Doctor Who (Classic): S06E01 “The Dominators”

Season 6
Directed by Morris Barry
Written by Norman Ashby

It’s been a long road, hasn’t it? Back when the channel first started and the possibility of doing classic reviews on our own and filling in the AVC gaps, I saw an exciting opportunity. Of course, picking the show was going to be a challenge since I wanted something that the site hadn’t covered, that I knew some about already, and something I could feel comfortable talking about. As I don’t really have space in my life for rewatching too much, it really narrowed the choices down and left me with one obvious choice. Since I was a bit annoyed with how the coverage (as great as it was) for Doctor Who skipped around so much and made participating impossible for someone like me who has to watch shows in order. I wanted to instead cover the show in order from beginning to end, but I was faced with the problem that I had just started watching Season 6 and I wasn’t looking forward to starting back over. At the time I hoped to get through two serials a week so that I could hurry up back to the point I left off and then take a more leisurely pace. With 44 serials to rewatch, I hope to get caught up in six months or so.

That first serial was reviewed on 12/7/2015 and as you can tell by today’s date, it has taken me almost two years and two months to get to the serial where I left off. So, I missed my projected schedule by a bit, but at least after 209 episodes over five seasons, now I’m back to “The Dominators”. Not only is this my final point of catching up, it’s also the beginning of Season Six. Season Six is going to function as the end of four eras. First, and most obvious is that this is going to be the third and final season with Patrick Troughton as The Doctor. Secondly, this is the last season in black and white aside from some missing Third Doctor serials which have only been recovered in black and white. Thirdly, the missing episodes that have plagued the run thus far only rear their head in two more serials, both this season (“The Invasion” and “The Space Pirates”). Finally, this is the final season of episode counts stretching past 39 as the show will be cut down to 20 something episodes for the next two Doctors. The latter two are welcome reliefs to me as the show and each season will be markedly easier to get through.

It is the beginning of one era through as Zoe has officially joined as a companion alongside Jamie. The serial opens on a group of flying saucers traveling with one of them landing and two men stepping out wearing chunky suits. These are the titular Dominators and they are of need of radiation to power their fuel reserves and forced to drill to get it. Even the radiated surface of the awesomely named Island of Death (which has been abandoned as a result of radiation due to atomic weapons) where they land is not enough. This is an island which now exists largely as a brutal reminder to the legacy of atomic weapons and of violence in general. This world (Dulkis) is populated by Dulcians, a race which looks outwardly identical to humans (they do have two hearts), but wearing silly clothes which look like a dress awkwardly pulled over their clothes to their nipples.

Both groups though are divided by people of different views. While the more peaceful race’s division (between a stuffy aristocracy represented by both a group of surveyors and the leadership back at home and a more exploring heavy youth led by the captain of an expedition that is quickly wiped out aside from him) is more common, the division between the two among the two Dominators as one is much more willing to destroy anything they come across and frequently speaking against his leader is much more uncommon. While the first season was willing to shade its villains more, the show since has too often sought to portray its villains as a unified, evil force. They are both still evil and willing to enslave the residents to get the radiation they need and they basically state their character trait every time they show up, but it’s the little things that need to be appreciated and it does mix up the plot some.

The TARDIS itself doesn’t show up until over 8 minutes in as the serial takes the time to introduce both alien races. The Doctor, as in “The Rescue”, has been to this planet before during an unseen time. For once, The Doctor tells the truth about being from another time and world to the surveyors he meets and it’s a nice change of pace. He’s even rewarded at first as the leader of the group believes him. Of course, this variation is short lived as the surveyors seem less accepting of the fact that the captain of that first expedition saw robots, and they transfer this distrust immediately to our heroes. They treat it all as a nothing but a big joke. The robots (Quarks) are boxy with a more childlike and higher pitched but predictably staccato line delivery. They are able to move people about and restrain them as use their arms as anything the plot requires (from weaponry to tools).

Thanks to my viewing schedule, this coincidentally this follows up another one about a pacifist society in “Dr. Who and the Daleks”, (an adaptation of “The Daleks”). Unlike that series though, the pacifists here are the product of a far more civilized society as opposed to the petrified forest dwelling ones in that serial/movie. They represent that idealized society that exists in more optimistic future stories. The kind that sees us as not destroyed by our atomic weaponry, but ultimately using it to realize the inherent futility of violence. Of course, Doctor Who in both of these serials takes the view that pacifism is wrong, as even The Doctor is always all for fighting back. Pacifism in general is almost treated as a joke, the true message here (on both sides) being that violence needs to be used with discretion. Too much leads inevitably to slavery while too much leads to resistance.

Jamie is unsurprisingly the most eager to fight back as he always is, but Zoe is just as eager to lead a resistance against the invaders. The Doctor on the other hand contributes mostly through his intelligence, playing dumb to convince the Dominators they are not an intelligent race and making improvised explosive devices while also being the most observant. With the help of younger Dulcians, the crew of the TARDIS is able to fight back, attacking the Quarks and intercepting their seed device before it can be sent deep into the planet’s surface. A seed device which The Doctor slips on to The Dominator’s ship to blow them and the Quarks to kingdom come.

I won’t pretend this is all that new of a serial and it feels like it has been welded together from bits of plenty of other episodes, but I enjoyed it well enough. It may feel slight, but the five-episode structure truly benefits it and keeps the tedious scenes of arguing about whether or not to use violence or whether The Doctor is telling the truth from weighing it down too much. The flaws in design of the alien races may come from laziness and lack of creativity, but they are mostly a charming sort of flaw. It’s forgettable, but the cast already feels like a cohesive whole and it’s an easy going and sometimes humorous introduction to the sixth season.

Grade: C+

Stray Observations
– Norman Ashby does not actually exist. In reality, the writers of the story were Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln who had requested their names be removed from the credits.
– Morris Barry on the other hand was a real person and this would be the final serial he would direct after having previously helmed “The Moonbase” and “The Tomb of the Cybermen”
– When The Doctor and Jamie are captured, Jamie’s body is examined and when it was announced he had one heart, I was excited waiting for them to do the same to The Doctor. Sadly, they did not and deprived the show of the chance to either reveal The Doctor’s two hearts or create an early discontinuity with the show. Still, it’s interesting that the show seems to openly tease that there is something different about his biology, indicating perhaps that the season finale storyline was in mind by this point.
– The Doctor: “But Jamie, it’s a brilliant idea, it’s so simple only you could have thought of it”
– It takes Zoe snapping The Doctor out from bragging about his ingenuity to keep him from blowing his hands off.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: A volcano forms on the Island of Death (no not that one), as The Doctor and company must flee the island before it kills them all.

Next Up: On February 26th, we will head off into the great unknown together with “The Mind Robber” as I finally get to start watching new serials.