‘VENGEANCE ON VAROS’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Sil on Varos with the Sixth Doctor and Peri
For Stephen, my best mate from school
Colin Baker: “One of my best! You will love it! Many say it’s a classic…Great news, though! This one has extra features! Even more of me!”
So, now it’s time to talk about ‘Vengeance’!
Batman: “I’m vengeance!”
No, not him! I’m of course talking about ‘Vengeance on Varos’, the second TV story in Season 22 of ‘Doctor Who’ with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri. It’s a two-part 45-minute episode story by Philip Martin, who provides his first contribution to the ‘Doctor Who’ series.
At the time of writing of ‘Varos’, Philip Martin was an established writer, having written scripts for ‘Gangsters’, a crime-drama series from 1976 to 1978. He would go on to write a couple of episodes of ‘Star Cops’ as well as episodes of ‘Hetty Wainthropp Investigates’. He’s also penned more ‘Doctor Who’s.
That’s for both the TV series and the Big Finish audios. Philip would later write the ‘Mindwarp’ segment of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ in the TV series. He would also write quite a number of Big Finish audios, including ‘Mission to Magnus’, ‘Antidote to Oblivion’ and ‘The Creed of the Kromon’. 🙂
He also wrote the direct-to-DVD story ‘Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor’ for Reeltime Pictures. Philip Martin is arguably well-known for creating the character of Sil, the villainous slug-like alien, played by Nabil Shaban, who became popular with the ‘Doctor Who’ fans as well as the production team. 🙂
When I first purchased ‘Vengeance on Varos’, it was on its original 2001 1-disc DVD release. I would later purchase the 2-disc Special Edition DVD release of ‘Vengeance on Varos’ in 2012 whilst I was on holiday in Scotland. The 2-disc Special Edition DVD release is superior than the 1-disc DVD release. 🙂
Originally, the 1-disc DVD release of ‘Vengeance on Varos’ had very limited special features. The story’s picture and sound quality also wasn’t that good on the 1-disc DVD edition as opposed to the 2-disc Special Edition DVD. I’m glad the story was revisited on DVD to make it feel better than it was.
There were also some new special features to enjoy on the 2-disc Special Edition DVD. This included a making-of documentary with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. For me, the highlight of the 2-disc Special Edition ‘Varos’ DVD was ‘Tomorrow’s Times: The Sixth Doctor’ with Sarah Sutton. 🙂
Now the story has been re-released in the Season 22 Blu-ray box set of ‘Doctor Who’ and there are two versions to enjoy. There’s the standard two-part story that was released on TV and there’s the extended version of the two-part story, exclusively made for Blu-ray, including some deleted scenes.
For this updated review, I’ve checked out the extended version of ‘Vengeance on Varos’. I greatly enjoyed it. Granted, you have a challenge of ignoring the blocked time codes for the deleted scenes of the story and the picture and sound quality of those scenes isn’t as good as the transmitted footage.
Despite that, I feel I was able to gain more clarity in terms of the development of the story and the characters in the extended version compared to the transmitted version. But there’s still one question that needs to be asked about ‘Varos’, whether it’s on DVD or Blu-ray. Is it nice or is it nasty?
In the story, the Doctor and Peri are travelling in the TARDIS until they stall in space. The Doctor soon becomes depressed, but Peri tries to brighten up the situation by fetching the TARDIS manual. It’s interesting how Peri tries to be hopeful and not give up whilst the Doctor has already given up. 😐
Once an answer is found and a glimmer of life is still in the TARDIS, the duo are soon on their way to the planet Varos. They hope to get a vital mineral ore called Zeiton-7 in order to refuel the TARDIS. I’m not sure if Zeiton-7 has been mentioned before and whether every TARDIS is fuelled by the stuff.
Eventually, when the Doctor and Peri arrive on Varos, they discover that the planet is under the tyrannical reign of video violence. They are soon on the run as well as helping a married couple that are rebelling against the encouragement of video violence getting shown on the TVs of many homes.
