“The Dominators” is the first adventure of the sixth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1968. It’s a five parts adventure written by Norman Ashby and directed by Morris Barry.
A spaceship carrying two Dominators on board lands on the planet Dulkis on what’s called the Island of Death because it’s radioactive due to nuclear explosions carried out in the past, when it was a test site. The Quark robots are sent to perform some tasks and when a spaceship of visitors arrives in the area it gets destroyed and only their pilot Cully manages to escape.
The Tardis lands nearby and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), along with Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), starts visiting the area. When they hear the sound of an explosion they look for safety in a nearby war museum, where they meet some natives who are trying to understand why their instruments are detecting no radiations.
This DVD contains a limited amount of extras. There are typical contents such as production subtitles, a gallery of pictures from this adventure, the Radio Times Listings and a promo of the “Doctor Who” DVDs soon to be published.
There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track: of its protagonists Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, actors Giles Block and Arthur Cox and makeup artist Sylvia James moderated by Toby Hadoke.
Recharge and Equalize. A documentary nearly 23 minutes long on the production of this adventure that offers various points of view on the dispute that created problems in the script development.
Tomorrow’s Times – The Second Doctor. A look at the press review in the Second Doctor era. Presented by Caroline John and narrated by Nicholas Courtney.
There’s also an “Easter egg” with a sketch by the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theater.
“Doctor Who” production was looking for new monsters that could reach a popularity at least comparable to that of the Daleks after Terry Nation, the owner of the rights over them, had started trying to produce a show with his creatures as protagonists. The matter didn’t concern television audience only but also the possibility of producing merchandise.
Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln already had experience as screenwriters in the show having written the two serials with the Yeti so producer Peter Bryant commissioned them to write another one adding monsters that could be interesting for the production of merchandise as well. For its plot, the two authors were inspired by the events of the time and in particular to those connected to the hippie movement, with its pacifism. The screenplay was based on the idea of a planet whose inhabitants have an attitude similar to that of the hippies developing their reactions to the arrival of very aggressive aliens.
Discussions with the production and requests for changes were normal but in this case strong differences of opinion arose between script editor Derrick Sherwin and the authors due to the fact that the script of the first three episodes was considered too satirical. However, the authors’ idea was to write a highly satirical story so Sherwin decided to make the changes with his assistant Terrance Dicks. Together with producer Peter Bryant it was decided to shorten the serial, which originally was scheduled to be of 6 parts.
The relationship between the parties involved became conflicting. The two authors decided they didn’t want their names to be listed as authors and asked to use the pseudonym Norman Ashby, deriving from their father in-laws’ names. What led to an actual dispute was the fact that both the authors and the production wanted to create merchandise representing the Quarks, the robots created for “The Dominators”. The possibility of a lawsuit was avoided thanks to an agreement but the consequence was that the screenplay totally changed the initial premises of the authors, who never worked for “Doctor Who” again.
The result of all the mess behind the screenplay is a serial in which the Doctor has to save people who are almost all boring from aliens assisted by robots that turned out to be clumsy and not very threatening. Of the original ideas only superficial elements remain and, despite its shortening, the plot suffers from a lot of padding. It was a typical filler in “Doctor Who” classic series but in a serial in which the plot had limited action it’s a problem.
The natives of the planet Dulkis do little or nothing to induce viewers to worry about their fate except Cully, one of the few among them who’s not passive. Their only clear characteristic is their pacifism, for the rest they seem quite disconnected from reality, so much that for mysterious reasons they don’t believe that there are other inhabited planets. The changes to the satirical elements made them among the worst characters to be saved in “Doctor Who”.
The actors who play the natives often received negative criticism but the only one who had decent material was Arthur Cox, who plays Cully. It’s possible that the limited time available for rehearsal prevented the others from finding some way to get something out of their characters that would save them from being dull.
The Dominators aren’t exactly the best villains seen in “Doctor Who”. When they don’t try to kill natives or the Doctor and his companions, they spend their time arguing with each other. In some cases this can help to understand something of their society but the thing goes on for all the 5 episodes of this serial, definitely too much!
The Quarks on paper were certainly interesting because they’re robots equipped with a number of deadly weapons. The problem is that “Doctor Who” production’s resources were limited and the result was that they had actors wearing the Quark costume who were forced to walk practically blind and often had to do it on gravelly paths, with the consequence that they were very clumsy. Their high-pitched voices didn’t help to make them threatening.
In the end I think Patrick Troughton is the only positive element of “The Dominators”. The Doctor is the only character that really shines in this serial: certainly he was the easiest one to write for both the original authors and for the script editor Derrick Sherwin and his assistant Terrance Dicks but Troughton’s performance is always fantastic to watch.
The DVD edition contains limited extras such as a documentary in which script editor Derrick Sherwin and the original co-author Mervyn Haisman are interviewed, offering their versions of the dispute that crippled the production of “The Dominators”. It’s unfortunate that this is one of the few Second Doctor serials available in its completeness and in my opinion one of the very few reasons to have it.