Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (Special Edition) (Story 139)
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Doctor Who: Ep. 139 - Vengeance on Varos Special Edition (DVD)
On the planet Varos, prisoners and guards alike are subject to severest forms of punishment, which are then broadcast to the masses as entertainment. For the Doctor, Varos is the only hope for him to locate the rare mineral Zeiton-7 to power his ailing TARDIS. Arriving on Varos, he and Peri are soon caught up in events beyond their control.]]>
A funny thing happens to the good Doctor and Peri and TARDIS as they are cruising along through outer space mostly minding their own business. In the special edition of Vengeance on Varos (story 139, which aired originally in 1985), the trusty TARDIS just stalls out and is floating loose in space. The nearest planet is Varos, which happens to be a source of the mineral needed to get the ship moving again. But the tense visit to Varos is one of the most unsettling of the mid-series Doctor Who stories. Varos is plagued by a severe food shortage, and if any planet resident tries to rebel against the evil Chief Officer, that rebel is tortured on live TV broadcast into every resident's home (something of a presaging of The Hunger Games). The Doctor, played by fan favorite Colin Baker, and Peri (Nicola Bryant) try to navigate the hateful place that Varos is, get their hands on some precious minerals to reboot their ship, and perhaps help some of the planet's residents overthrow the evil Chief Officer. Another monkey wrench: The evil Sil (Nabil Shaban), who's in cahoots with the repressive government, is trying to wrest control of the valuable mineral native to Varos. It's a terrifically written story, and the acting is top-notch, especially by Shaban, who's hulking and rather reptilian.
The extras included in this special edition are smashing. The audio commentary featuring actors Baker, Bryant, and Shaban alone would be worth the price of the set. There's also a fantastic making-of featurette with every detail the most rabid Doctor Who fan might want, plus deleted scenes, interviews with Baker, behind-the-scenes tidbits, galleries, and much more. Long live the great Doctor. --A.T. Hurley
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1. Any Doctor Who episode you can get for $10 or under is a good price.
2. This is a classic DW episode and onw of the better Colin Baker episodes.
3. This episode introduces a classic villian in Sil. Also stars Jason Connery (son of Sean).
4. The story concept still holds up today.
5. Production quality is pretty typical of classic DW.
6. The Doctors character development continues to be erratic making the viewer wonder about this regeneration.
All in all it's a classic DW episode and one of the better Colin Baker episodes.
This tale is considered by many to be one of the best Colin Baker storylines. It has a lot of action, a decent amount of gore, and some brilliant one-liners from Baker and Bryant. We get to see Jason Connery, Sean Connery's son, who plays Jandar, a rebel leader trying to overthrow the ancient ruling families of Varos. We also get our first look at Sil (Nabil Shaban), who is quite possibly one of the vilest, funniest enemies the Doctor ever faced. "Water me!" and Shaban's tongue-flicking laughter entrench Sil into your mind long after the story is completed. The rest of the enemies in this tale are some of the best during Doctor #6's run. This tale visits the idea of "reality" TV and just how far it can go. Today, many people argue over having the opportunity to pay-per-view executions. Could this tale have been a harbinger of things to come?
The special features are pretty light. This DVD comes with the standard "Who's Who," outtakes, production notes, trailers, a photo gallery and a decent featurette. The best special feature on this disc has to be the running commentary provided by Baker, Bryant and Shaban. Of special interest is Shaban's tale of how he came up with Sil's twisted little laugh.
I have to agree with the majority that this is one of Colin Baker's best outings as the Doctor. I always felt that he, along with Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy, were cheated out of excellent storylines for the bulk of their respective runs as the Doctor. If you are unfamiliar with Colin Baker's work as the Doctor, pick this DVD up as well as the "Trial of a Time Lord" DVD. It's some of his best work.
What is it about "Vengeance on Varos" that's so disturbing? Surely it can't only be the dystopian setting, although Varos paints a grim and forbidding picture of the future indeed: an economically backwards colony planet where, with not a lot of bread to go around, the powers that be rely overly on circuses to keep the populace mollified--the televised torture and execution of criminals, rebels, and dissidents for purposes of entertainment and edification, to be exact. Meanwhile the government itself is hemmed in by a strictly draconian constitution and a sadistic system of referendum, making meaningful change all but impossible--and this includes changing the way an intergalactic corporation represented by the delightfully slimy and evil Sil exploits them for Varos' one mineral export of value. Still, we've seen this kind of thing before on "Doctor Who", most recently in "Caves of Androzani" but way back in "Underworld" as well. This is just the stuff of good science fiction.
Is there more violence in this storyline? Maybe, but compared say to the Daleks blasting everyone in sight elsewhere in the show's history, much of the violence here is only suggested or else is bloodlessly abstract (inducing hallucinations that trick the mind that one is dying of dehydration). Of course there is an incredibly gruesome scene where two prison guards trying to kill the Doctor slip and fall into the acid bath they meant for him; this elicited a collective gasp from even such jaded viewers as my wife and me, granted, but is it really so much worse than the flesh-disintegrating nerve gas in "Resurrection of the Daleks"? Maybe it's the Doctor's blasé nonchalance in the face of their deaths, but we've seen the Doctor at his most popular and beloved exhibit this trait before, in "Pyramids of Mars" to be exact, and it didn't really faze us (and it was "good guys" rather than "bad guys" who bit the dust there). So what is it then? Maybe it's just the total overall effect, but I suspect maybe it's the way the mechanics of the story make the viewer complicit with the citizens of Varos--when the Doctor in almost James Bond style quips to the dying guards "you'll pardon me if I don't join you" I laughed out loud in spite of myself, this just moments after my horrified gasp.
