Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Doctor Who: The Dominators

Serial Title: The Dominators
Series: 6
Episodes: 5
Doctor: Patrick Troughton
Companions: Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury)

Oh, heck. Knew we’d get to this one eventually. Have I already declared a Galaxy 4 for the Second Doctor? If not, this is it. Hang tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. The plus side for you, dear reader, is that a brief synopsis may not expose you to the true horrors of dullness on Dulkis, the planet of hippies. (Oh, and Troughton still has some great comic relief; unlike Galaxy 4, this serial at least has a few redeeming factors.)
On the aptly named world of Dulkis, a spacecraft belonging to the Dominators lands, and destroys a boring cruise ship full of uninteresting people, whose leader, Cully, survives. The fact that this was a ship of spoiled rich folk obscures the fact that we will soon discover: that this is an entire boring PLANET full of uninteresting people. The Dominators, Navigator Rago (The Leader) and Probationer Toba (The Upstart) arrive with their robotic servants, the Quarks (the would-be Dalek replacements now that Terry Nation took his ball to go play in America). SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t catch on.
The Doctor and co. land as well. The Doctor knows that Dulkis is peaceful (a polite silver-lining notation about the planet whose natives DO NOTHING EVER) and sets up for a nice holiday- before hearing the explosion of Cully’s craft. Investigating, they stumble upon an old war museum with functional weapons, the only remaining specimens on Dulkis. They meet Educator Balan and his students, Kando and Teel, all of whom are boring. They exposit that the island was a nuclear test site, and as soon as the enlightened Dulcians (Note from Sarah: Shouldn't it be the 'Dulkians'?:) set off the first nuclear bomb and saw its destruction they forswore all war forever (making this officially more of a fairy tale than the forthcoming serial featuring Rapunzel) and the island is irradiated (but they built a museum on it that no one could visit for some reason???) and the unshielded Doctor and co should be dying, but they’re not, because the Dominators vacuumed up all of the radiation for fuel (because radiation works like that). In fact, they only landed because they detected the radiation and thought the whole planet was like that. Idiots. (By which I mean the Dulcians. Because no matter what the Dominators may do stupidly, the Dulcians are simply dumber by default). This research station, built to monitor the radiation (that's the kind of place you’d take students, right? Into an irradiated outpost to monitor nuclear fallout? Okay, I’ve got to stop heckling or I’ll never make it past this paragraph...) detected the sudden loss of radiation, but dismissed it as an instrumentation failure. Idiots.
Cully stumbles in and warns everyone, and the Doctor and Jamie go to check things out, quickly captured aboard the Dominator ship. (Toba wants to kill them but Rago overrules him). They are believed to be average Dulcians, and tested for intelligence and suitability as slaves. The Doctor and Jamie imitate Dulcians (I.e. They act like not-particularly-bright children) and are dismissed as rubes- meanwhile, learning the Dominator plan. The Dominators plan to irradiate the mantle of the planet and then cause a massive volcanic eruption, irradiating the entire planet- at which time, they’ll carve it up for fuel for their fleet (in a plan clearly stolen by the Slitheen in the New Series). This is an innovative plan. It would also be doing the galaxy a favor, by committing genocide against every last member of the Dulcians. Unfortunately, the Doctor decides that he must intervene.
Cully and Zoe take a Flash-Gordon-Rocket back to the capital city to warn everyone, but fail to convince Director Senex (Cully's father) and the council of the danger. The council sits and debates and resolves like the plot of the Star Wars prequels- boringly and uselessly.
The Doctor and Jamie are led to the war museum, where the Doctor bluffs the Dominators into believing that there is a second class of intelligent Dulcian (Too obvious...) who created the weapons of war seen there, that lord over the less intelligent working class (of which he and Jamie are supposedly members). The Dominators buy into this (Toba wants to kill them but Rago overrules him). They set off to look for these intelligent Dulcians (Come on, there’s no subtlety to this joke...).
The Doctor and Jamie head for Useless Central to appear before the council as Zoe and Cully return to the survey station/museum, while the Dominators locate the teacher and student trio. Clearly going by Dominator standards only, they find these to be the mythical ‘Clever ones.’  They also spot Zoe and Cully. Toba wants to kill them, but Rago... isn’t here. The Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: They suck.) begin to raze the place, when... Rago arrives and overrides him. (Rago is obsessed with saving the Quarks' power, and Toba is obsessed with shooting anything that moves. If you handed the guy a mirror he would shoot himself after the first blink). Zoe and Cully are captured while digging themselves out of the rubble. (NFS: I thought the Quarks were rather darling.)
The idiot council will not listen to Jamie and the Doctor, and are quite relieved that the Dominators just want to drill in the planet’s crust. They give their tacit approval (not that they could do anything to stop the Dominators). These people WANT their genocide to happen, Doctor! Who are you to stand in their way? Please, reconsider- don’t interfere!
Zoe, Cully, plus the teacher/student trio are being tested as slaves (a role the Quarks used to fill and now must be replaced in as they are being turned into front-line soldiers instead), hauling rubble from the museum about. Jamie and the Doctor return as Cully sneaks into the museum and grabs the still-functioning laser gun (powered by Dues Ex Machina tablets, no doubt. At least it was Checkov’s Gun-ed twice), but totally wusses out of using it, depriving us of even one admirable Dulcian. Jamie finds his way in as the Doctor is captured, takes the gun, and blasts some Quarks. Toba giddily identifies a threat and overrides Rago’s override. The Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: I know the Daleks, and you sirs, are no Daleks! ...Well, the ones from Victory of the Daleks, maybe...) demolish what’s left of the building and we are ‘treated’ to WAY too much of skirt-wearing Cully as he and Jamie climb down the ladder to an emergency shelter beneath. (NFS: Wait...wait...Cully is wearing a skirt???)
The building is utterly and redundantly re-demolished. Because Toba wanted to kill them but Rago overruled him, and then Toba did it anyway, the two begin to bicker, each threatening to report the other to whatever unfortunate commander oversees this gaggle of slightly-less-idoits-than-the-Dulcians. The Doctor informs them about the council of idiots, and the Dominators invade.  (Toba wants to kill them but Rago tragically overrules him). They seize the council... while Jamie and Cully escape the shelter and begin destroying Quarks (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not hard because they’re wimps). The Dominators return. Toba wants to find the ones attacking them but Rago overrules him (wait, Toba is the SMART one?!?!) and tells them to focus on the drilling.
They drill and prepare to drop an atomic explosive into the mantle. The escaped Doctor and co. tunnel sideways from the underground shelter to intersect the tunnel, and the Doctor catches the radioactive ‘seed device’ as it falls past him (OFFSCREEN, bloody dang it!!! Cheap BBC!!!!) The four downward-pressing rocket engines intended to trigger the eruption are still in place, but without the atomic explosive, it will just cause a normal volcanic eruption.
The Doctor cannot defuse the atomic device, but does the next best thing- sneaking it into the Dominator ship on the back of a Quark. The Dominators lift off and leave to avoid the forthcoming explosion, unaware they’ll be its source, and explode in mid-air. The Dulcians are sadly left to live out their lives in peace, having survived. Ah, well, they can’t ALL be happy endings.


