Terror of the AutonsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

After the superb Season Seven, Season Eight begins with a story that represents a considerable down turn in the quality of the era, at least in my opinion. As might be expected from a Robert Holmes story, ‘Terror of the Autons’ has some great dialogue and excellent characterisation, but it also signals a considerable change in emphasis for the series in comparison with ‘Inferno’. ‘Terror of the Autons’ has several features that in my eyes can be construed as faults, although it is by no means a complete loss. I’ll start with the criticisms that I have of the story.

‘Terror of the Autons’ is the debut story of two characters that I feel weaken the era and they do this by beginning UNIT’s transformation from an elite, top-secret military organization, into a Dad’s Army style farcical collection of buffoons. The first of these is Jo Grant. Now Katy Manning is a fine actress and Jo is undeniably rather cute and likeable, but she represents a dumbing down of the series that positively infuriates me. Whereas Liz was a competent, efficient scientist Jo is the living embodiment of the principle that the Doctor Who companion exists so that the Doctor can explain things to the audience. She might be bright and chirpy, but she’s also air-headed and dizzy. As a UNIT agent (which she technically is) she is utterly implausible despite a rather contrived throwaway line about her uncle getting her a job with the organization. Therein lies my problem I think: I don’t object to Jo as a character per se, I just prefer Liz and thus object to the change that Jo heralds. 

The second character that debuts in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and represents a downward slide is Captain Yates. I take no delight in saying this, but whilst Richard Franklin seems like a very nice chap, I personally think that he’s a dreadful actor. As Yates, he presents us with one of the least convincing soldiers ever seen on television. I’m not au fait enough with the military to have much idea of whether Benton and the Brigadier are actually convincingly real soldiers, but Mike seems quite plainly not to be. I think in all honesty that he’s just too camp, although in fairness to Richard Franklin this seems to be as much a problem of the script as it is with his acting. Between them, Jo and Yates weaken UNIT’s credibility and signal the beginning of the organization’s descent into rather twee coziness. Which ironically is of course the very “UNIT family” feeling that many fans seem to like. 

My next major criticism of ‘Terror of the Autons’ is the Nestenes. In ‘Spearhead From Space’, they were a genuinely creepy, menacing threat. Here they are relegated to playing second fiddle to the Master and they suffer from it. The Autons themselves are less successful due to the change in their appearance; in their debut story, they had hollow empty eye sockets and sculpted, pouting mouths, which gave them an eerie, zombie-like feeling. Here however, their faces are completely smooth with no eye holes, and this makes them seem less like ghastly parodies of people and more like, ironically, shop dummies. They actually look more sinister once they don their large carnival heads, regaining some of the eerie incongruity of their shop window dwelling predecessors. On the other hand, the Nestenes do benefit from greater versatility in this story. I like the idea that they can take on literally any form at all if it is made of plastic, and here we get killer dolls, killer chairs, killer daffodils, and a killer telephone cable. This results in some memorable and effective set pieces, such as the deaths of McDermott and Farrell senior. 

My final criticism of ‘Terror of the Autons’ is the use of CSO. I said when I reviewed ‘The Web Planet’ that I don’t judge Doctor Who on its special effects, and I stand by that. What I will criticize however is Barry Letts’ decision to massively overuse CSO in this story. The technique is much maligned by fans, but obviously it has its uses, as illustrated in both ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ and ‘The Ambassadors of Death’. However, here we get CSO backdrops of ordinary rooms, which makes the story look cheap and nasty. The most blatant example is in the Farrell household, but the Museum is also worthy of particular scorn. The use of CSO to show the Nestene doll running around is fine, but CSO kitchens is just taking the piss.

Anyway, enough ranting. For all its faults, there are things that I like about ‘Terror of the Autons’. Firstly, Jon Pertwee’s performance as the Doctor continues to please me here. Much as I find Jo annoying on one level, she and the Doctor do quite quickly establish a rather touching rapport, and whilst she may seem less capable than Liz in some respects, she proves her usefulness as a companion by rescuing the Doctor from the circus and later using her escapology training to slip her bonds in the coach. As I said, she may represent a dumbing down of UNIT, but she is undeniably likeable. The Doctor seems to agree; although he is slightly more irascible and disrespectful in this story than in the previous season, he quickly takes Jo under his wing, despite the fact that she ruins his steady-state micro-welding, nearly blows him up, and refuses to do as she is told. I also like the Doctor’s rather waspish attitude in this story, which some fans have criticized. For example, when Jo removes his gag in Rossini’s (or rather, Russell’s) caravan he crossly demands to know what she is doing there. Rude and ill tempered I know, but it’s also quite funny. Then there’s the scene with Brownrose. Paul Cornell once complained in a scathing review of this story that the production team had turned the Doctor into a Tory and Verity Lambert also allegedly complained about the Doctor being made part of the establishment around this time, in a reference to his status as UNIT’s scientific advisor. I can see both their points, but I just love the idea of the Doctor, who let us be honest has always been rather egotistical, strolling into a gentlemen’s club and charming all of the other members. In my opinion it isn’t so much that the Doctor has sold out to the establishment, it is more that this always rebellious, disrespectful figure can and will charm almost anyone. My basic assumption is that he’s accepted as a member of the club simply because the other members like him.

‘Terror of the Autons’ is of course most well known for introducing the Master. The Roger Delgado incarnation is still my favourite Doctor Who villain, and this story demonstrates why. He’s immediately a commanding villain from the moment that he emerges from his TARDIS in Rossini’s circus in episode one and quickly cows the belligerent circus owner. As the story progresses, he begins to display his trademark charm, but in this story he also maintains a truly ruthless edge. The death toll attributable directly to the Master in this story demonstrates this, and not just those deaths that he causes by allowing the Nestenes to return to Earth. He kills Goodge without a thought, more concerned with leaving his shrunken corpse as a calling card for the Doctor than he is at casually extinguishing a life. He uses and discards Phillips and Farrell, and has no qualms whatsoever about disposing of McDermott and Farrell senior when they get in his way. And whilst I’ve never really paid it any attention before, it struck me on this viewing how out-of-hand and nasty the death of the scientist that he throws from the radio telescope in episode four is. This then is the Master in his debut story; charming and debonair but thoroughly evil.

