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6x01. The Dominators
Writers: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln (as Norman Ashby)
Director: Morris Barry
Script Editor: Derrick Sherwin
Producer: Peter Bryant

Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive on Dulkis, a planet known for its pacifist inhabitants, just as a threat arrives in the form of the Dominators Rago and Toba, who intend to destroy the planet and turn it into a fuel source for their alien invasion fleet, and their robotic Quarks. At first reluctant to fight, the Dulkians are spurred to resistance by the Doctor and his companions.

Review: "The Dominators" is a story about two races in conflict. One of them, bent on exploitation, willingly and ruthlessly resorts to violence and murder to achieve their own ends, while the other, scarred by the horror of atomic weapons, has retreated into a dogmatic pacifism that renders them unwilling to fight even to defend themselves against unprovoked aggression. If you think that this sounds awfully similar to "The Daleks," you're right -- except for the fact that "The Dominators" largely falls flat where "The Daleks" succeeded.

The Dulkians are probably the weakest link in the chain here. Unlike the Thals, whose pacifism was borne out of a devastating nuclear war with the Daleks and who came across as taking a principled moral stand, the Dulkians seem rather naive and decadent. They've banned all weapons simply because they realized the potential of atomic explosions, even though they discovered this while researching the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and have never actually fought a war, and their ruling council fails to take action even when the Dominators show up and Cully, at least, recognizes the need to fight back. Writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln reportedly intended the Dulkians' pacifism as a criticism of the hippie movement, and even if I take off my left-leaning hat for a moment, I still have to say that this isn't very effective. From pretty much any point of view, the ruling council members are an almost Pythonesque exaggeration, especially when they chide Rago for his "disrespect" when he starts giving orders and kills one of them: I half-expected them to agree to his plans if only he'd fill out the proper forms for shooting people.

If the Dulkians are silly caricatures, the Dominators aren't much better. Rago and Toba have a running conflict throughout the serial that boils down to the fact that Rago is intent on completing the drilling as quickly as possible, while Toba is more interested in killing people and blowing things up. Their race's project of galactic conquest has no context or motivation whatsoever, and Toba's single-mindedness eventually becomes almost comical, as he repeatedly ignores Rago's orders and abandons the drilling to order the Quarks to "destroy" someone or something. I'm particularly thinking of one scene in which he responds to another attack from Jamie and Cully with "Quarks, des..." and then, clearly with great internal conflict and an enormous effort of self-restraint, manages to say, "Continue drilling." If this was actually supposed to be funny, then I guess it worked, but somehow I doubt that was the intent. One can argue over which of them is more at fault for their eventual failure -- Rago for his disregard of the resistance from the Dulkians and the TARDIS crew, or Toba for attracting their attention with three pointless murders at the beginning -- but clearly neither of them are especially bright bulbs. Add this to the fact that Jamie and Cully are able to foul up the entire scheme by dropping boulders on the Quarks, and it's hard to believe that the Dominators could take over a nursery school, much less an entire galaxy (especially one not inhabited primarily by pacifists).

Zoe, a new addition to the TARDIS crew at this point, doesn't make much of an impression, but the Doctor and Jamie are still engaging protagonists even when they're stuck in a dull story. It's to the credit of both Troughton and the series' writers that simply watching his Doctor react to a situation, no matter what it is, is usually plenty entertaining in and of itself. He's at his best in "The Dominators" when he's pretending to be stupid in order to convince Rago and Toba that he's not a threat, and indeed he and Jamie are even released because Rago thinks they're too dumb to cause any trouble. This sets up my favorite scene later when, after the Dominators scold him for not staying away from the Quarks as ordered, he protests that he's been trying very hard to run away from them but they just keep turning up again. And while it's hardly the stuff of great writing, the pace does pick up a little bit when Jamie and Cully start waging guerilla warfare against the Quarks, and there are some pretty decent action scenes by the standards of early Doctor Who.

Unfortunately, even the more entertaining moments can't compensate for the bland characterizations and the mediocre premise (absurdly bureaucratic pacifists vs. absurdly incompetent alien invaders). "The Dominators" isn't a total disaster, but it ranks with "The Chase" and "The Keys of Marinus" as one of the weakest of the preserved early serials.

Other notes:

- Though most of the action scenes are pretty well done, there's one moment of distinct low-budget hokiness when the camera follows a boulder down the side of a hill and then we hear it destroy a Quark off-camera. Either the crew hadn't figured out how to get the boulder to actually hit the Quark, or they hadn't made many Quarks and couldn't afford to wreck too many of them. (Or both.)

- Interesting piece of trivia: co-writer Henry Lincoln eventually went on to make a career out of investigating the mysteries of Rennes-le-Chateau in France and later co-authored The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (which is either the most explosive piece of historical research ever or the greatest crackpot book ever).

Rating: *1/2 (out of four)

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