State of Change
Time of Your Life
Vengeance on Varos

Episodes 2
45 minutes each
Anything good on?
Story No# 139
Production Code 6V
Season 22
Dates Jan. 19, 1985 -
Jan. 26, 1985

With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant.
Written Phillip Martin. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Ron Jones. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: The Doctor and Peri become trapped in a deadly world where torture and execution are the only pastime.


A Review by Joe Hambidge 9/2/97

After landing on the planet Varos to obtain a valuable mineral that the TARDIS needs to run on, the Doctor and Peri find themselves caught up in a struggle for their lives in the Punishment Dome.

Having recently re-assessed this story, I found it to be something of a wasted opportunity. The Doctor and Peri are meant to be in a fight for their lives, which is being broadcast to the entire population of Varos. The way it is presented is all wrong, however. It would have been much more interesting had the whole adventure been broadcast as a TV programme itself. For times it is, and the commentry that Arak and Etta supply is inspired, but the whole idea falls a bit flat when it is surrounded by scenes in the governmental centre.

On the acting front, it's a mixed bag. Nicola Bryant as Peri is already beginning to annoy, and Jason Connery and Geraldine Alexander as Jondar and Areta are simply awful. On the plus side, Martin Jarvis is excellent as the Governer and Nabil Shabin makes a huge impact in the first of Sil's stories. One other thing worries me about this story -- the presentation of the Doctor. He is shown to be little more than a callous killer. The acid bath scene is a prime example. Things are bad enough without having to put that tasteless quip in at the end. Also, the way in which the Doctor kills the guards with the lethal vines is totally out of character. It would have been much better had he used his powers of persuasion that Varos was about to enter a new stage of prosperity instead.

As I said before, Vengeance on Varos, is a wasted opportunity. The story itself is sound (despite the contrived story concerning the arrival of the TARDIS) and the characters are all well-rounded. It all just sits a little uneasily in the Who canon.

You'll Forgive Me If I Don't Join You... by Guy Thompson 15/12/98

Love or loathe this story, it is pretty much unique in the mythos of Doctor Who, and it pre-empted the excellent Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man, basically a re-telling of this story (although the book on which that film was based on was written before Vengeance on Varos, so make your own mind up who copied whom [or Who]). The plot of a planet where torture and murder are comitted for the entertainment of the viewing public was probably becoming an increasingly likely prospect in 1985 when this story was transmitted. Extreme violence in TV and at the cinema was commonplace then (this was the era of the action movie) and indeed on Doctor Who itself particularly in seasons 21 and 22.

About ten minutes in, this has obviously become an obvious moral story, and so in that respect it makes its points and the question of whether the adventure side is any good or not is a little less important. As a matter of fact, it is quite good. The whole production is very atmospheric, and I can imagine an incredible visual spectacle had this story been given a Hollywood style- budget, but the limited BBC funding is adequate here, and (wisely) doesn't go over-the-top on special effects it can't achieve. There are some very good set-pieces involving giant flies, cannibals, poison vines, etc. and a rather less succesful one featuring Peri and a really bad guest actress being turned into a bird and a lizard, respectively.

The only concerning thing about this story is the people that die as a direct result of the Doctor's interference, and without going back to count them, I count seven. The first when the Doctor rescues Jondar from execution only to redirect the disintegrator beam into the path of one of the guards, two more guards are then thrown into the acid bath during a scuffle with the Doctor (complete with a Schwarzenegger-like quip), and at the end Quillam and three others are killed by Jondar under the Doctor's instruction. This all seems very un-Doctor like to me, and confirms in my opinion the Colin Baker was not entirely suited to the role of Doctor Who, with no disrespect to him as an actor in general.

Uncomfortable Viewing by Mike Morris 16/2/00

It always seems a bit odd to me that Vengeance on Varos is accepted as one of the best stories of the Sixth Doctor era. Admittedly, it's not up against much competition, and admittedly it has an awful lot going for it. Certainly it's the most intelligent story of the era, and genuinely tries to do something new - quite an oddity in Saward's "Land of the Generic Runaround". But dammit, it does so many things WRONG.

Fact: The Doctor and Peri loaf around in the TARDIS for a ridiculous length of time. Why? Because they've no Zeiton-7, of course. Smacks a little of "we're a bit short of plot here, best pad it out". Lazy writing.

Fact: The Doctor kills a guard for no apparent reason. He doesn't know what's going on, so he shoots someone. I hate to sound like a junior Mary Whitehouse but dammit, that sort of thing should NOT happen in Doctor Who.

Fact: The Doctor's characterisation is, undoubtedly, the worst ever. By a country mile. Let's take a quick cross-section of accepted wisdom about the Sixth Doctor; he's brash, arrogant, and seemingly uncaring. That I can cope with. But in Vengeance on Varos that goes so much further; in the earlier scenes on the TARDIS he's not "seemingly" uncaring, he's selfish and downright horrible, completely unconcerned about the feelings of his companion. Later on, when we (finally!) arrive on Varos he's not brash and arrogant, he's shallow, unthinking and violent. The Doctor walking away after watching two guards die in an acid bath, without a care in the world? Rigging up lethal traps? Sorry, folks, but this is inexcusable.

What's annoying is that there really is the kernel of a cracking story here. We've a superb central premise, one that's come straight from "THX 1138" and taken in a bit of "Videodrome" on the way; real images of torture and death, used to keep the population sedate and then exported to massive profit. Punishment dome; good idea. Arak and Etta; superb idea. Episode endings; two of the best ever. Performances; variable, but no-one really has a stinker, with the exception of that curly-haired woman who gets turned into a lizard.

But none of these ideas are really developed. The irony is that Vengeance on Varos is attacking mindless, plotless, violent TV, and for a fair percentage of it that's exactly what we're watching. It misses its own point to a spectacular degree. Yes, there are good ideas, but they follow each other in a meaningless, poorly thought out manner; Look, it's two coloured lights! It's a purple zone thing! The Doctor's dying! Peri's turning into a bird! But these things don't really have any unifying logic (otherwise known as a "plot"). There's a sort of a common theme running through them, the "we believe what our minds tell us to" that was looked at in The Mind of Evil, but it's simply not brought out strongly enough. The transmogrification experiments is the best example of this; Quillam mentions that he does transmogrification experiments ("I bet you'll turn into a reptile"), transmogrifies a couple of people (one of whom's the Doctor's companion - cue terror) and then they get rescued and change back. There's no connection at all with the main plot. A good idea wasted.

Oh yeah, and have there ever been a set of more useless female characters than we've got here? The Doctor telling Jondar to "get the girls" (who are unconscious - the poor darlings) sums it all up.

I'm laying the blame firmly at Eric Saward's door. The whole production smacks of lazy script-editing; it's clear that Philip Martin is unfamiliar with the Doctor Who's format. If it's up to the writer to come up with a good idea, it's up to the script editor to make it into a good story. This really feels like Eric Saward looked at Philip Martin's first draft and said "yeah, that'll do, go and polish it up would you? I'm rewriting Timelash." Don't get me wrong, I'm no Saward-hater (much...) but he really was out to lunch for the whole of Season Twenty-Two.

Result; lots of good set-pieces, but a spectacularly missed opportunity. Good on the first watching, OK on the second, and hugely uncomfortable and irritating from thereon in. Terrible stories are part of the fun of watching Doctor Who, but this one passes up so many chances that I'm afraid I hate it.

Watch it once, and never again. I wish the bloody thing was never made at all.

Supplement, 1/4/02:

Supplementing my review isn't something I've done before, but I've been feeling a compulsion to do this for a while. It's a while since I first reviewed Vengeance on Varos. Since then, my attitude towards it has changed somewhat, as has my attitude towards the Colin Baker era as a whole. And Vengeance on Varos is doubly interesting as it contains many - if not all - the elements of that era, and to quite an exaggerated degree too. After watching this on DVD I decided that I'd better rethink my position a little.

As an aside, the DVD releases seem to do this. Somehow, because everything is glossy and expensively packaged, one can look at stories in a new light. Shows like The Robots of Death and Caves seem re-invigorated, and Tomb looks fantastic - thoroughly recommended, all of them, even if (like me) you already have the stories on video.

And then Joe Ford and Steve Scott went and very eloquently defended this story. Steve has got his wish; I'm retreading that country mile.

The first thing to say about Vengeance on Varos is just how astonishingly well it has aged. It may have been conceived as a commentary on video nasties, but with the explosion in popularity of reality television, Big Brother, fly-on-the-wall documentaries and the like, it has more to say than ever before. The opening scene, of one man's suffering captured on camera, is disturbingly relevant. The automated TV voting - forced, with Arak voting 'no' out of sheer vulgar apathy - is every bit the big issue today, when Pop Idol gets more votes than a General Election. If anything it is far more relevant now than it was 1984. It seems, in concept, not just the most intelligent story of the era, but possibly the most intelligent story ever, and certainly the most prophetic.

The concept of Vengeance on Varos was never the bone of contention with me, though. Watching Vengeance on Varos these days I find much more in it to admire; I find much in it which is astonishing.

And yet I can't bring myself to like Vengeance on Varos, now matter how much I admire it. The reasons now are very much the same as before. I'm prepared to accept that the Doctor's characterisation is not as bad as I thought previously... but it remains unacceptable in patches. The tone is wrong, the plot is clumsy, and some of the dialogue is wince-inducing. I said initially that Vengeance on Varos 'misses its own point to a spectacular degree', and while that's maybe a bit strong (particularly now that its point has changed somewhat) I still think that the writer seems unaware of some of the fundamentals of Doctor Who storytelling.

First of all; is this violent? Well, no. As the DVD cover says, 'there is little in Vengeance on Varos which is objectionable - particularly by today's standards.' Compared with the aforementioned The Robots of Death and The Caves of Androzani, there is nothing in Vengeance on Varos to get worked up about. The only real bit of body-horror is the acid-bath scene, and even that is relatively mild.

And yet - yes.

There's a deeper point here than blood and guts. I'm a huge critic also of Oscar's death in The Two Doctors, and a while back Rob Matthews e-mailed me with a strong defence of that scene. Like most of what Rob writes it really made me think. I was quite some time trying to work out why it felt so damn wrong to me.

The reason I came up with was this. Doctor Who is, fundamentally, a plot-based programme. It is all about narrating a story, compactly, in ninety minutes. As these stories tend to be about hostile conflict, then obviously people will get hurt and die. However, they tend to die as a result of the plot. Okay, so the Autons might kill a whole host of UNIT soldiers, but they do it because the soldiers are attacking them because the Doctor's infiltrated the base because the Autons are invading earth. Violence will always be present in Doctor Who, but it's always a product of the plot, not there for its own sake. At times these rules are broken; but if they are, the writers have to be damn careful how they do it.

Vengeance on Varos tends to use violence, carnage, or body-horror as a shock-tactic, an end in itself rather than a by-product of storytelling. An example is the scene when the Doctor removes Quillam's mask. This is a nice set-piece, and the make-up job to reveal Quillam's scarring is fantastic. But there's no point to the whole thing. The Doctor has no reason to remove Quillam's mask and the scene adds nothing to the story. It is put there specifically to shock; and, presumably, to reinforce Quillam's nastiness by making him ugly. Given that this is the kind of television that Vengeance is attacking, this sort of scene is particularly crass.

This is the problem, I think. It's not the violence - rather, it's the absence of any real plot.

The Doctor blunders from deadly peril to deadly peril, he finds corridor after corridor filled with terrors, but there's no sequence to events. Peri gets transmogrified, the Doctor gets apparently killed a few times, there's giant flies and lava pits to beat the band - but nothing actually happens. The Doctor does nothing to bring down the Varos government, he just gets himself out of scrape after scrape and somehow it's all (rather implausibly) sorted out at the end. As a result, the set-pieces become the point; acid-bath scenes are the story's raison d'etre. This is lazy. This is misguided. This is wrong.

Next point; the Doctor's characterisation.

It's bad. It is, IMO, the worst ever. Maybe not by a country mile; maybe it's a city mile. And to be fair, the bad bits are relatively few and far between and some of the bad bits are not as bad as supposed. The acid-bath scene is relatively inoffensive. As Colin says on the audio - 'the Doctor is appalled, however, he deals with it. He's an alien. He doesn't do what you or I would do.'

But; the Doctor's behaviour in the TARDIS is just plain nasty. The rigging up of a laser in Part One is thoughtless and wrong. The lethal traps at the end leave a sour taste in the mouth.