‘Terror of the Autons’ has been criticized for its ending, when the Master seems too easily convinced to betray the Nestenes by a single line from the Doctor. This I think is missing the point. The Master’s primary aim is never helping the Nestenes to invade, it is always his battle of wits with the Doctor. He simply doesn’t care about anything else; he gets several opportunities to kill the Doctor, which would probably allow him to win easily, but on each occasion he is easily dissuaded from doing so because he enjoys their rivalry. I have no doubt that his ultimate aim is the Doctor’s death, but more important to him is his desire to humiliate his foe, to score a series of minor triumphs before he finally disposes of him. As he says to Farrell, “I have so few worthy opponents. When they’re gone I always miss them”. Interestingly, it is hinted at even this stage that the Doctor enjoys their rivalry too despite the deaths the Master has caused and will no doubt cause later on, the Doctor has a wry smile on his face as the Master drives away in the coach in the end, and in the final scene of the story he tells the Brigadier and Jo that he is rather looking forward to their next encounter.

Overall then, ‘Terror of the Autons’ is not up to the same standard of the previous season’s stories, but is nonetheless entertaining. Unfortunately, it is deeply flawed, but with the following story the season really starts to pick up…





The Mind of EvilBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

I must confess that on viewing ‘The Mind of Evil’ again, I found it to be something of a disappointment. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s rubbish; it just isn’t as good as I remembered. It does have several things to commend it, but I’ll get my criticisms out of the way first. 

When I reviewed ‘Terror of the Autons’, I said that it represents a dumbing down of the series and the start of UNIT’s decline into farce. This continues here, although not uniformly throughout the story; most of the problems are confined to the first half. Firstly, it is here that the Brigadier is first made to look like a buffoon. The scenes with the Doctor and Fu Peng are mildly amusing, but they reduce the Brigadier to the role of comic foil and he looks like an idiot, unable to get a word in edgeways and the subject of contempt from Fu Peng. Suddenly, the intelligent, commanding and diplomatic military leader of Season Seven is a bumbling fool. Fortunately, he regains some credibility in the second half of the story, as he leads the assault on Stangmoor Prison, and in one of his finest moments shoots Mailer just in the nick of time to save the Doctor. UNIT also continues to suffer from the presence of Mike Yates, who remains an unconvincing character. In Richard Franklin’s defense however, Yates also benefits from the last three episodes, and doesn’t fare too badly in an action man role that sees him tracking the missile to the airfield and defiantly confronting the Master whilst tied to a chair. Finally, the thoroughly irritating Major Cosgrove further cements UNIT’s newfound reputation as a slightly camp and silly organization. 

Another major weakness of ‘The Mind of Evil’ concerns UNIT’s transport of the Thunderbolt missile, which has a ridiculously light escort. The script bravely attempts to address this issue, but with even the person Yates discusses the escort with on the telephone in episode two expressing disbelief at the feeble security measures, this attempt is doomed to failure. I’m also rather dubious about the explosion at the end. The Thunderbolt is referred to as a nuclear missile with a nerve gas warhead throughout, and the Doctor further adds that it will take a nuclear explosion to destroy the Keller Machine. Now I’m no nuclear physicist, but the explosion at the end seems pretty small for a nuclear explosion, destroying as it does one aircraft hanger. And nobody seems remotely concerned about any nerve gas being released. 

My final criticism of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is that it feels padded. Given that the three seven part stories in Season Seven seldom felt stretched out, this is particularly disappointing. ‘The Mind of Evil’ is repetitive; the Doctor undergoes several attacks by the Keller Machine, for example, and then there’s Mailer’s initial, unsuccessful attempt to take over the prison, which is no sooner foiled than the Master arrives to organize a more successfully attempt. Consequently, this is one of only a few six part Doctor Who stories that I think would have benefited from being two episodes shorter. 

On the other hand, there are several things to recommend ‘The Mind of Evil’. Firstly, and most significantly in my opinion, it showcases the rivalry between the Doctor and the Master superbly. During ‘Terror of the Autons’ they only met on screen during the last episodes, but here they get far more scenes together, and it reveals something rather interesting. When I reviewed ‘Terror of the Autons’, I noted that the Master tends to allow himself to find an excuse not to kill the Doctor rather easily. Here, the impression is given that the Master desperately needs to let the Doctor see him win. It is interesting that he almost seems to be trying to impress the Doctor, and certainly has a degree of respect for him; after all, although as he says at one point, they are both Time Lords, the Master lacks the ability to deal with the Mind Parasite, whereas he clearly believes that the Doctor is more than capable of doing so. Even before he resorts to threatening Jo, he seems confident that the Doctor is underestimating himself. Of course, the revelation that the Doctor ridiculing him is his greatest fear speaks volumes about their relationship and it is also here that we get the first hints that the two of them used to be friends. One of their most interesting scenes together is when the Doctor lashes together his electronic loop to temporarily trap the Keller Machine; for a brief couple of minutes, they seem to forget their enmity, both discussing the scientific problem in hand, with the Master seeming genuinely interested in the Doctor’s solution. Even more interesting is the fact that whilst the Master often thinks twice about killing the Doctor, when the Doctor gets the chance to blow his enemy up at the end, he has no hesitation about doing so. In fact, the Master seems keen to show off and generally gloat in front of the Doctor throughout, whereas the Doctor seems genuinely angered by the Master. Given that he quite rightly blames the Master for bringing the Mind Parasite to Earth and given that the Keller Machine indisputably terrifies him, this is entirely understandable, but is an interesting contrast with his attitude in later stories. In summary, the Master seems to need the Doctor’s recognition of his achievements, whilst the Doctor appears to really actively dislike the Master throughout this story. 

Another good aspect of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is Jo. Despite the criticism that I heaped upon here in the previous review, she undergoes something of a transformation here and becomes a capable, useful assistant, rather just an empty-headed companion. She shows considerable courage in dealing with Mailer and the Master, compassion in looking after Barnham, and the complete trust in and loyalty to the Doctor that tend to characterize here. In fact, she’s generally more forthright than I remember her, not afraid to speak her mind, and proving ready to fight when necessary (she holds Mailer at gunpoint in episode two for example, and doesn’t seem particularly scared by him) I still don’t find her convincing as a UNIT agent, but she does at least prove that she has potential as a Doctor Who companion. Jon Pertwee continues to satisfy as the Doctor. His increasing frustration at being trapped on Earth comes through well; he is even more irritable than in ‘Terror of the Autons’, frequently bad-tempered, and very entertainingly rude during Kettering’s press conference. This is topped off by the Doctor’s impotent fury in the last scene, when the Master telephones him to taunt him about his exile. Oh and full marks to Pertwee’s acting when attacked by the Machine; after gurning in ‘Spearhead From Space’, he manages to seem convincingly frightened here. 

