Vengeance on Varos
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos

Author Philip Martin Cover image
Published 1988
ISBN 0 426 20291 0
First Edition Cover David McAllister

Back cover blurb: The TARDIS has stalled in mid-flight, and it is only on the planet Varos that the Doctor can find the precious Zeiton-7 ore he needs to continue his travels through time and space. Arriving on the planet, he saves the rebel Jondar from execution, and incurs the wrath of Sil, the sadistic representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation on Varos. The hunt is on for the Doctor and his rebel friends. And as they are pursued through the corridors of the deadly Punishment Dome, the Doctor discovers that the people of Varos have some very disturbing ideas of entertainment...


The Punishment Dome by Andrew Feryok 29/3/14

Peri's plaintive voice called over: "Doctor, I'm sorry. I've tried everything but they won't believe the truth!"
"Truth is a flexible commodity on Varos, Peri!"
- Peri watching the Doctor being led to the gallows, Vengeance on Varos, Page 90, Chapter 11

If there is one story that the Colin Baker era will always be remembered for, it will be Vengeance on Varos. It is quite possibly one of the most innovative and thoughtful stories of the mid-1980s at a time when most stories where just mindless runarounds and nostalgia for the fans.

This one was breaking new ground and this was felt from the moment it aired on TV. John Nathan Turner even lists it as his favorite Sixth Doctor story in his book The TARDIS Inside Out before the era was even done!

Philip Martin was definitely one of the unsung new authors of the mid-1980s with his later story Mindwarp being the only story to truly get the whole Trial arc to actually work in a dramatic fashion.

In fact, John Nathan Turner made sure that, even as Martin's story Mission to Magnus was thrown out as Season 23 was completely reworked, he was still kept on. Philip Martin's authorial prowess is greatly apparent in this book adaptation of Vengeance on Varos. The novelization is fast-paced, exciting and presents a nightmarish Varos in all its ugliness.

The story was not without its controversy, especially in its depiction of violence and its characterization of the Doctor, and it's interesting to see how Philip Martin tackles these issues in his book. For instance, the sequence where the Doctor famously sends two technicians to their deaths in pools of acid is now rewritten where it is definitely made clear they intend to kill the Doctor and they end up killing themselves through their own clumsy blundering attempts to kill him. The same at the end of the book where on TV the Doctor appears to set a deadly trap for Quillam and the Chief Officer with the vines, while in the book they simply try to drive their kart into the vines and get stung in their over eagerness to kill our heroes.

Martin tones down the Doctor's brusqueness in the book to make him more of the traditional hero we love and adore. On TV, you could easily say that this story was really where Colin Baker came into the role of the Doctor and I think Martin's writing has something to do with it since he really understands how the Sixth Doctor works, especially with his companion Peri. Peri really improves in Martin's book and actually shows some spunk in trying to help the people of Varos. When the Governor gives his final plea to the people of Varos, she stands by his side and pipes in with their own arguments. She too tries to persuade Maldek to save their lives, and at the end of the story, she shows a rage towards the ruling elite for what they have done to their people, especially when she discovers that the fabled exit to the dome actually empties you out onto the airless surface of Varos in a neat addition to the story! Her interest in botany also comes to the fore as she examines the deadly poison vines at the end and the Doctor speaks with lots of scientific jargon about plants which she easily converses over. The Governor even offers her an opportunity to stay with them and help set up their new government which she ends up turning down.

Sil is just as despicable as he was on TV and just as much fun to read! I like that Martin works in continuity from his later story Mindwarp with lots of mentions of Lord Kiv and Thoros Beta. In fact, the book makes it much more clear what Sil's role in the story is since he appears on TV to just be a token monster for shock effect and to provide the necessary "invasion" plot for the lame finale of the story.

Now, the battle over the price of Zeiton ore between Sil and the Governor is made the central core struggle of the story and the invasion which Sil summons is constantly looming over the stories' proceedings. And its dissolving isn't a throw-away deux ex machina that it was on TV. Instead, the Governor goes over Sil's head and negotiates a price increase on Zeiton with Lord Kiv, thus putting Sil in hot water since the Governor has embarrassed their company.

I also like how Martin decided to eliminate Quillam's early scenes in the story so as to build up Quillam's menace. Like Sil, Quillam appears to be an extra character provided merely for shock value and a throwback to the "Phantom of the Opera" character like the recent Sharaz Jek in The Caves of Androzani. Instead, the very mention of Quillam's name makes people like the Governor and the Chief Officer quiver with fear. Quillam is revealed to be the architect of the Punishment Dome games and a bit of a cult figure. We also learn that Quillam desperately wants to be Governor, but the only thing that stops him is the fear of the lethal voting from the people.

Some other cool additions include the elimination of those stupid go-karts in favor of monorail cars that travel on tracks around the Punishment Dome. And, at the end of the book, instead of confronting two silly old men in diapers, the Doctor, Jondar and Aretta are pursued by a giant mob of cannibals who force them towards the deadly vine jungle. We also learn the gruesome background of the cannibals: they are the discarded offspring of the prisoners left to die in the Punishment Dome. With no human upbringing or civilization, they became scavenging, cannibalistic animals.

The list goes on and this is without a doubt easily one of the Sixth Doctor's strongest books and well worth seeking out and enjoying. If you loved the TV story, this will expand that story enormously in greater detail. If you hated the TV story, this may change your mind, iron out problems with the story and help you understand its underlining messages and themes. Definitely not to be missed and I can't wait to see Martin's treatment of Mindwarp!