Meanwhile, a reluctant Governor of Varos is making a dodgy deal with the grotesque slug-like Sil from the planet Thoros Beta. He also has to survive the votes of those who are watching the live-action violence on TV. Will the Doctor and Peri get to survive their dangerous adventure unscathed?
This classic ‘Doctor Who’ story featuring Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was shown in January 1985. It’s an extraordinarily grim and thrilling adventure, depicting a society that’s pretty violent. There’s reality TV that involves torture. It’s way more violent than the game shows featured in ‘Bad Wolf’. 😐
Varos’ people watch the live-action torture shows for entertainment. It’s sort-of like torture-versions of ‘Big Brother’. I suppose the scenario of people watching these torture shows on an alien planet is reminiscent of people watching public hangings as well as guillotine beheadings from Earth’s history.
The issue that Philip Martin, I guess, was addressing in this story was how violence was affecting the state and the media at that time. It reflects current standards, especially when you see plenty of violence going on in the modern world as well as in the movies, TV shows and video games of today.
‘Varos’ could arguably be considered an anti-violence story. Colin Baker stresses that argument in the ‘Behind the Sofa’ item for ‘Vengeance on Varos’. I suppose that could be fair, especially considering how the Doctor and Peri help out to thwart the system that’s encouraging the violence.
With that said, I don’t feel there’s enough of a balance in the protestations made by the characters such as the Doctor and Peri against the Varos system encouraging the violence in their reality shows on TV. Often, the story can be grim and serious. It doesn’t have enough humour to ease the tension.
Now, I suppose you could argue there are touches of humour here and there, but it’s not the laugh-out-loud jokey humour I would be accustomed to. There are political connotations featured throughout the writing. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel that enjoyable and exciting as I would like it to be.
There are a lot of talky scenes, especially between the Governor and Sil. Sil tries to persuade the Governor to lower the price tag of Zeiton-7 so that he can purchase it. Sometimes, the talky scenes drone a bit. There’s often a lack of action. You would have to wait for that as the episodes progress.
This is probably why I prefer the 45-minute episode format in the new series as opposed to the classic series in Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor. It’s also why I prefer the four-part 25-minute episode structure in most seasons instead of the two-part 45-minute episode structure in Season 22.
The episodes are often pacier under 25 minutes as opposed to 45 minutes in the classic series. The 45-minute lengths in the new series are pacier than the ones in the classic series in Season 22, since there’s more provided in the budget for those episodes and there’s more action scenes happening. 🙂
‘Varos’ received quite a lot of criticism upon its transmission on BBC TV by the general viewing public as well as by BBC executives. Whilst some might miss the point of what ‘Varos’ was trying to get at in terms of its anti-violence statements, there’s no denying there’s plenty of violence to be found here.
In fact, ‘Varos’ is one of the ‘Doctor Who’ stories that motivated BBC1 Controller Michael Grade to cancel the show’s following season and suspend it for 18 months. He makes a point about the story having a hanging scene in it. It’s mentioned in his ‘In Conversation’ interview with Matthew Sweet. 🙂
I think it’s fair that Michael Grade would express concern about that kind of violence shown on screen, even if it was for a brief moment and that Colin Baker’s Doctor and Jason Connery’s Jondar managed to survive. It brings back the argument that I have about there’s needs to be more variety in a ‘Doctor Who’ season.
Doing a violent story first and then a light-hearted adventure afterwards, or vice versa, is fine. Doing a violent story one after the other can be concerning, especially when parents show these ‘Doctor Who’s to their kids. I’m surprised ‘Varos’ wasn’t rated 15 instead of 12 when it got shown on BBC TV.
I know these ‘Doctor Who’ seasons are filled with fantasy elements and balances of grown-up settings and atmospheres, which is fine for the most part, but it’s better to leave your audience assured for the most part. Not to feel grim and unsettled by a story featuring many violent elements.