The direction of ‘The Mind of Evil’ is excellent, so much so that the Keller Machine, essential a box with a phallus, seems genuinely menacing, as it teleports around and sucks the life from its victims. In addition, Puff the Magic Dragon, potentially absurd, also looks quite good at the end of episode two and the start of episode three. The action sequences are also exceptionally good, especially the pitched gun battle between UNIT troops and the convicts in episode five. Overall, ‘The Mind of Evil’ is far from perfect but contains some memorable sequences and is well worth watching in spite of being slightly disappointing overall.





The DmonsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Oh dear. For some fans, ‘The Dæmons’ epitomizes the Pertwee era; if this is true, then the Pertwee era isn’t very good. I take no pleasure in slating a story so widely considered to be a classic, but there is so much wrong with ‘The Dæmons’ in my opinion that try as I might, I just can’t find it in me to like it. 

I’ll start with what I do like. I like the basic plot, although this is largely because it is the plot of Quatermass and the Pit. Not that I’m complaining, since many very good Doctor Who stories are hugely derivative of other stories; to continue the Nigel Kneale theme for example, I’d like to point out that ‘Spearhead From Space’ of which I am a huge fan, draws heavily for inspiration on Quatermass II. I merely point it out since it explains why, in a story that is so mediocre in most respects, the basic premise is sound. 

Secondly, I like Jon Pertwee’s performance. It has been argued that the Doctor is at his worst in ‘The Dæmons’, being intolerant, patriarchal, and patronizing. This is all quite true, but it works for me in the context of the season. During the first three stories, he was bad-tempered and irritable, resenting his exile and desperate to escape. In ‘Colony in Space’, he suddenly and unexpectedly gets a brief reprieve from his exile and is markedly more relaxed and generally in better humour than in the three prior stories. It makes sense then that having been reminded so dramatically of what he has lost, he is even more foul-tempered afterwards, his exile once more enforced. Having said that, he goes a bit far with Miss Hawthorne; I don’t believe in magic either, but if I knew that someone who did had just seen a thirty-foot tall were-goat I think I’d be a lot more understanding if they thought that it was the Devil. 

Finally, I like the Master. No change there, then. Interestingly, after offering the Doctor a half-share in the universe in ‘Colony in Space’, he now seems genuinely to want to kill his rival. I’ve noted as I’ve reviewed the past four stories that the Master often finds excuses not to kill the Doctor and seems to want to impress him; having perhaps finally realized that he can’t, he seems to have adopted a “sod him then” attitude, which fits in nicely with his character development over the season. In addition to this, watching this season in sequence, I suddenly realized just how much it must have stung him when Azal offers his power to the Doctor first. This is particularly of note given that being humiliated by the Doctor is his worst fear, as exposed by the Mind Parasite in ‘The Mind of Evil’.

That’s about it for what I like about ‘The Dæmons’; the rest is in my opinion utter dross. For starters, UNIT’s degeneration into farce is complete by this point, all traces of the secretive, paramilitary organization of Season Seven lost. The Brigadier is little more than a buffoon here, doing nothing but blustering and issuing ludicrous orders (“Chap with the wings there…”). Sergeant Osgood, a ridiculous caricature who frequently questions orders, does not help this. Captain Yates is even worse. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I dislike the character, and this story epitomizes my reasons why. Yates is smug, cheeky and generally irritating. I’m no expert on the military, but he seems remarkably lippy when he’s talking to the Brigadier on his radio transmitter, most notably when he smugly tells Lethbridge-Stewart as an afterthought that the Master is responsible for events in Devil’s End and promptly hangs up. He’s even worse when he points out Bok to the Brigadier in Episode Five, adopting an air of superiority and a suppressed mirth as he demonstrates the gargoyle’s threat to his superior. Nice to know he’s getting some amusement out of the impending end of the world then… UNIT basically feels like Dad’s Army and has lost all credibility. Benton at least is quite good here though, John Levene proving quite good at fight scenes. 

‘The Dæmons’ also struggles for cliffhangers. The Episode Four cliffhanger is absurd, with the threat posed not to the Doctor or his companion but to his archenemy. It typifies the silly cosy “UNIT family” attitude adopted by the series. Imagine a cliffhanger in which some Daleks face destruction – the principle would be exactly the same. The cliffhanger to Episode Two is even more flawed, but in its resolution this time. Bok, it is made clear, is a statue animated by Azal, a powerful alien fully aware of how his own people’s psionic science works and with a far greater understanding of it than anyone else present. The Master, an intelligent Time Lord who has been studying Dæmon technology in order to summon Azal, controls Bok. So why exactly is Bok, animated by Azal and controlled by the Master, scared of a trowel? The Doctor’s explanation to Jo that although he doesn’t believe in magic Bok does, smacks of complete bollocks. 

Speaking of complete bollocks, we have the ending. Firstly, I find it hard to believe that Jo’s self-sacrifice is sufficient to make Azal blow himself up: if so, it is no surprise that he is the last of his kind. For starters, he considers the Doctor irrational but shows no sign of self-destructing in response. It is, quite simply, a contrived and nauseating ending. It isn’t helped by the fact that Jo’s cry of “Don’t kill him, kill me” is horribly melodramatic and poorly delivered. She could have just thrown herself in front of the Doctor, as she did in the novelisation, but instead she just bounces frantically up and down and offers herself instead, as though bidding for some kind of terminal auction. 

In short, ‘The Dæmons’ is full of annoying trivial shortcomings that add up to drivel. The story feels as though it is struggling to fill five episodes, with UNIT wrestling with technobabble outside the heat barrier (which incidentally is quite well realized and one of the story’s better aspects). Then we have the Doctor stating that the release of heat energy in Episode Two is final confirmation of his theory about what is happening, but then refusing to explain to anyone else until he is certain. So what, precisely, does he think “final confirmation” means? What he actually means is, “I’ll explain in Episode Three so that we can crowbar another cliffhanger in first”. To be fair, there are also other minor things that I like in ‘The Dæmons’, including Professor Horner, the final scene, and Azal himself – Stephen Thorne is not the most subtle of actors, but he fulfills his role very well here. Overall however, I just find ‘The Dæmons’ to be a smug, slightly glib, self-satisfied runaround, playing the UNIT family game by numbers.





