Review of Doctor Who ‘Vengeance on Varos’ (Series 22)
In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be reviewing one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.
And so we arrive at the Colin Baker era. To some he’s like the George Lazenby of Doctor Who, his tenure as the Time Lord fraught with controversy and obstacles. Yet Vengeance on Varos is a marvellous tale that is considered a goody among the detritus of this period.
The Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) land on Varos seeking Zeiton-7, a rare substance to help power an ailing Tardis. What they find is a grim dystopia where decision-making is done through instantaneous referendums and the masses are kept in submission on a diet of live televised executions and the constant threat of torture. The ultra-violence of Varos is satirical and was partly a reaction to the controversy surrounding video nasties in the Eighties.
Peri remains insufferable but Colin Baker is great as the Doctor. Perhaps the comment section will hitherto be bombarded with people lambasting me but Baker really does do the character justice in this adventure. Yes, there are moments of glumness and apathy but there is also an energy to his performance. When he is dismissive of Peri it is usually deserved, she is so vapid that even a piece of Kleenex tissue has more common sense than her. Baker is commanding and smart and witty – all the things that the Doctor should be.
One character that deserves a revival in the new series of Doctor Who is Sil (Nabil Shaban), the slimy villain that looks like the progeny of a slug and a fish – either that or he’s spent one too many sessions under a transmogrifying beam. Sil is one of the best Doctor Who baddies to date and his distinctive laugh and appearance stay with you. He is vomit-inducing – particularly whilst being watered by his minions dress in gladiator bondage outfits – but that’s why he love him.
Whilst nu-Who relies on the Doctor appearing imminently on screen, Classic Who has long stretches where the Time Lord does not turn up for quite some time. In Vengeance on Varos it is some time before the Doctor turns up. Even without him bounding onto the scene straight away it is compelling a watch. From televised executions to gruesome methods of torture, audiences will be intrigued by this world. Perhaps the Doctor is now relied upon too heavily, with the story taking a second seat to the show’s star.
There are elements of 1984 and The Running Man. Philip Martin has written a story rich in detail with very little time filler – which is a welcome relief. From the success of Suzanne Collins’ The Hungers Games, violent, dystopian worlds will always prove popular and Vengeance on Varos is no different. The devil is in the detail with Martin and the additional use of the Varosians watching the blood spectacle is a creative narrative device that offers viewers a great insight into this warped world.
DVD & image credit: BBCTagged in: Colin Baker, doctor who, Doctor Who 50th anniversary
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