The War Games
|Dates||Aug. 10, 1968 -
Sept. 7, 1968
With Patrick Troughton, Frazier Hines, Wendy Padbury.
Written by Norman Ashbury. Script-edited by Derrick Sherwin.
Directed by Morris Barry. Produced by Peter Bryant.
|Synopsis: The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe encounter the enslaving Dominators, bent on exploiting the planet of Dulcis and its peaceful inhabitants.|
A Review by Jen Kokoski 20/1/98
This story tolled the end of an era in classic Who, the last season a most versatile actor portrayed the Doctor. Pat Troughton, like Peter Davison, was an accomplished actor at the time he took the role of the traveling Time Lord. But unlike Davison, whose stories improved in his last season, Troughton had, by all accounts, a beleaguered and worn out production and writing team. The result is a story like The Dominators. Long in length and short on plot, the struggle between the conquering Dominators and naive Dulkins could easily have been completed in three episodes (possibly two if the Dulkins weren't such long-winded debaters). Yet even though this story line is not intellectually taxing, it is not annoying to one's patience. The reason for that can be summed up in two words. Rapport and the Dominators. Nasty by nature, the temperament of the invading aliens is fraught with of condescension. Their bickering and murderous delight make them easy to hate. And as easily as these villains entertain with their maniacal personas, the Doctor and his companions delight audiences with their usual rapport of wit and humor. The scenes of the Doctor and Jamie's interrogation by the Dominators practically make the whole adventure worth watching.
Quarks and Mayhem by Carl West 11/8/98
Because of the very discouraging reviews of The Dominators in Howe, Stammers, and Walker's Second Doctor Handbook, I might never have seen that story. Compelled by my hunger to experience more of the mystique of Doctor Who's black-and-white early years, however, I purchased the BBC Video anyway. Maybe I have poor taste, but I can honestly tell you that I did in fact enjoy every minute of The Dominators.
I will get the obviously weak points of the story out of the way first. Yes, The Dominators is no Pyramids of Mars, but then again not every Who story can be that good. True, it is a little too long at five episodes, but I have certainly discovered that the longer Who stories are much more enjoyable when watched in smaller segments-- after all, that is how Who was originally transmitted. Yes, the Dulcians are all quite dull, but they add a nice campy touch. In fact, the unusual-looking robes that the male Dulcians wear make them look as if they are modeling window-coverings for some department store.
On the more enduring side, Ronald Allen is rather fascinating as Rago. The pale-faced character exudes a certain gloomy intensity-- I'm curious if Allen has ever acted in any horror films (he would be a natural). The imposing uniforms/armor that the Dominators wear is very effective too. The continual, heated arguments between Rago and Toba over their differing methods of subjugating the Dulcians creates a nice tension. The Quarks are also very good, particularly with their unusually high-pitched voices. Of course, it does not need to be said that Troughton, Hines, and Padbury are all excellent as usual. The Doctor's clever yet simple idea of how to get the Dominators' bomb off of the planet is quite hilarious too.
So, if you ever find yourself in a fit of melancholy over the demise of Evil of the Daleks or Fury from the Deep, or if you have been going crazy with anticipation while waiting for the BBC Video release of The Ice Warriors this fall, why not take a look at one of the more infamous survivors from the Troughton era....
A Review by Leo Vance 17/11/98
This is a great demonstration of an un-used return appearance and merchandising opportunity.
The best part of this story is the Quarks. This superb robot monsters work better than most other alien creatures. Well designed and effective, they deserved a return appearance. The spiky head and box design works well.
The first thing you notice about this story is the continual over-acting. From Rago to Kully, the characters shout and posture. Toba is the worst, and the best is unquestionably the Dulcian Kando, who is played with a quietness that, while simply underacting in most stories, is a relief here. Wendy Padbury and Patrick Troughton both play their roles well, but Frazer Hines seems below his usual standard. This is primarily due to a dull script, but his acting is poor as well.
Rago is the better acted of the Dominators by far, occasionally seeming to be menacing.
The Dulcians are generally poorly acted. As noted above, only Kando seems believable, sticking to her pacifist beliefs through thick and thin. Balan, Senex and Tensa are caricatures, and Teel's decision to adopt an anti-pacifist stance is sexist beyond belief.