The Faceless OnesBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

‘The Faceless Ones’ is a rather strange story. It is significant for being only the second story set on contemporary Earth thus far in the series, and of course heralds the departure of Ben and Polly. On the other hand, it is oddly forgettable and feels very padded, especially during the first three episodes. This “body snatcher” plot is hardly original, but the Chameleons are a novel threat in that rather than wanting to invade, they are driven by the need to survive by stealing the identities of humans. Their plan is also fairly plausible, although Chameleon Tours cannot have been long established prior to the start of this story or surely more relatives than Samantha would have started to make inquiries; nevertheless, it is suitably engaging and makes good use of the airport setting. As villains the Chameleon’s are reasonably effective, especially Donald Pickering (previously Eyesen in ‘The Keys of Marinus’) as the icy Captain Blade. Unfortunately, they are also rather incompetent in certain aspects, especially Spencer, who fails to kill the Doctor a few times and seems to rather hastily come to the decision that he is unbeatable. This is the problem with ‘The Faceless Ones’ – the script seems to genuinely be trying to impress on the viewer just how intelligent the Chameleons are, with even the Doctor warning the Commandant of this, but they just come over as arrogant incompetents. The Director is perhaps the worst example of this, as he refuses to accept that the originals of Blade et al have been found on Earth, even when “Jenkins” dissolves in front of him, and his rather unnecessary stubbornness over this matter results in Blade shooting him. Frankly, he should have been smart enough to be expecting that… So the Chameleons never quite seem to be the threat that they are made out to be. On the other hand, their plight would deserve of some sympathy and indeed on one level the conclusion works very well, with the Doctor allowing them to leave peacefully as long as they return all their captives to Earth first. But the same groundless arrogance that makes them less impressive than they might be also robs them of any real sympathy, leaving a faint feeling at the end that they get away with mass kidnapping and several murders rather too easily. Ultimately, the Chameleons aren’t nasty enough to be really impressive memorable villains, but they are too nasty to be likeable. 

On the subject of the Chameleon’s over-inflated opinions of themselves, Spencer does one of the stupidest things ever seen in Doctor Who; having decided that the Doctor’s death is of paramount importance, he shuns the use of his lethal ray gun and instead leaves him, Jamie and Samantha in an overly complicated death-trap from which he can, and does, easily escape. I can’t listen to this scene now without thinking of Austin Powers, but the fact is that it is utterly ludicrous. Not only is the slowly moving heat-ray trap daft, but also as soon as Jamie has destroyed the weapon, their paralysis wears off. At least Spencer has the good grace not to seem surprised when he learns that the Doctor escaped. More importantly, this is the most blatant example of the padding that plagues ‘The Faceless Ones’. During the first three episodes, there are multiple escapes, captures and chases, before the plot really starts to progress, and whilst padding can be entertaining in itself if done properly, here it just makes the story drag. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that pseudo-companion Samantha Briggs and the bad-tempered airport Commandant are the only really good supporting characters. The scenes of the Doctor trying to convince the Commandant of his sincerity (and sanity) work rather well, and the Jamie and Samantha team-up is not without merit, but Crossland, who discovers that the Chameleon Tours passengers are apparently vanishing and thus provides the cliffhanger to episode three, is rather dull, and nobody else aside from Blade stands out either. 

And what of the regulars? Rather like Dodo, Ben and Polly get a poor send off; after doing very little during the first two episodes, they are abducted by the Chameleons and don’t reappear until the end, when they promptly leave. Unlike Dodo, they do at least get a rather nice leaving scene, which shows the genuine affection between themselves and the Doctor. They are clearly happy to be able to return home, but the fact that they are more casual about it than Ian and Barbara were suggests that they’ve enjoyed their time aboard the TARDIS a great deal. Nevertheless, it is an annoyingly low-key departure for these most underrated of companions. However, the result of this is that Jamie really gets to shine again and establishes himself as one of the best companions. As in ‘The Macra Terror’, his bravery comes to the fore; initially wary of the “flying beasties”, by the latter half of the story he’s sneaked onboard the Chameleon Tours aeroplane to try and find out what their missing passengers end up. His airsickness, and willingness to admit to it to “Crossland”, distinguishes between bravery and bravado however. One of the most impressive things about Jamie is that, for all that he is from a pre-technological era and constantly finds himself challenged by things he can’t comprehend, he is both intelligent and adaptable; he might not understand aeroplanes or ray guns, but he is quick to assess the dangers of whatever environment he finds himself in and copes easily with the increasingly bizarre or monstrous sights that he encounters whilst traveling with the Doctor. Having dealt with his confusion about having traveled to the moon during ‘The Moonbase’, he readily accepts space travel and maintains his calm once on board the Chameleon satellite, and he will continue to prove his resilience, dependability, and resourcefulness throughout his tenure in the series. One scene that also stands out in ‘The Faceless Ones’ is Jamie’s initial embarrassment when Samantha flirts with him; he later returns the favour by kissing her to distract her whilst he pinches her ticket, which is a nice touch. 

The Doctor is, as usual, on form here, with Troughton putting in a performance that manages to rise above the frequently lacklustre scripts. His intense intelligence in the last three episodes as he works out exactly what the Chameleons are doing and what his best chance of stopping them is, is impressive, and the final episode, as he buys time on board the Chameleon satellite, is the high point of the story; for all that the Director believes his intellect to be far greater than the Doctor’s, the Doctor’s almost palpable confidence in his plan, which of course hinges on the success of the airport staff and Samantha in finding the originals of Blade and the others on Earth, never lets the viewer doubt that he can easily defeat the Chameleons. As in ‘The Macra Terror’, he continues to exude confidence, albeit often disguised beneath his clowning, and again gives the impression that he is enjoying himself. The Doctor persuading the Chameleons to leave Earth is a pleasant change to the usual conclusion, which ultimately results in the death of the villains, although I can’t help wondering just how much his confidence that Blade will stick to his side of the bargain once he gets safely changed back into his raw state is justified. In fact I recall reading somewhere that Steve Lyons joked that the Chameleons probably waited for the Doctor to clear off and then started all over again at a different airport…

Overall, ‘The Faceless Ones’ is neither a classic nor a turkey, but merely an oddity, with forgettable villains, conspicuous padding, and a criminally understated departure for Ben and Polly, but which makes good use of both Jamie and the Doctor. Following on immediately after the superb ‘The Macra Terror’ probably makes it seem even less impressive, and it doesn’t help that, immediately following it, the very best is yet to come…





The Invasion of TimeBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 July 2003 - Reviewed by Alex Wilcock

“At last, the future of Gallifrey is assured.”

