The Real McCoy: You have to question why McCoy’s Doctor is sidelined quite as much as he is in the first half of this story. He barely gets any ‘screen time’ in the first two parts and I can only attribute that to three possible reasons. One, he is busy filming The Hobbit and needed the time off which necessitated the creation of the ‘future’ Doctor to take the pressure off his character. Two, that Briggs & Arnopp wanted to write a UNIT series but given the failiure of the last attempt thought they needed the presence of a Doctor Who stalwart to entice the fan audience into buying the story. Or three that they wanted to give Alex McQueen to settle as the Doctor before a recognisable incarnation takes a larger part of the action. He feels so on the periphery of the action at the halfway point of this story I am starting to question if he was actually needed at all.
Art Thief: I wish they would stop giving Raine an insignificant role in the action because she starting to get the reputation as the Doctor Who companion that doesn’t do anything. Putting a mental spin on her lock breaking skills is a pretty desperate way to try and keep her involved and relevant. There’s still half the story to go so let’s hope she gets to have some greater involvement in the concluding half.
The Other Doctor: In season seven the Doctor was grounded on Earth because of his people but this time it is UNIT themselves that are ensuring his loyalty by holding his TARDIS and forcing him to work for them. Which elicits a great response from him as you can imagine. Only the Doctor can see that the Sky Head is reacting in fear rather than malevolence and he comes to help Klein understand that too, teaching her a new way of looking alien threats. He immediately clashes with Major Wyland-Jones who expects answers but no lip from the Doctor and he indulges in a little melodrama to prove the point that the Earth needs him but he doesn’t need them. McQueen has approached this role with such skill; initially smug, then utterly invaluable before turning his hand to quietly menacing. If this was a future Doctor I would only be too pleased to explore his timeline further. His trying to communicate with the Sky Heads might seem a little dippy but its no more ridiculous than his scenes with Erato in Creature from the Pit. The Doctor doesn’t care how bizarre the situation is, he just wants to help.
Nazi Scientist: I never thought there would come a time when Klein was the most sensitive character in production but highlighted against the ambiguous morality of the future Doctor she is positively beatific. She tries to comfort Pete whilst he tries to come to terms with the death of a fellow soldier and scolds the Doctor on his complete lack of compassion on the matter. The Doctor can charm his way past the rest of UNIT with his reputation and skills but Klein can sense that there is something he is holding back and she wants answers. Kudos for remembering Johan and his effect on Klein in her previous life. Introducing him was a beautiful touch of continuity for those who enjoyed the Klein trilogy and its another unnerving reminder of the life that the Doctor stole from her. His death affects her and she doesn’t quite know why. Little does she know that he is being stolen away from her again. They say its easy to find humour in adversity and Klein sets out to prove that when she is trapped in a web about to filled by lava by a giant spider. She has never really made the time to come back to Germany but now that is where she is going to end her days.
Its Always the Innocents That Suffer: We cut back to Pete’s family halfway through the story to remind us that they exist and that there will be a tragic cost if he doesn’t come back alive. Its manipulative but it works because I am used to seeing this domestic angle in Doctor Who now and its refreshing for a minor character to be lavished with this much background. Peter surviving the encounter with the Sky Heads is pitched as a real moment of triumph, Klein (and even the Doctor) pleased to be wrong about his suspected death.
Standout Performance: The relationship between the future Doctor and Klein continues to fascinate. Tension, respect, courtesy and mistrust…and the chemistry between Childs and McQueen is unmistakable.
Great Ideas: What can I say about the Sky Heads? They are one of the strangest threats the Doctor has ever encountered and that is going up against some pretty fierce competition (including clockwork soldiers, cleaning robots and living statues). I couldn’t decide whether to be unsettled or amused by this giant head of a baby hanging in the sky (because there are elements of both inherent in the idea) so I eventually settled on being a little bit baffled! I did like how even a giant head in the sky couldn’t handle some of the reporters terrible jokes and expressed its exasperation in the form of terrifying bursts of noise. Doctor Who is no stranger to giant spiders but they make for a far more terrifying threat just because they are easier to visualise and tap into a phobia that is shared by many. I like that they cannot be reasoned with on any level which makes them much scarier than a monster that can communicate (the Sky Heads can speak in a childish, broken English). And the thought of webbing spun from molten lava is novel. On television this would be a visual treat and given the production standards my imagination can do an awful lot too. I rather like the idea of a media savvy UNIT Commander who is more concerned with his own image than that of national security. Its precisely the sort of character we are going to dislike and so to kill him off in such an ignoble fashion (he’s kind of sneezed off into oblivion by a giant head) is quite discomforting. One second we’re booing him for his incompetence and the next minute we are mourning him – I like that Briggs & Arnopp are happy to play mind games like this with a minor character. Replacing him with somebody more efficient and less easy to control ups the stakes for everybody – Major Wyland-Jones is mean, moody and expects everything to go his way. The mention of Tersurus is another massive clue to the identity of the ‘other’ Doctor and any Doctor Who fan worth their salt will have it sown up long before the climax to part three. However, the speculation is all part of the fun. I have to mention how well Big Finish have marketed this box set with plenty of promotional pictures and advertisements to get people whipped up in a frenzy before the story was released. Its a superb strategy that has paid off in spades.
Audio Landscape: Its not often that I complain about the actual production of a Big Finish audio but there was a persistent horrible tinny quality to the intercom sequences throughout this hour that started to give me a headache. I’m all for aural realism but not to the point where I’m straining to listen to the thing! Helicopter hovering over London, the Sky Head raspberries, megaphone whine, the Sky Head effectively blowing a hurricane, a volley of gunfire causing the Sky Head to explode, the Doctor and Klein climbing from water, the echoing void that the Doctor and Raine are trapped in continues to impress, revving a car engine, lava hitting the windscreen, spun up in creaking lava webbing, bubbling lava,
Isn’t it Odd: Whilst I was writing up my notes for this story I scribbled in the margins OH F**K OFF ACE! So that tells you everything that I thought of her continuing incomprehensible cameos.
Standout Scene: I did get a certain thrill when the Doctor turned up striding a Sky Head to rescue Klein and the others. He’s really growing on me.
Result: UNIT Dominion is starting to feel like a contemporary version of The Five Doctors; a bunch of characters (recurring) and monsters (original) thrown together and watching the chaos that ensues. Like the Terrance Dicks love letter to Who there are plenty of set pieces but no real narrative to speak of. Its all great fun for the most part with so much going on to distract you that the general aimlessness of the piece barely begins to register. All the best material takes place on Earth and involves the glorious Tracey Childs and Alex McQueen and their interaction alone makes this box set worth buying. The pace is relentless and the production design ensures that events are crystal clear despite so much going on and I particularly liked how this installment of the saga went from the ambitious (an entire army versus the Sky Heads) to the intimate (a few UNIT operatives struggling to stay alive). The biggest disappointment is the 7th Doctor and Raine’s complete disassociation with the main story and how we keep cutting back to their, frankly dull, escapades on the other side of the dimensional divide. It feels as if two completely separate stories are taking place and by placing them side by side one highlights how poor the other is. On a production level this is grand stuff but its hardly the most intellectually stimulating exercise. Its such a bizarre fusion of the very good (anything with Klein passes muster in my eyes) and the frustrating (repeated versions of the same danger – infractions from escaping aliens from other dimensions) that at this point I don’t quite know how to judge it. Enjoyable, but with several caveats: 7/10