The costumes are well-designed, a real attempt to be 'different'. The sets are as usual good, but the direction is mixed.
Patrick Troughton is unquestionably the star here; he is a magnificent actor, and his portrayal of an idiot could not be better done. It is hilarious, as is the rest of his performance.
The anti-Troughton is unquestionably co-star Frazer Hines, who could not be worse characterised or acted. He simply seems wooden, the traditional sexist 'young male hero' rather than the interesting character we normally see.
A reasonable start for Season Six. 6/10
Not Troughton's Best by Michael Hickerson 13/12/99
I'm suffering from withdrawal over the fact that I live in the U.S. and am forced to wait another year before the newly restored Ice Warriors hits our shores. In an effort to curb my desire to see a second Doctor adventure, I went for the story I hadn't seen in the longest amount of time--in this case, The Dominators.
Oh, I wish I'd let it collect some more dust and just watched Tomb of the Cybermen.
The sad part is that this was originally supposed to be a six part story. Honestly, I can't imagine anything more tedious.
The Dominators is easily the weakenst installment that the writing duo of Lincoln and Heimsan gave us from the Throughton years. After their success with the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, you can almost see them trying to capture lightning in a bottle again with a new Who race of monsters--namely the Quarks. Part of the problem is that the Quarks are so built-up off-screen that by the they are seen on camera at the end of episode one, it's hard not to fall on the floor laughing. Add to it that they're hardly effective enough to take three steps without having to power-up and you've got some of Who's least threatening villians ever. (It's ironic the Doctor uses them in his defense as evil creatures in The War Games).
But, all of this might have been overlooked if the story weren't so bad. The Dominators land on Dulcis, decide to take it over and then spend five episodes attempting to do so. The plan is to blow up the planet and move on. Surely there must be better ways to accomplish this then spending three or four days drilling and giving the Doctor a chance to stop you. And the conclusion is laughable at best.
This is certainly not the second Doctor's best story and, despite a few good moments from Troughton such as the Doctor feigning stupidity to appease the Dominators, there's not much here to recommend.
About the strongest postive comment I can make is that it sets the stage for The Mind Robber, an infinitely superior story...
Now, where's my copy of Tomb of the Cybermen?
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 26/6/99
The Dominators has the reputation of being the worst story of the Troughton era, and it isn`t hard to see why. Lacklustre is perhaps the best way to describe it, as The Dominators is at least two episodes too long; the word padding springs to mind.
Much of the acting, particularly that of the native Dulcians is wooden and nothing is really revealed about them apart from the fact that they are pacifists. The titular Dominators are much better, with Ronald Allen of Crossroads fame deserving special mention for his portrayal of Rago; unfortunately their bickering does get tiresome after a while, and we don`t really learn anything about them other than their malicious nature.The three regulars come off best, particularly Zoe. Patrick Troughton is also great fun to watch, although Frazer Hines is somewhat below par.
Best of all however, are the Quarks who definitely deserve a return appearance; the disintegration of Tolata in the first episode is particularly effective. And while the lead into The Mind Robber is also cleverly done, this is not enough to save the reputation The Dominators has today.
The Ebay Batch Part One by Robert Thomas 27/2/01
Right, a few weeks ago I managed to win a s**t load of videos on Ebay and am going to review them as I watch them.
I disagree with the other reviewers, I quite like it. It has a feeling about it that Doctor Who rarely caught, a sort of casualness that meant all concerned were hitting form and enjoying themselves. Its hard to describe but other stories I'd say have the same feeling are The Romans, The Monster Of Peladon, Nightmare Of Eden, Mawdryn Undead, The Mark Of The Rani and the vervoid bit of Trial to name a few.
Patrick Troughten seems to be enjoying himself loads in this, just look at his body language. Jamie as usual is perfect and gets a lot to do in this story.
The Dulcians (yes they do wear curtains) are a bit dull but that's the point, I like the fact that Cully is also a bit chubby bearing in mind compared with the rest he is the adventurous one. In fact I'd say that he is the best of the guest cast.