I have a confession to make. The Deadly Assassin has been my favourite story from the moment it was broadcast, and when I was younger, the Sontarans were my favourite monsters. I thought The Invasion of Time was fantastic, and played the big gun battles at school. I’d been waiting for such a long time for a decent copy on tape, and was terribly excited when they finally released it. 

Hurrah…?

Watching it recently episode by episode, I realised the gulf from how I loved it as a kid to it scraping about five out of ten for me now. It seems to have suddenly fallen in my Who story ‘likes’ from about number 50 to, ooh, past number 100. Why? The story is much more traditional than The Deadly Assassin, and blatantly trying both to pull back from it and to be an epic to outmatch it. It ends up as a glittery and hollow pile of padding which doesn't have the force to carry off the 'Doctor turning bad' plot with which it begins, alternately entertaining and infuriating, then at the end dull – except for the Doctor *really* turning bad in a lazy way they don’t even notice. In short, it suffers from the curse of the sequel, and helps make Gallifrey dull for ever after.

OK, so that’s the short review. Now come with me, and I’ll take you through each episode, the highs and the lows, and spoilers abound… To start with the context, Season 15 is perhaps the most disappointing year Doctor Who ever produced, with nosediving production values not yet being salvaged by the Williams wit finding its feet. Almost every story ends with something being blown up; almost every set and costume looks cheap. You might call it ‘Boom and Bust’, or ‘The Year They Got Lazy’. There are worse seasons, certainly, but never have expectations built up by steadily rising standards of brilliance over the preceding three years been so cruelly dashed. Scripts and acting are falling back into familiar, obvious patterns; Leela is going downhill faster than any other companion. It just looks so flat, so dull, so slipshod – and Tom has gone off the rails in a way that he will avoid for most of the following, far superior year. 

Unfortunately, in many more ways than being the climax of the steadily increasing mentions of the Time Lords in every story, The Invasion of Time is an appropriate summation of Season 15. From the beginning of episode One, you can see the problems. K9 has now settled into his forever-after mix of C3PO and R2D2 (bitchy pedant meets cute little robot), with a big gun added on, and the Doctor is now relying on him to shoot things altogether too much. Added to this laziness, he gains every fan’s undying hatred when he demands the TARDIS speak, then retorts, “You are a very stupid machine.” Die, tin can, die! ;-)

The Vardans start well, with cool high-backed chairs and froody multi-squared computer screens. Unusually, it’s very clear that a fair while has gone by between Underworld and this story, for the Doctor to have laid all his Vardan plans. Oh, and for Leela to have got herself a giant frog to play with in the exploitation shots in the pool. Landing on Gallifrey is an immense relief – for the first time in the entire season, we have a set that looks grand and impressive, the more so when the Panopticon has clearly been redesigned (a bit) rather than broken out of storage. The ghastly plastic floor level blue and green chairs are a let-down, but generally it’s interesting and believable again.

Tom Baker is arrestingly abrupt as the Doctor declares himself – and rather worryingly, Andred immediately sides with him and starts ordering around the most senior Time Lords at gunpoint! I mean, it seems a rather gun-ready society, doesn’t it? Shame that Borusa’s best comeback line now is “Then let him rot in a black star,” or trying to lock him up – John Arnatt gives a great performance to disguise it, but, really, Borusa’s character is already suffering from poorer scripting and much poorer lines.

The ceremony at the end isn’t badly done, but suffers from having far fewer Time Lords milling around than last time… At least Borusa doesn’t put on his frock until it’s playtime, even if he does then utter the grisly error “Their *elected* President.” Call me a Deadly Assassin pedant, but the whole point of that story is that Goth, who would blatantly have won an election, wasn’t going to get the job because the President makes the choice instead of a popular vote – hence the need for a *deadly assassin* to trigger the unprecedented step of an election. Sigh. With this, the ‘Rod’ blatantly being the ‘Great Key’ from last time, albeit presented on a hideous inflatable cushion, the Supreme Council rather than the High Council, and the Great Key business with the Chancellor’s secret (so why did everyone think Goth would be President, if it’s an alternate career summit and they can’t become President? Admittedly, the ‘balance of power’ is quite nice, and perhaps the Matrix wipes the knowledge from Chancellors-turned-President, but couldn’t they write it down?) you wonder if only the designers watched Assassin, and the authors didn’t listen at all. Still, episode one has considerable style, and blessed relief in the production values department. Gomer and Savar even have a nice bit of banter in much the same way as the two old coves in the Assassin dressing room.

Part Two is much less interesting, and with so much padding on view, it’s clear that this story has nothing like the ideas of Assassin. Rather entertainingly, a very similar cliffhanger (white-clad President collapses on Panopticon dais) is followed by a similar resolution, with guards milling around and escorting the Doctor away, though this time it’s the cruder Borusa who’s trying to have him locked up, while the clever one complained about the crude Chancellor. Mind you, it’s still just about working as a character piece for the Doctor, and Tom is still remembering to act just enough to pull it off. It’s a nice touch that Leela is ordered to the enquiry by Borusa – having failed with the Doctor, he’s still looking for public scapegoats, and the alien’s a prime target (though he blatantly knows she didn’t do it, having switched his story from “The Matrix rejects the candidate!” to “She attacked him”). 

When the Doctor comes round and startles us by turning on Leela, the story is still firing on all cylinders (which is more than the guards’ stasers do. Half the time they have no effect at all, but occasionally they have a white ‘diamond’, as last time. It’s, er, almost as if they did it in a hurry and didn’t finish putting all the effects). However, the lead is already becoming erratic. “This is rather more than a student prank,” says Borusa, calling our attention to Tom’s increasingly studenty performance of late. He ranges from the sudden roars (“Get out! Get out! Get out!” he cries near the end) to the hammy overplayed scene where he’s trying to find Borusa’s voice print, and he’s no longer entirely convincing. The episode ending has a considerable power, though, despite the Vardans already looking like a bit of scrunched-up plastic…

Episode Three is full of political intrigue and the threat of the Vardans – but unfortunately it doesn’t come off. Kelner is too silly, Andred is too callow, and the Vardans simply don’t work. They move very badly and are too blatant a matte, even ignoring their unspectacular appearance. Kelner plots with his pet guard to take over as President *later*, but protect the Doctor until then; so when did the Castellan bump up, illegally and unratified by a president, to become a High – er, Supreme – Councillor? And a really high-ranking one at that? While Kelner plots risibly, last week’s instant fascist Andred now goes for instant, insipid resistance, and unfortunately enthuses no-one. 

