Although it was held back to open the sixth season of Doctor Who, this and the next serial, The Mind Robber, were made as part of the fifth production block. Which means by this point Troughton and Hines have done pretty much 36 weeks of work, with only a couple of weeks off. So maybe it’s reality seeping into fiction when the Doctor declares he needs a ‘nice peaceful holiday’ (much to Zoe’s disgust) as soon as the TARDIS lands on Dulkis – nine minutes into the episode.
Sadly for the Doctor, some other aliens have arrived on Dulkis at precisely the same moment. These Dominators in their huge bodywarmers are a dour pair, coldly sniping at each other like a pair of embittered old queens. The senior of the pair, Rago, is played by Ronald Allen, permanently disdaining his arrogant and impetuous probationer Toba. They also have some robots which remain a hidden menace up until the cliffhanger – represented only by point of view shots and footprints in the sand (which look almost exactly like the Servo Robot’s footprints in the dust on Silver Carrier) – but which burble and chirrup away merrily as they blow things up.
The third faction to have arrived on the ‘island of death’ are some native Dulcians on a scientific expedition. They are condescending and feckless, and fairly inoffensive. Sadly, any thought that Balan, Teel and Kando might be an amusing mirror to the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe doesn’t seem to materialise, even though with her Kando attitude the female expedition member seems like the brains of their operation much as Zoe is for the TARDIS.
As a first episode, this is reasonable enough even if it feels very familiar: the island of death is broadly reminiscent of two Terry Nation locations: the nuclear wasteland of Skaro and the island of Marinus. The effect of the Quarks’ assassination of Cully’s friends is horrible and the explosion of Cully’s ship, which looks very much like an orange juicer, is quite impressive. There’s a nicely eerie moment when the TARDIS crew discover what seem to be irradiated corpses in the ruins of the nuclear test zone, only to find out they’re dummies (albeit horribly lifelike ones). Troughton and Hines get a nice comedy moment towards the end of the episode.
It’s all competent and pleasant enough, but with none of the attention-grabbing scene setting of Haisman and Lincoln’s two Yeti stories. And following on from the similarly slow first episode of The Wheel in Space, there’s a strange, Hartnell style throwback feel in both the pacing and staging.
Next episode: The Dominators – Episode 2