All these scenes can be defended. In the TARDIS the Doctor is, after all, facing an eternity alone. The Doctor rigs up a laser but he doesn't actually shoot anyone. The Doctor may prepare lethal traps but he's in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

The problem is the same as the serial's violence; it's not so much the Doctor's actions, rather, it's the poor storytelling that gives rise to them. The way the TARDIS runs out of fuel is just ridiculous, unbelievable, a tacked-on way to pad out an episode. The viewer never really believes that the TARDIS is stuck... and so we can't believe that the Doctor believes it either, and his behaviour seems obnoxious. And as for the finale - the Chief Officer and Quillam would hardly confront the Doctor in person, and it's overly-simplistic to presume that killing two people would overturn a political system. It is, again, death for death's sake.

Yes, the Doctor has done equally 'bad' things before and since. In The Brain of Morbius he knowingly poisons Professor Solon. His chauffeur-thumping in The Seeds of Doom is as violent as he ever got. Steve Scott's point about electrifying the tomb doors in Tomb is well-made. The fault is, perhaps, not with the concept of the Doctor's characterisation; rather it's with the storytelling skills, or lack of them, which lead to pointless scenes that throw the Doctor's actions into sharp relief.

The laser-rigging scene is this idea in microcosm. The Doctor makes no effort to understand what's happening. Okay, so he rigs the laser to discourage pursuit, but I can't think of any other story in which the Doctor runs away like that. Generally he gets captured, brought to the leader, finds out how things work, rebels, brings down the corrupt regimes. The laser-rigging is objectionable because it's supremely pointless; the Doctor has no reason to run off, and his explanation of 'you're the only person who hasn't tried to kill us' doesn't ring true - he's only met one guard, and that guard thought he was a phantom. So instead of any meaningful scenes we get treated to a lot of corridors and a lot of running, and the cold truth is that all the material between this point and the gallows scene could have been cut without affecting the plot one iota.

To summarise; I no longer wish that 'the bloody thing had never been made.' Vengeance on Varos is, in many ways a triumph. There are times that the scenes are so sharp that it takes the viewer's breath away. Have no doubts about my admiration for the story's intelligence - and I haven't even mentioned how great Sil is. It's also crucially important; the first time that Who stepped outside its kid's show confines and attempted to commentate on wider contemporary issues. In the Cartmel era this skill was refined, and the allegory became actively part of the narrative (Survival is the best example of this). In Vengeance, sadly, it floats around somewhat, never driving the character's actions as it should.

The concept, and the bravery of tackling the issue of TV and violence, is brilliant. The storytelling skills, though, are shockingly crude - a factor which leads to all the other criticisms of this story. The plot is little more than a miasma of unrelated events, replete with blatant info-dumps from Jondar and Areta. This leads to the story having an uncomfortable tone. We are attacking plotless, violent, thoughtless television - but we're watching plotless, violent, thoughtless television.

And that's still not good enough. Sorry.

Seriously underated! by Joe Ford 9/3/02

I cannot believe this story has got such a bad reputation! I would happily put it in my top fifteen for the following reasons…

  1. Colin Baker.
    Finally given some credit due to his wonderful performances in the audio series, I have always found his Doctor highly enjoyable to watch. This story highlights all that make him such a great Doctor, a commanding presence, perfect at giving speeches against the tyrany of Varos, a violent streak that would continue in his time and (I'm sorry) add an enjoyable new edge for the character, a sharp wit ("I thought you were my mirror image…") and (for once) obviously an alien (unsmypathetic, perhaps unlikable but still with compassionate side!). Rushing up and down the corridors of Varos he charges up the story wherever he appears.
  2. The setting.
    Varos is a fascinating world, grim and gritty and a far cry from the light hearted worlds from the Davison era (sorry again). This is really violent world, people try to kill you at every corner. The populace watch your torture on every screen. The government are in control because they scare you into submission. If you revolt, they will subject you to grusome experiments. It's all so morbid, so twisted, we had never seen anything like it in Who before. It bolted onto our screens like a breath of fresh air. It is also a great reminder of the successful claustrophobic settings of the Troughton era.
  3. The guest characters (Sil!).
    Sil is such a good villain, not particularly threatening in any way but totally and utterly disgusting in every way! He looks like a big turd and has a laugh that is instantly spine tingling! Philip Martin was right to give his a fractured speech pattern as it adds a sense of humour to this most unusual of characters. His last scene ("You can't leave me here!" is just brilliant…"I will wear the mantle of Varos so, so handsomely!").

    Martin Jarvis is simply excellent, portrayed as straight as straight can be but all the more compelling for it. His scenes with Peri are astonishing in their restraint, it could have awful with Jarvis really overplaying his "Death is my only companion" dialogue…instead it's quietly haunting.

    Jason Connery I will admit is a little enthusiastic in his delivery but he spends half of episode one with his shirt off so I won't complain (sorry once again).

    Quillam is more scary for being a little on the camp side his ("He must suffer for my humiliation") speech at the end is seriously creepy and The Chief is a threatening muscle.

  4. It is exciting!
    C'mon, aside from Caves of Androzani when was any Davison adventure as exciting as this? Say what you will about the Colin Baker era they sure knew how to present a story and the action sequences, fast pace and generally solid production values. Varos has all these and a fun climax to boot. I really cared about the characters and wanted to find out their fate (compare to the cardboard crew in Earthshock and the yawn inducing gang on Gallifrey in Arc of Infinity, honestly, did you give a damn?).
  5. The cliffhanger and the last scene.
    Both are brilliant and definitive scenes of the era. Again, the Colin Baker era rescued the cliffhanger format (they are generally all excellent this season) and Arak and Etta finish the story on a suitably intelligent moment.
  6. Peri.
    I like her. Yes she can be dumb and trip over and scream but Bryant and Baker make such a good combination, their bitchy scenes (always a laugh) contermanded by some gentle moments (just how bad he tries to rescue her and his reaction when they finally re-unite). I love her bit with the TARDIS malfunctions ("Since we left Telos…").
Not convinced? Well please yourself then! I think this story has a generally bad rep for it's aggressive portrayl of the Doctor and it's graphic subject matter…both of which I find fine additions. In the end though, it is an intelligent, thought-provoking and exciting piece that never leaves you time to get bored. Go on, give it another go, given Colin's new status as audio supreme you might quite like it...

Supplement, 17/6/04:

In his only review that I disagree with so strongly it hurts Robbie Matthews says Vengeance on Varos fails even as a generic runaround. That the story is all background and no plot. That the Doctor achieves nothing. That this story is the most convincing evidence that Eric Saward has lost interest in the show. Rob honey, are you watching the same story as me? For when I watch this story I feel I am watching the very best Doctor Who has to offer, a textured, well paced and intelligent piece, peppered with shockingly good dialogue, boosted by outstanding performances and some damn convincing production values. It's completely unique, unlike anything that has come before or will come after. I love it because it ignores every rule of Doctor Who and forges its own identity in the maligned season twenty-two, shining bright compared to real generic run-arounds like Attack of the Cybermen and Mark of the Rani.

What is frightening is that this is a terrifying window into the future, the way things are going we will have a punishment dome up and running by the end of the decade. Did you see the pictures of the Iraqis being tortured splattered all over the front pages of the papers? I know people like the repulsive Sil who were delighting in the savagery of those being abused because of all the troubled politics over the past few years. I mean how sick is that? Admiring the broadcasted images of people being dragged around the floor like dogs... Vengeance on Varos captures that feeling of a society out of control superbly. I will never listen to Sil's excited laugh when he is watching the Doctor dehydrate in the same way again.

Plus what with society's obsession with fly on the wall shows the cameras are EVERYWHERE just as they are in this story. The limit of what I can stand is How Clean is Your House - sending in the cameras into people's homes who live in pure filth and exposing them - it's just sick isn't it and hardly what I would call entertainment. How long before we have a public lavatory expose so we can see what people get up to in them? Or a glimpse into life of an electric chair operator? Considering what real life crap we put on the telly the torture in Vengeance on Varos seems relatively tame! My point is, how long before we are totally monitored like the people on this planet, forced to endure life or death trials before the salivating crowds? I'm sure it would be a ratings winner.

Doctor Who is supposed to be a teatime treat for kiddies but Vengeance subverts that valuable role with glee, pumping for something a bit more intelligent for adults to get their teeth into. The first ten minutes are shockingly slow, the Doctor only getting a token scene and the story far more concerned with setting up Varos. But these early moments are some of the best, for once creating a society that we can believe in, bored, witless workers slumped in front of their screens, a governor desperately trying to make the books balance and a capitalist presence sucking the life out of the planet. The opening shot in the punishment dome with the camera swooping down on Jondar chained to the wall, a camera greedily recording his torture is one of the best opening scenes to any Doctor Who story. In these early scenes there is no attempt to sensationalise the material, Arak and Etta are totally uncharismatic, the Governor is trapped in an impossible situation and shown on the brink of a nervous collapse. It's mature stuff for a show that was exploding Cybermen like fireworks just one story earlier.

But it goes even further than that. Rarely was the Doctor as sulky and violent as he is in this story, apparently as pacifistic as the pope in every single story before this one (which I refute) which has led to a gang of sixth Doctor haters who feel his emotional characteristics go against the core of the character. To be perfectly frank this violent shake up was NEEDED, as 'popular' as Peter Davison's portrayal of the fifth Doctor was (I refute that too) after three years of being terribly nice to everybody it was a joy to have the Doctor rubbing people up the wrong way again. Yes the sixth Doctor is undeniably flawed, just like you and me he is sensitive and passionate and oh yes, he wants stay alive too so he is sometimes called upon to jump into action to make sure that he achieves that. He gives up when the situation seems impossible (the TARDIS malfunctioning) and gives rousing speeches when there is a society to whip into shape. And I refuse to believe that he achieves nothing in the story, he saves Jondar's life, Areta and Peri's too later on, if he hadn't proved to the Governor there was somebody else who wanted to fight the system he might not have convinced Maldak to save his life. Oh and he helps to kill the Chief and Quillam, two of the most repulsive creatures in the series. In every way the Doctor is responsible for the uprising on Varos, Sil's pathetic invasion attempt is just a side issue compared to troubles the planet is having.

I don't think the story ever oversteps the mark in its portrayal of media controlled violence. There are distressing scenes, the Doctor gasping for breath in a fake desert, the acid bath sequence with the guy yanking his friend inside with blood and ooze dribbling down his face - but if you're going to make a programme that deals with a serious issue you have to show what you're exposing, in many ways Vengeance on Varos is as bad those voyeuristic papers, similarly condemning the material and revelling in it. Maybe I am naive but I can accept one as entertainment and can be sickened by another because it is real life but that's my prerogative. I love how the story refuses to take the easy way out and suggest that everything is peaches and roses at the end, the violence has subsided yes but the ambiguous final scene that sees Arak and Etta staring at their blank screens with no idea what to do now that the threat of death has gone brilliantly makes the point that there are no simple solutions. It is the sort of intelligent reasoning the story deploys throughout.

Lots of lovely touches remind us of our own media controlled society. The much-celebrated cliffhanger that sees the Doctor 'dying' in a cliffhanger on the Varosian screens cleverly mocks all those melodramatic Doctor Who cliffhangers that I am certain directors were just as careful to cut off at the right point for optimum suspense. Dialogue such as "We've received very good punch-in appreciation figures" and "I'm certain the video of his death will sell" prove it is all about the money. And who can see themselves in Arak and Etta? Moaning about repeats, sitting on the edge of their seats, commenting on inconsistencies, who they like and whinging about government officials for their poor decisions... Geez it could be Simon and I!

If Vengeance on Varos was just politics and parodies it would get dull very quickly so it's also an archetypal runaround with lots of running, shooting, escaping and getting captured again. It even works on this level because the story is filmed with a real sense of energy and style; the lighting is appropriately moody to increase the tension, the traps are fairly ingenious (love the giant fly... brrr) and rarely have I heard a musical score so in tune with its material (it is playfully surreal in places which makes you feel even more uncomfortable watching). Plus it helps that Jason Connery is flashing a hairy chest for half an episode which is very nice.

What is especially astonishing is how well the story uses Peri. I don't mind at all that it takes her and the Doctor half the first episode to arrive because at this point we are still getting used to this unusual couple and their domestic bliss (I think not) still makes for engaging viewing. She is the Doctor's rock, trying to lift his spirits, making helpful suggestions, sticking to his side whilst they dash about the prison trying to reassure their new allies. Peri is so underrated as a companion; she stands up to Sil, the Governor and the Chief in an interrogation scene heavy with great performances and later she shares a moment of disquiet intimacy with the Governor that is dramatic gold. So, so underrated...

Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis deserve to be commended for their superb performances as Sil and the Governor, two very difficult roles to play and yet they carry their scenes with total conviction. Sil is so loathsome you have to love him; his gurgling laugh and excitable tail add an extra dimension of alieness to this funny creature and his hard on for torture, both men and women gives him a perverse edge. By the time he had reached the end of his first scene he had already earned a second appearance. The Governor remains sympathetic throughout, no matter what instructions he is ordering Jarvis plays the role with a resigned disgust that never lets you forget he is trapped inside a job he loathes.

And the icing on the cake is Colin Baker's star turn as the Doctor already giving the quality of performance it took some Doctors (McCoy, Davison, Troughton) a season to master. When he promises a better future for the Varosians from the scaffold you listen, such is the intensity of his words. He leads his little band of rebels through the punishment dome with supreme confidence, I love it when he guides them through the flytrap, absolute conviction sees him through. He just glitters on screen, a blur of emotions and impossible to take your eyes away from. I love him, rigged lasers and all.

Quality of a sort I am not used in the JNT era, this beacon of a story inspires fascinating debate and that might be its biggest strength yet. Even today people are still talking about its message, be it condemning or praising it. It makes people think and for that alone I cannot praise it highly enough.

Acid Baths, Country Miles and George W. Bush: a Case for the Defense by Steve Scott 14/3/02

Those of you who've managed to sit through my review of the Sixth Doctor know I have a particular fondness for this story. There's no need to sing Varos's praises though: Joe Ford has already sung admirably.

Vengeance on Varos has provoked more controversy than any other Who story. There have been negative views expressed in publications as diverse as The Discontinuity Guide, From A to Z and on this very page. Most readers have no doubt made the same criticisms themselves. After first viewing one can't help but agree, but when placing Varos under scrutiny you can't help but realise that these criticisms are largely unfounded. In fact, some have as much substance and veracity as the present occupier of the White House.

Let's address a few key criticisms. Strap yourself in, for it could be a bumpy ride...

"[The Doctor] is selfish and resigned when the TARDIS breaks down" (The Discontinuity Guide)
Can you imagine someone switching off The War Games after Troughton betrays his friends to the Aliens, thus declaring the Second Doctor to be little more than a devious turncoat? I think not. Same here: one moment the Doctor is "sighing like a steam engine", selfishly dreading the prospect of immobility. But wait! Several minutes later, he's telling Peri (hypocritically but nevertheless entirely in character) not to give up hope. Remember, it's not a million miles away from the Doctor's shameless sandwich pilfering in The Sea Devils. Perhaps said incident in Varos is harder to swallow.
"[The Doctor and Peri's] lack of outrage makes the whole awful business of Varos seem somehow acceptable" (From A to Z)
Sheer hokum. Watch the gallows scene. Listen to the Doctor's speech while there's a rope around his neck.
"[The Doctor] sets up the laser to kill the guard without really knowing what's going on" (The Discontinuity Guide)
Questionable. There's no line giving any explicit indication as to why the Doctor turns the laser around. One also wonders how on earth the soon-to-be-fried Varosian guard didn't see the shiny beam. It seems some fans see fit to fill this vacuum with a very bad assumption indeed. Let me propose another interpretation: that, in good Who tradition, the laser is activated to dissuade pursuit. It's also been done before: in Tomb of the Cybermen, the Doctor resolves to re-electrify the tomb doors, again to dissuade followers, but it's only going to kill another archeologist in the future.
The Acid Bath / "Forgive me if I don't join you."
Probably the most controversial scene and line in Doctor Who. Too much has been said already, but let me add this. It's now generally accepted that the Doctor doesn't push in the guards. However the Doctor's reaction is still misinterpreted. After the first guard falls in, watch: the Doctor is pulling the other guard away from the bath. First guard drags in the second (we are treated to gruesome acid-burn make-up). The Doctor realises what's happened, and looks in utterly appalled. Before the Doctor picks up his coat there's even an expression of pity on his face as he peers back into the bath. Colin Baker later argues on the DVD release that the Doctor's infamous verbal response is an alien method of coping with the awful situation. Maybe. I certainly don't accept the claim that the Doctor derives pleasure from this incident (or the later death-by-vines scene). And in light of this evidence Messrs Cornell, Day and Topping's statement in The Discontinuity Guide that "the Doctor shows no remorse for the violence he commits" contains more than a smidgeon of baloney. All I see that's genuinely wrong with the scene is the frivolous incidental music after the guards have gone in: it invites the general misinterpretation of the sequence that most have made.

And there you have it. Let's hope that 17 years after first transmission Vengeance on Varos, like the Gee-jee fly in the Punishment Dome, may be seen in its proper sense of proportion. For we really must retread back along Mike Morris' country mile if a fresh and balanced perspective is to emerge.

A Review by Rob Matthews 26/3/02

To start off, a little insight into my twisted brain-

When I started watching the repeats of DW on UK Gold, I taped for posterity only the stories that were my favourites or that I remembered most fondly; Earthshock, The Five Doctors, Dalek stories, that kind of thing. But as the weeks went by, and the 'favourite' count shot up, I discovered that there were a good deal of stories with nice ideas or lines or set pieces, but which I couldn't be bothered to watch all over again, and which I didn't fancy filling loads of videotapes up with.

So I decided the best thing to do was just edit the mediocre stories down to their best bits and stick them on a kind of Doctor Who compendium tape. It's not as mad as it sounds (well, not quite), because the mediocre Doctor Who stories are full of padding anyway, and an Image of the Fendahl or Nightmare of Eden is easy to boil down from ninety minutes to about twenty-five while still retaining the plot points and all Tom Baker's funny bits. Doctor Who at Seinfeld pace.

I tell you all this not in the name of an elaborate fan confessional, but so I can make a point about Vengeance on Varos; On this quickfire Who-o-rama tape of mine, VoV takes up roughly ten minutes. And that's because there's essentially no story to boil down - backstory and exposition, yes, but there's no real plot . Vengeance on Varos is a series of effects. Not in the sense of special effects, rather emotional effects, depending mostly on shock or revulsion.

In terms of establishing tone, Vengeance on Varos is very much the backbone story of season 22. It exemplifies everything that was good and everything that was bad about the show during that fateful year.

What's good about it from the off is that it's genuinely original, even though that originality takes a form fans were - and probably in the main still are - uncomfortable with. That is; It's unusually grim even for a generic oppressive DW society, - though in response to a point made by Joe Ford, I wouldn't exactly call Frontios, Sarn or Androzani particularly light-hearted planets either - and unusually violent even for a show that gave us Resurrection of the Daleks a year before. Even given the violent and bloody scenes in Attack of the Cybermen - which were in fact successful because their purpose was to give the Cybermen a truly scary physical presence, and that they did -, this story must have proved a nasty surprise. Here the violence and cruelty are very definitely gratuitous. At first glance, there are reasonable grounds for saying that's the point - the story portrays a vile society that revels in cruelty, while making fun of video nasties and the violence debate as applied to TV programmes like Doctor Who. As such, the script appears to have a satirical intent, and the setup offers some leeway for self-reflexive humour. This could have led to an interesting story, perhaps even a classic one. After all, other adventures which broke the mould are considered to be amongst the show's best - The Deadly Assassin and Remembrance of the Daleks, for example.

Added to which, the sets and special effects are pretty convincing - Sil looks magnificent when you consider this is the same show that gave us the Magma Beast (or shoddy pantomime cow) three stories before. The transformation makeup is effective and scary too - Peri the bird is one of those images I still remember my childhood horror of. (Mind you, having said that, I used to be scared shitless of Worzel Gummidge, and he's not even meant to be frightening - how about this for a PDA? the 3rd Doctor vs a strangely familiar killer scarecrow... sorry, I'm digressing). The Varos sets are an appropriate shade of dull slate grey, suitable for a former prison planet, all Kafka-esque and claustrophobic. It all bodes well for the story, it looks like another step towards a slighly more adult Doctor Who.

Unfortunately, Vengeance on Varos takes all this potential and goes precisely nowhere with it. It ought to be groundbreaking, instead it's a plodding runaround, and one that completely fails to justify its own nastiness.

I was going to say that its main failure as a Doctor Who story is that the Doctor really doesn't do anything - Sil is toppled by pure chance. But then I realised that the Doctor doesn't do much in Revelation of the Daleks either, and that story's great. I suppose, then, it's a failure of storytelling. Unlike Davros's downfall, which comes about convincingly, Sil's plans aren't foiled by the governor or rebel underlings or the people of Varos getting their collective act together. Instead, they're randomly spoiled by an offscreen development that he reads about on teletext.

I've always stuck up for Eric Saward - indeed the later Revelation was not only his best script, but one of the best stories in the show's run -,?but I go along with the view that he was beginning to lose interest in the show at this point, with VoV being the most convincing evidence of that. There's no thought at all put into making the Doctor matter in all of this.

Of course, it's easy with the benefit of hindsight to say what should have happened in a fifteen year-old story. So I will...

First, context:
At this point, viewers are still uncertain about whether this Doctor is given to violence or not. He doesn't show compassion as easily as his former self, rather he gets angry and blustrous. Peri, meanwhile, is a spoilt and helpless whiner.

So, if you're really dead set on having a story where the Doctor does nothing, why not have him do it quite emphatically? Why not have him captured and tortured for the entire length of the story? (or, to use what I gather is the correct verb, 'Ormanblummed').?Have Peri forced to fend for herself and actually manage as the story progresses to do some good? That way, the Doctor's arrogance would be tested and shown for the defensive front it is, and Peri would actually show some balls, as it were, and be both stronger and more likeable as a character.

Why not? Because that would require a bit of effort. Some say that this is one of the better stories of season 22. I'd say, next to Timelash, it's the worst. Even Mark of the Rani, a generic runaround if ever there was one, inhabits its set pieces with gusto and keeps track of the characters. Vengeance on Varos thinks it's more than a generic runaround, it should be more than a generic runaround, but it fails even as a generic runaround.

(Anyway, I'll stop saying 'generic runaround' now.)

To be fair, Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis give it their all and stand out from the dross. And there's the occasional line that's so unexpectedly horrid that it really disturbs ('I want to hear them scream until I'm deaf with pleasure" - yeuch, what a bastard). But the story is far too lacking in plot to engage your attention, and doesn't stand up to a second viewing. Unless it's a ten-minute abridged one like mine.

The Revolution Will Be Televised by Andrew Wixon 25/6/02

Recently a DWM critic suggested that Season 22 as a whole was overly influenced by the success of Caves of Androzani, trying too hard to emulate its style and sensibility. Well, of the six stories of the season, this is the one that comes closest to validating that idea.

Varos is a grim and distasteful place, in the grip of ruthless corporate interests, with more than its fair share of sadists in positions of power. Other than a couple of extremely damply written and performed rebels, the only vaguely sympathetic character is the weak and ambivalent governor (nicely portrayed by Martin Jarvis). There's even a wholly superfluous Sharaz Jek lookalike in the form of Quillam.

And you can't deny that the story has some innovative and in some cases unique stuff going on. There's the superb Sil, for one thing, and another 100%-committed performance from Colin Baker. Most impressive of all is the razor-sharp social and political satire - the former mainly provided by the framing Arak & Etta sequences (and this story has one of the finest closing scenes in DW).

It's not perfect, of course: the pacing is off (in the four-episode edit the Doctor stays in the TARDIS for the whole of part one), and there are some very duff performances. More seriously, there's the lack of any moral stand on the Doctor's part against the horrors of the Dome: all his ire is reserved for Sil's exploitation of the planet, and so he seems rather indifferent to all the torture and so on.

And... while its intelligence marks it out as one of the best stories of Colin Baker's tenure, should it ever have been made in this form? Nowadays we see it on video or DVD or satellite rerun at some unearthly hour, but let's not forget that this was made for peak-time broadcast on a mainstream channel. That Saturday early-evening audience would not have been expecting choice dialogue like 'I want to hear you scream until I'm deaf with pleasure', simulated hangings, acid bath deaths, and jokes about prisoners being blinded. The story's criticism of all this is not presented strongly enough in comparison to the explicit, relatively realistic unpleasantness and as a result the story could appear to be setting out simply to shock rather than satirise. (There's also the simple question of good taste to be considered.)

As a piece of adult, intelligent SF, Vengeance on Varos is - okay. Not a great story, but it has its moments. But as a piece of escapist entertainment for a family audience, it's not much more than a video nasty.

A Review of the DVD by Matt Quarterstein 10/9/02

The Sixth Doctor's search for the precious Zeiton 7 has now been captured on DVD with the release of Vengeance on Varos. Do you think it was worth it? For those who don't remember, or haven't seen it, Vengeance is the story about the anchovy-like Sil's attempt to exploit the miserable people of Varos, a colony planet where cruel punishments and torture are entertainment for the people, who watch it all on their TV screen. It is also known as the story with the giant fake fly, the story where Peri turns into a bird, and the story where you get to see Jason Connery (who plays Jondar) without a shirt.

