Top critical review
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on 8 May 2013
Just to prove that I've nothing personal against Colin Baker, I love this.
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...