The supporting guest cast isn’t helped much, as most of them are very bloodthirsty. Apart from the Governor and one or two sympathetic characters, most of the Varos community enjoys seeing their victims, including those rebelling against the system, tortured, making them appear rather sadistic. 😦
‘Varos’ is arguably a story that has more complexities to it, especially in how the planet’s system works. Philip Martin had to work that out on the advisement of script editor Eric Saward for creating a new alien world. But surely there must be variety in how the people act and behave to each other.
As I understand it, Varos was built from a prison colony or something like that. That would make sense if you consider the history-building of Varos’ community, but there’s little evidence to see that after it’s briefly mentioned. I wish more was explored regarding how Varos ended up being that way.
Mind you, with these things said, it doesn’t mean ‘Varos’ is less intriguing. There are some fascinating moments to take away from this story, especially concerning how the actors played their characters and how our heroes find ways to thwart the oppressive society encouraging the violence.
And there’s no doubt that Philip Martin did a bold attempt with writing his first ‘Doctor Who’ story featuring those concepts and the story’s setting. He does well in depicting a society that’s sadistic in its morals and values, as most of Varos’ people can’t see beyond their out-of-control video violence.
This is especially when the TV audiences take the violence casually in their homes and it becomes shocking. It’s like they’re numb to the video violence, as if it’s part of everyday life. Some of the story is very gruesome, especially that acid bath scene. Makes me wonder how they could do that in 1985.
I mean, Jonathan Powell, the then Head of Drama at the BBC, gave the go-ahead for this story to be made, I believe. Clearly, he wasn’t paying attention regarding the story’s violent content. And he was one of the people involved with cancelling ‘Doctor Who’ in 1985. Does that not speak volumes here?
It’s a shame, since ‘Vengeance on Varos’, in hindsight, is quite a gripping and fascinating story to examine when you watch it. If you ignore the disturbing violent content featured in the story, it does well to stress the message about how important it is to oppose the idea of embracing violence in life.
I’ve done the same with my ‘Doctor Who’ stories featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Billy, particularly the ones featuring the Dwaxi like ‘Doom of the Daleks’ and ‘Dawn of the Dwaxi’. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective when you think about it, as you either take the violence or don’t.
Incidentally, I gave a DVD copy of ‘Vengeance on Varos’ to Stephen, my best mate from school, as a Christmas present. I’m very pleased that I did that, since he enjoyed the story very much when we saw it together in the New Year, and he told me that it was one of his favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories.
In fact, Colin Baker might be his favourite Doctor in the TV series, especially from watching him in ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘The Stranger’ series by BBV. Stephen enjoyed the story’s atmosphere and setting, especially with the inclusion of the villainous slug-like Sil and his horrible laugh. I’m glad he liked this.
Colin Baker is brilliant as the Sixth Doctor in this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure. Over the years, I’ve met Colin Baker at ‘Doctor Who’ conventions. It’s been a pleasure to share how much I’ve enjoyed him in his ‘Doctor Who’ stories, both on TV and on audio. I’d like to think he values my positive feedback. 🙂
I have sympathy for Colin Baker in ‘Doctor Who’, since he didn’t get a fair chance to do his stint long enough in the TV series. Colin’s Doctor would gradually grow to mellow and become likeable, compared to the volatile and abrasive Sixth Doctor that would bicker with Peri a lot in the TARDIS. 😐
This is a ‘Doctor Who’ story where Colin’s Doctor can often be not entirely friendly, though he does have concern for Peri when she gets into trouble. Some argue that Colin’s Doctor tended to be violent in the series, but very often, it’s one or two of the guest characters that initiates the violence.