Leela deciding to banish herself because the Doctor wanted her banished, and he always has a plan, is rather a nice touch – the faithless one from her first story has found a faith she can believe in. At least she’s given a bit more to do than her comedy part in the last episode, where lines like the stage-whispered “I’m with him,” or the ‘posh’ echo “One does,” made it almost impossible to believe she’s not an average Twentieth Century woman. “I can survive anywhere,” she declares, and runs smack into Nesbin and the Outsiders, a last chance for her character to reassert itself.

Meanwhile, Tom gets very smug (K9 suggested lots of people call him that an episode ago – but this is the first time he’s really looked it) when Borusa learns from him. For this alone, you could forgive Andred for planning his assassination, but as for appointing Kelner ‘acting Vice President’ (since when did the Time Lords have them? It’s a different structure entirely, surely, with the Chancellor as deputy)… Borusa is locked up (for the next episode!) after rather a great scene where he faces down the Vardans and is zapped by one. Again, you’re almost persuaded that this story could be great. Unfortunately, Andred’s assassination plot is a bit crap. His plotters are unconvincing, and seem more human than Time Lord - Gomer is an old Time Lord (claiming his 10th regeneration makes him less vigorous), played by an old man; Andred’s callow youths are played by young men. Old actors playing ‘young’ Time Lords would have shown more thought. Then Andred’s rallying cry of ‘In the name of liberty and honour’ is just so limply delivered that you want to scream.

Into the fourth episode, and as with all undramatic ‘Doctor about to be shot’ cliffhangers, we’re amazed that, um, he isn’t. The excuse this time is especially weedy - the Doctor has apparently set up K9’s Earth blaster so it fires inside TARDISes, while Gallifreyan stasers don’t. Convinced? The Doctor has some relatively good barbs to Andred about his ineffectual palace revolution (“What can you pull off?” indeed), but it’s getting more and more stretched, and constant balancing acts of Gallifrey’s ‘crown jewels’ on K9 were probably funny in the studio. Andred using a calculator so K9 can show off and do the sums faster looks, ah, rather dated now. And probably then.

On the other hand, the Vardans have a much better episode, even though they suddenly laugh unconvincingly and tell Kelner they’ve suspected the Doctor all along (just as their voiceovers at the beginning – er – disprove). The life-size Vardan talking to Kelner, with a minimum of movement, doesn’t look too bad – and the one sitting at Kelner’s chair is mildly entertaining. Of course, once they appear in their little soldier suits, they make the cardinal dramatic error of having the leader being by far the smallest and slightest of the three, and not much of an actor to boot, which rather undermines his authority as he stands there shouting. As the Doctor observes, “Disappointing, aren’t they?” At least one of the others is fairly cute…

The Doctor enters the Matrix to get some ideas on dismantling the Quantum Forcefield (doesn’t sound as cool as the Transduction Barriers, so we never hear of that again from anyone, huh?). He gets some nice shots on location with lots of mechanics and a Vardan, which is different padding from usual. The Outsiders run through the sandpit several times to build up tension for their approach, rather less successfully. Oh well, Leela had fun hamming it up with her target practice before her band of six go off to conquer New York (at least, we assume it’s a city of similar density, and a similarly implausible idea). Shame that she just gets to be the butt of the stupid “What does proficient mean?” joke instead, and that K9 is also reduced to ‘nodding dog’ comic relief. At this point, the episode seems to have been a bit of a letdown, without even an appearance from Borusa to cheer it.

But then there’s the gorgeously blobby electronic music underscoring *that* cliffhanger…

Yes, Episode Five starts with fantastic oomph, and it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it keeps moves along at a fair old lick, largely helped by the mix of waspish Chancellor Borusa and some cool fx gunfights for the kids. Yes, it’s more running around, but it’s less tedious with it. Borusa is certainly a big pull this time, talking to himself as he listens to the Doctor, then forming a great double act that pulls some acting out of Tom (and even Tom’s ‘alliteration’ quip to Stor is done with his old grimness). His placing of the Great Key *not* in a forest of them, but in his desk drawer, is fabulous – even if the whole Chancellor / Key thing is a bit silly. For some reason never specified we get the idea that the Sontarans cannot ‘conquer time’ “Not while I -“ – er, why? What does the Chancellor do with the Key that would stop them? And if it’s not been used for 10 million years…? At least we don’t get Terrance Dicks’ ‘a lesser Key was stolen by the Master’ line (yeah, right, like the Eye of Harmony’s not important). Perhaps the Chancellor must use it to ‘switch all the TARDISes on’ as part of his duties, but it’s not something the script bothers to justify.

OK, Stor’s asthmatic East End sound is a bit peculiar, and the eye-holes don’t look vacuum-safe, but the Sontarans are generally fairly effective (still constantly helmeted so far; strange we didn’t get that as the cliffhanger!). They also have three fingers again - and their gun effects, with blast fields shifting and wobbling around, definitely look much better than K9’s thin red line (which at one stage shoots a Sontarans in the groin, only to see it carry on. It’s difficult not to jump to the conclusion that they have no nadgers). Is this the first ‘K9’s magic blaster has no effect’ scene? Kelner oils over the Sontarans to a ludicrous extent immediately, but when required to do some technical work (largely on film!) for the Sontarans, suddenly becomes more confidently evil and an impressive expert, rather than a weaselly cipher. He says that taking over the defence systems is only possible using the TARDIS – “and the Doctor’s capsule is the only one operational,” oddly (unless the Great Key has switched them all off). Still, Part Five has been something of a success.

Oh dear.

In Episode Six, the wheels come off so fast they fly out of the screen at you.

Like Episode Five, this involves lots of running around and blatant padding, but it stands much less well as an episode on its own, and ends up even worse as a climax. The plot doesn’t have enough to go on for a third of the time, and it makes very little use of what there is. For a start, Part Five was largely enlivened by the Chancellor, but this time it’s ten minutes in before Borusa appears, and he has precious little screen time. Other characters fare worse. Leela is roundly humiliated. It’s really only the last couple of stories that her character has really collapsed, but collapsed it suddenly has. It starts with the “You got lost” / “How do you know?” comedy routine, then her kissing K9 (demob happy), and closes with her staying with Captain Dull of the Guard. Strewth. Kelner is back to cipher again, claiming “I’m not an engineer, sir,” which is a blatant lie considering his accomplishments in these last two episodes, and poor Rodan spends most of her time hypnotised!

