Why Are Earth People So Parochial (The Dominators)


You know, looking at them, I can't think of any witty jokes
to make that the picture doesn't do for me.
It's August 10, 1968. Tommy James and the Shondells are at number one with "Mony Mony," but if we really want to capture the spirit of this one we need to look at number two, or just jump a week ahead to where it hits number one and look at Crazy World of Arthur Brown's "Fire," which dethrones Mr. James for a single week. From there on out, it's just the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees. So let's go back to Arthur Brown. Personally, I advocate taking three minutes out of your day and just watching Mr. Brown perform this song on Top of the Pops. But if you cannot spare the time to watch a man with a hat whose most visible feature is the fact that it is a pair of horns that are constantly on fire scream "I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE" on BBC One, well, I pity you. It's basically the greatest thing ever, and should really be recognized as the anthem of uniquely British psychedelic culture as discussed last Friday.

Speaking of last Friday, a fair chunk of the events of that post happen in the course of this story - all the DNC and Prague Spring stuff, for instance. So just read that post for the news section.

While on television we get our second entry into the ignoble rankings of the ten worst ever Doctor Who stories according to the most recent Doctor Who Magazine poll. The Dominators comes in 191st. The thing about the bottom ten in a poll like this is that they're not the ten worst stories. They're the ten most hated stories. To come at the bottom of a list like this, you can't just be lousy. You have to be so lousy that there are people who hate you and will make that special effort to give you a zero out of ten.

For most of the ten, there are clear reasons why they're hated. Of the three 1960s stories in the bottom ten, two are ones that have single surviving episodes. Those episodes are watched only by particularly dedicated fans, and if they're dodgy, they are remembered for the constant mocking they elicited. So, for instance, The Underwater Menace is basically down there entirely on the basis of Joseph Furst shouting "Nothing in ze world can stop me now!" Further, there are five stories from John Nathan-Turner's tenure that are slammed as part of a well-rehearsed (and largely, though not entirely, correct) critique of his tenure. Similarly, there's one Graham Williams episode that is slammed because it's the worst story of another era with a ton of detractors. But then you have two episodes that are down there despite having no obvious reason for the hatred - a lone turkey from the new series, and The Dominators. The Dominators, in other words, is one of the two most hated episodes of Doctor Who that has no credible explanation for the hatred other than being truly terrible.

That should give you some sense of how bad this is. Clear a space on your shelf next to The Celestial Toymaker, because we are about to dive into a story about which the sole good thing that can be said is "they had the good sense to end it an episode early so we got an extra episode of The Mind Robber."

As with the Toymaker, the first and most visible problem is that The Dominators is a misbegotten wreck at every level of its production. The monsters are rubbish. The writing is rubbish. The acting is rubbish. The costumes are rubbish. Let's start with the costumes. While it is possible that the horrific midpoints between togas and cocktail dresses that the vast majority of characters wear in this story is simply a wardrobe decision that has aged poorly, I have to confess that I am skeptical that the Dulcians ever looked anything but men in dresses.

For one thing, to believe that the Dulcians were well designed I would have to believe that the Dominators themselves... actually, we should pause here to note that "The Dominators" is easily the stupidest name for an alien race ever. What on Earth is the etymology of this? Did their planet just happen to be called Dominat? If not, this would be like dogs naming themselves The Furry Barkers, or humans naming themselves The Hairless Pink Things. If so, it seems to open an even stranger can of worms, or as I prefer to call them, Wiggles. (Wait, that one's taken.)

One can only assume, frankly, that they were renamed as part of a corporate rebranding - an interstellar version of the Swiss design craze that brought us Helvetica. "So I think you need to refocus on what you do best. Let's brainstorm. What are you guys good at?" "Crushing opposition?" "No, no, Crusher has bad associations in space. Try again." "Ummm... Exterminating lesser races?" "Sorry, that's trademarked." "Oof. Um. Dominating?" "Yes! Perfect! THE DOMINATORS! I love it!" If that meeting then ended up designing the preposterous shoulder pads that the Dominators walk around with, it is officially the worst corporate meeting since Microsoft Bob was greenlit.

Somehow, though, none of this - not the men in dresses that look to be sewn out of excess adult diapers, not the Dominators, not their shoulder pads, none of it - quite prepares the mind for the experience of seeing a Quark for the first time. The Quarks are the first effort to consciously design the next Daleks (in terms of merchandising potential) since the Chumblies. (The Cybermen, although pushed as merchandise, were not actually invented for that.) But where the Chumblies were a bewildering design that at least made interesting noises, the Quarks... look like children in bad robot costumes. Which they are. Fine. The Cybermen look like grown men in bad robot costumes. But the Quarks take the baffling decision to flaunt this fact with numerous sparkly bits, purposeless spikey bits, and the world's least practical arms. (They fold out of the chest, and seem good for nothing but shooting things) The Cybermen, whatever flaws their design may have (and there aren't actually that many), at least were designed with some eye towards function. The Quarks look like they were slapped together in a Blue Peter competition. Not that there is anything wrong with Blue Peter competitions, but note that I just said they looked like they were in one. Not like they won it.