A thoughtful and deep piece of Doctor Who, Vengeance deals with issue upon issue upon issue, while still managing to entertain along the way. Reality TV, propaganda, corporate blackmail, even the very nature of democracy, it's all explored, and very well. Among most circles of fandom it is regarded quite highly, some calling it the best Colin Baker story. It is therefore a worthy choice for the digital format.

This DVD is a treat from the word go. The interface is one of the best I have ever seen, almost perfect. It has all the perks of a DVD interface (such as the Doctor and Peri stepping out to give a friendly "Hi!" to you in the main menu), yet it doesn't get too busy and bewildering, like a lot of Hollywood DVDs. The navigation between menus is also to be commended, as it is smooth, logical and easy to understand. The only real niggle with the interface, a minor one, is the navigational icons. They are all variations of the same white circles and squares, which gets confusing. For instance, after setting up all the audio and subtitle options to my taste, I pressed what I thought was the play icon and headed on to another menu of special features instead of the story. I then pressed what I thought to be the button to go back to the first special features menu, and ended up watching the story. Aggh! But then, maybe I'm just dyslexic...

Unlike the brilliant story and charming interface, the "special features" of the DVD are a mixed bag. The original BBC "trailers" are poor indeed. They're short, blurry and look they've been taped off the TV (I'm pretty sure they have, you can see the "record" icon of an 80's VCR in the corner of the screen during the trailers). If this was the effort the BBC put into promoting Doctor Who in 1985, no wonder it got axed! Are these crappy trailers supposed to appeal to the fan who liked the low-quality of Doctor Who or something? Huh? What really confused me is the fact that the BBC "continuity announcements", also on this DVD, are in absolute pristine condition. These inconsistencies in quality made me think that the Beeb was just throwing whatever they could find around the office into the special features menu and hoping for the best.

Take the "behind the scenes" and "outtakes" footage. Granted, they provide insight into the making of mid-eighties Doctor Who, and to a lesser extent the making of mid-eighties British television. But all of the footage comes from the same set, possibly even the same session. They're not terribly intriguing, the "bloopers" are very straight-faced, and mostly from the same scene, meaning we get to see the actors doing the same lines over and over and over. You can feel the almost actor's frustration while watching these, and that isn't necessarily a good thing. Also, why on Earth is there a "Production Audio" option? Are there fans out there who just have been dying to see Vengeance without sound effects and music? I don't think so...

I think I might be being picky for the sake of it, there is actually some really fascinating stuff in the special features. Take the "deleted scenes", for instance. These provide a further insight into some of the characters. We get to see the tension building between the Doctor and Peri in the TARDIS, which may explain why Peri turns into a bird under transmutation, a response to a mental urge to flee those recent tensions. We get to hear why Jondar has been arrested, and how he was tried, giving us further insight about the complex society of Varos. I only wish there was a menu where you could select which deleted scene you wanted to watch, instead of having to go through the whole lot.

The "information text" (that is, fact-filled subtitles) is also effective. It is quite... erm... informative, and amusing in a way. The way it pops up with some "behind-the-scenes" fact at random intervals reminds me a lot of that music show Pop-Up Video. The photo gallery is also a nice thought, but nothing really special, just something to flick through while waiting for your mates get the popcorn.

The best special feature of all has to be the commentary. Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban, what a great combination they make. They laugh it up, making fun of the sets, of their lines and of their costumes, while still giving us a further insight into the making of the piece, even more so than the "behind the scenes" footage. It's nice to see them having a go at Doctor Who, as well as themselves, particularly Nabil. He "steals the show" in this commentary, so to speak. He tells about every possible joke you can think of about Sil, and probably still has more of them up his sleeve, by the sounds of it. If and when the Trial of a Timelord DVD is released, I hope they get Nabil to do some commentaries again, I really do. Such a lively guy...

The only thing wrong with the commentary (again, I am nitpicking), is the audio quality. It sounds as if they are all sharing the same microphone, and even then it sounds like it's on the other side of the room! Surely they could have given them a microphone each, or were they trying to recreate the "low-budget" Who feel, to get them in the mood? You can hardly hear what Nicola Bryant has to say a lot of the time, which is a shame because what she has to say is just as interesting as the two blokes she is with. Thank goodness for subtitles...

Vengeance of Varos is a great story, arguably one of the best. If it isn't in your Who collection already, DVD is definitely the way to go. If you have the VHS of the story, however, you can probably live without it, unless you are an absolutely, positively die-hard fan.

"You'll excuse me if I don't join you" by Terrence Keenan 1/10/02

Ahh yes. This one. The one with all the violence. The one where Colin Baker's Doctor goes on a kill-crazy rampage and acts like a complete dick. The one about video nasties and shock moments and sharp asides about the viewing audience.

I don't get all the fuss.

Part of it has to be me being American. Violence on TV was not considered as big a sin as obscene language or nudity. If this was shown in the US, even back in 1984, it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow unless Nicola Bryant's breasts were exposed.

And, truth be told, the scenes of ultra-violence and video nasties didn't annoy or anger me, unlike certain moments in Attack of the Cybermen, or The Two Doctors. They felt right. When you're commenting on video nasties, you have to show violence. It's not lingered on, but it's there. And, except for the laser scene, and the acid bath scene, there's not much on screen violence. Similar to Psycho, it's the threat of impending violence that lingers and causes viewers to twitch, not the acts of violence itself.

The acid bath scene has been rehashed in many of the reviews, but one scene that intrigued me that has been blasted was the poisoned vines moment at the end. The Discontinuity Guide slated it, as did Mike Morris in his first review of Varos. I have a question though: Why is it wrong for the Doctor to set a trap with the poisoned vines at the end of Varos, but okay when he hands the Hand of Omega to Davros at the end of Remembrance? or, when the Doctor uses the metal virus on K-1 in Robot? or, even better, what the fourth Doctor does while battling Goth in the APC net in The Deadly Assassin? These are just as deadly, however the fourth Doctor nor seventh Doctor are criticized for their actions. I don't have a problem with the use of the poisoned vines. The Doctor defends himself as best he could under the situation, and for what was for a better purpose. What I have a problem with is the logic of how the scene is set up, which I'll get to in a moment. Would it have been better if Quillam and the Chief Officer had stumbled into the vines while rushing the Doctor, Jondar and Areta? Possibly. I don't think the scene is worth the attacks it has received just because the Doctor rigged a trap. The Doctor is fighting for his life and the lives of two others. It's been done on the show many times before. Maybe not as directly, but it has been done. If you have to criticize this moment, then you have to criticize the others.

Anyhoo... the big flaw with Varos is the story logic, or lack thereof. If you want to make an argument about set pieces versus plot in the JNT era, then Varos is an ideal case. The only fiber of plot is in Sil's storyline, with his negotiations with the governor, his machinations with the Chief Officer and his plan to invade Varos for the Galatron Mining Corporation. Most of the time, we watch the Doctor, Peri, Areta and Jondar dodge traps and hallucinations. Ideas are flung about with sledgehammer subtlety.

Acting varies, with Nicola Bryant and Martin Jarvis turning in the best performances. Colin Baker plays it too broadly, but contrary to conventional fan wisdom, is quite Doctorish in this story. Nabil Shaban chews up scenery and co-stars with equal aplomb in a part designed to be OTT, but does grate on the nerves after a while. The rest of the cast is competent, although the camp award goes to Nicholas Chargin for the way he plays Quillam.

Vengeance on Varos is neither brilliant, nor an abomination. Like many of Colin's stories, it has good and bad moments. It is worth watching once or twice, and does get bonus points for being continuity free.

A Review by Andrew Hunter 8/1/03

Arriving on the planet Varos, the Doctor and Peri attempt to obtain a substance which will feed the ailing Tardis. Trouble lurks ahead for them, as they face horrific traps in the Punishment Dome...

The main reason Vengeance on Varos is a success is due its very grim atmosphere, being set in the Punishment Dome. The only source of lighting is small, dull lights. These only light up a tiny part of the tunnels, as further on down the tunnel is a brooding black. This lack of bright lighting is complemented with occasional mists, adding more mystery.

It is behind these mists that the Doctor encounters some clever traps. As he and his companions are walking through these tunnels, a huge fly, the size of the path, appears. It is a hologram and the effect still looks impressive - even by today's standards.

The darkness of the story doesn't stop there. Most of the characters in the dome are evil and cold. The best example is the sadistic Sil, a representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation. Nabil Shaban's portrayal of him is just brilliant and his superb costume helps to give this impression to us. The result is a very memorable villain.

On the other hand, among all the villians, there are a few good characters - the most important being the struggling Governor of Varos. He seems out of place in Varos because he less aggressive, compared to the other rulers of Varos and it appears that he is pushed around a lot - particularly by Sil and by the planet's inhabitants: Varosians. The scenes where the cell disintegrator is being applied to him are slightly shocking. This effect is due to the marvellous acting of Martin Jarvis.

That is an example of the story's strong points: solid performances from the cast. As mentioned before, Martin Jarvis and Nabil Shaban give their strong performances. Nicholas Chagrin is good as the disfigured Quillam and Colin Baker starts to build his Doctor up.

However, some controversy surrounds this incarnation of the Doctor: He is not slow to attack a guard when they arrive, he knocks a guard into a bath of acid and adds a James Bond style comment to this. Whilst these actions are surprising to some fans, they were in self-defence and we have seen other Doctors being violent before, also in self-defence.

The only negative points I can see are some lame special effects, particularly of the guns and the fact that the story doesn't seem to go in a straight direction - it just has a lot of running around, avoiding traps.

Apart from this, I think it is the atmosphere that carries Vengeance on Varos to being one of Colin Baker's best stories.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 13/3/03

I've always believed Vengeance on Varos was one of the best stories of the 6th Doctor TV era. On first transmission in January 1985 I was delighted that DW had back on track after the debacle that was Attack of the Cybermen. Ever since I have grown to quite like that Cyberman story, like many I think we give the 6th Doctor era more of a chance these days. Fact is though that the 11 stories that make up the 6th Doctor era don't do his Doctor justice - there are only a few, including this one, that do.

I still like Vengeance on Varos, I saw it again recently and I was impressed with the imaginative story and the characters of the drama. Philip Martin's first script is infinitely better than his next and last, Mindwarp (which was unbelievably bad, and one of my least favourite in the entire run of DW). It also glories in wonderful isolation during this nostalgic era of DW. It has no monsters, villains, supporting characters from other stories. It doesn't reference other stories. It is a story on it's own. It also stands very uniquely in the history of Who. I can think of no other story (except a few MA's after it) that resemble it at all.

The planet that is Varos, as represented by this complex, is a harsh culture. The population of the Governor's power base is only about 1,500,000, but they work long hours and struggle against diminishing food supplies. Arak and Etta are our window into this society and they paint a bleak picture indeed. They also provide a commentary for the action. They are, as we are, watching the events unfold and are intrigued to see how the rebels fare. It seems only the soldiers have any luxury, and even they are quite easy to persuade to switch sides.

The population seem to spend their days in work and videos - not unlike Whovians it seems! But their enforced entertainment is a series of Video Nasties. This is a definite morality play by Philip Martin. He is commenting on video nasties, on censorship. That Vengeance on Varos has been slammed as a video nasty itself is rather ironic - and considerably missing the point. The moral of the story was not to show violence, but warn against it - that it can corrupt society. How it can stagnate a society, making the populace rely on thrills and spills, without anything else to occupy their time. The life of Arak and Etta is the bleakest portrayed in DW. I would hate it. All work and no play makes anybody depressed - I wonder what they will do now there is no executions to watch.

Varos is portrayed very well. DW excels in corridors, but Varosian Punishment Dome corridors are some of the best we've seen. The inner chamber where the Governor has an audience with Sil is also very impressive. DW looked great in Season 22, never moreso than on Varos. The mention of Sil brings me round to this excellent creation. Nabil Shaban deserves most of the credit for his portrayal, but Philip Martin created the monstrosity. Shaban throws himself into the role, making Sil the best new villain/monster for many a year.

I always liked Colin Baker in the role of the Doctor, but it is interesting to note that Varos sees him at his best. That proves that with better stories, like this one, the 6th Doctor would have succeeded - it was the stories that were his downfall. Nicola Bryant as Peri is also impressive in this story. She looks great too, in a nicely revealing, but totally unsuitable, outfit. Both the Doctor and Peri really go through the mill in this story, showing the violence inherent in the Varosian system, and making their revolution of it that much more profound.