The Dominators, or Planet of the Dull Stupid Idiots, as I prefer to call it, continues the proud tradition of Galaxy 4 by opening the season with the weakest possible sci-fi story about plodding conquerors. The inhabitants of the aptly named Dulkis could be upstaged by dishwater, as they’re duller than it. They're half-speed half-wits who converse with the breakneck pacing of the Enterprise flying over the exterior of V’ger. They’re the geniuses who built and detonated an atomic bomb just to prove how dangerous building an atomic bomb would be, then promptly banned all nuclear research for peaceful purposes and built a museum to war on the irradiated island they had just rendered uninhabitable and unvisitable. Their assumptions are illogical (something is presented to you by someone, thus it is a fact and true, and there is no point in trying to ascertain why... they claim repeatedly that there is no curiosity on Dulkis, and yet there is common debate on the cause of a phenomenon or event... which doesn’t gel at all), their personalities bland beyond all reason, and their clothes... oh, their clothes...! 

The women at least have something semi-decent by 60s sci-fi standards, a goofy little leotard jumpsuit thing, at first. Then Zoe dresses native in a two-tone contrasting dress in which the waistline and the bustline are the same line, looking absurd. And the men... the men do not come anywhere close to having dignity in an apron/dress that may have been aiming for a toga but hits squarely in the center of ‘beefy man wearing his wife’s clothing because he’s a nut.’ (NFS: Cully WAS wearing a skirt...see I thought you just mistyped and were talking about Jamie...)They are so cringe-worthy that description does not do them justice- hopefully upon posting, Sarah will have a picture to demonstrate the true depths to which this costuming falls. The worst irony? This serial had the working title during writing of “The Beautiful People.”


