Aired 10 August – 7 September 1968
‘The Dominators’ kicks off Doctor Who’s sixth season with a fairly tepid affair that has since increased in notoriety for simply managing to survive in the video archives unblemished while so many other stories have fallen victim to the video purge. As the titular Dominators land on the planet Dulkis with their mining robots the Quarks, assessing the viability of the planet’s population for slave labour before turning the planet into a radioactive mass to fuel the needs of their own people, the scene is certainly set for another strong story.
Unfortunately, there are several notable flaws that prevent the intriguing plot from being fully realized on screen. In a story with quite a few guest actors, only Ronald Allen as the Dominator Rago manages to stand out with a truly great performance. His physical presence, body language, terse delivery of lines, and ruthless looks are the one indication that this race is one to be feared, and he ends up being the one shining point aside from the regulars as events progress. Fellow Dominator Toba played by Kenneth Ives comes off as rather shallow in comparison, the script writing him as a man who would abandon everything- common sense included- to watch the Quarks attack. As for the Dulcians themselves, no characterization is afforded anyone, and the entire populace comes off as rather lifeless and dull. Sadly Felicity Gibson’s Kando falls short of even lifeless and steals every scene for all the wrong reasons.
Yet actors cannot realistically be expected to salvage a tedious script by themselves, and it’s telling that the script was cut from six episodes to five episodes due to lack of material. Even as it is, several scenes and sequences from earlier episodes are repeated in later ones, and the Quarks fluctuate between genuine threat and harmless oddity fairly regularly as they go from exploding nearby objects to needing to recharge due to short battery life. On a positive note, there is a cruel irony that Rago’s continued insistence that Toba stop killing things ends up being the Dominators’ downfall as their plan would have succeeded unhindered had Toba had his way. At the same time, the character of Zoe is given a little more depth as her intelligence is put to the test, and the scenes in which Jamie and Doctor pretend to be particularly dim and thick to put their plan into motion are genuinely enjoyable.
‘The Dominators’ seems to suffer from not knowing exactly what the scale and scope of its story is. Switching between expansive quarry shots and claustrophobic interior shots of the same scenes, the scenes don’t always make logical sense as the perspective shifts, characters sometimes appearing right on top of each other and sometimes very far away in short order. In the end, this keeps with the consistently inconsistent tone of the story, but it certainly detracts from the story being told. Indeed, without the natural chemistry of the three leads and the humour they bring as well as the menacing presence of Rago, ‘The Dominators’ would have little to commend. The Quarks are an interesting experiment, but fall far short of the Daleks they were intended to replace, and the rather uninspired story overall is certainly not a highlight of the Troughton era.