(Ah, yes, another note for ignorant Americans. Blue Peter is a weekly children's show that's basically a kids' general interest magazine morphed into a television show. It has been on the air for a terrifyingly long time, and is completely iconic. The show is such that the Blue Peter badge - given to children for appearing on the show or by sending interesting material into the show - can still, in 2011, be used to gain free admission to numerous British attractions. Also, they frequently run competitions of the "design a Doctor Who monster" variety. Both the Abzobaloff from Love and Monsters and the TARDIS console the Doctor builds in The Doctor's Wife were based on Blue Peter designs.)

And then, on top of that, after the first episode cynically holds back the Quark reveal as if the appearances of these things is something to look forward to, we hear them talk. And it sounds like a homicidal chipmunk on helium. Perhaps the idea here was the frisson of childlike objects being dangerous. And in a story like, oh, the one we're talking about Wednesday, there's something to be said for this. The thing is, to successfully generate a genuine sense of fear and apprehension via the juxtaposition of the absurd and childish with the serious and dangerous you have to project some sense that you know what you're doing and thus that it might be deliberate. When every other piece of design in the entire episode is a complete trainwreck, the chilling juxtaposition of the childlike and the dangerous just looks like you have no idea that chipmunks sucking down helium are not what people immediately associate with "terrifying robotic killers."

Still, this is Doctor Who. Where we love nothing more than to ignore a ridiculous pile of camp insanity and enjoy the underlying story. So we should be fine, right? Well, perhaps. If anyone involved in this trainwreck had bothered to include an underlying story. Instead they included five episodes in which virtually nothing happens. At one point a rock is rolled down a hill to crush a Quark. It is the most boring piece of styrofoam rolling down a hill ever filmed. It looks nothing like a real rock, and bounces preposterously on the way down before landing off-camera and crushing the Quark. Apparently Morris Barry thought that a bouncing piece of styrofoam would be seen by viewers as an adequate replacement for seeing one of the evil robots blow up.

It's not. But it is par for the course for the plotting of this story. But if you want another example, we can look at the intelligence tests given to the Doctor and Jamie in the second episode. Which amount to putting blocks in the appropriately shaped holes. While being electrocuted. Aside from the question of what the electrocution was supposed to add to the experience other than establishing that the Dominators are evil - something that was probably decently well communicated by the fact that they are called the Dominators as opposed to the Nice Consensus Builders - we run into the fact that this is an intelligence test that most three year olds pass with remarkable ease. No species that has evolved the ability to talk is going to screw that one up. And yet the Dominators have no trouble believing that the Doctor and Jamie really are that stupid. Perhaps they can't pass the test either?

Of course, there is something of a reason for the crap plotting, much as with, once again, The Celestial Toymaker. See, apparently Haisman and Lincoln - the writers of this story - wanted to fill the script with biting social satire, but script editor Derrick Sherwin and producer Peter Bryant felt this was a poor decision. Unfortunately, given that the script was supposed to be about the social satire, that left it not about anything at all.

Lest you think the fault here lies with Bryant and Sherwin, however, we should quickly clear up what the satire was supposed to be. See, the Dulcians are all pacifists. Get it?

No, really. That's it. The entire point of the satire was that the Dulcians were pacifists, isn't that stupid. Haisman and Lincoln's entire idea in The Dominators is to ruthlessly mock the antiwar movement. And this aired during the Chicago protests in August, remember. This is Doctor Who overtly siding with the people committing police brutality over the people who are being beaten, whose major point is that the things like the Mai Lai massacre were bad.

Yes, Doctor Who has critiqued pacifism before - most obviously in The Daleks, where much effort is spent getting the Thals to fight. But look at how differently the two stories handle that. In The Daleks, the Thals are led to fight against the Daleks when Ian and the Doctor demonstrate to them that there are things they care about enough to fight for. In other words, as noble as pacifism may be, the Thals are led to see that there are things worth fighting for, and furthermore are shown that they clearly already believe this and that their pacifism is based out of the trauma of the last war, but isn't really who they are.. 

