Image Description: The TARDIS flies over Dulcis
By Victoria Walker
The Dominators is a criminally underrated serial, both for the complexity of the message it espouses, and for just how well it is executed. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it and was very much surprised when I found out that it had its detractors. I believe this difference stems from the approach that is taken towards it. One should not go into it expecting a serious thriller on the level of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It is far more enjoyable when one is expecting to laugh, as it is genuinely very funny.
It is notable because it was very clearly written to be funny, rather than just being so bad it is good. Unfortunately, I cannot explain why each part is as funny as it is, but I implore you that, next time you watch it, pay a good amount of attention to Cully and the Doctor. Both Arthur Cox and Patrick Troughton do an excellent job of really leaning into their roles, and Frazer Hines makes an excellent comedic foil for the Doctor at multiple points.
Something I can talk about, however, is the design of the sets and costumes. A problem I often have with black and white media is that, without colour, the sets can seem quite homogenous and busy, making things difficult to follow. For whatever reason, however, The Dominators does not suffer from this issue, being easy enough to follow despite it being obvious that three quarks are simulating a whole army, as well as some of the backdrops being painted.. Every part is well contained, and I never had any question about where exactly each scene was taking place.
Anybody that knows me knows my penchant for costuming, and The Dominators is no different. I rarely see it talked about, but the use of costumes to immediately communicate a lot about the secondary characters and antagonists is very well done. The long curtain-like robes of some of the Dulcians communicates seniority,as long trousers would have done when Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were writing the serial. In contrast, the shorter robes of Cully tells us that he does not hold with the impractical ways of the Dulcians, as he is not wearing the comparatively impractical longer robes. The outfit that Kando, and later Zoe, wears is rooted directly in the attitudes of the sixties (obviously) but to a modern audience it also communicates that even though the Dulcians claim to be enlightened, they do not escape being a patriarchy,as the absence of women from the council shows. Similarly, the impractically hilarious costume of the Dominators forms an even more imposing silhouette for the already towering Ronald Allen and Kenneth Ives. The ludicrous shoulder pads start below the natural shoulder line, so fill out the line of the costume and create an impenetrable wall.
Rago and Toba are seemingly different throughout the serial, until towards the end where Rago is finally able to be rid of Dulkis, and states how he is looking forward to the “destruction of the planet and its creatures.” This leads one to consider the Dominators as a fascist force. The Second World War would have been in the memory of Haisman and Lincoln as they wrote this serial, with both having an understanding of the rise of European fascism. Echoes of the Second World War and its firing squads are evoked when Toba is interrogating the Dulcians with a Quark to ascertain the whereabouts of Cully and Jamie, while the initial Dulcian response to the Dominators mirrors Neville Chamberlain’s plan of appeasement. We also see overtones of Nazi eugenics from Rago’s scientific consideration of the attributes of the different species, and his insistence that they are all “inferior.” Toba and Rago clash often, much like the instinct of fascism to be destructive, but it needs to remain presentable so as to gain the power it needs to be maximally destructive. Rago, revealing he and Toba can finally be rid of Dulkis, reveals that they are not so different, just as the popular image of the belligerent, obvious fascist is no different to the more dangerous well-presented fascist.
The Dulcians form the passive, liberal majority. They abhor Cully for wishing to go against the Dominators, just as much as they abhor the Dominators. This then turns The Dominators from a simple allegory for fascism to a critique of liberal society and its insistence that the use of violence lowers one to the fascists level. When Senex gives Rago a platform to speak in the committee chamber, he is very directly giving Rago a place to demand slave labor and announce the destruction of the Dulcian people. Senex has done this in the name of pacifism, and the misguided belief that words do not make actions. That brings us onto Cully, one of the most underrated secondary characters in the whole of Doctor Who. Cully fills, with the help of Jamie, the role of the anti-fascist. Haisman and Lincoln are very careful to completely justify Cully’s actions through the frustration both he and the audience feels at the inaction of the Dulcians, thereby extension justifying the existence of antifascism.
The Dominators is one of the few Doctor Who serials that does not feel like it is overstaying its welcome, which might be because the final episode was cut. While every episode has a worthwhile place in the narrative, I do question how bingeable the serial is as a whole, though that question probably stems from my own inability to binge television. It puts forth the very interesting theme of the liberal response to fascism, all without compromising on an entertaining script. I fully believe that The Dominators is a better exploration of fascism than any Dalek story, simply because we all know that fascism is bad, and that’s as far as any Dalek story gets into a discussion of the subject.