Back in the summer of 1968, The Doctor was travelling with headstrong 18th century scotsman Jamie McCrimmon and had just been joined by brilliant young mathematician and astrophysicist Zoe Heriot, of the 21st century. This team, with the regenerated ‘cosmic hobo’ Doctor is just about my favourite, so it’s always a pleasure to watch them in action, but this adventure is not one of their best. If you’re a Jamie fan you’ll enjoy the fact that he gets to make a lot of the running in this one, but the Doctor and Zoe are underused and the production show its limitations in both budget and imagination.
The premise is quite intriguing – aliens with the most impressive shoulder pads land on an island on which nuclear testing has made radiation levels too high for habitation. The planet is not Earth, but Dulkis where warfare has been globally reject in favour of a pacifist consensus (the radiation being from tests over 100 years previously). There’s an entertaining though inconsequential bit of nonsense as the be-shouldered aliens, the titular Dominators, soak up all the radiation as fuel for their ship, but the real tension should be around how the peaceful world will react to to the incursion of ruthless, amoral warmongers who (at best) wish to enslave all the Dulcians.
From a storytelling point of view, it’s an opportunity to test the pacifist manifesto. The Dulcians have reached an enlightened post-conflict era in which their commitment to living peacefully is so great that the only weapons are museum pieces. Unfortunately there is no real exploration of how such a society could or should respond to this incursion from outside (there’s a wonderful chance to introduce some game theory here – although I guess not everyone would share my conviction that this would make for lively television). Instead the pacifists are portrayed as idiots who sit on beanbags, wear curtains, and wait for the generously-shouldered interlopers to turn up and toast them.
Meanwhile, the mean but monotonous Dominators frown menacingly at the Doctor and his companions, the Dulcians, the local rocks and eventually one another as they fall out over whether the best way to be evil is through inefficient malice or the single-minded pursuit of total dominion. This is even more boring than it sounds. An entire battle-fleet of Dominators are supposed to be hanging around in orbit, but the story pretext is so flimsy that it’s clear the reason we only see two of them (one being the incompetent evil apprentice) is because of budgetary constraints.
But the most damning indictment on the invaders’ scoresheet is the irritating robotic assistants they bring with them. The ‘quarks’ are so obviously made of cardboard, cartons and sticky-back plastic that I wondered whether there had been Blue Peter competitions back in the 1960s to design story elements as there have been more recently. But I dismissed that idea on the basis that the abzorbaloff and the TARDIS console which were the product of recent competitions showed infinitely more imagination that these diminutive mechanoids. How much more menacing would they have been if, instead of waggling arms and pyramidic protrusions the design had been minimal (think floating spheres, or gliding cylinders) counterpointing devastating lethal firepower?
One interesting consequence of the prevailing culture of pacifism on Dulkis is that the Doctor, usually the last to resort to violence, ends up being the one fashioning weapons. In the light of the Doctor’s controversial actions towards Solomon in September’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship I find myself looking for parallels in his actions towards apparently irredeemable foes. In the final scenes of The Dominators it could be argued the Doctor does something similar. However, the deaths he causes are a by-product of his actions, not the reason for them; and there is every possibility that the Dominators might have been able to defuse their own weapon. While it’s interesting to see the Doctor forced into a more war-like position, it doesn’t have anything like the moral complexity of, for example, his later incarnation’s reliance on his then companion Leela’s capacity for violence. The Doctor’s actions are too easy to justify, the Dulcians are simply too feeble and the Dominators too morally vacuous for there to be much scope here to explore any moral ambiguities.
Fortunately, however, things improve greatly in the following adventure, The Mind Robber….