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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

27 Comments

  1. Alex Wilcock
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    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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  2. Alex Wilcock
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:32 am

    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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  3. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:47 am

    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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  4. Alex Wilcock
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:59 am

    "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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  5. Matthew Celestis
    June 13, 2011 @ 2:51 am

    I quite like The Dominators.

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  6. Spikeimar
    June 13, 2011 @ 10:56 am

    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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  7. Spikeimar
    June 13, 2011 @ 10:58 am

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

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  8. Mike Russell
    June 13, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

    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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  9. BatmanAoD
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

    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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  10. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 13, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

    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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  11. JJ
    June 13, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    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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  12. Jamez V
    June 13, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

    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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  13. Billy Smart
    June 13, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

    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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  14. Grant, the Hipster Dad
    June 15, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

    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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  15. landru
    July 11, 2011 @ 10:28 am

    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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  16. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    August 10, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

    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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  17. Seeing_I
    September 9, 2011 @ 5:43 am

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

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  18. Tallifer
    November 1, 2011 @ 3:18 am

    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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  19. ohmywordness
    December 24, 2011 @ 5:26 am

    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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  20. ohmywordness
    December 24, 2011 @ 5:36 am

    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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  21. Chadwick
    October 21, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    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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  22. Nick Campbell
    March 28, 2013 @ 1:56 am

    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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  23. Kellyg
    February 22, 2014 @ 11:12 am

    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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  24. William Silvia
    April 1, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

    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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  25. William Silvia
    April 3, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

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

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  26. Joachim
    November 8, 2014 @ 2:19 am

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

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  27. Dan
    July 30, 2018 @ 3:17 am

    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.

    Reply

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