The Varosian populace are mixed in their impact. Arak and Etta are great, both conveying the goggle-eyed viewers with enforced shallow lives that they were meant to. Jondar, the rebel leader is less successful. Jason Connery is quite wooden throughout, hindered too by Areta. They don't seem very much in love, do they? Martin Jarvis as the Governor is excellent, a man unsuited to his exalted position and really just a figurehead for Sil's corrupt corporation. Other personnel strive to be nasty (Quilliam springs to mind) but they end up being little more than pantomime villains. To be honest all the villains fail compared with Sil anyway.

Vengeance on Varos is a very good story, showing that DW never really lost its power to entertain in the mid 80s like so many believe. As an intelligent piece of television it's also impressive, with a real moral message and an allegory that really makes you think. 9/10

Still relevant today by Tim Roll-Pickering 2/6/03

In the last few years interactive television has developed out of all proportion, producing shows such as Big Brother in which viewers watch the exploits of others and get to vote to decide their fate. Vengeance on Varos predates this trend by about fifteen years and so it is good to see a story that has not only aged well but become even more topical now than at the time it first appeared on television. Even then it reflected contemporary fears about video nasties and concerns about the way in which audiences were being subjected to more and more violence on the television screens. Varos is a well constructed society that ably parodies such contemporary worries and the result is one of the best stories of Season 22.

This story also tackles themes such as monopolies and exploitation by corporations and seems to come out in favour of the free market which allows eventually prevails over the monopoly of the Galatron Mining Corporation and allows Varos to receive a fair and substantial price for its Zeitron 7 once the Doctor has exposed the corruption. Throughout the story the Doctor acts as a strong moral force seeking to overcome the plight facing the mining planet. Although there are times when he himself resorts to violence, it is clear throughout that this is a last resort. There is much in this story that is good, but the bit everyone remembers is the cliffhanger at the end of Part One which successfully parodies the very basic art of cliffhangers. Rather than just have the Doctor seemingly die, we instead get to see it being directed for maximum effect. It is not all surprising that this cliffhanger appears on the top ten lists so many times.

The story benefits from two excellent guest performances that superbly bring to life their respective characters. Martin Jarvis appears as the Governor and successfully manages to bring a strong sense of tragedy and dignity to the role of a reluctant politician trying desperately to find good solutions for his people whilst under threat of death if he fails. Jarvis' performance makes a strong contrast to that of Nabil Shaban as Sil. At times the two are competing to steal scenes, with the latter giving a very effective performance whilst the costume and deliberately dodgily translated dialogue enhance the role no end. Sil is a wonderful villain and it is easy to see why he made a return appearance in The Trial of a Time Lord. The other characters are less memorable, with Jason Connery failing to make much impact as Jondar, but it is difficult to achieve much around these two star performances. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant both give good performances as the Doctor and Peri, with the former showing some brief signs of remorse about his actions when Quillam and the others are killed by the vines, contrary to the legends of the brutal, uncaring Doctor.

The production of the story is restricted through it being an all studio production and a lot of the sets are drab and simple, but this is entirely in keeping with the storyline and so they work. The Punishment dome traps are realised well but otherwise this story doesn't have many great challenges for the designer or director. Fundamentally this story is driven by the plot and script and it works well both as an adventure and as a parody of the television industry then and now. 9/10

A Review by Brett Walther 28/3/04

Ah, Season Twenty Two...

The season when my love for Doctor Who was put to the ultimate test. And unlike many other fans, the disdain with which I met the stories of this era on their broadcast on my local public television station in the late eighties has not lessened. I know it's become fashionable in fandom to have re-evaluated the Sixth Doctor's tenure -- largely due to what I hear are some bravura performances in the audio adventures -- but like trucker hats, it's a trend that I won't be embracing.

For me, the worst excesses of Season Twenty Two are encapsulated in the vile (heehee, let's see how much I can make of this alliteration...) Vengeance on Varos.

The early scenes set in the TARDIS are excruciating to watch. Nicola Bryant's overacting during the bit in which she lists everything the Doctor's screwed up lately is appalling -- she's delivering her lines as if on stage, and only stops short of looking straight into the camera or bowing at the end of the scene. Her attempts at an American accent are rarely more amusing than they are here, with the cringe inducing "What was that thing we SORE?" line particularly brutal in this regard. Taking her seriously is difficult enough, as she's wearing heels and a ghastly blue bodysuit/shorts combo that I imagine was thrust onto her by JNT in an effort to keep the dads watching.

The Doctor is no better, immediately giving up after the TARDIS hiccups, resigning himself to a life of boredom on the stranded vessel. I remember being so disappointed watching this as a ten-year old for the first time. This guy was supposed to be my hero? He's letting a fault with his own time machine bring an end to his travels through time and space? This is certainly a case of bringing the Sixth Doctor's brusque persona much too far, and seeing as any post-regenerative trauma should have been dealt with long before this point in the season, is inexcusable.

The direction is also rather poor, with a monumental wasted opportunity in the first shot of Sil. The combination of Nabil Shaban's performance and a superb feat of make up and costume design deserved far better than a long shot. Furthermore, it's almost as if the viewer has intruded on a scene that began several minutes before. What I'm getting at is that there's no sense of introduction for Sil, when his first appearance should have been a dramatic unveiling of this repulsive creature in the classic Who style.

Just as Shaban does with Sil, Martin Jarvis makes the role of the Governor his own. The concept of forcing elected officials to perform well by threatening them with excruciating death is a strong one, and Jarvis cuts a suitably tragic figure, but maintains the edge of a person raised in a nightmarish world.

Although Philip Martin's script isn't entirely unsalvageable, the whole Zeiton element of the plot is riddled with holes. If Zeiton was so important to the functioning of time/space vessels, why didn't Gallifrey "interfere" (as they have a habit of doing) on Varos long ago and corner the market themselves? In just a few stories, they'd be sending the Second Doctor on a mission to monitor Dastari's time travel experiments. Surely it would be easier if they simply mined Varos clean in the far past, thus preventing other races' attempts at achieving time travel?

My biggest problem with Vengeance on Varos is more serious than plot holes, however.

The fact that writer Philip Martin needed to come up with an excuse for the Doctor to visit Varos in the first place is seriously disturbing. Whatever happened to the TARDIS materializing somewhere and the Doctor and company motivated to assist others by a desire to restore justice? Nah, here the Doctor just needs some fuel for the TARDIS. Everything else that happens in Vengeance on Varos seems like an annoyance in his pursuit of that goal. I almost laughed out loud in the closing moments of the story when the Doctor has the gall to ask Peri, "Where's your sense of justice?" Hypocrisy such as this reminded me why the Sixth Doctor will always be my least favourite.

What's most appalling is that the Doctor leaves Varos without saving the day. Sure, he assists in the murder of the chief officials who were maintaining a brutal regime, but he hasn't solved the real problem.

For the first -- and I would argue only -- time in Doctor Who, the entire universe is a horrible place. It's not enough to replace the Chief Guard with the Governor as the head of state. The universe in Vengeance on Varos is a place where there's a huge market for videos that depict the torment and suffering of human beings for entertainment. In the first episode, the Governor calmly explains to Sil how this form of "entertainment" is quickly becoming one of Varos' principle exports. It's not just Arak and Etta who gleefully watch people roast alive in vats of acid and get burned to a crisp by a laser emitter -- the problem extends far beyond Varos.

And yet, the Doctor and Peri leave Varos without righting that wrong. They've got their Zeiton ore. That's what they came here for, right? They don't seem to be terribly concerned that the people who form the market for these videos are still out there, and they're not likely to learn on their own the error of their ways, yet they are, arguably, as corrupt as the Chief and his cronies.

The implication of a universe of evil doesn't sit well within the confines of Doctor Who, and frankly I despise it.

This is the show stripped of all charm, and without its charm, there's not much left to Doctor Who.


Reality TV taken to its terrifying conclusion by Steve Cassidy 28/4/04

I've been to a Varos..

Back in 2002 I went to Brazil and off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state is a tropical island called Ilha Grande. For hundreds of years no one was allowed as it was a penal and leper colony. Hidden in the jungles were ruins of old prisons where executions, beatings and torture took place on a daily basis. You were warned not to stray off the paths as booby traps were still hidden in the jungle and worst of all the descendants of the original prison warders still inhabited the place. The island had only been opened to the public since 1994 and newcomers were a novelty. The families on this tropical paradise were adjusting to stangers. Strange comments and hostile looks often followed me as I wandered around the harbour town..

I was thinking of Ilha Grande while watching what is probably one of the darkest Doctor Who adventures ever produced. Sandwiched between the silliness of Attack of the Cybermen and Kate O'Mara hamming it up in Mark of the Rani is such a bleak, chilling, disturbing adventure that really deserves the accolades heaped upon it. To me, along with The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks, it is Colin Baker's finest hour - and the story is so unforgettable it stays with you decades after first transmission.

And transmission is an good word to use. There were so much food for thought in this story about the power of mass media and it's effect on a captive public. In these days of Big Brother and Survivor the pandering to the public's lowest denominator in humiliating those put up for the public vote is horribly apt. Did they know in 1985 that TV would actually turn out like this? Or did the writer believe that this was a natural conclusion for the progression of the medium? It's bleak setting on an impoverished planet where the inhabitants are kept in line by entertainment of public execution and torture is horribly prophetic. While the viewers of Varos vote on who is killed, it smacks of Z-listers being voted to perform similar vile ordeals in the popular "I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here!". There is something terribly Orwellian about Vengeance on Varos.

And that is what is terribly chilling about this adventure. The future has arrived.

But there is so much to freeze the blood. The opening shots of the bleak red planet with suitably eerie pipe music. They set the tone immediately - a blonde young man screams horribly while being tortured for television. And from then on in the grimness never lets up. Many have complained about this, saying the tone was just too dark - in many ways I agree. Perhaps a bit of lightness was needed, at least it could have been broken up into four parts. A 45 minute two parter is hard work with this adventure. And also many have commented on the use of violence by the Doctor. From the first moment the Doctor realises he is certainly not on the fairytale planets of Traken or Tara, this society has no value on human life - if it does then it is as entertainment. He realises that no sonic screwdriver is going to work here, he must fight violence with violence, he has no choice. Interestingly, the producers do all they can to make sure the Doctor himself doesn't get his hands dirty - cannibals are stung by plants, guards are pulled into acid baths by other guards, and people wander themselves in front of devastating laser beams. Even the Doctor's traps are disengaged from him by bits of string or wires.

I found the most frightening part to be Etta (Sheila Reid) and Arak (Stephen Yardley) - two ordinary Varosian peasants who observe the adventure on their television set as entertainment. The Television Companion describes them as a Greek Chorus and that is a superb comparison as they do comment on events as they unfold. The audience doesn't just get the Doctor's viewpoint but also the everyday man and woman who have been conditioned by life on Varos. One of the key themes is that violence desensitises the viewer, and we see this with Etta and Arak who are so used to torture and murder on their TV's each night that they treat it casually. Like we would watch Big Brother and have our favourite housemates, Etta watches the Doctor run around the deadly Punishment Dome with comments such as "Oh, I like him - the one in the funny coat." But it gets even more sinister from then, their totalitarian state has conditioned them into informing on others, including each other. The most frightening thing in the adventure for me was Etta threatening her own husband with a bad 'viewers report' knowing it would lead to the Punishment Dome.

Pathos is supplied by the Governor of Varos played by the superb Martin Jarvis. Every actor must dream of a role like this - a resigned weary but noble man nearly broken by the horrors of the society around him. Deep deep down inside him there is a man who wants to do good for his planet but he has to work within such a horrific system and with such dispicable people that any good is slowly ground out of him. The only ace up his sleeve is the dwindling deposits of the Zeiton 7 mineral. Conditioning over the decades has led him to believe that this resource is worthless and so his hands are tied behind his back as he struggles to bargain with the Galatron Corporation over its sale. The Governor is a decent man trying to do his best in a terrible society, and his realisation that the culture of Varos is wrong is one of the highlights of the tale. Not so for the Chief Officer, a tour de force performance by Forbes Collins. With his bald pate, military attire and bristling moustache - he is the true face of the corruption and damaged society of Varos. He runs the place and is in charge of the Punishment Dome with his henchman Quillam. The Chief Officer is there to throw obstacles in the Governor's way as he truly believes he runs the state. He has been there so long that no Governor has got rid of him - sort of like a J Edgar Hoover figure. Quillam and his sadistic torture methods are less successful - he was probably one villain too far.

