Doctor Who: The Dominators (s06e01, pts. 1 – 5)

4 out of 5

Directed by: Morris Barry

Special effects!  Explosions!  Competent companions!  A degree of commentary!  Less than six episodes!

I can understand being underwhelmed by The Dominators: its bad guys are quite human, and more defined by their desire to avoid the good guys than necessarily creating a direct conflict, and I’m positive that the entire crew would laugh when putting on their outfits for each day of shooting, but I found a lot to like here.

The Doc, Jamie, and new companion Zoe land on a planet the Doctor claims should be a peaceful spot for vacationing after their recent (usual) squabbles: Dulcis.  They soon realize this isn’t the Dulcis Doc expects – one in which logic has dismissed violence as a relic of the past – and some local Dulcians explain that the location (an island) has since become irradiated, and is now only used for research.  But hey, good news: the Dulcians are still a peaceful race.  And also: you’re not dying from radiation because it’s somehow miraculously disappeared.  We see the likely cause before the Who crew arrives: a ship has landed elsewhere, with two looming, black-haired, black-outfitted passengers – The Dominators – and their servant robots, the Quarks.  The latter begin some kind of drilling operation, also attacking and killing the curious Dulcians who want to check out what’s what.

The explanation of the disappearing radiation, and the reason for The Dominators’ actions, come in time, and is the usual roundabout Who villains plotting that makes for one of the episode’s weaker points.  It’s not necessarily uninteresting, but it seems to be shushed to the final part just because there’s no real need to explain it beforehand – it doesn’t change anything.  Prior to that, our leads flit back and forth between the Dulcis capitol and the island, occasionally kidnapped by The Dominators who consider turning them into slave labor, but give it up when the Doc plays dumb and literally pretends he cannot put the right size blocks through the right shaped holes in a flighty bit of intelligence “testing” The Dommies attempt, and they eventually convince the peaceful Dulcis to take up arms against the invaders.

The Dulcians wear curtains bunched up around their torsos; the Dominators wear big, oversized sofa cushions.  But I love that this costuming was committed to, and that it sort of fits for both races: the Dulcians are completely dedicated to passivity, debating, at the capitol, the need for any actions before even discussing the logic of the actions themselves; the Dominators bark commands at one another, and are focused on productivity over anything else.  This black and white potshotting at hippie culture and, perhaps, a wartime government, doesn’t go very deep, but it’s more shape than we’re often seen given to the various species and races we interact with on Who, and the major players on each side have different flairs to their personalities that give the actors room to express themselves, particularly our two Dominators.  Ironically, everyone is also pretty active here: we don’t waste time with delaying tactics – once the enemy is established, it’s all about learning how to defeat them and trying to do it.  This still manages to get stretched out a bit – the intelligence tests, one of the Dommies keeps getting distracted by his own bloodlust and so chases after the Dulcis until shamed by his boss – but, according to the wiki, producer Peter Bryant realized this was a stretch for six parts and so narrowed it to five, keeping these sidesteps well within a tolerable range.