6 August 2013
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Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 218: The Dominators, Episode Two

Dear diary,

I know that I'm not really supposed to like the Quarks - they're an odd design, even by Doctor Who's standards. They're a bit clunky, they've got a silly (and difficult to understand) voice, and I have to stop a smirk every time the arms swing out… but there's something about them that really works for me! Hah! Maybe I've been at this marathon for too long? I think the thing that works in the biggest favour for them is their size. When they're in shots with the Dominators (especially aboard the space ship) they look really effective waddling around so much smaller than anyone else around.

Coupled with the child-like voices (always unnerving - Russell T Davies used a similar trick with the voices of the Toclafane in the modern series), they come across as far more sinister than they have any right to be. As I understand it, the original intention was that they're heads should spin around to suggest them operating like a radar, and I can see this being really effective had it gone ahead - their heads are probably the best bit of the design (the body just looks like a fridge). I'm surprised to find myself being won around to the creatures, but I'm going to have to add them to my list of 'monsters that need an action figure release!

I think it also helps that they seem to be under the command of Strax the Sontaran. Seriously, I can't be the only one who sees it? Having decided that the Doctor and Jamie are total idiots (more on which in just a minute), Toba's first reaction is to ask 'should I destroy them?'. His lust for destruction was evident in yesterday's episode, too, but I didn't notice how similar he is to my favourite Sontaran until now. There's one moment when - again - he asks if he can destroy something, and Rango replies that things are to be investigated, not destroyed. He seems quite hurt. Maybe he's been at the Sherbert Fancies?

Certainly someone has been, when designing the interior of the Dominator's space ship. Bloody hell - it's mad! You'd never get anything done working in a place like that, since there's distractions on every wall. That's not to say that it's a bad design (I rather like the Tomb of the Cybermen-style display screens, though they'd give me a headache after too long), and it definitely gives you something to look at while the characters are pottering about deciding what to do.

The stand-out moment from today's episode, though, really has to be the Doctor and Jamie pretending to be completely stupid, in an attempt to fail the Dominator's intelligence tests. It's pretty clear that when you give Troughton and Hines something comical to be getting on with, they'll give it all that they've got and it's very true of these scenes. The highlight is the pair trying to pretend they don't understand how a gun works ('I think you put something in here…' the Doctor ad-libs), but the whole section is great fun. That said, it manages to be fairly sinister at the same time. The Doctor's looks of pain as he tries to fail the puzzle put him in a state we rarely see him (it has a similar effect to the final episode of The Abominable Snowmen - also by these two writers - in that it ups the stakes for us when he's in such a weakened state), and the effect of the electrified floor works pretty well, too.

And yet, despite all these little things that I'm able to pick out for praise, The Dominators seems to be less than the sum of its parts. Frankly, I'm just bored. Yesterday I mentioned that even if I wasn't all that captivated by things, it was at least holing my attention. That's not as true today, and I can feel myself starting to get distracted while the episode is playing out. I don't know what I need to reinvigorate the story for me, but it's going to need something and fast!

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