Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos
Directors - Ron Jones
Cast - Nicola Bryant, Colin Baker
Country of Origin - U.K.
Distributor - BBC Home Video
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 10/27/12
The Serial (5/5)
Colin Baker's (Sixth Doctor) era on Doctor Who was rife with controversy. It started with the decisions such as making the Doctor a more unlike able character (who would eventually become like able again), to the choice of wardrobe for the Sixth Doctor which included a coat that may be one of the most colorful objects to grace Doctor Who screens in it's entire run. The other problem was that the quality of the writing was considered to have been diminishing, as were the budgets to an already low budget show.
That being said even though he Colin was in just a dozen Who serials, before being his time was up. There were a few established classics in his run, and probably none has a greater reputation going into it than his overall third story out Vengeance on Varos. Vengeance on Varos is one of those stories in late 80's Doctor Who, where the world of Doctor Who started to meet the world of cyberpunk, and modern science fiction. It has a harder edge (not just the infamous violence), then the Who that came before it, and in a way could be considered a turning point in Doctor Who history.
Vengeance on Varos sees the Sixth Doctor and Peri stranded in the TARDIS after their last adventure taking on the Cybermen. It turns out that the TARDIS has burnt out of one of important elements that helps to power it, Zeiton-7. After resigning the pair of them to their fate as being stranded through her life, and his remaining many lives in the TARDIS it is discovered they have enough power for one journey, and that journey will take them to Varos the planet whose people mine that precious substance.
Upon arrival it is quickly discovered this will not be a routine pickup mission. It turns out that Varos is a former prison planet, that still lives by the rules of that way of life. The citizens all live in cramped tiny cells, watch TV all day, which amounts to hours of torture against government enemies. The government is run by one man the Governor, whose decisions are constantly being voted for or against, if against he is given a death penalty like sentence, if he survives he gets to continue his term until he dies. It's not a pleasant place.
In the midst of this is Sil. A manipulative little alien creature who is exploiting the rare mineral for his own political and monetary gains. He pushes on the government the belief that their mineral is not rare, and not worth the minimal money they are asking for it, and continues to assist in driving the price down. The Doctor and Peri arrive in the middle of this, and get involved in trying to get Zeiton-7 for the TARDIS, but also to help the people of Varos escape the tyranny of their oppressive regime, and get their fare share.
Admittedly, this is my first time watching Vengeance on Varos. I am late to the late 80's Doctor Who Party, and was quite surprised at how very good this serial actually was. In full disclosure I have a deep interested in politics, and political systems, and when a movie, TV show, or book exploits political themes as an undercurrent for the story they are trying to tell I get immediately sucked in, and Vengeance on Varos is a deeply political Doctor Who serial. When it was made in the 80's during the respective Reagan/Thatcher era I feel like the episode was probably quite relevant, over 25 years later I feel that it is even more so.
Vengeance on Varos is notable for it's violence. It is considered one of, if not the most violent episode of Doctor Who's original run. Unfortunately, I cannot place myself in a time capsule, but viewed right now I cannot myself view the violence as shocking. Yes, it is certainly a more violent Doctor Who episode, but the series did have episodes like The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Deadly Assassin, and The Brain of Morbius during the Tom Baker era which were similarly violent.
The performances are decent across the board, and of course Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as the Sixth Doctor and Peri make an excellent Doctor-Companion team. Vengeance on Varos represents a progressive leap forward for Doctor Who, with each era of the show it tends to incorporate new elements creating a familiar, yet new experience for the show, and it feels like this is the real kick off to late 80's Who.
BBC Home Video and the Doctor Who Restoration Team have put together a simply fantastic 1:33:1 full frame transfer for Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos. This is a extremely good looking restoration with deep black levels, colors that pop from the screen, and flesh tones that are accurate. I do not have the first DVD to compare to, but I can say that the video quality is positively stunning, and if the difference between the two is similar to the 2 editions of Spearhead from Space than this is a worthy purchase for video alone.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital Mono, a 5.1 Remix, and Mono Production audio all in English. I am a video purist, so I tend to stick to the original track in these situations, which does the job quite nicely. The dialogue comes through clean and clear, and the music and sound effects are mixed well against each other element so nothing is overwhelming. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, hissing, or other audio anomalies on the track.
There is also an isolated score track in both mono and 5.1.
BBC Home Video in conjunction with the Doctor Who Restoration Team have put together an elaborate slate of extras for Vengeance on Varos. The disc kicks with a commentary featuring actors Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Nabil Shaban. We then have Nice or Nasty, a 32 minute making of the serial. This is followed by a short piece entitled the Idiot's Lantern which discusses Doctor Who's relationship to TV itself. There are 17 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, an edition of Tomorrow's Times covering the 6th Doctor's era from the perspective of the press. There are additional a few minutes of Outtakes, and a rescored version of the acid bath scene. These are followed up by bits of TV Show's featuring members of the cast, and an announcement of Colin Baker's casting as the Doctor. The disc is rounded by a comedy sketch, PDF materials, and a trailer for the upcoming Ambassadors of Death disc.
Vengeance on Varos is not only a high-water mark for Colin Baker's era as Doctor Who, but could be seen as a classic series highlight, and a shift in tone for the series. The A/V restoration is remarkable, and the extras are extremely elaborate, informative, and fun. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.