Whereas in The Dominators, the Dulcians are an entire culture defined by a genuine and considered ideal of pacifism. And so instead of being shown that, no, there are things they'll fight for, we get a scene in which a Dominator walks into the Dulcian high council. They all try to reason with him and indicate that they are happy to help him extract any minerals he needs and that there's really no reason to be violent, and he murders their leader and tells them that the Dominators do nothing but take and are basically just moustache-twirling villains who will be enslaving them all.

In other words, instead of pacifists being good people who can be made better, pacifists are deluded fools and it's funny to watch them die. It is easily the most cynical and mean-spirited scene I have seen yet in Doctor Who. It is a scene that exists only to take people who are acting out of a genuine moral conviction and mock them for their own morality. It doesn't even pretend to have an interesting story to tell. It's just pantomime villains murdering men in dresses (and in light of all of this it is hard to read the Dulcian wardrobe as anything other than a horrifyingly sexist claim about the hippie movement being a bunch of sissies) because watching hippies get killed is apparently funny.

It's bad. It's mean. It's a story that should never have happened. A story so bad that both Rob Shearman and Tat Wood separately tell stories of being at the 1983 Longleat convention and standing in line for hours to get into the screening room for Doctor Who stories only to be given The Dominators as the Troughton story and ultimately giving up on the idea that this could ever be fun. Even Troughton seems to be fed up with the story. At one point he's forced to argue that the problem the Dulcians are having with the Dominators is that they're not realizing that the Dominators are completely alien. It's an appallingly xenophobic line. The Dulcian points out that the Doctor is an alien too. Now, in the episode Troughton responds laughing and saying "you got me there." But fire up the episode and listen to his delivery. It's an incredibly fast response - the only moment I've ever seen Troughton flagrantly step on someone's dialogue. What I'm implying here is that the line sounds improvised - like Troughton snuck it in because he was horrified at his own dialogue and desperate to undercut the idea that the Doctor could be such a xenophobic prick. 

Two episodes later you can, quite frankly, see the moment where Troughton quits the series. Forced to do a scene in which the central joke is the use of the "number nine pill" to create a bomb, he gives up all pretense of playing the Doctor and simply begins trying to clown the script into submission in a desperate attempt to make it even remotely watchable. You can frankly see the will to live just drain out of his eyes. The "number nine pill," it should be noted, is a reference to a military prescription laxative. In other words, the plot of this story resolves with a diarrhea joke. Actually, it resolves with the Doctor running around with a different explosive trying to dispose of it. You may recognize this as the climax of the Adam West Batman movie, which gave us the classic line "Sometimes you just can't dispose of a bomb." While I recognize that the Troughton era is in part an attempt to compete with the charismatic double acts of series like Batman, ripping off Adam West for your plot developments has to be seen as the absolute nadir of Doctor Who plotting up to this point.

Here, in other words, Doctor Who has its own private '68. The complete and abysmal abdication of any claim to a moral worldview in favor of mean-spirited mockery of the youth culture that had previously been the heart and soul of the show. And the blame here falls squarely on Haisman and Lincoln, the mean-spirited thugs who wanted to write a Doctor Who story about how they hate pacifists. This story is so breathtakingly cruel and so shockingly out of step with everything that Doctor Who has been up to this point that, frankly, it calls into question everything Hasiman and Lincoln ever did. Really. Let's re-evaluate their contribution to Doctor Who briefly in light of this, shall we?

First off, we have the Yeti - their big monster. The idea of robotic Yeti was always a bit odd. On the one hand, they've always been in a position of either being the best monster that hasn't made a return. But if they were to return, frankly, they'd switch to being the worst monsters that have. There is nothing about the idea of the Yeti that looks on paper like a winner. When you stop to consider that they were created by the same people who made the Quarks - and indeed by the same people who went to war with the production office and threatened to engage in a lawsuit that would have had the probable effect of canceling Doctor Who over the rights to the Quarks - it becomes very difficult to see what about evil robotic teddy bears is a better idea than the evil robotic whatever the hell the Quarks are. It's just that the Yeti managed to show up in two stories that otherwise had good production values so that the frisson of an inappropriate monster functioned. But in hindsight, we have to take this as inadvertent postmodern genius - one of those moments where idiocy inadvertently works. 

We also praised them for the Buddhist setting of The Abominable Snowmen. Except one of the things that's striking about that story is that the Buddhist monastery has an oddly militant group of warriors who constantly beg for permission to oppose the Yeti and are shut down by their pacifist brethren. Combined with the fact that Lincoln is apparently fond of broad ancient conspiracy theories about how the French monarchy were secret descendants of Jesus and you suddenly get the sense that we are dealing with people with somewhat less of a grasp on culture and human behavior than one might hope. In fact, I'd argue that in the massive overlap among ancient European conspiracy theories, which tend to all have at least some elements in common with others in the set, it is impossible to distance any of them entirely from the anti-Semitism of conspiracies like the Gnomes of Zurich or the Elders of Zion. Oh, hey, I guess the whole stereotypical Jew aspect of The Web of Fear paid off after all.