But theimage of Vengeance on Varos is the repulsive Sil played by Nabil Shaban. Oh lord, he is a fantastic creation and full marks must go to the writer Phillip Martin for conjuring up this repulsive creature. Shaban truly brings him to life and every scene where he appears is an absolute pleasure - he may be the best villain of the eighties, even pipping Sherez Jek in Caves of Androzani. Shaban just gives the most entertaining acting performance. Squeezed into a fish-like costume with only his face showing he garbles, gibbers and acts in a most excitable manner and that laugh is absolutely unforgettable. We are repelled by Sil as the disgusting face of the Galatron Mining Corporation but at the same time can't take our eyes off him, such is Shaban's performance. He is flanked by two very erotic looking Nubian personal servants who wheel his water tank around. They even interfere in Varosian affairs when they follow Sil's shouts of 'Pull the lever!' and activate the Doctor and Jondars fake hanging. Sil is just wonderful and I can see why they brought him back. He is the one villain I would love to see return when the Doctor comes back in 2005.

And what about the regulars? For me this is the one where Colin Baker really took off. Here, he is close to perfect showing the irasicibility, moodiness, quirkiness, sarcasm and sheer warmth that he would play so well. Varos is an adventure designed for the Davison tenure but what is so interesting is how Baker gives it his own identity. His would be a more outspoken Doctor, his outbursts as he is about to be killed in a 'primitive execution' (hanging) are foreshadowing his fighting spirit in Trial of A Time Lord. And his concern over Peri slowly being turned into a bird is genuine as is his hug of warmth when he is reunited with her. In short, this is one of Baker's best.

Nicola Bryant also turns in a good performance, and we share her exasperation and downright disgust at a society that turns her into a different species just for amusement. Two others come along for the ride, but seem to disappear in the last part - Areta (Geraldine Alexander) and the rebel Jondar (Jason Connery). Areta is Jondar's wife and we first meet her in prison where she gets to impart a little of the background of Varos. But her part is so insignificant she soon disappears, all I remember her for is a big 'Bonnie Tyler' eighties hair. And Jason Connery as Jondar is disappointingly bad. I was rather a fan of him in Robin of Sherwood and it is interesting to see how stunningly good-looking Jason was in the eighties. He serves a purpose but doesn't really shine but his dash and golden hair really show up against the grim dark corridors and dark set of the story. His appearance is a bright light amongst the gloom.

And the production design is one of the triumphs of Vengeance on Varos. The burnt ochre corridors of the punishment dome have a claustraphobic effect, and, yes, there is plenty of corridor running. The little buggies that the guards drive are entertaining and the costumes and make-up are top notch. The music is moody enough, but occasionally becomes intrusive and the special effects, believe it or not, are simple and don't really draw attention to themselves, possibly because this is a character driven story. And it is the characters you remember - the machinations of the Chief Officer, Sil and the Governor stick in your mind a long time after you have watched it.

And as for watching it - I try to ration myself so it becomes a treat and the impact doesn't dim. I'll admit it has started to. The first two times I viewed it I was stunned by it. I found it shocking, disturbing, sadistic, and for hours afterwards the ideas shown would not not leave my head. But after that I became desensitised and took its horrors in my stride. And isn't that the theme of this adventure?

Vengeance on Varos is a very clever work that has lots of different levels. Even the most casual viewer will start thinking about televison and its power after this. And for that alone I willI go as far as to claim this adventure as a minor masterpiece...

More relevant now than ever by Ryan Thompson 24/6/04

I do not, on the whole, hold much affection for the Colin Baker era. His perception of the character was unnecessarily fractured, jaded, and abrasive. Many of his stories were average to poor, and don't get me started on that outfit (the whole idea of somebody wearing that just reeks of JNT). The series always changed or progressed; there was an ebb and flow to things. Not so in mid 80s Doctor Who.

Of course this is not at all the complete fault of Colin Baker. Much of his acting is top notch and first rate. The characterization is all wrong. Much of this was Baker's own fault. It was he (not the producer, not Eric Saward) who chose to take the character in that direction. For that, the blame fall solely at his doorstep. All that aside, it was still Doctor Who and it was still enjoyable. But, like Eric Clapton or Mel Tourmet, a shadow of what it/they was/were.

To me, one of the few (if not the only) Colin Baker story/stories which deserves the title of classic would be Vengence on Varos. Well written, well conceived and well acted. Whether you like the story or you don't, it's one of the few stories made during this time which is clearly remembered. I feel that's a testament to the stunning brilliance of this episode. It's a shame that Phillip Martin didn't write more in the Doctor Who format.

The true highlight of this story is the flawless, bare knuckled realism presented by Ron Jones. The sets, the way they are colored and arranged, and how one shot cuts to the next, all help to accentuate the everpresent themes in this tale. I think it's important in a story like this to keep the camera moving in this way. As though you're trapped with the characters; switching to the screens so we feel as though we're one of the Varosian spectators.

When Vengence on Varos was written, it was a simple but interesting commentary on relationships between violence, the economy and human nature. Nowadays the fiction of Vengence on Varos is all but fact. Look at reality television. Fear Factor is only the beginning. Here's an intriguing quote from that moronic host of Fear Factor (I think his name is Joe Rogan). He's being interviewed by Bill Mahr (it was when PI was still on the air):

Bill: What if somebody decides that they could really cash in with a hit where somebody goes and films a mobster or a hit man; and we find out what a day on the job is like for them, so to speak. What do you think about that?

Joe: Well, if it's entertaining.

How's that for "Uncomfortable Viewing", Mike Morris? When we consider this mentality which all of a sudden in the last few years has begun to permeate the entertainment industry, the prophetic implications of this story become all the more clear. That said, let's get back to the story.

Doctor Who pantheon of villans. The governor's performance is, like his governorship, admittedly weak, despite some moments of bravery and moral clarity. All the baddies give Oscar worthy performances in my opinion, the chief being particularly effective in my opinion. The sadistic creator of the transmografier reminds me of a woefully cliched bond villan, but it's well done to be sure. Jondar and his wife are pritty hopeless. The down and out working class couple work in small doses.

This story manages to avoid nearly all the traps we think of when a story has the name Eric Saward attached to it, but that's probably just because he was only script editor. There is quite of bit of action which, despite being tangental, manages to attach itself to the plot quite well. One of the few criticisms of the stories structure might be that there really wasn't enough material here for a 90-100 minute story. But how many other Doctor Who stories are there around which are so much more grossly overwritten not to mention woefully overlong?

A story that wrestles with this sort of gritty material desperately craves a JNT style producer. In a way, the story is a very indictment of the mentality that Turner represents. But then again we have to take into account the irony of using television as a means to accuse it of being the tool with which a bunch of off-world money grubbing exploitists implement world domination onto a bunch of Zitonions. Someone on this page suggested that the story would've been much more interesting had they filmed it as though it were on of the torture programs they showed on Varos. Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of the story entirely? I guess in a way it's novel to scrutinize the medium by emulating it, but that becomes hypocritical and monotonous.

When all is said and done, and the sun has set, Vengence on Varos is a well-written, chilling post-modern tale of ethics, economy, and what we might oxymoronically call "inalienable humanity". We can all be Facist victims, humans and Varosians alike. An undeniable classic. 8/10

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 27/6/04

In spite of itself Vengeance On Varos is actually quite a clever piece of satire, commenting both on the state of Doctor Who and indeed much of the television output of today. Apart from satire, it is also highly entertaining in its own right. Colin Baker now having made the role of the Doctor his own, complete with a tit for tat relationship with Nicola Bryant`s Peri, which actually comes across as more than just bickering for once.

As for the guest cast, Martin Jarvis gives an understated performance as the Governor, and both Stephen Yardley and Sheila Reid are excellent as the sterootypically married couple of Arak and Etta. Other performances vary from watchable to intolerable, notably Geraldine Alexander. By far the most memorable thing about Vengeance On Varos is Nabil Shaban`s Sil, a creature visually unlike any before in the series, with both comic potential and malevolance in equal parts.

For the most part the story has aged really well, it withstands repeated viewing because of the strong script and remains just as enjoyable today as it was upon its original transmission

A Review by Rodney Payne 31/5/05

It was April 2005, and I had lately wondered whether I had been perhaps a touch unfair in not being 100% totally thrilled with the new Russell T. Davies series of Doctor Who. Then I watched Vengeance on Varos, and realised I had.

The TARDIS runs out of power, stranding the Doctor and Peri inside for what seems like a week, most of which for some reason appears on screen - in scene after scene crafted solely to show Philip Martin can't write dialogue. Finding a small amount of spare back-up energy in an old broom cupboard, the dynamic duo head to Varos, there to refresh their supply of the extremely rare TARDIS-powering element zeiton-7. It transpires that the Varons are selling their extremely rare zeiton-7 extremely cheaply to a nasty, exploitative galactic mining company; which suggests that when Martin heads back to school to study scriptwriting, he should also brush up on the supply-and-demand theory of economics.

Various hi-jinks follow, in an attempt to make some sort of allegorical point about the modern obsession with violent, badly made TV - wherein the Who production team don't so much throw stones in their glass house, as bring in a dozen sopranos to test its resonant frequency.

Much has been made of how poor old Colin Baker was doing his best with some of the worst scripts and production in Doctor Who history. I agree with the second part. In C. Baker, we finally had a lead every bit as rubbish as the supporting actors around him - which is not to say those minor players were going to make that achievement easy. All they had to do was act wooden and hammy, and they couldn't even get that right. Lines are bawled as though the boom mic is in another room, and the entire 90 minutes features more missed cues than a pool hall playing host to a kleptomaniacs' convention.

Much has also been made of the predictive power of Vengeance on Varos (one of reality TV's biggest sins has been in turning every 20-something nerd with a computer and a keen eye for the obvious into a cultural studies expert). But what, exactly, did it predict? That people will watch any old crap you stick on TV? John Nathan-Turner and co only had to wait another four stories to find out.

A Review by Finn Clark 29/6/06

I love Vengeance on Varos more every time I watch it. It might even be my favourite Saward era story, which is saying a lot given that I'm a Davison fan. It never stops getting more topical. If there's a more savage parody of reality TV, I'm not sure I want to see it... yet this was broadcast decades before the term was invented.

Satire by itself is overrated, though. Vengeance on Varos also has the fine old-fashioned virtue of the Doctor defeating complete and utter bastards. I mean, really. These guys are slime. Varos might be the most loathsome planet in all of Doctor Who. "The recording of their final agonies will sell on every civilised world"... er, actually, I think you mean NO civilised world. This Doctor may be startlingly ruthless (acid baths, laser disintegration, death by vine), but you have no sympathy whatsoever for his enemies. Whatever happened to them, they'd deserve it.

I don't even mind the Doctor's long-delayed arrival. I watched the unbelievable horrors of Varos unfolding, until the long-awaited materialisation sound sent just one thought through my head. "You're so gonna get your arses kicked." I can't imagine any other Doctor in this story, incidentally. Personally I believe that Michael Grade wouldn't have cancelled the show had Peter Davison stayed for Season 22, but Colin Baker's badass attitude and morbid flippancy was perfect for Varos. His larger-than-life theatricality gave us the necessary distance. Davison made Resurrection and Androzani hurt.

Philip Martin's recent Big Finish audio wasn't well received, but for me he's the only writer who got the Colin Baker era right. Eric Saward may have penned Revelation of the Daleks, but he oversaw some dreadful rubbish. For me, Colin Baker's era doesn't work when it's lightweight. Vengeance on Varos and Mindwarp provide the right backdrops for this darkly flippant Doctor, with horror so overwhelming that bad-taste humour becomes the only possible response. Against lesser opposition, he looks like a bully.

Incidentally Colin and Nicola do reasonable work with the least sympathetic regulars in the televised show. Look at all that filler as the TARDIS runs out of Zeiton-7. The first scene's a bit boring, but after that I was surprised by their watchability. Mindwarp was a step backward. (The less said the better about Mission to Magnus.) Nevertheless Sil's just one of a magnificent parade of grotesques. Take Quillam. He only gets a cameo in part one, but even there he's memorable with his mask and his sadism. Then there's his horrifying final speech: "until I'm deaf with pleasure" etc. Never has anyone more richly earned their agonising death by poison vines.

However there's more to the cast than horrors. Etta and Arak are the story's self-aware commentary on itself, which turned out fantastic but could have been unspeakable. They provide the perfect ending too. No one could think that the political situation on Varos wasn't improved by the Doctor's intervention, but even so we get a new perspective courtesy of Etta and Arak. "We're free." "What shall we do?" "Dunno." Then there's Martin Jarvis's Governor, the story's one sympathetic character. Jondar and Areta are too bland to be interesting, but I love the Governor. Carefully underplayed by Martin Jarvis, you feel for him even as he does the most terrible things. He orders executions for reasons of blatant self-preservation, he manipulates Peri and in his own way he plays the system... but he's basically a good man doing his best under impossible circumstances.

