Doctor Who – The Dominators Review (or ‘Not Even World Class Eye Acting Can Save This One’)

In a review of the opening story of Doctor Who’s sixth season, one well known reviewer says – under the title of ‘Things That Don’t Make Sense’ – “That this story exists and the Evil of the Daleks doesn’t”.

No, The Dominators is not a highly rated story among Dr Who fandom. Indeed, in a poll conducted by Dr Who Magazine in 2009 to rank all 200 stories broadcast up to that point, it came in at a lowly 191.

But Doctor Who fans have a history of being clueless. That same poll lists The Space Museum at 190, Underwater Menace at 194 (and you can bet your bottom dollar that since Ep 2 has been found it’ll suddenly enjoy a massive rise in the next poll),  The Gunfighters at 175 (which we know is ridiculous), The Celestial Toymaker above 11 other William Hartnell stories, and for some reason -despite no episodes existing and it being a merely average story – The Fury from the Deep at 41.

So take any story ranking by Dr Who fans as a group with a pinch of salt.

Nevertheless, a broken clock is right twice a day, so let’s see whether or not this story is as bad as people make out…

Doctor Who – The Dominators Review: What’s This One About?

Ronald Allan as Dominator Rago shows off some fantastic ‘Middle Distance’ acting

Two angry men with either massive trapezius muscles or a penchant for ridiculous shoulderpads land on an island on the planet Dulkis along with a bunch of cutesy mining robots called The Quarks. Their plan is to establish whether the people of the planet are suitable for slave labour, and then drill through to the core of the planet, drop a nuclear device into it and turn Dulkis into a radioactive mass to be used as a giant intergalactic petrol station for their people – The Dominators.

But their plans are scuppered a bit because

a) The Doctor & Co land on the planet at roughly the same time and plan on stopping them with the help of some truly pathetic locals

b) One of the Dominators is an easily distracted maniac who abandons the drilling at the drop of a hat because he loves seeing the Quarks blow things up

c) The Quarks have terrible battery life and between them, neither of the Dominators thought to bring a charger with them.

Thoughts – The Acting

Let me first talk about the good aspects of The Dominators. Well…aspect, singular.

In a story that features many wooden, miscast or downright poor guest actors, Ronald Allan stands out like a beacon in the night. As the menace-inspiring Dominator Rago, Allan puts in a great performance from start to finish. He not only looks intimidating because of his stature,

And here he stares down Toba. If looks could kill…

but he adds to that with wonderful ‘eye acting’. His eyes portray a cold, hard and ruthless man and he adds to that by staring into the middle distance whenever he has something to say. Indeed, he manages to make looking at one of his co-stars into an acting masterstroke, because it’s so unusual for him over the piece.

Moreover he also adds depth to his character with the sharp delivery of his lines and tight body language. Overall, Rago is probably one of the best played characters in 60s Dr Who. The fact that Allan appears again a couple of years later as the affable and softly spoken Ralph Cornish in The Ambassadors of Death shows what a wonderful job this versatile actor did in this story. It looks like he even manages to alter the shape of his own head for the role. Now that’s an actor!

Sadly though, his fellow actors (regular cast excepted) fail to perform anywhere near his standard.

As the other Dominator – Toba – Kenneth Ives has always struck me as dreadful. It could be a case of poor writing, but Toba is performed as a sort of shallow and crazed schoolboy who seems to experience orgasm at the sight of Quarks shooting things.

Then there’s Arthur Cox, totally miscast as Cully. I get the feeling that Cully was intended to be a handsome young man with a great spirit of adventure, but instead he’s played by a chubby bloke with a bad hair-do in his late 30s. It just didn’t fit the character, and while I’m sure Cox tried his best, this was not a role for him.

While Patrick Troughton keeps acting, Fraser Hines can’t help but look at Felecity Gibson with derision following her spectacular butchering of the simple line “You tried your best Cully”

And as for the Dulcians as a whole; well they were just paper thin and…erm…dull. Dull actors playing dull characters from the planet Dulkis. Ha…ha…ha.

Even allowing for that though, Felicity Gibson brings the acting quality in Dr Who to new lows as the pitiful Kando. She butchers every line she’s got.

The Writing

The dullness of the Dulcians brings me to the main problem with the story – the writing.

Originally written as a six parter, this story was reduced to five by the script editors after they realised it didn’t have enough material to justify its length. Well the truth is that there’s barely enough plot to justify two episodes. Nothing much happens, and the stuff that does just gets repeated. I stopped counting the amount of times Toba shouted “Quarks, destroy!” before being interrupted and told to stop by Rago.

They did the scene with the Dominators doing a body scan on their prisoners twice, the scenes in the Dulcian Council Chambers with Cully & Zoe are repeated almost word for word in a later episode with the Doctor & Jamie, and 90% of the last two episodes revolve around Jamie & Cully throwing things at Quarks.

Time is also filled with such inanities as the Quarks establishing their power levels, the multiple scenes in the travel capsule and Zoe needing to change her clothes.

The Costume Design in this story is beyond woeful. Look at esteemed actress Felecity Gibson. She’s wearing an unflattering swimsuit with a see through skirt.