And then there are the mooks out to get them- the flying-saucer-traveling Dominators (I think the Xillians in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero and especially Godzilla: Final Wars stole their look)- a pair of dark-dressing, hoop shouldered idiots with their robotic ‘Quarks’- deadly servant/soldier robots. The Quarks are short, box-bodied, with spherical heads projecting cones in each direction- they have R2-D2 fold-out arms from the center of their chests (you know, like that blue plate he uses to open the escape pod hatch?) and a very unique voice (which veers close to Mechanoid/Cyberman territory in being indecipherable but stops just short)- their uniqueness is one of the only two good things about this miserable train wreck. (From what I’ve read, they were intended to be a replacement for the Daleks, since Terry Nation was still playing hardball in his “I want the Daleks for ME!!!” phase and it looked like they were gone from Doctor Who for good- see 'Wheel In Space' and 'Evil of the Daleks.' Regardless... new Daleks these ain’t.) Ironic, though, that the Dominators needed slaves so that they could free up the Quarks for warfare... the Quarks are rather inept warriors- more like remote-controlled guns- and they seemed to have no capacity or manipulators for performing manual labor or other slave duties. I’d think slaves trained as soldiers and issued Quark guns would be a far more effective arrangement than sending these slow-moving, poorly-reacting tin-pots to war. Same result for the episode, but a much greater tactical advantage- make your (smarter) slaves do the fighting, and leave the Quarks shoeless and self-replicating in the food-preparation units at home, where they belong! :-)
The Dominators themselves, though, are... just... irritating!!!! Thugs, conquerors, slavers, bullies... the usual, all fine and good. But they behave entirely irrationally- an insubordinate pyromaniac and a way-too-patient superior. This is an average episode in this serial.
(Three people approach)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Why did you do that?
Toba: They may have been a threat!
Rago: They were no threat! Destroy nothing! We need slaves and must conserve power!
(A spaceship is spotted)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Why did you do that? Destroy nothing! We must conserve power!
(They cross the rise and see a building)
Toba: Quark, destroy!!!
Rago: Why did you do that? Do not destroy anything- we MUST conserve power!
(Someone moves within the building)
Toba: Quark, destroy!
Rago: Dude! What did I JUST tell you?!
This goes on ridiculously far, over and over and over again to the point where the second Dominator feels like a particularly stubborn 2-year-old. Then, the natives fight back, destroying a Quark with laser weaponry...
Toba: Return fire!
Rago: What are you doing?!
Toba: We are under attack! We must defend ourselves!
Rago: I have had just about enough of you! I told you we needed to conserve power! Cease this defiance or I shall kill you!!!
(Another Quark is crushed by a boulder)
Toba: Quarks, defend me!
Rago: You fool! You try my patience- I told you to conserve power! Stop or you shall be doomed!!!
So, once a legitimate threat presents itself... one that warrants destroying... THEN the infinite patience of the superior for his repeatedly wasting-shots-on-nothing subordinate runs out, and he’s chewed out for defending against legitimate military attacks??? What the...?!?!?!?! How these guys ever conquered multiple galaxies (seriously, they need to lay off the galaxy-spanning empires here; they begin to strain credibility in their one-shot-ness.)
Meanwhile, Zoe is stripped of all interesting characteristics here- showing some braininess, but otherwise reduced instantly to a Dodo/Susan/Victoria clone with none of the potential shown in her previous appearance... it’s like all her emotional issues were just resolved between serials, and now she’s just one of the crew. A waste. (NFS: Heyy...I thought you LIKED Victoria. :-D (NFA: This is me from a year ago, when I was still annoyed by her behavior in The Abominable Snowmen!))
Her companion for the episode, Cully, the council-leader’s son, was at least interesting... but felt out of place, like a character from a British 90s comedy sketch inserted into a 60s sci-fi show. He didn’t ring true, and while he served as an avatar for audience exasperation with his plodding, moron, nitwit, pacifist, useless, imbecilic people... he didn’t feel all that real or likable either, despite being more useful. And his ladies’ skirt flashed us his hairy thighs WAY too many times- for someone wearing a dress more revealing than Jamie’s kilt, they had him climbing things WAY too often- we DIDN’T NEED TO SEE THAT, THANK YOU!!!! (NFS: Reading that bit about hairy thighs' may have just made me snort-laugh.)  (The actor, Arthur Cox, made a grand return into Doctor Who with the Matt Smith introduction “The Eleventh Hour,” where he portrayed the comatose man with a dog whose form Prisoner Zero appropriates.) (NFS: And now that you remember him from 11th can watch The Dominators and take a gander at his hair're welcome.)
The only breaths of fresh air in this miserable heap of nonsense are the Doctor and Jamie, the other of the only two good things in this serial. The Doctor’s 'playing dumb' bits, and Jamie’s gung-ho Rambo attitude are fun and refreshing- both have excellent roles in a decidedly UN-excellent story. Even the capsule-rewiring has some good moments, albeit silly ones. And the moment where Jamie takes out a Quark with his laser canon is a cheer-out-loud moment... for someone in the story doing something useful and actually TAKING ACTION for once, if nothing else. Oh, and the Sonic Screwdriver’s second use- this one establishing it as a multi-purpose device, and as an awesome cutting tool for concrete, verily rocks. In fact, Patrick Troughton requested a screening of this serial at his birthday party, shortly before his death in March of 1987. Some cruel jokes could be made about this choice relating to senility near the end of his life, but the truth is that even amongst a miserable excuse for a story, Troughton is quite good- childlike and innocent, dashing and heroic- I wouldn’t call it his best work ever, but of the surviving works, it is a good showcase for him.
This story represents the epitome of the Doctor Who cliché of the planet represented by quarries. There is, admittedly, some nice location work (all doubled for the Doctor, hearkening back to that good old ever-so-exciting first location work in Reign of Terror), but it also becomes a little bland after a while. Strange that it’s no longer so exciting as it once was...
In this serial, even the cliffhangers have problems. The second episode cliffhanger features an attack on the building that Zoe and the leader’s son are in, as debris cascades from the ceiling... except the shot holds long enough for you to clearly see them both standing there unharmed for a good ten seconds before it finally fades to black. And they end on a collapsing building that we saw the principles escape from in the VERY NEXT EPISODE. What were they thinking???? 

