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This alien/monster-threat story attempts several slightly different angles on the usual formula. The monsters are commanded by a pair of fallible humanoid characters, and for the first time since "The Daleks" (story no. 2) we are faced with a race of people extremely reluctant to defend themselves. The production is a bit rough around the edges, and perhaps not as tightly written as it could have been, but it still manages to work fairly well. A fairly average Doctor Who offering. In fact, compared to the season's later padded-with-filler stories "The Seeds of Death" (story no. 48) and "The Space Pirates" (story no. 49), this one is chock full of interesting elements and characters, and moves along at a cracking good pace.
Ground Zero on DulkisThe program was recently so Earth-bound that it is a very welcome change to finally set a story on an alien planet, and it is commendable that such a wide variety of geography is used for the planet Dulkis: an island, a sea, and a mainland. Three arrivals on the island start the story off: some shots of the sequence of Dominator spacecraft are barely passable, but the sequence is inventive and effective on the whole, giving off an alien aura. The Dominators themselves look interesting and act alright; the handful of odd, harsh synthesizer notes passing themselves off as the music for this episode leave a lot to be desired however, and in the end I think they cheapen the Dominators' entrance somewhat.
Next, Cully and company make their entrance. Their acting is not too inspiring, but gets the job done. The model work of the "hovercraft" leaves much to be desired - it doesn't look like any decent kind of hovercraft, nor does it look like it's at sea. After it runs aground the beach, the funny dome-shaped thing looks much more at home.
Finally, the TARDIS arrives. We get a full visual materialization of the police box in a very well-composed location shot, and a mix of its engine's whine slowing down in the right direction while the more recognizable wheeze and groan is still played in the wrong direction - virtually the same landing sound as we had in "The War Machines" (story no. 27). The quest for the definitive landing sound continues...... The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe elevate the acting performances as they put in a good showing as usual.
The Quarks are more menacing in their effect on others than in their own appearance. Their flat, squeaky voices are not as easily understandable as would be ideal, but such creations as the Quarks are the jurisdiction of a TV sci-fi program like Doctor Who, and they are not out of place here. I do enjoy them as a matter of personal taste, others may not. The suspense at not seeing them in the first episode is well done; their entrance and subsequent appearances also work well.
Model work for the island-mainland shuttles is more disappointing than impressive, an unfortunate drawback as this mode of transportation is used so often in the middle episodes. Like Cully's hovercraft, the shuttles look best after crashing on the beach, where the model work and studio work match up seamlessly.
More important is the general character composition of the typical Dulcian: stagnantly passive, for the most part. The science fiction genre allows us here to explore a culture bent on achieving a peaceful existence, which is a noble aim for a story writer. Unfortunately, the Dulcian example here equates peace with passivity, and action with aggressiveness. What really makes these Dulcians less than believable as pacifists is their nearly complete lack of ability to negotiate - a crucial non-aggressive action. Peace was not so much settled upon; rather war and weaponry were outlawed. How do you enforce that, without breaking the law yourself? The Dulcians cannot achieve harmony with other cultures as they are, for harmony requires at least two notes to be playing at the same time, and the Dulcians too habitually quiet their own to let the other be heard.
Whether or not the Dulcians are all that believable, at least the story is offering us an interesting character dynamic to fuel debate and thought. On the plus side, the Doctor and his friends have little trouble convincing the Dulcians of their origins, and in Cully we do get to meet an example of the type of Dulcian that goes against the flow to bring a little balance to their population, even if Cully's type is in the minority. If the costume style is meant to represent the Dulcian attitude of passiveness, all the more reason for Cully to wear something different, and not encourage Zoe to change.
One Heart or Two?Adding to the problems of medical examination begun in "The Wheel In Space" (the previous story), the Dominators in this story make a big to-do about the number of hearts in their specimens. Jamie has only one, but they discover that the typical Dulcian has two, and they attribute this to the Doctor's bluff that Dulkis supports a smart race and a stupid one. It is left to the imagination what they would find if they examined the Doctor himself: any long-time fan knows that they should find two hearts, which would spoil the Doctor's bluff. However, it has not yet been properly established on the show that the Doctor and his people have two hearts, and so Haisman and Lincoln might well have let the Dominators find only one, which would create a continuity problem for the series. Luckily, the Dominators do not check, and so both problems are sidestepped by the skin of the writers' teeth.
Another interesting continuity note springs up here. The sonic screwdriver only just made its debut on Doctor Who two stories ago in "Fury From the Deep" (story no. 42). It pops up again in this story, and we have what is probably the first "magical use" of it here, where it does more than just unscrew panels to reveal clues, or unlock doors to relieve worn-out prisoner dynamics. Oh well.
The last few shots of Dominators and flying saucer models during the final episode's climax leave something to be desired, but they are surrounded by a good, dramatic action ending which works. The wrap up is fairly quick, sparing us the tedium of mainland Dulcians, and offering a good original cliffhanger to lead into the next story. Nicely finished.
This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
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