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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Dear Gods, the Quarks Have Arrived: ‘Doctor Who: The Dominators’

One of the special features on the DVD for Doctor Who: The Dominators is a piece called “Tomorrow’s Times — The Second Doctor”, wherein we’re introduced to the reviews and press reactions that the show received during Patrick Troughton’s tenure. Although the critics were a bit hard on the Second Doctor’s initial time on the TARDIS, by the time Troughton left, people were finally conceding that Doctor Who was starting to become a bit of an institution, particularly during 1968, wherein some exemplary episodes were being produced.

The Dominators, however, was not one of them.

Although several of the early-year Who serials remain engaging due to their deep-seated moral messages and greater thematic implications, The Dominators only hints at what could’ve been, what with a forceful alien race (called, that’s right, The Dominators!) arriving on the peaceful non-violent planet of Dulkis only to destroy it in order to obtain its valuable resources. It’s a pretty standard Who plot, but even with delicious internal conflict within the Dominator command chain itself, the whole story feels remarkably limp, as far too many characters are weaved into the plot over the course of five episodes, making it more confusing than it needs to be (this is also partially due to the fact that the BBC initially ordered six episodes, forcing the writers to scramble following the cut).

Perhaps all of this wouldn’t be as bad, however, were it not for … the Quarks.

Yes, the Quarks. These awkward-lookin‘ things. Due to the Daleks being used on another project at the time (and some weird legal finagling at the BBC), it turned out that the writers of this particular episode needed to create a new type of monster that was notably similar to the Daleks, which was no easy task considering they were already the most iconic villain on the show (and still are to this day). So what they came up with were the boxy ol’ Quarks: the single most annoying villains to ever grace the Whoniverse.

Why are they terrible? Plain and simple: they emit a sharp, painful, high-pitched squeal. Although they have limited power supplies and invisible energy guns and the like, the ear-scraping voices of the little bots are enough to drive one insane. Had they just been annoying side-characters, that’d be one thing. To be forced to try and decipher what they’re saying for the sake of plot-comprehension, however, is a whole different bag of crisps. It‘s like trying to figure out what‘s wrong with a malfunctioning speaker when your ear is right next to it: it’s necessary, but assuredly not fun. Who fans can survive a mediocre serial — they’ve been through enough of them before — but there is a very, very good reason why the Quarks never appeared in a storyline beyond this one (and no, a one-off appearance in the later Troughton piece The War Games does not count).

In the ever-informative making-of documentary included here (this one called “Recharge and Equalize”), these many factors are discussed at length by the people involved in production, although virtually everyone agrees by the end of it that this is not one of the Doctor’s greatest adventures. A chummy audio commentary (which includes companions Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury chief among them), however, at least gives the surprisingly-light featurette list on this particular disc a noted highlight.

The Dominators feels like a DVD that’s designed for devoted Who-collectors, and not for the general public, and that’s probably for the best: the fewer people that have to hear that annoying digital Quark squeal, the better.

RATING 3 / 10