“That which threatens us we destroy, that which is too weak to harm us we ignore.” – Dominator Rago
The Dominators is actually a fairly good storyline but is let down by some production, direction, and editing problems. It opens with a view of the brutal Dominators arriving on the planet Dulkis. The show does a good job in showing how ruthless they are not just through their actions (like being willing to work people to death just to get a view of their physical limits) but also through the actors both conveying a seething anger and bloodlust barely kept in check; their odd costumes and sullen makeup add to this effect. The difficulty of the pair in working together, and especially their tense stand off in a near mutiny, fits perfectly with what you would expect from such creatures—an example of some good characterization in this story. The attempt to give a stark contrast in Dulcians, pacifist to a fault, is interesting but doesn’t work as well because some of their logic (not to ask questions, accept the easiest explanation without investigation) doesn’t quite fit for what is supposed to be a super-advanced race. Still, they make a nice stab at trying to show the dangers of becoming soft and slow to adapt. (“Vegetables, the lot of you. You don’t live, you exist.”)
The progression of the story works fairly well. Though the explanation of the Dominators plan unfolds slowly for the viewer, they actually set about it at a pretty good pace and amazingly the overall plan makes sense as explained (instead of seeming like an overly complicated plan for no good reason). The way they just show up and start their drilling while capturing whatever random person that comes by to test just increases the feeling of how callous they are.
The Doctor is great here at playing dumb in order to gain information and in a rather brilliant scene invents an entire society in his mind, pretending he is a low class worker Dulcian under the thumb of an overseer class he refers to as the ‘Clever Ones’. His forlorn delivery of the line “We don’t like them. They..they tell us what to do you see” convinces the Dominators he actually is an overworked slave and totally puts them off his scent as a threat. Zoe gets to shine in contrast to past companions both in stamina, refusal to submit, and of course in being clever in science. (“So presumably it must be a fuel capable of producing a high enough energy quotient to sustain an amplifying complex of considerably sophisticated design.” To which the Doctor teases, “Yes, must be pretty powerful too…” ) Meanwhile, Jamie gets to show off his courage and ability at stealth fighting and it’s interesting in the Dominators’ analysis of his brain that they note “signs of recent rapid learning,” a rare early instance of the show using a throwaway line to explain a standing question about a character.
There are a lot of other nice little moments of –you learn a lot about the Dominators physical make-up by their surprise at the contrasts in Jamie like a ‘brittle’ bone structure and having only one heart. It’s also the first story to show the sonic screwdriver is so much more than just a screwdriver.
Best (or worst) unsettling moments:
The ruthlessness of the Dominators is showed almost right away when they horribly wipe out the three Dulcians we had just been introduced to. It’s done with a close up still of the face of the happy and laughing Toleta which is suddenly blanked out and melted. The effect is quick but recalls anti-nuclear campaigns and images contemporary with the episode where smiling happy people are suddenly turned to ashes in a mushroom cloud. Though found to be just dummies, the bodies we see with patches of hair falling out seemingly burned by radiation are also horrific.
• Characters with two hearts (but not Time Lords!)
• Showing the sonic is more than a screwdriver
There’s no excuse for the Dulcian costumes which have to be some of the stupidest looking clothes in the whole of the program, surely the most embarrassing to have worn! There are also tons of bad editing jumps—a character is outside on a hill and then suddenly in a scene inside—and overly long death scenes. Also, a lot of time is wasted showing off the Quarks (which the BBC hoped would be another cash cow toy) to the detriment of the pacing of many scenes. There are also too many instance of sloppy writing just to get an effect—at one point at the end, tension is created by the Doctor hurrying his companions away before the explosion but then just a few minutes later they play for comic effect the companions having to bring the danger to his attention.