In terms of Whoniverse history, yet again we have a suggestion that the 22nd and 23rd centuries were a bad time for Earth colonies. After the Daleks invaded in 2157, it seems that everything went to pot. Tara's a mild example. There's Varos, Terra Alpha...

I most admire the production's conviction. It's not frightened of being gross, such as with its acid baths, cannibalism, etc. What's more, for once not pulling its punches was thematically important. It's pointless trying to do tame parody. What's more, the show's aware that it's a violent TV show about violent TV shows. Take the part one cliffhanger. You never believe for a moment that the Doctor's actually dead, but it's a perfect summation of the previous 45 minutes. "And cut it now." Other Doctor Who stories had taken sideswipes at television (e.g. Carnival of Monsters) but Vengeance on Varos was the first of what eventually became a mini-genre. Since then we've seen Time of Your Life, Prime Time, SynthespiansTM, Bad Wolf and probably more that I'm forgetting. However for me Vengeance on Varos isn't just the father of the genre, but still the best of them.

What's wrong with Vengeance on Varos by Thomas Cookson 1/3/07

It was around this time last year, having had my interest in Doctor Who revitalised by the new series, that I started taking a curious look at some of the Colin Baker stories that I hadn't yet seen. I had seen Trial of a Time Lord, Attack of the Cybermen and Revelation of the Daleks (I had also tried watching The Twin Dilemma but I gave up after the first episode of it). At the time, Vengeance on Varos and The Two Doctors were available to hire on DVD from my local library so I snapped them up and gave them a look.

I've got to say I found The Two Doctors to be the more entertaining and satisfying one.

That was a surprise to me, since many people had described Vengeance on Varos as one of Colin's best stories and I'd usually found that fan consensus was rarely wrong. But somehow Varos just seemed a bit thin and malnourishing.

I then read some of the reviews here, trying to feel for the right opinion or to see what I might have missed out on. I found I wasn't the only one who found Varos unsatisfying and I nodded my head quite a lot at Mike Morris' review. But then I looked as Steve Cassidy's review and found myself swayed to giving it another chance, so I went back to the library and loaned it again.

The impact was much the same, complete washout.

So why is it held in such high regard?

Vengeance on Varos was intended as a dark satire on the state of video nasties and is today held as an allegory for the potentially nasty direction of Reality TV which is seeming more and more likely to become a charnell house each time a more depraved and sadistic pitch is put forward and each time the predatory practices of Big Brother housemate selection are exposed (i.e. specially selecting the people who are most likely to crack, for the sake of dramatic television). In a way, given my rant in my Fifth Doctor review about the macho direction of the Sixth Doctor era, this story makes me feel like it's actually taking a stand against the violent trash of 80's cinema, rather than paying lip service to it.

The best moment of it is when Jondar is being tortured and we overhear the viewers at home passing comment so casually like it was any TV program, and remarks like "that was a repeat" really bring home the desensitisation of it all. Stephen King's The Running Man might have been the inspiration, but the blend of naturalism and banality make it far more realistic and believable in its prophetic message. Unfortunately the problem for me is that this great moment is the story's opening scene and from there on it's just a plotless runaround. In terms of critical satire, the story only does what it says on the tin and nothing more. Maybe it was potent stuff for its time that didn't need anything more, but watching it today I'm left feeling very malnourished by it.

I think the recent Bad Wolf is a perfect comparison, as it homages similar material to Varos but seems to share none of its convictions in its message. Russell was merely homaging an old dyustopian science-fiction gimmick and used current Reality TV shows as a means of popularising it to the masses. To appeal equally to people who thought it would be a well deserved attack on Reality TV and to people who are fans of the Reality TV shows and would like to see it homaged. It wasn't written with any integrity at all, it was just meant to suck the viewers in.

Russell had no intention of suggesting his dystopian vision of the future should be taken seriously. He has said in interviews "I despise people who despise Reality TV". And yet despite which, I think the episode Bad Wolf actually surpasses its writer's intentions and becomes something very relevant and with outreaching importance, even though it wasn't supposed to be. I almost feel that it's great by accident and has a life and philosophy of its own and that even Russell's own interpretation of what he's written is no more worthy than anyone elses. Compared to which, Vengeance on Varos has convictions in its message, but little else beyond that.

It should have struck some kind of nerve with me when I saw it, given that at the time I was in financial difficulties and very stressed out about it, and the economic politics of the story and angle of worker's exploitation (in many ways very pertinent to Thatcher's Britain) should have pleased me no end. Somehow it still didn't linger with me much. Maybe I'd expected too much from Vengeance on Varos; indeed, I actually watched some of the deleted scenes with extra bits of politics in them and felt that the story would have been stronger with them. Maybe I'd listened to Jubilee too many times and become used to the idea of Doctor Who being a high density layer cake of themes (I think that's also what made me turn my nose up at World War Three and The Long Game, because they seemed so trite and below par by comparison) and had forgotten to backtrack to a time when stories like Snakedance were an exception to the rule and usually a Doctor Who story's themes weren't as densely packed or sophisticated as they are now. Maybe Varos's angle was basic but new and maybe that was enough back in the day when we weren't all so 'knowing'.

But no, I think ultimately the problem is that I don't feel a sense of cohesion about the story. Ironically this feels like it could be a tighter and more powerful story if the Doctor and Peri were never in it, because for the most part all the leads do is sulk in the void when the TARDIS breaks down, bitch at each other, then they come to Varos and the Doctor kills a few people and goes running round aimlessly for pretty much the whole length of the story.

Every time I read a review on Vengeance on Varos describing how long stretches of the action could have been cut out without affecting the story one iota, I nod my head at just how right they are. I'm normally one to go on the defence when a story is charged with being padded. I'll often point out that in 'padded' stories such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The War Games and Genesis of the Daleks that the incidental challenges are important for setting the scene, and establishing the all-encompassing danger and characterising the Doctor's determination, courage and resourcefulness, and that the divergent bits are important for expanding the story's setting and landscape. I even defended the landmine scene in Genesis of the Daleks as having some thematic and metaphoric weight about the lasting legacy of mechanical warfare. But the fact is that none of this can be applied to Vengeance on Varos as every single bit of the padding is expendable and irredeemable.

Peri is actually put to a bit of good use when she is able to appeal to the good nature of the Governor, becoming in a way an inspiration and a medium for his redemption. I think at this point, Peri was still a fairly likeable character; though as the season went on it gradually became harder to take her seriously as she became more of a damsel in distress, and a particularly obnoxious and whining one to boot.

I think Andrew Cartmel said it best in his book Through Time when he said that the story would have been better without the immobilised TARDIS, and if the Doctor had gone to Varos deliberately in order to take out the scum. For one thing it would have spared us a truly awful scene where the Doctor gets into such a huff about being stranded mid-flight that he sits in the corner sulking and is brutally dismissive of Peri's pleas for help. It is a sad fact that the Sixth Doctor rarely came off as anything but a jerk, but that's down to poor writing and, dare I say it, Colin Baker's pedestrian performance. In this scene Colin is particularly bad as he does sulking by numbers almost as if he were just a huffing, attention-seeking child. There's no gravitas to it. No hint at the inner workings of a defeated mind facing an eternity of imprisonment and it communicates no sense at all that this is anything serious since he's playing it as a bad farce. Of course, the Doctor is the main bone of contention with this episode, with quite a lot of people pointing out what a jerk he was in this scene as well as the amount of people on Varos he ends up killing.

Of course there are plenty of defenders of the Sixth Doctor, most significantly and eloquently Steve Scott, Rob Matthews and Joe Ford. Most of these defences point to how Colin was meant to be a homage to the old 'dark' Doctors of Hartnell and Troughton. But the writers seriously missed the point there. The reason why Troughton's dark Doctor worked and Colin Baker's Doctor didn't is because Troughton carried with him the kind of noble propaganda that rallied him to our side against those scum-breeding corners of the universe that he spoke about, whilst Colin Baker's violence and unpleasantness was superficial and came out of the blue. Troughton was always missionary and always a brilliant propagandist. Everyone remembers his "there are some corners of the universe" speech, but his era is peppered by such missionary dialogue, right down to his last story, The War Games where he gives that speech to the Time Lords about "all these evils I have fought". In Power of the Daleks, Troughton's actions are as psychotic as Colin's in Vengeance on Varos, but Troughton spends the quieter scenes of that story musing on his memories of the 'misery' and 'destruction' caused by the Dalek empire.

By contrast, Colin Baker has a self-involved moan about being stuck in the TARDIS, is horrible to Peri and then when he lands on Varos he begins playing the terrorist. And there's the world of contrast, because whilst Troughton comes off as a missionary crusader when he uses violent tactics, Colin Baker comes off as a bored teenager who destroys people and things at random because he likes showing off and has nothing better to do with his time. Similarly, his taunting of Peri over the Persian origin of her name in The Twin Dilemma comes off less like a delusional, confused man and more as a little bully trying to sound as nasty as possible.

And Hartnell? Well he wouldn't just have a go at his companions for the hell of it, he'd have his reasons. A part of us understands why he was so affronted and why he reacted so violently to Ian and Barbara's intrusion into his home. In The Dalek Master Plan, his warning that he'll kick Steven out of the TARDIS if he disobeys him again belies the Doctor's concern for Steven's safety given that Steven took such an enormous risk. Comparing this to the Sixth Doctor's tendency to belittle Peri for her weight or her squeamishness on the battlefield of Titan Three, or other immature reasons, is a chastening experience. There really is no reason for the Doctor to be so horrible to Peri in the TARDIS scenes of this story. Besides, I don't like the idea of regressing the Doctor, given all the years of the development of the character.

On the other hand, Finn Clark's review reminds us of something we've forgotten about those who are on the receiving end of the Doctor's violence once he lands on Varos (one of my favourite bits of his review actually, and I'm also fond of the "until I'm deaf with pleasure" line).

"Vengeance on Varos also has the fine old-fashioned virtue of the Doctor defeating complete and utter bastards. I mean, really. These guys are slime. Varos might be the most loathsome planet in all of Doctor Who... This Doctor may be startlingly ruthless (acid baths, laser disintegration, death by vine), but you have no sympathy whatsoever for his enemies. Whatever happened to them, they'd deserve it."
In many ways I don't even find the violence of Vengeance on Varos that shocking. In fact, to me the most uncomfortable moment is when Peri gets smacked by one of the particularly mean guards. The rest of the horrors just seem a bit tame, or worse, leave me feeling that the dead characters were ciphers anyway. But the first kill made by the Doctor, where he rigs up the laser to evade pursuit, is a problematic moment; firstly because, as has been highlighted before, the Doctor has only just arrived and hasn't made an effort to understand what's going on. I think it's also the terrible ambiguousness of the moment, which is really down to sloppy writing. Fans can speculate that maybe the Doctor only intended it to be a deterrent to his pursuers, but by sloppy writing one of the guards is blind to the laser ray and is stupid enough to run right into it, thereby implicating the Doctor. It also seems out of character for the Doctor to alter the laser setting to disintegrate, which suggests that the writers just as easily might have overlooked the continuity of the scene and forgot that the laser was originally set to wound. It's similar to the ridiculous flippancy of having the Doctor causing two guards to die an agonising death in an acid bath... by, erm... accident. So the story doesn't confirm or deny the Doctor's homicidal intentions but leaves worryingly vague implications with no justification either way, and I'd say that that vagueness and unsure-ness is what makes the violent scenes and the Doctor's part in them so lingeringly uncomfortable. Indeed I suppose the violent death that I'm most at ease with is the poison vines, and that's because it actually goes straight for the jugular.

That to me is what is wrong with the story's violence; it happens thoughtlessly and fecklessly without any consideration at all.

Because of the lack of cohesion about the story, the Doctor doesn't feel like an intimate part of the morality play that Vengeance on Varos so badly wants to be. Really, Vengeance on Varos only aspires to its ambitions in fits and starts, such as the moment where the Governor is in his death chair, struggling to give his inciting speech, trying to get the words out while he is being tortured (nicely juxtaposed with the scene of the viewers at home, showing us the petty side of democracy and the people's vote). Compared to which, the Doctor can't really inspire any outrage when he gives that speech on the gallows. I used to think that was a good and powerful speech but it is entirely countermanded by the fact that throughout the story the Doctor seems to have failed to take any of the events seriously. His sulking in the TARDIS is done so pathetically that it seems to just be for comical effect. Likewise his James Bond quip "You'll forgive me if I don't join you" pours further salt in the wound as he doesn't seem to take the horrors of Varos seriously. In fact, I sometimes think that line could have been better if there was genuine contempt in it, rather than apathy, if it was delivered like 'you fascist scumbags deserved worse', it would have given the Doctor some sense of moral outrage that would have made the Doctor's violence and shady streak count for something, to give some kind of heat to it rather than cold bloodedness. But he just seems so apathetic, therefore his speech falls on deaf ears.

