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The Dominators

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Almost universally condemned as one of the worst Doctor Who serials ever, The Dominators was the serial Patrick Troughton personally requested be screened at the convention he was attending at the time of his death. Perhaps Troughton could see something of merit in The Dominators that fans and critics were unable to discern. But then again, in 1987 there weren’t many extant Second Doctor serials available. There aren’t many more accessible today. That’s probably reason enough to at least try to detect something favourable about the serial.  Thankfully the good contributors to Celebrate Regenerate have come to our rescue and said this about The Dominators:

The Quarks were less than convincing as monsters

The Quarks were less than convincing as monsters

I think I knew The Dominators was the weakest of the bunch.  But I still loved it: it was funny.  It’s the only Doctor Who story I know of that’s based on a clash of household furnishings.  Guys wearing sofas invade a world of people dressed in curtains.  The natives immediately surrender to them despite the fact that they’re incompetent (those other ten galaxies must have really been pushovers).  And then there are the Quarks.  Small, slow, waddling, penguin-esque with squeaky voices and very low-capacity batteries.  But at the end of the day , I love the Dominators …

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Save for its slowness and distinct lack of plot, the principal criticism directed at The Dominators is the writers’ reactionary premise that pacifism is abhorrent and pacifists gullible and unintelligent. In their third and final outing as writers for Doctor Who Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln took a direct swipe at the growing anti-war movement. The Dulcians are pacifists and presented as unquestioning morons. Although they have two hearts they are physically weak and not use to manual labour.  When forced to labour as slaves to the aggressors, the Dominators, they are next to useless and are seen to struggle under the burden of moving heavy rocks.  The Dulcians’ education system appears to prioritize rote learning over intellectual enquiry and they accept any statements as fact until they are otherwise proved false. It isn’t too hard to envisage what Haisman and Lincoln’s perception of anti-war protestors were.

The Dulcians are not use to physical labour

The Dulcians are not use to physical labour

The Dominators was not Doctor Who’s first anti-pacifist adventure.  That dishonour goes to Terry Nation’s The Daleks in which the gorgeous Thals are pilloried for their being unprepared to fight .  In my review of The Daleks I examined Nation’s contempt for the 1930’s British policy of Appeasement.  Unlike the Thals, Haisman and Lincoln do not afford the Dulcians any redemption. They are portrayed in an unfavourable light throughout the whole of the serial. Given that Doctor Who has generally taken a more liberal view on political issues this contempt for pacifism is all the more extraordinary.

The aliens with perhaps the most inept name ever, the Dominators

The aliens with perhaps the most inept name ever, the Dominators

More than 40 years later such distain for pacifism was again evidenced in Toby Whitehouse’s Series Six story, The God Complex (2011). This time, however, a reactionary political message was veiled in humour. When the Eleventh Doctor asks Gibbis, a native of Tivoli, how he arrived at the “hotel” his response was enlightening – “I was at work.  I’m in town planning. We’re lining all the highways with trees so invading forces can march in the shade. It’s nice for them”.  Tivoli is the most conquered planet in the galaxy and its residents have resigned themselves to being constantly overrun. Accordingly they welcome invading armies and their national anthem reflects the ease with which they accept domination – “Glory to <Insert Name Here>”.

Another pacifist portrayed in an unfavourable light was Gibbis in The God Complex (2011)

Another pacifist portrayed in an unfavourable light was Gibbis in The God Complex (2011)

What I also found disturbing about The Dominators was the patriarchal nature of the Dulcians’ society.  Only men, and old ones at that, are members of their governing council.  Certainly there are numerous other Doctor Who serials which are guilty of not positively representing women, however The Dominators totally disenfranchises them.  I would hope that this says more about the writers’ views than those espoused by the producers of Doctor Who.  That being said, the decision to give the Quarks childish female voices is bizarre, to say the least.  Hitherto all monsters, without exception, have had masculine voices even if their bodies are not specifically gendered. The one and only time that a woman is used to voice a monster, the voices are clumsy and laughable.  It left me wondering if this was some form of bad joke in which women, in general, were being ridiculed.