Only Colin Baker could really pull this off, though. This is but the third storyline featuring the sixth Doctor and (as of this writing) the earliest of his storylines to make it to DVD. So what are we to make of this incarnation? Well, if the fifth Doctor was bland and beige and goody-two-shoes likable, the sixth Doctor was clearly designed to be a startling contrast to his predecessor on all fronts. Intense, vivid, and a bit of a jerk--maybe even an arrogant cold-(doubly)-hearted son of a [you know what] in a way we haven't seen since the very most earliest stories with William Hartnell. And yet for all that and for all his disturbing nonchalance when people trying to kill him are hoisted on their own petards, his moral gyroscope is much intact as ever, alloyed with a refreshing spontaneity and a bitingly sharp wit. He's inapproachably alien in ways you might expect from a centuries-old space-time traveler from a distant planet, but eccentric and likeably imperfect and ultimately a fine version of the Doctor indeed.
Incidentally, just who was getting their revenge, and on whom, on Varos? Never quite figured that out...
Top international reviews
Vengeance On Varos (1985) - In keeping with the general tone of season 22, it's a fairly gruesome tale in which people are tortured and forced to undergo various trials in The Punishment Dome, as a poor and docile population watch on. Even the Governor (Martin Jarvis) is forced to undergo punishment should he lose a public vote. The story can be taken as a commentary on society's appetite for violence, and the controversy over so-called 'video nasties' that was raging at that time in the eighties. Of course, 'Doctor Who' itself was often criticised for its own levels of violence; none more so than during this particular period. Certainly, Philip Martin's script is not your average tea-time fare. Into this controversial storyline is thrust the force of nature that is Colin Baker's Doctor; an incarnation not renowned for restraint. There is a particularly controversial moment in which the Doctor quips as a guard falls into an acid bath. I don't mind this, as people often say inappropriate things at times of stress. After all, it had almost been the Doctor taking an acid bath. I generally like Colin Baker's performance in this: he's still terse and arrogant, but humane and single-minded in his pursuit for justice too. The performances, bar a couple of minor characters, are good, but special mention must go to Nabil Shaban's turn as the thoroughly repulsive Sil. Surely, one of the great villians of the '80's! My only real gripe with this story is its rather lacklustre direction. It needed a lot more energy, and Ron Jones singularly failed to deliver. Which means 'Vengeance On Varos' is good, but not great.
'Nice Or Nasty' looks at the making of the story, whereas 'The Idiot's Lantern' looks at how the programme has incorporated the medium of television within its narrative. There is also a 'Tomorrow's Times, and several deleted and extended scenes.
Plot: This is satire and very good satire at that. It hasn't dated and in fact some elements of it are more relevant today than at the time it was broadcast. In particular the voting aspect can be seen today in all of the reality shows that dominate television at the moment starting with Big Brother and ending with X-Factor et. al. With what we see now it is no leap of the imagination to forseee a future where politicians are voted in. Its primary weaknesses, is the fact that the Doctor doesn't get involved early enough and a secondary villain with a mask that makes him too similar to Sharaz Jek: his self mutilation might have been better served with something different like a false hand. I think that Maldak could have been given a more substantial role, giving his switch over more resonance.
Script: Absolutely superb. The Etta and Arak sequences in particular stand out as being something different from the norm. The closest Who has ever come to doing this again is in Blink. The only false note is the Doctor's comments as two people die in an acid bath. This is more like a James Bond comment than Doctor Who.
Design: The whole planet looks well done. The Punishment Dome looks too clean and artificial, but overall it is not bad. The choices for the look of Sil were well done, making him a very different kind of villain. Only Etta and Arak's place looks lived in.
Acting: Jason Connery might have seemed like a casting coup, but I just don't rate him (he fares better on Robin of Sherwood, but still doesn't have the charisma of either his father or Michael Praed). Geraldine Alexander also doesn't come across well. Better casting on these two roles might have gone down well. Better yet have Geraldine Alexander stripped the waist and dodging a laser... oh it was on before the watershed. I can dream. Keith Skinner does a better job in his short role, as does Owen Teale, either of whom might have made a better Jondar. Nicholas Chagrin and Forbes Collins are marginally better, though neither convinces as villains. The rest of the cast are much much better. Martin Jarvis as the Governor seemingly unsympathetic at the start, but switching easily as time goes by. Reid and Yardley are brilliant in their scenes, becoming a commentary of their own on the plot. Colin gives another charismatic performance and it is easy to see why by now that he was picked for the role. But the outstanding acting award must go to Nabil Shaban as Sil. He turns this unmoving villain (close to last season's Mestor) into something spectacular. He is another example of how great actors can still give a tour-de-force performance despite masks and make-up. His laugh, his squeezing hands and his ranting and wheedling all are made the most of. This character deserved another airing and he got it.
Direction: Not a bad job. Some of the sequences might have been better managed - particularly in the punishment dome . And the younger actors could probably have done with some better direction to make the most of their limited roles, but in general the whole thing is well done, with the director coaxing the best actors to give some superb performances.
One of Colin Bakers best stories as a doctor the DVD is exactly as you’d expect.