The Dominators make good bad guys and the quarks are cute - I love that little dance they do before they got blown up.
When me and my sister watched it however there is one thing we disagreed on. I said the actress who plays the female student must be at least 18 as she acts liked she went out and got stoned every night before shooting the episode. However my sister thinks she is around 14 because she has no breasts.
In short a good fun little story that does not deserve the reputation it has. Well worth it if you want to see actors and actresses enjoying themselves.
Toba or not Toba, that is the question... by Andrew Wixon 2/10/01
I honestly couldn't make my mind up about this story until actually sitting down to write the review. While watching it, I went back and forth between near-boredom and a sort of restrained engagement with it. It's a real mixed bag. However...
This is not a terribly subtle or original tale. The plot's apparent preoccupation with pacifism and radioactivity hearkens back to The Dead Planet; but only superficially. The radiation is pretty much a red herring, while the Doctor doesn't actually persuade the Dulcians that their philosophy obviously needs a rethink. The rest of the story is nothing special, and indeed verges on (and resembles) a 1930s Flash Gordon-type serial. Pantomime-evil aliens attempt to do nasty things to pacifist aliens and their planet, and that's about it. The Dulcians - all, seemingly, upper-middle-class ballet dancers with silly names - have no personalities to speak of. The Dominators, on the other hand, are easily distinguished - Toba is psychopathic, Rago is merely psychotic. (This is as subtle as the story gets.)
On the other hand, the conflict between the Dominators is one of the more interesting things in the story (not that that's saying much...). Ronald Allen is probably the best served of the visiting actors, although once again his part is hardly written by Shakespeare. Of the regulars, Troughton's Doctor is impressively slippery and childlike. Jamie gets to do his rebels-in-skirts schtick again in the company of Cully. Wendy Padbury... is a bit am-dram, I'm afraid.
So what is there to like about such a predictable and poorly-characterised story? Well, a lot of the stuff in the sandpit is rather well executed. The Quarks are a major bonus to the story, they look good, have nice sound effects and avoid the 'indestructible foe with a single weakness' trap. And, following four episodes of deeply engaging runaround, when the plot finally kicks in it makes episode five a bullet of a finale. Pity they didn't cut another episode and spread the interesting bits of the story around a bit more...
One is always more inclined to praise a story with a weak start and a strong conclusion than one that starts well and declines near the end. The conclusion of The Dominators is by far the story's finest twenty-five minutes. The rest is often dull and - dare I say it? - juvenile.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 15/1/02
The season which this production is part of was for Troughton the most inferior of his three year stint. He was right. The season lacked the consistency of the previous two, being variable in quality. It seemed that complacency was creeping in. When Derrick Sherwin (script-editor at the time) received the script for this he felt he could trim an episode out as it rambled, this so incensed the writers they took their name off it.
The basic story is rather good but too drawn out at five episodes (Sherwin should have edited out another!). The director, Morris Barry - responsible for the tremendous The Tomb of the Cybermen - bears no resemblance here to his previous triumph, he seems to be totally disinterested. There are however some good bits, Jamie's attack on the Quarks, the strained relationship between the Dominators, the attempt to stop the bomb, but not enough to maintain interest. Needed tightening up scriptwise and stronger direction.
Dominated by Dullness by Tim Roll-Pickering 21/1/02
Although The Dominators went out as the first new story of Season 6, it was immediately preceded by a repeat of The Evil of the Daleks, worked into the ongoing narrative of the series. This is immensely fortunate as it means that The Dominators is less of a trend setter for the season than the opening story normally is.
Although the story is only five episodes long, compared to the six episode stories dominating the preceding season, it still feels overlong and repetitive - notably the cliffhangers to both Episodes 2 & 3 which seek Toba ordering the Quarks to destroy a building containing Cully and one of the Doctor's companions. The story takes place on an alien planet with absolutely no reference to Earth or humans and this is the first story to do this since Galaxy 4. As with that earlier story it is hard to identify with the story. The Dulcians are an incredibly dull race who take forever to accept the menace and only Cully actually does anything significant for the plot in the story. The Dominators are poorly explained and do not come across as the all-conqueroring race they claim to be. The conflict between Toba and Rago is constant and dull, since once Rago is away from Toba he becomes just as willing to resort to destructive means even though the Quarks have low power. The Quarks were touted at the times as being the next big Doctor Who monster but make little impact, partially because they are portrayed as little more than slaves, but also because their design and voices are poor. They are by no means the effective, deadly robots they would have to be to generate numerous demands for their return.