Only men are members of the Dulcian ruling elite

Only men are members of the Dulcian ruling elite

Unfortunately the Quarks proved to be appalling monsters.  Small in stature, school children were encased within them for the filming. They shuffled around, always looking as though they were about to tumble over, and had arms that were even more impractical than the Daleks’.  They were easily defeated, at one stage by a conveniently light boulder pushed from a hill top by Cully, the only resident of Dulkis to rebel from their pacifism. Created by Haisman and Lincoln specifically for their marketing potential, the Quarks were almost the subject of legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC. Relations between the writers and Doctor Who deteriorated further when the serial was cut from six episodes to five and substantially rewritten.  Haisman and Lincoln sought to have their names removed from the credits and accordingly a pseudonym, “Norman Asby”,  which was taken from the first names of the writers’  father-in-laws, was adopted.

The marketing rights to the Quarks almost resulted in legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC

The marketing rights to the Quarks almost resulted in legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC

Although the Quarks were never again seen on TV they were encountered in comics

Although the Quarks were never again seen on TV they were encountered in comics

The Doctor’s ethics in The Dominators are also questionable.  He is responsible for the deaths of the two Dominators after he places their atomic seed-device, intended to destroy the planet, onto the aggressor’s own space craft.  This is plainly an example of lazy writing as it was the easy option for disposing of the bomb quickly. Surely the Doctor could have diffused  it rather than acting as judge, jury and executioner.

The Doctor and Jamie hold hands again

The Doctor and Jamie hold hands again

Despite its many failing I surprised myself by actually enjoying The Dominators.  Perhaps I was just relieved at watching the first complete serial since The Tomb of the Cybermen or maybe, just maybe, I could see in the story the good that Patrick Troughton evidently saw.  I really don’t know, however I am sure that our next story, The Mind Robber, lives up to its reputation as Troughton’s favourite serial.  Please join me for my next review as we enter the land of fiction.

The Dominators was originally broadcast in the UK between 10 August and 7 September 1968

The Dominators was originally broadcast in the UK between 10 August and 7 September 1968

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

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The Gunfighters

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Recently released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor WhoCelebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every broadcast episode of Who.  Available as a free PDF download from http://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/ this mighty tome features a page long article on every serial.  The authors of The Gunfighters article, Mike Greaves and Andrew Boland, succinctly summarize received fan wisdom on this Western adventure. Dreadful, terrible, boring, and badly made are some of the words and phrases used by Greaves and Boland to describe the average fan’s dismissal of this tale.  So convinced were they that the viewing experience would be tortuous and entirely unenjoyable that once viewed, they questioned whether  they’d watched the right serial.  Were there two 1960s Doctor Who Westerns, they wondered.   There was indeed only one and clearly there was something peculiar going on. Greaves and Boland had actually thoroughly enjoyed The Gunfighters.

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Phil Sandifer in his book Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell examines this received wisdom in depth and identifies three distinct stages of fan criticism.  The first he describes as 1980s fandom; the second as the Great Re-evaluation of the 1990s; and the third, the Reconstructionist era beginning in 2002. The first era occurred in a time when there was neither video releases of Doctor Who nor the internet.  Fan opinion was derived from memories of the programmes when originally broadcast and a limited number of books, the most notable of which was Peter Haining’s 1983 Doctor Who: A Celebration. This coffee table book was almost seen as the Bible of Who and its critical analysis of episodes taken as Gospel.   Haining’s review of The Gunfighters was scathingly negative and it is most probably from this source that received fan wisdom grew.