Indeed, the thing we liked about The Abominable Snowmen was mostly how respectful the Doctor seemed of Buddhism. But then, we've already seen Troughton using line readings to undercut the intent of an offensive and xenophobic script once this episode. It is Troughton's line readings more than the script itself that makes the Doctor appear respectful of Buddhism. Looking at the script you have... a bunch of pacifist monks who wrongly ignore the guy who says they have to fight. And the author of the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead possessed for centuries by a malevolent alien. The same Book of the Dead that, as I've pointed out, got adapted into one of the major texts of psychedelia. Suddenly that story looks like a thinly veiled swipe at the evils of psychedelic culture with insanely dumb monsters that's been redeemed by quality production and some Troughton line readings.

As for their other story, The Web of Fear, stereotypical Jew aside, you may remember that I noted that the Doctor and the military make for strange bedfellows - a problem we'll see more and more this season and in the five following. Except that Haisman and Lincoln, in their non-existent understanding of the series they're writing for, seem to think that, no the Doctor loves the military and just isn't very fond of those dirty hippies. 

Frankly, once you watch The Dominators, it becomes impossible to assume any good will at all on the part of its authors. The sheer mean-spiritedness of this story forces us to reexamine what we liked in their two previous efforts, and once you do that it becomes possible to undo almost every virtue any of them had and read them instead as expressions of the same ugly cruelty of this story. They lucked out and got good production twice and managed to cover up most of their flaws, but with this one, they are, quite frankly, found out as the cynical and nasty hacks that they are. This is their last involvement with the show, and frankly, good riddance.

If I sound pissed off at this story, it's because I am. It is an overt attack on the ethical foundations of Doctor Who. Not only is it an attack on the entire ethos that underlies the Doctor as a character, it's an attempt to twist and pervert the show away from what it is and towards something ugly, cruel, and just plain unpleasant. The sheer sickening stench of this story is enough to turn one off the program entirely. Especially coming off of the long turgid slog of pointless and cynical bases under siege we've seen over the last year.

Frankly, unless the next story turns out to be a David Whitaker-esque piece of magic and one of the best stories the show has ever produced, it might just be time to pack it in on this program before it goes from worse to completely and utterly unforgivably awful.

Have you been spared the agony of The Dominators? You can fix that by buying it on DVD in either the US or UK, and in the process spare me the agony of ramen noodles by giving me a small kickback. 


Alex Wilcock 9 years, 7 months ago

I find it impossible to disagree with much of your critique of this – the horrible politics most of all (and this was the toned-down version, once the production team had taken a hatchet to it!) – and yet, and yet… I find it much easier to watch than The Wheel In Space, and not just for the obvious reason. Your suggestion that it’s fascinating because Whitaker realised how rubbish that was and deconstructed it made me look at it from an interesting angle, but not interesting enough to try and sit through it again (for me, dull, derivative and wilfully stupid). If you’d swapped styles and just picked out a few points for The Dominators as a springboard for talking about other things, while describing Wheel in merciless detail, it’s easy to imagine the impact of your reviews being reversed. And there is a credible explanation of why this is so hated, too; have you never heard anyone grumble, ‘Why did they keep this one, and not the Yeti’?

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Alex Wilcock 9 years, 7 months ago

I can’t give a full-blooded defence of The Dominators. Not even for a bet (though I might do with one of the DWM Ten Most Hated, if you agree with them). This team of regulars can save almost anything, but not here: Wendy looks desperately unhappy in her curtains and, from back when I watched the whole series through, this is the point where Pat starts saying “Oh, my word!” and throwing his hands in the air when he’s too bored to act. Which turns out to be a lot. So you may be right about his deciding to leave. Even here, though, they have lines about making up their own minds and asking questions – perhaps refreshed about what the Human Factor consists of over the summer – which may often be directed against the ‘hippies’ but still remind you that the Doctor and his friends are counter-cultural. The writers have at least been stupid enough to write the ‘hippies’ as old men, which partially undermines their attempt to put the series against ‘young people today’ and suggests Dominators and Dulcians as mirrors of each other, with the questioning youngsters told to shut up by both. I’m also thankful that the writers went off in a strop and took their names off it, as it makes it easier to enjoy their Yeti stories without back-reading your all-too-plausible subtext.