And as for the conclusion, well it is pretty poor as the whole dilemma just gets quite literally 'cancelled'. I know we Doctor Who fans are supposed to often use our imagination and see the greater universe beyond what the sets show us, but to imagine an invasion fleet that comes and goes on a whim or the mood of the whole population changing overnight just because of the Doctor's little speech is asking too much of our capacity to take the bigger picture for granted. And I still don't get that last goodbye scene with the panicking Sil. What the hell is his hysterics all about?

Maybe if would have been better to just take it that the Doctor had saved the day by betraying all his principles and killing a dictator. If this story actually was clear in its convictions, if the violence was direct enough to say that the situation of Varos actually does call for someone to assassinate the tyrants and to hell with the Doctor's usual approach of dialogue or understanding with the enemy, then I think it could have worked. Just like The Seeds of Death, where the Doctor annihilates an army of Ice Warriors and then justifies himself to their leader by simply saying "you tried to destroy an entire world".

As it is, Vengeance starts with a strong opening but it just deflates as it goes along. For some fans it may have some chilling staying-power, but to me it just doesn't stand up to repeated viewings at all.

Not Just Vengeance on Violence by Luke Hewitt 5/3/12

Vengeance on Varos has always been one of my favourite Doctor Who adventures, and was certainly one which made a major impact on me right from when I first watched it at the age of 12 or so. A friend of mine had previously lent me Trial of a Time Lord on video, and I was eager to see the sixth Doctor's first meeting with Sil. This short, two-part adventure, which I essentially just watched for background, stuck in my mind just as much as the longer 14 episode epic. Yes, I was shocked and disturbed by the general fear and grimness of the environment, but, more than that, I found myself speculating about planet Varos and its people, wondering about its history and situation, and just whether my dull, TV-watching, less-than-bright next-door neighbour would really be an Arak in similar circumstances. I was therefore not only disappointed by the less-than-warm reception the story has had from some reviews, but also the fact that others have focused only on the TV-violence aspect of the story and dismissed the rest of the plot as mindless running around corridors or disconnected events.

While undoubtedly violence is a major theme of the story, it's certainly not the only thing Varos has going for it, and so here I hope to bring to light some of the richness and complexities of the world Eric Saward and Philip Martin have created, along with the truly diverse array of characters we're introduced to there.

Let's start with the setting, Planet Varos. The first thing we learn is that they have a valuable natural resource in the form of a unique and precious mineral ore necessary to the running of the TARDIS, and presumably of lots of other space or time vessels (a fact the Doctor confirms later). Of course, almost inevitably in the Doctor's adventures, whenever a planet is made out to be a prosperous paradise, there's going to be something wrong, be that a corrupt dictator, a slave race, human sacrifice, an invasion of daleks or whatever.

So we initially may expect something like The Sunmakers or The Savages, in which the Doctor will heroically step in to save the poor downtrodden masses, an idea enhanced when we see the victim of laserization at the very start of the episode, since surely someone enduring such punishment must be on the side of right.

Unfortunately, when we actually meet the poor downtrodden masses in the form of Arak and Etta, we have to wonder if they're worth saving! Bloodthirsty, emotionally numb, greedy, self-centred and suspicious, yet at the same time seemingly as exploited and overworked as any of the victims of oppression the Doctor has ever saved.

We are then introduced to the officer elite, a bunch of uniformed, cold-faced torture technicians. Ah, the situation is clearer, these KGB rejects are the real villains here, and the ones the Doctor will doubtlessly do away with in a cunning and witty manner!

But then we find that this so called precious Zeitan-7 ore is actually being bought at a pittance by a creature with the morals - and not a little of the appearance - of a toad. Also, we find that the Governor himself, seemingly one of those execution camera men, is actually trying to do his best for the people of his planet against overwhelming odds, a decision which we learn is going to cost him dearly, and one which the very miners and workers he's trying to help neither understand nor sympathize with.

Already we've received a huge amount to think about, and the Doctor and Peri are still in the TARDIS trying to cope with the broken console and the Doctor's rather comical if understandable gloom, which also serve as some light relief for the pace of the story.

Later, we learn still more about Varos, that the planet was originally an installation for the criminally insane, which has now passed into the hands of the descendents of guards and inmates alike. As so often with a good Doctor Who story, this brief glimpse into the history and culture of this world is tantalizing, leaving us with questions and ideas aplenty.

Was the system always so brutal? Did it once serve a better purpose, was it in fact the guards or the inmates who were responsible for the punishment dome, and how was the prison abandoned by its original builders?

Does the governor's voting and death hark back to old days of temporary governors taking over as part of a longer career while guards and officers stayed on? Did Sil's company see an opportunity in this isolated world with its rich resource, or was the colony always used as slave labour to mine Zeitan-7? Indeed, is the rise in value of Zeitan-7 just a recent thing at all?

We will likely never receive answers to these questions, but it's the very fact that we can ask them at all which truly shows the depth and complexity of this world we so briefly visit.

Take The Sunmakers as a contrast. Earth goes boom, people move to Pluto, evil company in charge of Pluto screwing people for prophet. There is little ambiguity or mystery here, and while a nice story of heroic world-saving, there's really very little left unanswered.

There would be no point in Big Finish or one of the novels revisiting the world of The Sunmakers as far as learning more about the situation and world goes. However, I'd jump at the chance to visit Varos again, and perhaps learn just what went so wrong.

Now, let's consider characters. While it has a few straight-laced heroes or villains such as Sil, Areta and Jondar, as I've indicated, Varos is full of ambiguous people who rock our expectations intensely. At the top of the list of course is the Governor, very ably acted by Martin Jarvis. Cold, emotionally distant and seemingly immune to the suffering of others, yet at the same time bound to die for his people's good even when those people don't recognize it. He can be manipulative, threatening or bold as the situation dictates, and is one of the best portraits of someone who might have been a good man in other circumstances trying to do his best even as his own aims and the situation around him twists him to immoral actions, all the time becoming slightly less human, as Peri says.

Martin Jarvis' character Rochester in Jubilee is clearly inspired by the governor, and is almost a look at what would've happened had the governor been more emotional and less caring.

Then, we have the chief, a worryingly believable sort of villain. No master plans, no doomsday weapons, just a dour man who knows the system inside out, insists on every rule and sees that protocol is always followed all while cooking the books for his own benefit. Men like that have stood beside every dictator in history, and are usually the first to run when the balloon goes up. Certainly not a familiar sort of villain in Doctor Who, where evil usually wears a far more colourful face.

It's easy to write a story with an obsessed, psychotic caricature villain, but to write a villain who is simply someone who follows the rules for his own benefit is far harder, and something I give the writers great credit for. From a storytelling perspective, the chief also contrasts wonderfully with the far less realistic, but highly watchable and comically villainous character of Sil.

Indeed, though one of the most straightforward characters in the story, Sil is definitely worth a mention here just for being so completely awesome! An alien with a one-track mind, and a cold, slimy reptilian exterior that mirrors his inner motivations pretty exactly. This story also featured my favourite Sil characteristic, which was missed in later appearances: his malfunctioning translator, which gave him almost Yoda-like mangled speech and contributed markedly to both his comedy and his menace.

Then we have Quillam, a cheerful, even pleasant psychopath who does not so much enjoy others pain as simply take pride in his work. It is this breezy facade the Doctor shatters when he removes Quillam's mask, hinting again to some hidden factors in the characters' past which we do not know.

Then of course, we have Arak And Etta, representatives of the general overworked population the Doctor will eventually save. Seeing them, with all their faults puts the Doctor's and especially the Governor's efforts into an entirely new light.

When watching the Doctor battle oppression, we assume the people the Doctor saves are always the good and virtuous, the innocent victims. However, Arak and Etta aren't innocent. Suspicious of each other, afraid and spending most of their energy on enjoying the spectacle of others' pain, are they truly only the products of their overworked, underfed circumstances? Will they indeed be any better once they are free (a tantalizing question which again we're left to ponder) at the end of the story?

This look at the human failings of those the Doctor saves is very disturbing to us. We want the Doctor to be a hero, and rescue grateful and good people. But of course, real people aren't like that. Some are good, some bad, and often times of hardship can produce apathy, mistrust or even cruelty and sadism rather than a grand community spirit and love for one's fellow sufferers.

Were any of the Thal's on Scaro so unpleasant? Was there a closet sadist on The Moonbase? Of course we don't know, but Arak and Etta do make us wonder.

Sadly, the other notable characters, Jondar and Areta are far less convincing, and to my mind the weakest in the story, simply a generic heroic male from some unspecified resistance, and his rather pathetic, weepy-eyed lady. I would personally have much preferred to see a fanatical resistance leader who bombed mine passages and killed for the cause, but there probably wouldn't have been time for such development in a short 90 minute story. Still, Jondar and Areta stick out so much from the rest of the Varosians, that I found it hard to believe they were even from the same planet.

Despite this, one or two weaker characters shouldn't spoil the overall achievement of the characterization here; heck even Maldak the guard is more than a generic grunt.

Finally, since it is a major point, lets address the question of violence on Varos. The plot device of TV violence being the opium of the masses is in no way a new one . Ray Bradbury included it in the original Fahrenheit 451 written in 1953, and it probably dates back even further to the bear-baiting of the middle ages or the gladiatorial combat of Rome.

So, admitting that it is not perhaps a new and revolutionary idea on its own, the question is whether Vengeance on Varos brings anything new to the table. The answer here I think is a firm yes!

It would've been easy to write a story about a deadly series of game shows. Dodge spinning blades for cash, jump crocodile pits for money, and avoid random lasers to win fabulous prizes (such was the premise of Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways after all, and there it wasn't even the mainstay of the plot).

The way the story handles violence and executions is far more subtle. Most of the punishment dome involves imaginary monsters, hidden traps and virtual-reality rooms that play with the mind. This is not only a deadly game, but an entire warping of reality into a fantastic world that exists only to kill in a spectacular and novel way.

This change in the status of reality is completely unique, especially since it is neither a game nor a film, but an execution. Almost as if the maniacs of Varos have drawn people into their own fevered dreams, just to gain satisfaction from seeing how the deadly reality disposes of them.

Usually, when we see the old violent game-show setup as in The Running Man, we can simply say like Rose Tyler that the audience is just sick, a culture of sadism far removed from ours. The punishment dome, however, offers us something far more worrying to consider. After all, haven't we all started watching a fantastic program about a man who travels to alien worlds in a blue box? Don't we all get something of a thrill at those cliffhanger moments?

Thus, the question posed by the violence on Varos is a far more complex one than merely "What if we killed people on live TV?" What if we gave full scope to that part of our own love of excitement in stories, our own desire to see heroes in danger. This thought is far more close to home, and far more disturbing to us, still more if we are more than casual observers of that world; after all, isn't Etta, with her preferences for certain characters and discussion of likes and dislikes of broadcast, just as much a Punishment dome fan as others are fans of Doctor Who, Star Trek, or any consistent presentation of unreality and dramatic danger?

Of course, this theme isn't perfect throughout. The so-called Final Route, where we might have expected some clever illusion or even more complete alteration of reality is frankly disappointing in its lack of subtlety and execution. After all, poisonous plants are hardly new in Doctor Who, and indeed had Varos been a longer story (as I fervently wish it had), I'm sure the writers could've come up with something much more fitting.

So here we have Varos, a world with a tantalizing history which we see very little of, where violence and drama are twisted together, and with inhabitants who range from innocent victims with a taste for sadistic unreality to a dictator with a sense of ethics, and not to mention the most literal example of a slimy businessman imaginable!

of course, setting and history aside, this is not a perfect story. It does of course have its share of negatives, some of which I've mentioned: the not-so-memorable jondar and Aretta, and the less than stellar final puzzle of the Punishment Dome, while other bad points such as the controversial behaviour of the Doctor himself and Peris lapse into what can only be called damsel-ism have already been amply discussed in other reviews. Whatever the status of these negative points though, they still can't take away from the fact that there is a huge amount of good stuff packed into those 90 or so minutes of classic Who.

This is another reason I'd really love to see the Doctor visit Varos again, since stepping back into the punishment dome will remind people of just how complex and intricate a world this story created, as well as let us see more of that world. This to me is the essence of Doctor Who, briefly visiting some distant spot in time or space, seeing enough to be satisfied and intrigued, but always wishing you could stay longer and learn more.

Planet Varos is one of the finest examples of these brief glimpses of a truly complex and alien place, populated by a range of characters who are (mostly), never as simple on the surface as they appear, and whatever other negative points the story has, I hope people will still remember that achievement.