THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Spearhead from Space
Target novelisation
Doctor Who and the Dominators

Author Ian Marter Cover image
Published 1984
ISBN 0 426 19553 1
First Edition Cover Andrew Skilleter

Back cover blurb: The Doctor remembers Dulkis from a previous visit as a civilised and peaceful place. But times have changed, and his second trip is not quite the holiday he was expecting. The Dulcians themselves are more reluctant than ever before to engage in acts of violence. The so-called Island of Death, once used as an atomic test site, has served as a dire warning to generations of Dulcians of the horrifying consequences of warfare. But an alien race prepares to take advantage of their pacifism... The whole planet and its passive inhabitants are threatened with complete annihilation - and no one, it seems, is going to lift a finger to stop the evil Dominators and their unquestioning robot slaves.


Reviews

Good Book, Bad Story by Andrew Feryok 9/10/07

"Quarks! Destroy!"
- Toba ordering the destruction of just about everything in this book, page 74, Chapter 6
I'm a fan of Patrick Troughton's Doctor and always will be, but even I have to admit that The Dominators is one of his very worst stories. This is made even more worse by the fact that there could be so many other better Troughton stories to have survived the junking than this one. Granted, it is not as visually embarassing as The Underwater Menace, but the plot is so one-dimensional and goes on far too long for its episode length. The book is no better and was a struggle to read through not because it was badly written, but that the story drags on and on.

Ian Marter's talents are clearly being wasted with this book. This is the sort of adventure that should have been left to Terrance Dicks (no offense to him). In fact, Marter's prose is almost indistinguishable from Dicks' style in this story and he has made no attempt to add to the story as he has done with others I have read of his. This is simply a straight script-to-book adaptation with no deviations whatsoever. In its favor, the prose is rather good and flows nicely, but the story itself is just dreadful.

One of the biggest things that drags the story down is the Dulciens. Thankfully there are no Dulciens on the cover of the book and descriptions of their costumes are kept to a minimal so that we are not reminded of the horrible curtain costumes they wear on screen. The Dulciens are a truly pathetic race. They've taken pacifism to the point were they are incapable of any rational action. At one point in the story, the Dulciens state they pride themselves in believing in pure logic. They prove this by stating that the Doctor and his companions must be aliens as they say since there is no proof to the contrary. And yet moments later they continually deny that the radiation has disappeared from the island and that hostile alien lifeforms could possibly exist. If they are so quick to believe the Doctor and his companions as aliens, then why are they in such a state of denial over everything else? It is also sickening to watch how quickly the Dulciens leap to the idea of slavery under the Dominators rather than stand up for themselves. It reaches a point were you really don't care about the Dulciens or their fate and are actively wishing the Dominators would wipe them out, which is entirely the wrong feeling this story should be producing.

The Dominators are one-dimensional villains whose only saving grace are the constant arguments between Toga and Rago over Toga's constant wasting of the Quark's power through fruitless and pointless destruction. I like the detailed artwork of a Quark on the cover, but the story simply uses them as walking weapons for the Dominators, and Toga and Rago's dependence on the Quarks for virtually everything makes them seem even less threatening. Take away their Quarks and they are a pretty weak civilization!

The regulars are competently written in the story. The Doctor is humorous and clever, and Jamie gets to flex his muscles and even shows a bit of cleverness himself. Zoe is the only one who seems left out, but this is mostly due to the fact that she is a new companion. But still, with five episodes to play with, you would think that they would find something for her do. One of the few saving points of the story was the Doctor and Jamie's humor which is all recreated in this book by Marter. In particular, one of the standout humor moments is when the Doctor and Jamie pretend to be stupid in order to deliberately fail the Dominators' intelligence tasks and make themselves useless to them. It's an absolutely masterpiece.

Overall, the story is pretty bad and is only saved by the fact that the book itself is competently written. With unsympathetic aliens, one-dimensional villains and a slow pacing, this is not a story I would rush back to read and not one of Marter's better novelisations; although this is no fault of Marter himself but the fault of the original story by Norman Ashby. Overall, I would rank this as an average or slightly below average Troughton and Doctor Who novel. 5/10


GREAT book, bad story by Jason A. Miller 30/4/13

So I don't need to tell you that The Dominators is a godawful story. Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln submitted a six-part script so reactionary that, as Phillip Sandifer points out on his own blog, it makes you question everything you thought had been good and progressive about The Abominable Snowmen. The production team famously cut out the final episode (and nobody ever noticed that 17% of the story got jettisoned in the process) and Haisman & Lincoln were so enraged by this that they insisted their names be removed and replaced with the bland pseudonym Norman Ashby. Yes. THAT's why they wanted their names off the story. Not because it was terrible, horrible, no good. But because the production team couldn't appreciate its nuances and length. Seriously. Maybe we really are lucky that they never wrote for the series again after this.