To pick one redeeming performance, Ronald Allen, at least, gives it some welly. He may be dressed as a distressed turtle, but his performance has presence (and he’s charismatic in a very different way in his other Who). He’s worth tuning in for by making the part as written seem almost plausible (and since when didn’t fascists give themselves titles that bigged themselves up? Or communist dictators, too, come to that, like Man-of-Steel Stalin). Then the other actor worth tuning in for is by taking the part as written and saying, ‘Nah, we want to do it another way’. As I wrote earlier this year about Earthshock’s saving grace (and there’s an argument for saying that story is pretty much this one again, but more popular), Arthur Cox is brilliant casting here. Like employing Beryl Reid to play Sigourney Weaver and Bernard Cribbins as Luke Skywalker, having a tubby, balding man as James Dean is the most Whoish decision imaginable, instantly sending up the macho pretensions. No other series would dare.

Against the tide and possibly against reason, I have a soft spot for the Quarks, too. At least they’re not the Cybermen doing exactly the same schtick again. Surely you can see what they were trying to do with the arms, but didn’t have the budget for – a sort of malevolent penknife (and surely the Toclafane are, if you squint, round-headed-with-spiky-bits-and-extras-that-pop-out-and-psychotic-children Twenty-first Century reimagined Quarks, too). All right, so I find it easier to admire their design when I’m not watching or listening to them, but as I boy I saw pictures of them and thought they looked terrific. So I have a confession; at about the age of eight, in a fancy dress competition, based purely on photos, I was indeed a child in a Quark suit. And I nearly won, too – among all the princesses and Robin Hoods, I came in second. Behind a friend of mine who’d come as a Dalek. Obviously.

On the other hand, Fire is fabulous, and it’s always great to be reminded to see it again. You’ll get no argument from me.

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 7 months ago

I suppose hating this story for existing must be part of its reputation, although it's one that baffles me. It's not as though there was a set quota of episodes that would get to survive that was then met with puzzling decisions. We're lucky anything exists from the first decade of Doctor Who. Beyond that, the patterns of destruction tell us a lot - seasons 3-5 are eviscerated, with seasons 4 and 5 having it worst. 1, 2, and 6 are all relatively untouched, missing 9, 2, and 7 episodes respectively, compared to 28, 34, and 27 episodes from seasons 3-5. With disparity like that, it's pretty easy to see that for whatever reason, the processes of destruction ended up focusing on particular seasons.

So this story exists because it's a season six story. Blaming it for the wiping of other stories is ridiculous. Even if I'd gladly scrap it for the remainder of Enemy of the World, that's not what's wrong with it. So in that regard, yeah, it's another bum note in the DWM poll.

You do, of course, argue well for its redeeming aspects. Ultimately, the reason this was the style picked for this story and Wheel in Space was read somewhat redemptively comes down to my sense that The Wheel in Space was trying to do something worthwhile, and this story was trying to be rubbish. I mean, I do think David Whitaker has a strong claim to being the best writer of the classic series, so I'm inclined to highlight his good aspects more just because I don't think Doctor Who fandom as a whole is sufficiently in awe of him.

But more basic than that, I'm more inclined to praise a story whose heart seems in the right place. Which is where I'm going to start running into problems in a few weeks - because I feel like swaths of the Pertwee era are very well made stories whose hearts are miles out of place. And I've still not quite decided on some of the basic framework for covering that era yet as a result.

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Alex Wilcock 9 years, 7 months ago

"The Wheel in Space was trying to do something worthwhile, and this story was trying to be rubbish" is a killer comeback, even if I only believe the second half of it! Perhaps the reason I want to believe you on Whitaker doing something clever is that I agree with you on him, and am always aghast that his name's on something so apparently devoid of ideas (save the extra-specially daft one last piece of Whitaker space science). Oddly, Bob Holmes comes a frightful cropper when he rewrites the Cybermen, too.

"I feel like swaths of the Pertwee era are very well made stories whose hearts are miles out of place." With you on that, too (and it's how I feel on Earthshock, where Saward makes everyone the Dominators except the Doctor, who he casts as a Dulcian and doesn't have the faintest idea why any hero doesn't just blow people's brains out).

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Matthew Celestis 9 years, 7 months ago

I quite like The Dominators.

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Spikeimar 9 years, 7 months ago

I think the trouble with the DWM poll is that it was carried out in a manner worryingly like the Libdem idea for voting reform in that when you have to put stories in order of preference and then accumulate votes the stories that inspire apathy tend to clump around the bottom of the list with nothing to do but look shamefaced.