Overall, the writing is poor. The only positive I can say about it is that there’s a certain irony about the relationship between the two Dominators. Rago spends his time telling Toba to stop destroying things and get on with his job, and yet by doing that, he signed his own death warrant. Had Toba killed all the people he wanted to kill, the Dominators would have won. Instead they ended up being blown up by the one man they thought wasn’t a threat. The final scene with Rago screaming ‘Obey’ as he tells Toba to do the impossible and get rid of the bomb from their ship is genuinely enjoyable.

The Direction

Another problem with the Dominators is the set design and direction.

The proximity of the drill site to the underground bunker and weapon room sometimes doesn’t make sense. There appears to about 12 feet between the centre hole of the drilling site and the bunker which is crucial to the plot in episode 5, and yet in the same episode Cully & Jamie attack a Quark and loudly rescue the Doctor & Co a mere 6 or 7 feet away from where Toba and a couple of Quarks are drilling away obliviously. You can almost see them in the same shot.

Then there’s the difference between the studio and outside broadcast filming. Regularly it showed Jamie and Cully advancing on a Quark in a tight and confined set before switching to film of them in a massive and expansive quarry.

Anything filmed as sloppily as that these days wouldn’t see the light of day. It looks shoddy and amateur.

On a similar note, I have no idea how they thought the camera ‘trick’ used in the Dominators’ ship when Jamie is being examined by Rago would work. Jamie moves to being pinned up against a wall to lying on a table in the blink of an eye.

Other Observations

  • While I am often at pains to commend the design teams of 60s Dr Who for coming up with great stuff for the time it was made, the costumes here are ridiculous.
  • As I said above, I’m not sure if those are meant to be shoulder pads or giant traps on the Dominators but they just look stupid. I also don’t know why some Dr Who designers seem to think that on other planets with advanced civilizations, men wouldn’t wear trousers. And then there’s the female Dulcian outfits. Essentially they are unflattering swimming costumes covered with a see-through skirt. Neither Wendy Padbury nor Felicity Gibson manages to carry off the outfit and they end up looking like little girls. I don’t imagine that was the aim…
  • To continue my burial of the writing, none of the scenes in the Council Chamber had any real point to them, and the introduction of Tensa is without purpose.
  • And to continue my burial of the casting, the people that Cully took with him on an ‘adventure’ at the start of episode 1 are written as if they are young students out for a good time, but again appear to be 30-somethings who should know better.
  • The Quarks are just silly. I’ll give the designers credit for their well designed heads, but the girly voices, dinky stature and funny walk do not inspire terror in the viewer.
  • From a future continuity point of view, it’s lucky the Dominators didn’t bother to do a scan on the Doctor’s body.
  • And speaking of the scans, why is it that Zoe is classed as one of ‘the stupid ones’ along with the Doctor & Jamie, and of no use to them? Not only have they not scanned her, but she’s wearing the same outfit as Kando and outlasted all the other Dulcians when put to work clearing the drill sight at a time when the Dominators were deliberately testing for endurance. Surely they would have preferred her as potential slave labour?
  • Most of you reading this will know this already, but the ‘writer’ of this story – Norman Ashby – doesn’t really exist. Instead it was a script put forward by the two men who wrote the Yeti stories, but they took the hump for a few different reasons and wanted their names taken off the story.
  • Wendy Padbury doesn’t get off to the best of starts as a companion. Her delivery of lines is very loud and hammy, as if she thinks she’s starring in a play rather than a TV show. In particular her scene with Cully where she goes off to get Dulcian clothes is incredibly bad. Despite that though, at least the character of Zoe has depth.
  • Arthur Cox is probably the only actor to have appeared in both 60s Doctor Who and a Matt Smith story. See if you can spot him in Smith’s debut.
  • When I do my review of the Mind Robber, have a look at the corresponding photo from the same scene as I have captured below. In particular, look at Troughton’s hair…
  • To finish on a more positive note, despite all the problems with the story, both Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines are on form here. Their attempts to act stupid are amusing enough and have purpose to them.

Doctor Who – The Dominators Review: Final Thoughts

For once, Dr Who fans seem to have it right. The Dominators is not a good story. A wafer thin plot, mostly shaky acting, poor design and direction add up to equal a story you could easily miss.

It’s sad that this is only the second complete Troughton story and the truth is that of all the 60s stories that are complete, this is the one you would happily trade to bring back 5 other missing episodes.

Apart from catching some more wonderful ‘acting’ by Padbury, this is an unremarkable snapshot. Except, it’s not. Have a look at the one from the same scene in the Mind Robber. Continuity? Pah!!


3 Responses to Doctor Who – The Dominators Review (or ‘Not Even World Class Eye Acting Can Save This One’)

  1. Zaphod says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I watched this on YouTube a few years ago and thought that it was dreadful.
    A tedious story with boring characters and silly robots.

  2. […] The Ice Warriors The Enemy Of The World The Web Of Fear Fury From The Deep The Wheel In Space The Dominators The Mind Robber The Invasion The Krotons The Seeds Of Death The Space Pirates The War […]

  3. Pino says:

    Advanced civilizations don’t wear trousers because they don’t ride horses. Peter Turchin wrote an article about the connection between trousers and horseback riding in The Atlantic.

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