The TARDIS interiors must be greeted with some sympathy, given their unfortunate background in industrial disputes, and don’t seem that bad, though occasionally poor (you sort of get used to it). Showing a ‘brick and pipes’ corridor leading straight out of the console room is a good touch, and the lounger area where Borusa relaxes with news of the Titanic and a blue drink through a curly straw with the potplants and giant roundels on the wall works surprisingly well. Going round and round the same large area is very tedious, however, as is Tom constantly ‘stumbling’ on the same point of the ramp in the corridor approaching it – and the jumps between film and video are very obvious. “I’m a Time Lord, not a painter and decorator,” cries the Doctor, “I’m preoccupied with Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen.” When Tom acts up, we know the script is falling down. At least the ancillary power station is quite pretty.

I feel obliged to note that Stor has his trooper drag in a large gun-like beamer to burn through the blocking bar across the TARDIS internal door… And, wouldn’t you know? It works! It seems Gallifreyans are the only race in the universe who can’t build guns that fire inside their own ships. Stor has much bigger vacuum-unsafe eye holes – all the better to fail to convince you with – and mostly just stalks up and down brick corridors, glowering, taking his helmet off and putting it back on again for want of anything else to do. 

Again, Borusa is cool and entertaining, and manages good acting even in scenes like the ‘Doctor’s lost his memory’ one, with a slight smile, but there’s too little of him to disguise the paucity of everything else. How does he instantly recognise the Demat Gun (or even know to look for it)? It’s just a great big gun! The ultimate weapon (again), eh? “I could rule the Universe with this gun, Chancellor.” Oh, please. “It’ll throw us back to the darkest age,” cries Borusa, desperately trying to make us believe. Some have theorised that, as it’s powered by the Great Key, it’s either a Time Destructor or it erases your timeline (which erases the Doctor’s memory, but people in the TARDIS are shielded from changes in reality). Unfortunately, nothing we see on screen gives us more than ‘It’s a bigger, clumsier Ogron disintegrator.’ It’s just dull, and why on earth has he built it? It doesn’t serve a more interesting plot function than a pistol. Or a club. Or even a net. The Doctor catches up with Stor awfully quickly, then Stor threatens to explode a grenade (very slowly) – “You’ll destroy this entire galaxy,” pleads the Doctor. Er, why? How? Yes, I know a fan might work it out that it's because he's stood on top of the Eye of Harmony, but for 'average' viewers, that was explained briefly 18 months ago! It’s a very confused, very rushed (inexcusable after all the padding) and very poor conclusion. It’s rather sad that the whole thing is, again, resolved by the Doctor and a big gun. Particularly a big gun whose rather nice whiteout effect has no explanation behind it, and which the Doctor has – uniquely for the series so far – designed and planned with lots of alternative equipment to hand, rather than just finding or cobbling together in desperation.

So, by the end of it, the Doctor has built the (albeit unconvincing) ultimate weapon. And he uses it, unhesitatingly. And he doesn’t even resist the temptation not to *keep* using it – that decision is made for him by a handy deus ex machina. Do we ever see the Doctor more out of character until he blows up Skaro? In retrospect, we can perhaps see the whole plot and resolution of the Key to Time as a remake of The Invasion of Time, but getting it right. Yes, the wheels still fall off a bit in the last two stories, but at least the Doctor is recognisably Doctorish and not Rambo at the end!

The Doctor, of course, then handily loses his memory. So how did he know which TARDIS room to look for his friends in? Oh, and we’re to presume that, when Borusa took the Sash off the Doctor and the Doctor let him, that was the Doctor’s resignation as President, too! At least Arnatt is good enough for us to infer Borusa’s wiles when the script fails to fill them in. Incidentally, although the Doctor may have had his own memory wiped, Rodan built the key under unconscious hypnosis and instruction from… K9. So, the dog knows how to build one! And it’s staying with Borusa. Hmm… Then all we’re left with is the worst exit for a companion since Dodo.

So, in the end, The Invasion of Time is a disappointment. There are much worse stories, but most of those have much less promise to go so wrong. I’ve really got back into watching Who stories episodically again rather than all in a lump, but cutting up some stories episode by episode (as they were intended to be watched but with the deadly ability to dwell on the dodgy bits) is clearly a killer. Worse, it’s the end that lets it down most badly, as the Doctor’s behaviour is actually more worrying than at the beginning, but it hasn’t occurred to the production team that he’s other than ‘heroic’. I liked big guns and this story when I was six. It’s difficult to be as enthusiastic about them these days, when I’m not convinced either make very good Doctor Who.





The DominatorsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 July 2003 - Reviewed by Paul Clarke

Based on memories of it, I was expecting to write a scathing critique of ‘The Dominators’, but to my surprise, I actually found quite a lot to like about it. It is by no means a classic, and it is possible that part of my newfound enjoyment of it stems form watching the series in order, since this is the first complete surviving story since ‘The Tomb of Cybermen’; nevertheless it isn’t as bad as its reputation suggests.

First of all, I’ll address the considerable shortcomings of ‘The Dominators’. The main message of the story seems to be that it is often necessary to fight for what one believes in and indeed to survive in the face of enemy aggression; thus, we are presented with a race utterly opposed to aggression of all kinds, who suddenly find themselves under threat from a utterly implacable enemy that is determined to destroy them and their only hope of survival is to alter their pacifist stance and fight. To anyone who has seen ‘The Mutants’, this might sound familiar, but there are essential differences; the Thals were sufficiently well characterised that it was possible to care about their fate, and they were eventually persuaded of the need to fight back against the Daleks by Ian. The Dulcians on the other hand are the single most tedious alien race yet seen in Doctor Who, even taking into account the Xerons. With the exception of Cully, who I’ll come back to, they are atrociously characterised and indeed acted, especially Kando and Teel. Balan’s apparent refusal to accept that the Dominators won’t just go away and leave them alone makes him seem, frankly, feeble-minded and at best stupid. The council are even worse, the absolute low point being Tensa’s pompous insistence that Rago, an obviously threatening psychopath equipped with a bizarre looking but extremely dangerous robot, addresses Senex in a respectful manner; frankly, I welcomed his death with a kind of twisted glee, hoping that it would incite the Dulcians to action, despite having seen ‘The Dominators’ before and knowing that, in fact, they just end up concluding that they’ll have to let the Dominators blow up their planet. The Thals’ initial stoic refusal to fight in the face of over-whelming common sense seemed somehow noble thanks to decent scripting, but the Dulcians just seen dimwitted. Part of the problem is the way that the council members are betrayed as pompous windbags, continuously bickering amongst themselves with a kind of relaxed smugness, which gives the probably unintentional message to the viewer that pacifism leads to bureaucracy; this is possibly true, but it hardly seems to be the point. The one exception to the Dulcian rule is Cully, who is well acted and well scripted, except for the fact that Haisman and Lincoln muddy the waters by also seemingly trying to crowbar in a half-arsed message about crying wolf. Which in the long run is pointless, since when the council is convinced that he is telling the truth, they still don’t do anything about it anyway.