'The Dominators' main fault I think, is that it really is very dull, not much happens and when it does it happens very slowly and very unconvincingly. Almost all the design choices are dire apart from one. Cully's ship is clearly a lemon juicer on string, the costumes are terrible (but are they any worse than many other 1960's costumes? and did the writers have that much say in it?) The one design I really think isn't that bad are the Quarks. Who says the spikey bits are not vital to whatever alien tech they work from? The voices are bad but at least different.
As much as I love the Cybermen I would rather watch this story any day than 'Wheel' which truly is dull and filled with acting that is a lot worse than here. If David Whitacker did indeed rewrite this as a parody of bad sci-fi then he would lose more in my eyes than if he just had an off day because it was not made as a parody, it was not treated as a parody by the production crew or in any behind the scenes literature so basically he would have written something in the knowledge he was taking the piss but then not told anyone the joke, which seems very unprofessional to me.
If you have ever read 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail' then your comments on the character of the writers but you could add 'gullible' and 'bullying' too

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Spikeimar 9 years, 7 months ago

I forgot to add, I wonder if E.L.Wisty had anything to do with naming 'The Dominators'?

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Mike Russell 9 years, 7 months ago

I'm such a hippie peacenik that I own every Yoko Ono album and was even vegan for nine years, but I actually rather enjoy The Dominators. As the wonderful Alex says, writing the hippies as old men does somewhat scramble the hack writers' intended message. Far from coming across as hippies, the Dulcian elders seem to be a stultified 1950s middle-class homeowners association who hate having anything disturbed.

Also, I'd rather concentrate on the number of times the Doctor and Jamie are grabbing each other in this story, and this time, they hold hands on purpose. Given how homophobic many of the 60s hippies actually were, the Two/Jamie love-in seems to me to advocate a much more revolutionary world than the writers intended.
If you want to note the closeness Two and Jamie have, The Mind Robber has a superb scene in which a scared Jamie hugs the Doctor tightly while leaving Zoe by herself on the other side of the TARDIS console.

Also, once the Doctor has defeated the Dominators, there is not a hint about the Dulcians changing their culture. A true anti-hippie story would have them changing their ways.

And I might be immature, but I absolutely love Pat's "OH MY WORD!!" at the end.

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BatmanAoD 9 years, 7 months ago

The "lone turkey from the new series" in the bottom 10 is "Fear Her," right? That makes absolutely no sense to me. It may not be one of the highlights of the Davies era, but it's hardly as bad as, say, "The Idiot's Lantern," at least in my opinion. (For the record, I also hated most of "The Doctor's Daughter.")

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Elizabeth Sandifer 9 years, 7 months ago

To be fair, I'd describe Wheel in Space less as parody than as an attack. As I said in the entry, the biggest problem with what Whitaker seems to be doing is that he does not give a toss whether the result is actually watchable television. He's just showing how far the show has drifted, audience be damned.

And yes, the lone new series turkey is Fear Her. Not a great episode by any stretch, to my mind, but if I recall the DWM poll has it adjacent to Timeflight or some other insane insult.

Doctor/Jamie slash is, however, always a welcome distraction, I will grant you. I'm still not sure I'm willing to grant this episode any sort of redemption though. The fact that it maybe accidentally sells short its mean-spirited and cruel message with some bewildering casting is a nice touch (though to be fair, the kids are just as pacifist, they just don't get exterminated as well). But it doesn't end up changing the fact that this is a badly paced, badly shot, ill-intentioned mess.

I mean, it's still better than The Celestial Toymaker, in that the Quarks are at least entertaining in their "WTF is that"ness and you have Troughton and Hines visibly fighting against the script at every turn. But still... for me, you have the Troughton era, which has already been an oddly schizoid beast that's pulled in two directions, here giving in to all of its worst impulses and none of its best.

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JJ 9 years, 7 months ago

To be honest, I don't think this is quite amongst the worst. I mean, for the first three episodes, I definitely agree; it's dreadful in every respect. But the last two episodes suddenly pick up the pace and have stuff happen. And this TARDIS crew works together brilliantly, even with lousy material, and I find the last two episodes to be sorta fun. At that point, it abandons its very poorly written anti-pacifism message for silly action-adventure stuff, and while it's got nothing on, well, pretty much anything else in Season 6, including the fairly weak Space Pirates, it's not completely awful.

"Fear Her", on the other hand, is the only new series episode that I find to be outright unwatchable. I made it through once; I tried doing so a second time for my review on my blog, and couldn't get more than ten minutes into it. It's got the rare distinction of being a completely uninteresting Doctor Who story, and also manages to be really, really bad.

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Jamez V 9 years, 7 months ago

The Dominators is really kind of a guilty pleasure for me, and the guilt is because I know what was intended by it. However I simply can't stop myself finding it incredibly enjoyable to watch. I think the Quarks are adorable, and the way the two Dominators' bitch at each other like a middle-aged married couple is a riot!

