Saturday, 14 January 2012

Doctor Who - The Dominators

The Domination Game

Doctor Who - The Dominators
UK 1968
BBC Region 2

Every time I watch a Doctor Who story starring my favourite incarnation of The Doctor, The Second TV Doctor as portrayed by Patrick Troughton, I marvel at just how perfect a piece of science fiction TV the show was “back in the day”. The five part story The Dominators is just such an experience and, although it’s true that, like a lot of the Troughton stories, it’s pretty simplistic in its overall make up... I ended up enjoying this one much more than I’d been expecting as I tucked myself away with it on Christmas Eve 2011.

There’s a lot of shoddy technical work on this one, as would be expected from a story of this era... the most obvious one being that a lot of the long shots are shot on a rocky landscape on location but the majority of the close up work is done on a set against a backdrop of that same location... these two things do not match or blend well... or in any way, in fact, and I’ve just found out since rewatching it for the first time in a over a decade, that Patrick Troughton was not around for any of the actual location shoots and the footage of him in longshot is all done with a double (although apparently not a very convincing one although... I’m pleased to say I didn’t actually notice that myself).

The story does have a sense of action taking place on a larger scale, even though it’s actually only set in two places on an alien world where the Dominators of the title are drilling into the core of the planet to generate enough radiation when the planet explodes to power their waiting fleet. There are only two menacing (and vaguely stupid looking, due to their enourmous shoulder pads) Dominators in fact, and they tend to argue with each other quite a lot and get all shouty... but they do have an iconic alien robot race with them called The Quarks who were supposed to be a new merchandising opportunity from the BBC along the lines of the popularity of The Daleks. Alas... it’s easy to see why The Quarks failed to have the desired effect because, no matter how iconic they are, they really do only need to be knocked over by someone to get themselves into difficulty and they look quite frail due to the way they’ve been designed. The Quarks didn’t appear in their own right on TV again apart from a brief cameo in the last Troughton story The War Game (reviewed here), although they were briefly considered for a return engagement in the classic story The Five Doctors... before being replaced with a new and deadly creation. I do remember that they did appear fairly regularly in the Doctor Who comic strip during the Troughton era... so they did get around at least that much.

The story is a true delight to watch with the chemistry between The Doctor and his two companions Jamie and Zoe being the absolute best it ever got on the show... also, the team split up often so that two strands of story can be told simultaneously. The clifhanger endings to the first four episodes aren’t great but they are serviceable and the acting is convincing enough to keep you watching.

One thing that made me laugh was the introduction of children’s favourite Brian Cant as the practical miilitary advisor to a pacifistic race who are facing the destruction of their planet. His plan of “waiting to see what happens” doesn’t amount to much and he might have had a better go at it by singing some of his Playaway songs at the enemy rather than attempt to support his lack of strategy by speaking loudly and getting himself killed on his first meeting with one of the Dominators. He does look confident though... you have to give him credit for that. Unfortunately, just when you think that Brian can... you realise that he just plain can’t.

The story feels a bit padded with various characters rushing to and from the main city centre and this kind of business did remind me of some of the Flash Gordon serials I used to love as a kid. Keep everyone moving between the two settings and nobody will notice that you’re unneccesarily dragging things out to fill up air time. It’s all pretty bearable though and there’s enough nice stuff in the script which make all the to-ing and fro-ing much easier to swallow. The final sequences do though, it has to be said, feel like they’ve been lifted from the Hartnell story The Dalek Invasion of Earth (later remade as the movie Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.) in that The Doctor and his companions and new friends dig a tunnel into the side of the tunnel being drilled so they can grab the bomb before it detonates and send it back to The Dominators to destroy them in a move that more modern incarnations of The Doctor may very well not have approved of.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about The Dominators. If you like classic Doctor Who then this is definitely one of the better ones and, as far as I’m concerned, anything with Troughton in it is worth a watch. Check it out if you’re in the mood for a switch-your-brain-off serial.

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