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Doctor and his companions visit Tombstone, Arizona

The Great Re-evaluation that followed the release of stories on VHS cassette was not so much a detailed reappraisal of stories, but rather discussions to produce a general consensus on the relative merits of each story.  It was not until all existing stories had been released on VHS, and Loose Cannon had completed their reconstructions, that what Sandifer describes as the democratization of fan criticism began.  The ordinary Who fan was now in a position to access the stories for themselves and with the re-launch of Who in 2005, new fans had little concern for what the Classic Series critics of old said. With the pervasiveness of the internet and instant access to television programming everyone had become a media critic.

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

Steven and Dodo enjoy dressing up as Cowboys and Cowgirls

It is from this new position of fan criticism that The Gunfighters has been reappraised.  That the story is unique cannot be denied.  It is the only Doctor Who story with a sung narration, in the form of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. Sung by Lynda Baron, the Ballad is heard at times of climatic tension throughout the serial.  The lyrics change to reflect the action and it’s also sung by Steven and Doc Holliday’s girlfriend, Kate, in the saloon.  It’s the latter renditions that are posted below for your viewing pleasure.

The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon

Written by Donald Cotton, the author of The Myth Makers, the serial has a similar comedy format to Cotton’s previous Who outing.  Again it mirrors the events in Troy when episode four descends into tragedy. The Gunfighters  is set in 1881 America and follows the film The Gunfight at the OK Corral  as one of its primary sources.  Doctor Who would not return to the American Wild West until the Eleventh Doctor’s 2012 adventure A Town Called Mercy. Having broken a tooth eating one of the Cyril’s lollies in The Celestial Toyroom, the Doctor uses his unexpected arrival in the American mid-west to procure the services of the local dentist, Doc Holliday. He is immediately mistaken for Holliday by the town’s residents and hunted down by the Clanton family. Throw into the mix the Earp brothers, Virgil and Warren, and add Johnny Ringo (who historically wasn’t involved in these Tombstone, Arizona events), and you have a ripping good yarn.

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

The Doctor has a tooth extracted by Doc Holliday

William Hartnell absolutely shines in The Gunfighters, undoubtedly because it was a comedy and the genre in which he most enjoyed to act. The Doctor is given some fabulous lines and rarely does he stumble on them.  Except, of course, when he refers to Steven as a “she”!  Peter Purves does a superb job, as always, and Jackie Lane, as Dodo, is at last afforded the opportunity to act.  Her scene with Doc Holliday when she threatens him with a gun is just fabulous.  The set work was superb even if the stair railings did wobble when Ike Clanton fell to his death. The Doctor Who production team must have recently found the services of an animal wrangler.  Less than two months earlier they’d had an elephant in the studio for The Ark and this time a horse.  I wonder what the cleaners thought at the end of the day’s filming!

The Doctor in Doc Holliday's dentist chair.  Beside the Doctor is Kate, Doc's girlfriend

The Doctor in Doc Holliday’s dentist chair. Beside the Doctor is Kate, Holliday’s girlfriend

There are a couple of interesting facts to note in this serial.  The original working title was The Gunslingers, and as anyone who has viewed the Series 7 episode, A Town Called Mercy, would be aware,  there’s a character by that very same name. The Gunfighters  also stared the Thunderbirds voice artists, David Graham (Brains) and Shane Rimmer (Alan Tracey). Graham played the unfortunate barman, Charlie, and Rimmer the character of Seth Harper.  Lynda Baron, the off camera singer of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon appeared in the Series 6 story Closing Time as Val.

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers.  That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012's A Town Called Mercy

The working title of The Gunfighters was The Gunslingers. That name was not forgotten and the character, The Gunslinger, appeared in 2012’s A Town Called Mercy

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

Guess which two Thunderbirds voice artists appeared in The Gunfighters

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 April and 21 May 1966

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

The Gunfighters DVD was released with the Fifth Doctor adventure The Awakening in the Earth Story Box Set

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCES:

Lewis Christian (ed), Celebrate, Regeneratehttp://celebrateregenerate.weebly.com/, 2013.

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.