrical company. It's funny stuff, and the punch line really pushes the limit of the PG certificate this disc was awarded...
The Dominators was something that was an interesting idea, but just seemed to fall flat. The idea of showing up the well-intentioned, peace-loving hippies was quite a radical thing to do (though the Summer of Love had been nearly a full year before The Dominators was broadcast and the whole hippie ideology was already on the way out), it just seemed to say that you have to abandon your pacifist ideals and fight back against aggressors.
Patrick Troughton, Fraser Hines and Wendy Padbury are all wonderful and their chemistry does much to paper over some of the flaws in the rest of the production—even somewhat duff Troughton stories are to be cherished.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 12th July 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Recharge & Equalise featurette, Tomorrow's Times: The Second Doctor featurette, Photo Gallery, Production Subtitle notes, Coming Soon trailer, Radio Times Listings (PDF)
Easter Egg: No
Director: Morris Barry
Cast: Patrick Troughton, Fraser Hines, Wendy Padbury, Brian Cunt
Length: 125 minutes
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