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Billy Smart 9 years, 7 months ago

Other than the Quark design and the performances of the regulars, the one thing that I can derive pleasure from in The Dominators is the little snatches of Radiophonic sound design that provide atmosphere and tension to the world of the story, a continuation of the chill and awe that added so much to The Wheel In Space. Just imagine if it looked as unworldly as it sounds!

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Grant, the Hipster Dad 9 years, 7 months ago

True story: I was in Columbus, GA, when Patrick Troughton died in 1987. A friend, running the Doctor Who video room, asked Pat whether he'd like to attend a screening of any of his existing stories. He said that he'd love to, and that he had not seen "The Dominators" in many years. He died that night, and I've often wondered whether the choice of story didn't have something to do with that heart attack.

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landru 9 years, 6 months ago

I just watched this again (about 3 days ago) and I found it very enjoyable. It's got a point, albeit not a very subtle one, and the acting isn't as bad as I remembered. I think I was always biased against it because the original pre-restoration version was virtually unwatchable. The costumes are strange and camp, the characters are banal (but they are supposed to be) and camp, but there are some good action sequences.

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7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194 9 years, 5 months ago

The point I got from the story was not just that the Dulcians were pacifists but that they were stodgy conservatives who lacked curiosity and feared novelty -- who passively accepted the known and vehemently denied the unknown. They seem oddly cast, then, as a parody of the antiwar movement; they seem more like the establishment targeted by "The Times They Are A-Changin'."

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Seeing_I 9 years, 4 months ago

Horrible story. And yet, if they came out with Quark action figures, I'd run right out and buy them!

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Tallifer 9 years, 2 months ago

I think the story's attack on unrealistic pacifism is part of the older generation's memories of Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s. From that perspective the idealism of the 1960s seemed a regression to a dangerous time (combined with social radicalism which was distasteful to that same generation). The Dominators thus represent the Nazis as well as the Stalinist Communists.

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ohmywordness 9 years, 1 month ago

I have been reading your blog off and on, and there are some things I really like, but sometimes I just disagree with you.
I just watched The Dominators and I don't think it is very good, but I think you have overlooked some important things.
Sure, there was an anti-pacifism message, but I think it is very different from how you present it. The pacifists are the older people, the rulers. They sit around talking endlessly before making decisions and refuse to believe anything without facts. They have achieved peace only through complete control of their world.
Meanwhile, the young Cully is looking for adventure, he breaks the rules, is the son of the ruler but behaves nothing like him, he thinks for himself, and no one respects or listens to him. One of these represents the establishment and one represents the counterculture.
Cully, the counterculture, is the hero of the story. He is the only one to recognize the threat and try to do something. If the message is that pacifism is stupid, and the hero (representing hippies) uses force (throws rocks and bombs) to defeat the threat, then surely the intention is to inspire the hippie culture to embrace physical conflict.

As for your assertion that the Dominators kill someone just to show that killing pacifists is funny, I couldn't disagree more.
Look at who was killed. The one person in power that could influence the others to consider the threat seriously and fight back. While they waste time deliberating a Dominator and a Quark show up and kill him. This is the one bit of drama in this otherwise lifeless story. The one person with influence who was sympathetic to the-counterculture-that-is-Cully is killed because the establishment was too blind and ineffective to act. If they had gone to war it would have been a complete cultural revolution. It is a downright condemnation of the establishment.

Or, maybe it is a warning of what would happen if the counterculture were to get into power and become the establishment. If that were to happen they would no longer be what they once were. They would become ineffective and oblivious to the world around them, dismissive of the younger generation and their ideas. If that were to happen shouldn't they be brought down? Isn't this what you say are Doctor Who's established values? After all, you have several times referred to the Doctor as a force of Anarchy.
Whatever it is, it's boring.

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ohmywordness 9 years, 1 month ago

One more thing, there were some parts of your post that I laughed hysterically at, they were so funny. Good job. Also, sorry for such a long post earlier.
Merry Christmas.

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Chadwick 8 years, 3 months ago

Whilst "The Dominators" is a mess and poorly executed, I don't think it is an attack on pacifism and the youth of the Sixties at all. If you can pick apart the dodgy script, it's passivity, not pacifism, that is the target. The Doctor praises Dulcis as a peaceful planet that has embraced passivism in episode 1. However, the Ducian leadership...all middle aged men...have mistaken passivity for pacifism and now their motto is "better to do nothing than to do the wrong thing" but they don't know what the wrong thing is to do so they do nothing as a matter of course. Now the pacifist movement of the Sixties, particularly in America, was not passive at all. Even chosing to plant flowers down the barrels of rifles held by the National Guard is an action. The pacifist movement took to the streets, it chanted its slogans, it refused to submit to the draft, some fled to Canada, some burned their draft cards...in short, the movement was vibrant, active and it took steps to make its point. Contrast with the Dulcians who have slipped into complacency, have become inactive and refuse to act or even come up with ideas. For most of the first 3 episodes they refuse to acknowledge there is a problem. When Cully and Teel take action, they want to target the Quarks who are machines, not the Dominators who are flesh and blood.