As with most elements of this episode... it’s clear that they weren’t. Likeiwse, idiotic elements and decisions abound- from the unable-to-shut-up councilor who was just begging for death (we weren’t sad to see him go), to the only council in the galaxy more ineffective and useless than the planet Krypton’s. Faced with invasion, they postulate that they have three options: Fight back, hide, or surrender. The assessment rendered within 10 seconds? We refuse to fight, we have nowhere to hide, and surrender could be painful. Thus, we can do nothing; no options exist. That is all the thought they give the matter, then sit around waiting for the Dominators to kick down their door. Idiots. 

Meanwhile, the Dominators cheat- they have a little tally-counter of lit Quark silhouettes (pretty cool actually) that goes out when each Quark is destroyed. Yet at the end, when only two or three should be left, more appear like magic- surrounding Jamie and Cully three on one side and three on another! They appear out of nowhere! Even at the drill-site at the end, two are ordered away by the Dominator and three are at his side when he orders the attack. And apparently, they could only afford to blow up one, because when one has been downed by a boulder and two walk over to investigate, then Jamie throws an explosive, the shot instantly cuts to the previous shot of another Quark being destroyed- on a completely different landscape and all by itself. Either the explosive was powerful enough to level the canyon they were standing in and vaporize the other two attending Quarks entirely (whilst still leaving debris from the wounded one that the explosion originated on), or they were just being plain cheap (NFS: There's another word for's the word of they didn't have enough money and thought blowing up quarks wasn't exactly the best way to use what little they had. That word.). The cut was seamless, but once the explosion clears, everything has clearly changed. For shame, cheapos! It’s your season premiere! Live a little! Planet of the Giants was the biggest spend-fest ever, and it looked INCREDIBLE! Even The Smugglers had decent sets and extras! What is it with the Season-Openers that take place off of Earth (Galaxy 4 and this shlock-fest... though to be fair, Tomb of the Cybermen took place off of Earth too, and it was pretty good...) being SO blasted lousy??? Well, with the third Doctor’s forthcoming Earth exile and the UNIT years, we have to wait until The Ribos Operation, in Season 16, to find out if the trend continues! But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Even the climactic tunneling-and-catching-the-dropped-explosive, the thrilling finale... happens offscreen. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? THEY COULDN’T AFFORD A ‘HOLE DUG IN THE GROUND’ SET?!?!?!?! Yeah, sure, some shots of the Doctor running are a bit exciting, and the Dominator’s final line is a good one, but... that’s it? (And you expect me to believe that tiny explosion would’ve irradiated the entire mantle???)

This, then, is our reward for the hump? Our first sight of video??? THIS?!?!?! What a disappointment. This is Galaxy 4 II. It joins the ranks of the Sensorites, Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve (except for that end scene), and Galaxy 4 as the lowest of the low, and certainly the worst of Troughton’s repertoire. And with a season of Troughton left to go, I’m calling it as his worst here and now- I don’t see it getting any worse than this. It’s not physically possible. Indeed, this serial was reduced from 6 parts to 5 out of concern that the content wouldn’t hold up for 6. Considering some of the long, meandering 6-parters that have been given full runs in the past, this is saying something- to quote Jonathan Winters' character from ‘It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ it’s “ it was extra special stupid, or something.” It’s a complete tragedy that until the relatively recent discovery of Tomb of the Cybermen, this was the first completely intact Troughton serial in existence, and thus many people’s introduction to his era.

Poor people.

Great moments:
The Doctor playing dumb in his testing. The sniper shot and exploding Quark. And yeah, the death of the Dominators, shouting “Obey!” See? Even the most wretched of serials are not bereft of great moments (well, okay, except for Galaxy 4)- that’s why we love this show!

Between the Dulkis Dullards and the absurd costumes, this piece of garbage rates 0 out of 5 Bickering Dominators (what, did you think I’d go with Quarks?). That’s right! 0! Nothing! Nada! Zip! Worthless and bereft of any value! YOU LOSE!!! GOOD DAY, SIR!!!!

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