Acting wise the story suffers as well, with Felicity Gibson (Kando) being perhaps the worst, albeit not without strong competition. Although the three regulars give reasonable performances there are scenes were they are poor, particularly when the Doctor is deliberately acting stupid to fool the Dominators. The costumes for the Dulcians are utterly absurd and Cully looks much older than the plot suggests he is.
The direction and design are similarly weak, suggesting a general dissatisfaction with the story amongst the production team. Consequently this is a story where virtually all the elements of production work together to bring the whole thing down, rather than to build it up. There are virtually no redeeming features at all. Consequently The Dominators is easily one of the weakest stories of all. 1/10
A Review by Brian May 8/11/03
There are two aspects of The Dominators that tell you everything you need to know. Firstly, it takes place on a planet called Dulkis, with inhabitants called Dulcians (emphasis on the first syllable in both cases). Secondly, the eponymous aliens attempt to bore their way to the planet's crust and cause havoc. They fail, of course - but just about everything else in this tale succeeds at being boring.
A few years ago I hated this story. However on my last viewing I have relented a bit. I found it not quite as tedious as before, but that's not saying much - The Dominators is still a hard slog. Where I think it has improved is in the first two and a half episodes. While never scintillating or enthralling, the first half actually tells a decent story. It's only around the middle of episode three that the rot sets in - I never noticed it before, but part four is perhaps the most mind-numbingly slow and monotonous single episode in Doctor Who's history! The final episode is slightly better, with a race against time climax, but by then the boredom factor has well passed the point of no return.
So just why is this the case? In terms of plot, it's a simple Doctor-fights-the-oppressors-and-defends-the-oppressed story. A fairly standard template, but if done properly, can make for an entertaining adventure (The Mutants, The Sun Makers). However, what probably makes The Dominators succeed less than similar stories is the nature of the oppressed.
Let's face it, the Dullcians (sic) are a pathetic bunch! They are a boring race of wimps who gauge very little sympathy from the audience. With the exception of Cully, they are such wet fish that the viewer doesn't really care whether they are enslaved or blown up! Especially the council, who just sit around, deliberate and do nothing. They are supposed to be a highly sophisticated, almost utopian race, but it seems their most significant achievement in evolution is turning the shower curtain into a men's frock!
The story is supposedly meant to teach us a thing or two about pacifism. Well, the viewer might, but by the end of the story the Dulcians haven't learned a darned thing! Nothing has changed in their attitude, and were it not for the Doctor, his companions and Cully, they would be dead. Apart from Cully, only Kando seems to undergo any real character development - however I may be biased, as I was so smitten by Felicity Gibson when I first saw this. The second Doctor Who tale, The Daleks, tells us more about the issue of pacifism in ten minutes than this story does in two hours.
The Dominators themselves are unexciting villains. Not only do they look like Humpty Dumpty, but they are just as boring as the Dulcians. The tension between Rago and Toba is presumably meant to be an interesting sub-plot - well, it isn't. The performances for both Dominators and Dulcians are not very good. Granted, Ronald Allen and Kenneth Ives have their moments (especially Allen, as he is a decent actor), but often they seem resigned to the fact that their roles are so uninteresting. As for the twelve or so Dulcians, I'm not sure whether they are skilled actors giving good performances as boring characters, or bad actors performing terribly but, because of their characters, nobody notices! It's impossible to tell, really. In fact, only the regulars are of any interest in this story. Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury give their all, making them an ideal TARDIS crew - although they too have some off moments. The "stupidity test" the Dominators put the Doctor and Jamie through fails in its attempts to be humorous. The separating of companions - a standard plot contrivance in Doctor Who - is badly done here. The three travellers learn that the Dominators may attack the TARDIS - they all react with alarm. The Doctor and Jamie go to investigate, but Zoe calmly says "No, I think I'll stay here", as if there's no problem.