Now, in the hands of more skilled scriptwriters (and had Derrick Sherwin had more time to whip the story into shape) this contrast between pacifism and passivity and the need to stand up and take action whilst remaining true to pacifism could have been made with more coherancy. This isn't a nasty piece of work, it's a shoddy one.

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Nick Campbell 7 years, 10 months ago

This was a great review. I don’t agree with all of it, but I like your reaction to the central problem of the story, which is an implicit admiration/fear of the powerful Dominators, and a critique of pacificism as an impossible dream, a critique the Doctor himself is not exempted from. However, I think there are always at least three stories in any one Doctor Who story. There’s the story the writers intended – the story the script editors produced – and the story the actors made of it.

By the last two episodes of this story (it should be remembered, these are the final two weeks of a five week production schedule – give or take a couple of months of development) I think it has been turned around – the Dominators are semi-ludicrous figures, Cully is heroic, the Doctor, Zoe and Jamie are anarchic figures, and there is even some good comedy (according to the Info Subtitles, Number 9 Pills was Troughton’s own improvisation – though I really like your reading of his laughing outburst in episode 4). There are some progressions to this story – thank God!

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Kellyg 6 years, 11 months ago

Arthur Brown!!

In 1992 I hired a guy to paint my house. It wasn't until he turned up to do the job that I realized that he was THAT Arthur Brown. Turns out he had moved to Austin, Texas to be near his teenage son. Music wasn't paying the bills and he had gone back to school to become a therapist(!) He was painting houses to make ends meet. He was a good painter and a truly gentle, lovely man.

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William Silvia 6 years, 9 months ago

I just read this via the Troughton book as a Kickstarter prize. You do and don't surprise me in a reference that you don't make; in fact, it almost seems as though aside from one essay, you seem to go out of your way to avoid making comparisons between this and the other big, long-running Sci-Fi series of the late '60s. That said, if you ever do re-release the Troughton book (there are enough Pros and Cons that neither approach would surprise me, though if another lost episode were to arise then I think we had ought to start clamoring for it), it might be nice to preface this article with a look at another time-traveling Science Fiction episode released in the 1967-1968 period that is criticized for its take on pacifism. At the very least, it would add context to this entire discussion.

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William Silvia 6 years, 9 months ago

And now I'm reading you talk about the episode in question several essays down the line...

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Joachim 6 years, 2 months ago

The Cybermen look like grown men in bad robot costumes. ... clowncostumemen.blogspot.com

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Dan 2 years, 5 months ago

I'm a bit late with this, but well, I've only just watched the story. But I want to make a couple of points in addition to some of those already made.

These are in the context of the fact that it is a pretty bad story. The opening section looked like being worst Doctor Who story so far, so when the TARDIS crew turn up it's a relief. They do come across a little like some factor turning lead into gold. I continued to think that this was the worst story so far for quite some time, but the regulars at least seem to prevent it from being the least watchable.

The first point concerns the Doctor's line about the Dulcians not realising the Dominators are completely alien. I don't don't think this needs to be interpreted as a xenophobic comment at all. It's not that they're just from another place: their nature is almost completely beyond the Dulcians experience and understanding. I took the "you got me there" (in response to "well you're from another planet too!") as a highly ironical response to a rather hasty and stupid argument. Dulcian debating skills have atrophied to say the least, and their Twitter is appalling.

My other point is concerned with the identity of the abbot in Snowmen. Haisman and Lincoln unashamedly use the names of of some of the most outstanding political and religious figures in Tibetan history, but they are just names being used for the characters in the story. If it had been written after the Tibetan diaspora and the establishment of dharma centres in the West, they would probably have had to do something different, which is more or less why Terrance Dicks varied the names in the novelisation. Therefore the abbot bears no relation to the historical Padmasambhava and there is no suggestion that he is the author of Tibetan Book of the Dead. And this text in itself has has really nothing to do with the book by Leary et al.

I don't know enough about the origin of ancient European conspiracy theories (as you put it) to decisively address that point, but would not be hasty to conflate them all to the old anti-semitic narratives, especially just on the basis of them all tending to have at least some elements in common with others in the set, which sounds as much a technical argument for potential divergence in these conspiracy theories as for their similarity. Of course some evidence may turn up to show that these authors were just virulent anti-semites all the time, much in the way David Icke sadly let Jon Ronson down in the end.

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