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Doctor Who Vengeance on Varos  [VHS] 
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Another adventure for everyone's favourite Time Lord. The TARDIS is low on Zyton 7, and the only planet with the ore available is Varos. Upon landing, the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri discover a society addicted to real life TV violence, ruled by a corrupt regime. They have to help the rebel Jondar and thwart the Thoros Betan delegate, Sil, in his attempts to obtain the Zyton for his own conglomerate.
One of the most popular of Colin (the sixth Doctor) Baker's adventures, Vengeance on Varos finds the Doctor and Peri (Nichola Bryant) involved with rebels in a 1984-like world, where televised torture is used to support and enforce an unworkable regime ruling a mining society on the planet Varos. When first broadcast the story aroused condemnation not only over the violence shown--particularly two men falling into a vat of acid--but also over the implied horror and moral corruption. However, these complaints missed the satiric subtext of a world in which the reality TV suffering pacifies the masses while big business carries on exploiting them; and none were more memorably corrupt than the reptilian alien Sil--a love-it-or-hate-it OTT performance from Nabil Shaban. While there is rather too much running about in corridors, the surreal terrors of the Punishment Dome make for good Doctor Who, and the adventure develops ideas from both The Sunmakers (1977) and The Caves of Androzani (1984) with considerable low-budget aplomb. Filled with bizarre touches such as Peri's transformation into a bird creature, the show also marked Jason Connery's TV debut as a rebel leader.
On the DVD: There's 15 minutes worth of deleted and/or extended scenes and four minutes of stage footage, but by far the finest extra is the three way commentary track, with Baker, Bryant and Nabil Shaban. Affectionately sending the show and themselves up, while still demonstrating a great love for Doctor Who, the track sometimes degenerates into trivia, but at its best is simply hilarious. Both original BBC1 trailers and a continuity link are included, as is a photo gallery and the option to listen with the unfinished "production sound", something which is likely to appeal only to die hard fans. Rather more interesting are the optional on-screen production notes, which offer a wealth of behind-the-scenes information. The extras are completed with a small selection of outtakes. The sound is strong, clear mono, the 4:3 transfer has no sign of compression artefacting and is good enough to reveal the weaknesses in the original studio-bound video production. --Gary S Dalkin --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Actually, I'd been at a loss for a while. I'd been getting what was generally considered the best story (or best two) from each Doctor, on DVD, but I was stuck at one for Colin Baker. No one could settle on one they liked, until a while later I kept hearing 'Vengeance on Varos' was a good one to watch. So, I finally picked it up and I personally say it's up there with all the other greats.
Colin Baker's Doctor isn't dislikable in this story (for once), and instead is relatable and helps out, even given the dire situation. One of the things I loved about this story was that it was so strong without the Doctor and Peri even needing to land on the planet of Varos, but when they came in, they pulled it in a new direction, saving the life of someone who was going to have their execution broadcast to the world... purely for entertainment. In fact, this premise is somewhat relevant to modern audiences, with the height of reality TV and what does count for entertainment on talent shows, it strangely portrays a twisted version of society, as well as some political corruptness.
I was pleasantly surprised by this story.
A very fine, highly intelligent, witty script, in which the humour is as black as your hat. The performances, direction and design also really do cut the mustard.
It's not, it has to be said, a nice story.
Varos is cynical to its backbone. A whole society run on selling video nasties, the election of executive power by TV voting, and if he loses he gets hurt a lot, until it kills him. It's like a Robert Holmes on some really bad Acid.
What an unfortunate turn of phrase.
Martin Jarvis is superb, so is Owen Teale, Forbes Collins is the best I've seen him with both polished pate and manner as the Chief Officer, and Graham Cull turns in a nice little performance as the understatedly salacious Bax. Quillam's a touch pantomimic, but that's all right. And the cutaways to Sheila Reid and Stephen Yardley (described himself as 'whippet thin with the face of a failed rapist') are bleakly delightful.
And then there's Nabil Shaban in a rubber suit, sitting on top of a transparent water tank that you can turn through 360 degrees so you can see that he really hasn't got the usual kind of legs that'd need hiding - of course - they're in the tail! It's the kind of part that any actor with disability might kill for, and he takes it by the scruff of the neck and shakes it til its teeth rattle. Let's hear it for the little guy! I wish I'd seen his Hamlet - if only to see how he did the sword fight. Nice touch to give him two oiled and muscular black heavies - the puritanical tyranny of 'Political Correctness' really began in the 80s, and it's still comparatively rare to see black, still less disabled, actors on TV playing villains. These two are great.
For the first half of Episode 1, Colin Baker *is* annoying (he's sulking - if you fast forward this, it will actually improve the story - the sulking is a major reason why I give this three stars not four), but once he's properly involved, he's at just about his best. Maybe the overall vileness of Varos provides him - or at least his performance - with a sense of perspective.
Talking of senses of perspective - the acid bath. I can understand some people not liking it, but I do. I think it's bold, bad and really very funny. I get the joke (but then I can watch Basil Fawlty berating the Germans, and accept that part of that joke *is* on the poor Germans). Anyway, it wasn't the Doctor that installed the acid bath was it? It wasn't his idea.
The story looks good too; the sets look great, even if quite visibly cheap, that's part of the Varos experience. Much of the effects are done just with lighting, and they work very well. Even the pursuit vehicle gets away with it, even if it is a mobility scooter that would have to work hard to overhaul a tortoise, it looks credible. My only regret about the costumes is that there's all that black leather, and none of it's on women.
In fairness, Episode 2 does have moments of padding, and maybe a slight ideas deficit, and the 'Peri, eh?' gag is (I'm sure) actually illegal, but Varos is proof that even in 1985, with JNT in charge and Colin Baker in the title role (and that coat), and Peri still whining, and the curse of the Twin Dilemma still working its deadly poison, Dr Who could still, with a good tail wind and a favourable star, step up to the plate and tell a damn good story.
It's just a shame that Michael Grade didn't get the joke like I did. 'Governor's punch in vote tonight', hurr hurr...
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