And what about those Quarks, eh? The entire first episode builds up to reveal these unseen, destructive monsters. The cliff-hanger, as they stand on the ridge and say "Shall we destroy?" in their shrill voices is a comical anti-climax. Combine this with their waving arms and their running about in circles and I wondered if I could take one home - they're just sooooo cute! (Who needs K9 or R2-D2?)
Director Morris Barry does what he can with this story. The use of close-up camera shots is quite effective, especially the scenes where prisoners are interrogated in the Dominators' ship. He does love that quarry in Gerrards Cross, but Tomb of the Cybermen this ain't!
As I mentioned before, the story doesn't sag until halfway through episode three. I'm so glad script-editor Derrick Sherwin scaled it down from six to five episodes. As a six parter, The Dominators would have been intolerable! But even as it is, it's a very mundane tale that drowns in good intention. My favourite bit is the lava flow erupting. Why is it my favourite? Because it means the story's over and it's time for The Mind Robber! 3.5/10
Domination By Boredom by Matthew Kresal 22/3/11
The Dominators: the opening story of Patrick Troughton's final season as the second Doctor. By all accounts, the story should have been a good one when you consider it was written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln (the team behind the two successful yeti stories The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear), was directed by Morris Barry (who had directed the Cybermen stories The Moonbase and The Tomb Of The Cybermen) and featured the TARDIS crew of the second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe. The result though is perhaps the least successful of the surviving intact Troughton era stories.
Certainly, this is not the fault of the TARDIS crew. In fact, the combination of Troughton's Doctor, Fraser Hines' Jamie and Wendy Padbury's Zoe are perhaps the biggest redeeming aspect of the story. This was the first story for them as a team (as Zoe had been introduced in the previous story The Wheel In Space) but already there is a strong sense of chemistry amongst the team, starting from the moment they arrive with the Doctor getting ready for a beach holiday, right up until the final scenes of episode five. Indeed, they don't enter the story until nearly ten minutes into the first episode and the story works best when they are on screen. Unfortunately, they can't make up for the rest of the story's faults on their own.
The supporting cast representing the invaded Dulcians are functional at best and weak at worst. On the functional end are Johnson Bayly as Educator Balan, Arthur Cox as Cully and Walter Fitzgerald as Director Senex whose performances are exactly that: functional. The rest of the cast though give weak performances, including Felicity Gibson as Kando and Giles Block as Teel who occupy so much of the story's run time. That's not to mention the story's weakest aspects.
Those would be its villains: the titular Dominators and their robotic minions the Quarks. Both seemed like a good idea on paper but their execution was far from it. The two Dominators, Ronald Allen as Rago and Kenneth Ives as Toba, do little more then march around, argue with one another and issue orders to their minions though both actors project a fair amount of menace in doing so. Their robotic minions the Quarks are much less successful. The Quarks were created with the intention of replacing the Daleks as the series' most popular monster and watching the story it isn't hard to see why that didn't happen. The Quarks lack menace thanks to their short stature, their obvious difficulty in movement and their ridiculous voices which range from comical to difficult to understand. Put together, they form the weakest aspect of a weak story.
Other aspects of the story are fairly weak. The design work, in both sets and costumes, is fairly weak and the costumes in particular date this story to the late 1960s with even male characters running around in dresses. The special effects are another weak aspect of the story, especially the model shots that open the story and the shots of the travel capsule in flight which look like they were stolen from a 1930s Flash Gordon serial or the like. Morris Barry's direction, which had served the two previous Cybermen stories he directed well, seems far less effective here as the story moves along at a slow pace though there is some effective use of close-ups occasionally. The result is a weak - even boring - story.
Which brings us to the script. Though written by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, the story is credited to Norman Ashby due to the duo's difficulty with the Doctor Who production team over changes to the story. The biggest change was the story being turned into a five part story instead of six which seems to have been a smart decision in the long run. 1960s television tended to be stagey and dialogue-heavy and The Dominators is a perfect example of how this could harm a production. The story is dominated (no pun intended) by scenes of characters sitting (standing in the case of the Dominators) around talking. The story's theme of pacifism versus militarism is highlighted by that fact and that is not a good thing. The Dulcian council sits around throughout the entire story and does nothing but debate how to deal with the Dominators' invasion even after the Dominators arrive in the council's chamber. The dialogue is often cliched, such as Cully spending much of the story talking about "Dulcian this, Dulcian that." The result is the least successful of the duo's script and one of the weakest scripts of the Troughton era.