Production wise, the Dulcians continue to suffer. The Island of Death is clearly meant to look like a quarry, so I can forgive it, but the council chamber set is almost terminally uninteresting, which is appropriate but only adds to the overall tedium. The costumes worn by the Dulcians need to be seen to be believed and don’t help matters; they look utterly absurd and not in an interesting Thal trousers sort of way, but in a quick-sewing-job-with-some-spare-curtains kind of way. Poor Wendy Padbury ends up looking like an overgrown schoolgirl whose mother couldn’t afford a uniform for her and had to make one for her herself, whilst struggling with arthritis and poor vision. The model work is also crap, most notably the B-movie style travel capsules, Cully’s beehive-shaped hovercraft, and the Dominators’ spaceship. Consequently, much of ‘The Dominators’ is dull to look at, and this coupled with the fact that any scene featuring just Dulcians (Cully aside) feels padded regardless of its length, does not make a recipe for success. 

In spite of all this monotony however, there is much to enjoy in ‘The Dominators’. Some of the design work is quite good; the hexagonal block design of the weapons museum is rather effective, and the survey unit model also works well. The interior of the Dominators’ ship is suitably futuristic, and there are some very impressive explosions throughout. Cast wise, the regulars really shine here, showcasing the new TARDIS crew very well. Troughton was reputedly bored with the recurring base-under-siege plot prevalent in Season Five, and seems to relish the opportunity to do something different here. The highlight is episode two, when he pretends to be an idiot so that the Dominators underestimate him; uniquely, the villains here never actually realize who their principle enemy is, blaming the attacks on the Quarks on the Dulcians and of course Jamie. Troughton looks like he is enjoying himself throughout the story, and puts in one of his most frantic and enthusiastic performances to date. He also conveys well the fact that the Doctor is forced to think on his feet from the moment he meets the Dominators, since he dare not admit that he has been feigning stupidity; his claim that the “clever ones” built the laser gun seems very desperate, but pays off to the Doctor’s obvious relief. He is also frantic with nervousness in the final episode, as the Dulcians and Zoe try to bore a tunnel from the atomic shelter to the Dominator’s central bore to intercept the explosive device and thus save Dulkis. His cheerful and carefree dismantling of the capsule’s controls whilst in mid-flight is another highlight, as is the final scene, when he wears a satisfied smile on his face as the Dominator spaceship blows up, only to be brought up short as he realises that he is in the path of a lava flow. 

Jamie gets plenty to do here, thanks largely to the apathy of most of the Dulcians, and his grim satisfaction as he and Cully systematically hunt Quarks in episode five is superbly conveyed. He also provides the perfect contrast to the Dulcians, since he is a born fighter. Zoe too fares well here, living up to the promise she showed in her flawed debut story. Unlike Victoria, she is not easily intimidated, and never seems cowed by Toba’s bullying; she also gamely joins Cully in inciting rebellion and generally seems to be enjoying herself despite the dangers. In short, because of the vast failings of the Dulcian characters, the TARDIS crew as a whole is more crucial to the resolution of the plot than in many stories in Doctor Who up until this point. 

The Quarks are probably a bone of contention, since I get the impression that fans either love them or hate them. I think they’re great, their bizarre and diminutive appearance and weird, childlike voices contrasting with their actually quite impressive destructive capabilities in the story to make them a much more novel and impressive threat than, say, the War Machines. I like the details of their design, for example their weird spiky heads and the fact that their arms fold neatly away. In this regard, they actually look like they have been designed with practicality in mind rather than to frighten children in the audience, and their size helps to avoid making them looking like men in funny costumes. The effects used to show the deaths of their victims also help to add to their menace, both the elaborate “burning” effect in episode one, and the smoking corpse effect used later. However, the real saving grace of ‘The Dominators’ is, for me, the eponymous aliens themselves.

Rago and Toba have been criticized by some fans for being nothing more than argumentative bullies, about whom we learn next to nothing, and this is in fact true. But they are so well acted, and so well scripted, that this doesn’t matter because they actually feel really dangerous. They are both psychotic, both giving the impression that they are about to erupt and kill someone nearby, which is in fact the case on several occasions. Toba, excellently acted by Kenneth Ives, is extremely sadistic, and is scary because he’ll kill for fun; he’s also in a sense stupid, since he endangers their mission by wasting the Quarks’ dwindling energy supplies by destroying things simply because he can, which makes him the focus of his superior’s rage on several occasions. The acting is the icing on the cake; every time anyone shows signs of rebellion, or attacks a Quark, his initial outrage gives way to an expression of murderous glee, as it gives him an excuse to kill somebody. When he supervises the clearance of the central drilling site to test the slaves to exhaustion, he explains what they must do with relish. In short, Ives’ performance drips with cruelty. Ronald Allen however, is even better as Rago. Rago is truly scary, whether he has an air of calm, detached ruthlessness, or suppressed fury as he deals with Toba’s wasteful need to fulfill his baser desires. Whilst he frequently orders Toba not to kill the TARDIS crew or the Dulcians, there is never any doubt that he is doing so out of compassion; he is focused entirely on achieving his mission and will not risk wasting energy on unnecessary slaughter. Allen’s facial acting is astounding, his eyes twitching manically, and an occasional cruel half-smile breaking his otherwise cold granite expression. Whilst he is less overtly sadistic than Toba, his dispassionate callousness has a clinical horror all its own, most effectively when he is examining Jamie like a sample on a microscope in episode two. His quiet, clipped tones, only rising to a shout in his final scene as he sees the seed device on board the spaceship and bellows “obey!” at Toba are equally menacing; there is no gloating when he kills Tensa; only a matter of fact certainty that he will kill other council members if he feels that is necessary. The louder Toba, less in control of his emotions, is never as intimidating as Rago; it seems initially that he might rebel and take over from his superior, but when he tries, it is quickly made clear who the more dangerous of the two is and he is rapidly cowed and humiliated. Oh, and their simply costumes are effective too. It is true that we learn little about the Dominators, but the fact that remains that whenever they are on screen, I at least do not find the story dull.

In short then, ‘The Dominators’ is a weak season opener, but not as bad as some fans would have you believe.