And then there's the direction. Thanks to the recent discovery of Galaxy Four's third episode, we now know that even a weak script can soar on the screen if you put Derek Martinus behind the camera. The Dominators would have been a visual feast if it were directed by guys who were available to the production team at the time, like Douglas Camfield or David Maloney. Instead... the producers just brought back Morris Barry. The best thing about the script for The Dominators is that the three disposable characters in Episode 1 are named after the Arabic words for "one", "two", and "three". That's it. And they die in the first five minutes. The rest of it's damn near unwatchable.

So that leads us to the novelization. Andrew Feryok, the only other hearty soul out there in the Land of the Ratings Guide to have read the Target novelization and shared his thoughts, showered faintly dismissive praise on the book's adapter, Ian Marter. "Marter's prose is almost indistinguishable from Dicks'". "This is simply a straight script-to-book adaptation with no deviations whatsoever."

Fortunately, he's wrong on all those counts.

What Marter has given us in Doctor Who and the Dominators is what this story would have looked like if directed by Camfield, Maloney or Martinus. He writes this thing with a grand budget. He uses the basic literary devices of the five senses to engage us in the planet Dulkis which, trust me, if you've watched the story on TV, you really wouldn't think was worth doing. The Dominators have flinty, emerald eyes. The Quarks' probes glow crimson, blood-red, and incandescent. The atmosphere inside the one fallout shelter on Dulkis is fetid. Ronald Allen's "red-rimmed eyes lit up with a hypnotic gleam which seemed to be fired by hate and greed and lust and madness, all together." That's almost certainly not how Morris Barry asked him to play it.

And then there's the violence. This is not what Terrance Dicks' prose looks like. Dicks' hallmark is irony and a sardonic tone. He comments on the story as he goes, mocking the villain's thought processes if the story's a good one, and mocking the story's internal logic if it's s a bad one. He makes things look a little more scenic and he relies heavily on the original scripts rather than the slashed-for-budget final versions. But he doesn't relay the world through the five senses, and he certainly doesn't do violence like Marter does.

Wahed, Etnin and Tolata "were flung into the air like helpless puppets before collapsing in shapeless broken bundles in the sand." When Zoe is afraid of being shot, she "expected the Quark's glowing probes to discharge their murderous ultrasonic quanta and to smash her body to fragments." When on TV the Doctor is comically zapped by the Dominators during an intelligence test (which he fails), Marter decides to tell us what would have really happened: "his swollen tongue trapped between gnashing teeth and his eyes crossing and bulging horribly in his lolling head." That, folks, is what Ian Marter does to comedy.

Lastly, Marter certainly does deviate from the script, and in ways that make the story a tiny bit more gripping and atmospheric. He extends scenes to add tension and drama that certainly Haisman and Lincoln wouldn't have known how to give us. The comic bit of business in Episode 2 about Cully and Zoe taking a travel capsule across Dulkis becomes a stomach-churning high-impact thrill ride in the book. In Episode 5 on TV, it takes Cully and Jamie about six seconds to outrun a single Quark, but in the book, they have to escape several phalanxes of Quarks. Phalanxes! On TV, in the same episode, it's implied that the characters dig a tunnel to steal the Dominators' radioactive seed capsule, but in the book, Marter takes us inside that cramped tunnel to dig out every particle of earth; if you thought Charles Bronson had it bad in The Great Escape, Marter thinks he had it too easy, and makes the digging even more claustrophobic. Best of all, Marter has restaged the atrocious Episode 1 cliffhanger, so we get the Quarks described very early on in the book and they never inquire "Shall we destroy?" In fact, Marter even comments on the Quarks voices by describing them as "demented giggling."

The Dominators will never be a good story, and the book is something of a chore to read because the source material is piggish, regressive and repetitive. But Marter works about as hard as a writer can possibly work to make the story something else: visceral and unforgettable.