On paper, The Dominators must have seemed a good idea yet its execution is lacking in almost every way. Indeed, of the six surviving intact Troughton stories (the others being Tomb Of The Cybermen, The Mind Robber, The Krotons, The Seeds Of Death and The War Games) this is perhaps the weakest of them as a result. The story is successful in domination... by boredom only.
A Review by Jimmy Wright 3/4/18
Before I watched The Dominators, I had already heard that the producers had lopped off an episode of this story and handed it to The Mind Robber. I remember thinking to myself that there were several overlong Doctor Who stories out there that could have used that treatment and wondered if this particular story was really significantly worse than any of those others. Well, after watching it, I can answer that question with a resounding yes. I really don't know how else to put it; The Dominators is simply one of the dullest things I have ever seen in my life!
The story is basically a race of aliens, apparently made up of only two people, who go around searching for planets to conquer - because, you know, everyone needs to make a living. They land on the planet Dulkis (that name has to be a wink to the audience by the way. It's too much of a coincidence that the dullest planet ever seen in the show's entire run is literally called Dulkis), where they spend almost the entire story arguing and shouting at each other without doing anything even remotely interesting. But that's okay, because they have a bunch of killer robots on hand to do their dirty work for them. Only problem is said robots are the most clumsy looking, ineffectual androids since C-3PO.
I remember seeing an interview with Russell T. Davies once where he said that every Doctor Who story should have some connection to earth or the audience will have a hard time relating to it. At the time I thought that was complete rubbish, but this story almost single handedly sets out to prove him right! The Dominators is filled with entirely alien characters that I couldn't relate to at all and ultimately didn't care about. I honestly didn't give a rat's behind if the Dominators wiped out the Dulcians or not, and that's a bit of a problem when that's the whole point of the story.
When a story is floundering this badly, it's up to the regulars to pick up the slack, and, unfortunately, even they struggle a bit. Patrick Troughton has the skill of making iffy scripts seem better than they are, but he truly has his work cut out for him with this story. At times, it almost seems like he's trying too hard, adopting an overly silly tone that seems at odds with the rest of the story. As for the companions, Zoe fares reasonably well in first story, but she doesn't get much of a chance to showcase her stuff, while Jamie is... in it.
I'm sorry to say I would happily exchange these five episodes for literally any other missing story from the sixties. The only interesting event in this entire story is the volcano explosion, which only serves as a lead-in to the next story.
Ten Things I Hate About You by Jason A. Miller 24/12/19
I hate this story so much that I ain't even gonna review it properly. I reviewed it for real on rec.arts.drwho in 1994, and I'm still angry that I even had to watch the story back then in order to review it. I reviewed the novelization here on the Ratings Guide five or so years ago, and I'm still angry that I even liked the novelization.
I've tried every possible way that there is to like this story. I've tried watching it in the morning. I've tried watching it at night. I've tried watching it drunk. I've tried watching it sober. I've tried watching it with friends. I've tried watching it alone. I've tried watching it while playing an erotic version of capture-the-flag with identical-twin Victoria's Secret models . I've even tried watching it with the sound off while listening to an audio copy of City of Death. It hasn't helped.
 No I haven't, but I bet that wouldn't help, either
Instead, I'm just going to talk about why this story is so odious, unbearable and unmanageable.
A Review by Paul Williams 24/4/22
The Dominators is an episode over-length. Were the story told in four parts, it might be recalled as a solid functional effort. There is conflict created in the idea of pacifist natives preserving their warlike past being pitched against an alien species represented by two individuals who constantly disagree but are both ruthless and dangerous.
The padding needed to spread over five episodes renders it dull into too many places, not least when the story ventures away from the island. The Dulcian leaders, with their classical influences, add nothing to the narrative, and the poor design of the Quarks removes their menace.