In some circles, the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who is known as “the monster era” and, if you look to his first two years the adventures are filled with Daleks, Cybermen, Yeti, Ice Warriors, and much more. It’s probably a reputation that’s deserving. Sad, though, that most of those “monster era” adventures are missing – if not in part, then in their entirety. In modern times, it’s very difficult to get a sense of what the 2nd Doctor was about. We’ve lost his debut story, we don’t see how he handles a large TARDIS crew, we don’t see the introduction of Jamie, or the Yeti, or the Ice Warriors, we don’t see him going up against those Daleks, or the Yeti, and we only see him facing the Ice Warriors and Cybermen in his final year when he’s winding down ready to leave. This lack of surviving adventures hurts the 2nd Doctor more than his predecessor.
These reasons combined is probably why the 2nd Doctor season that survives most fully, Troughton’s final year, tends to be greeted with a sense of lacklustre apathy. That would be to do a massive disservice to season 6, however.
Away from the emphasis on a main “monster” or a returning “monster”, we have the opportunity to see something fresh and new. There’s time for the characters to be introduced, for the world-building to happen, for the story to unfold gradually, and for the plot to be uncovered piece by piece.
And so we begin the 2nd Doctor’s final year with The Dominators.
It’s some little time into the first episode before we meet the regulars again, as we’re introduced to the new world, new characters, and this world’s technology. They deliver some back-story about why the people of Dulkis are pacifists, about how that passivism leads some of the younger generation to seek out excitement, doubting it when they come across it, and then not knowing how to handle it when it arrives.
We’re introduced to the primary antagonists – in this case, two “Dominators”. They have the name “Dominators” not because of what they do here, but because their people have dominated the 10 galaxies with their ruthlessness. This success has bred arrogance, leading to conflict between Navigator Rago and his subordinate Toba. Rago intends to fulfil his mission, whilst Toba is more inclined to wear his arrogance on his sleeve and kill everyone he meets, and destroying everything else.
To help the Dominators on their quest, they’re accompanied by a varying number of Quarks – a cube like robot with lumbering gait, globe-like head with spikes, and inflexible arms.
Like the Doctor and his team, and a small number of natives on a tourism jaunt, the Dominators land on a small island where the crust of the planet is said to be at its thinnest. They take surveys, and drill holes. When they encounter natives, they test them to assess their intelligence and practicality as a slave work force.
When Toba kills all but one of the party of natives, it’s left to their “tour guide” to explain what happened to a nearby study group. Cully, however, has a reputation with wild stories and no one will believe him.
The Doctor becomes involved after he and Jamie are mistaken for natives and tested by the Dominators. The tests of Jamie prove that the Dulcians must be harmless, and they’re released. The Doctor tries to convince the planetary council that they’re under threat but, having lived in peace for so long, the council is not experienced in how to react. At first they disbelieve, then they investigate, and finally it’s too late to do anything.
The Doctor discovers the reason the Dominators are here, and what they intend to do with Dulkis. The culmination in their plan will see the planet destroyed and all of the inhabitants killed. He must work with Jamie and Zoe, and the few Dulcians remaining on the island, to thwart their plans.
The Dominators opens the 6th season of Doctor Who and it’s connected with The Wheel in Space, the final adventure of the 5th season and the first to feature Zoe. At the end of the previous adventure, the Doctor attempted to warn Zoe of what she might face if she travelled with them. To this end, he used a mental projector with which he projected previous adventures – a cunning “in story” method of introducing a season of repeats.
When we first meet the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, in The Dominators, the Doctor was intending to landing on a nice quiet peaceful little world for a rest – because he’s tired from “projecting all those mental images”. There’s no further mention of the reason for this than those words. Presumably the repeats (mental projections) finished and Zoe must have been okay with all the threats she might face, hence the reason they’d left the Wheel with her and had all travelled to Dulkis.
It’s rather a little sad, then, that it isn’t far into The Dominators before Zoe is required to just scream at the cliffhanger. It could be accepted that the logical and level-headed Zoe from the Wheel might be unprepared for the threat, and this prompted her to scream. However, if she’s been watching a bunch of previous adventures, as is implied, she would surely have “encountered” (virtually if not literally) much bigger threats, so she’d take this occasion in her stride.
Nevertheless, the inconsistency there is a small price to pay for the clever use of canonical narrative to link repeats into the structure of the series.
When I read about The Dominators, the word most associated with it is “dull”, but I do wonder what they’re comparing it to that they deem it “dull”. Although it’s not wall-to-wall action, there is some action – particularly later on with Jamie and Cully making it an almost personal mission to take out as many Quarks as possible.
And there may be a little too many trips from the island to the council and back again, but this serves to demonstrate how intransigent the passive leaders of Dulkis are.
And maybe the Quarks are a little too lumbering to be truly threatening, but my only real complaint with them is that they’re another example of someone thinking that “unintelligible voices” is a good thing (really, if you were making a robot or a voicebox, would you really go for the least human sounding voice you can possibly create as was the case with these “monsters” and robots around this time?).
These are only tiny things, however. If you want to get into the story and the characters, and the message the writer is conveying (that passivism is a destructive path because, unless everyone everywhere could become passivist all at the same time, those who do will end up dominated by those who don’t), then you will. The Dominators is like reading a book, as characters make their way through a gently building narrative with a plot that serves the story.
I don’t have a problem with it and found myself enjoying it for the most part.
Next time … The Mind Robber.