Colin’s Doctor also shows concern for Varos’ condition and is pretty opposed to their violent ways. After the fight the Doctor has with those two men who fell into the acid bath, there’s a moment where he says, “Mind if I don’t join you.” It’s a funny line of dialogue and almost James Bond-like. 😀
I found Nicola Bryant sexy as Peri in this ‘Doctor Who’ story, both glamorous costume and all. It’s easy to argue that the costumes Nicola wore as Peri can be impractical and quite revealing, but if it made youngsters happy with how sexy Peri looked in the TV series, then something must be right. 😀
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Nicola Bryant at ‘Doctor Who’ conventions over the years, including the ‘Time Warp’ convention in Weston-super-Mare, July 2014 with Colin Baker. I enjoyed seeing Nicola at that event, though I was stumped and in awe of her when I first met her, as she’s quite stunning!
I quite enjoyed Peri’s scenes with the Doctor in the TARDIS, even when they seemed to bicker with each other quite a lot, despite still liking each other. There’s an alternate final TARDIS scene between the Doctor and Peri in the extended version of ‘Varos’, which I wish was kept in the story. 🙂
It illustrates how much the Doctor and Peri like each other, especially after all they’ve been through. Also in the story, Peri shows some concern for the Governor when he’s being ‘voted’ to death by his viewing public. Peri also partly transforms into a bird-creature in the story, which was shocking to see.
The story’s villain is of course Nabil Shaban as the slug-like Sil. His species is a Mentor from the planet Thoros-Beta. I greatly enjoyed Nabil’s performance as Sil in ‘Vengeance on Varos’, since he makes him very grotesque, horrible and funny to watch at the same time throughout the TV story. 🙂
It’s interesting to note that Nabil Shaban is a disabled actor in real life. It’s great that he’s able to play a ‘Doctor Who’ monster in this adventure. It must have been a challenge to play Sil, especially with not being able to go to the toilet very much. He’ll always be remembered for that laugh Sil makes.
As said, my best mate Stephen enjoyed Sil in ‘Vengeance on Varos’, especially when he did that guttural laugh. I don’t think anyone else can replicate that laugh Nabil Shaban makes when playing Sil. It’s certainly not done by other actors like Christopher Ryan playing Lord Kiv in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’.
It’s also funny when Sil gets angry, going into an absolute rage once something doesn’t go his way. It’s amazing Sil became a popular ‘Doctor Who’ character and later returned in stories like ‘Mission to Magnus’, ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’, ‘Antidote to Oblivion’ and ‘Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor’. 🙂
The rest of the story’s guest cast are also very good. Martin Jarvis guest stars as the reluctant Governor of Varos. I’ve heard Martin Jarvis as the voice of God in ‘The Word of Promise’s NKJV Audio Bible and he’s read audiobooks of the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ short stories by P.G. Wodehouse. 🙂
I have a collection called ‘Carry On, Jeeves’ read by him. Martin Jarvis has also appeared in a couple of ‘Doctor Who’ stories before this, including ‘The Web Planet’ where he played a Menoptera called Hilio and ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ where he played a scientist called Butler. Quite different roles. 🙂
He’s also played Nigel Rochester in the Big Finish audio ‘Jubilee’ and he played Fitzroy in the ‘Torchwood’ audio ‘The Devil and Miss Carew’. He’s also read the audiobooks of ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ and ‘Vengeance on Varos’. He’s quite a talented actor to perform and read these stories.
Martin Jarvis delivers a splendid performance as the reluctant Governor of Varos. There are times where you can sympathise with his predicament to please the people of Varos as well as express sympathy for the Doctor and Peri. I liked it when he became helpful to them both at the story’s end.
The story also features Forbes Collins as the Chief Officer…of what I’m not exactly sure. The Chief Officer doesn’t even have a name. I don’t think he’s given a name by Philip Martin in the Target novelization either. Now Terrance Dicks would give the Chief Officer a name if he novelized ‘Varos’.
The Governor would be given a name too. 😀 In the story, the Chief Officer is in league with Sil to have Martin Jarvis as the Governor replaced with one who would agree to keep the prices of Zeiton-7 low. The Chief Officer does come across as cruel and sadistic compared to Martin Jarvis’ Governor.
There’s also Nicolas Chagrin as Quillam, who often wears a mask for most of the story. This is to hide his disfigured face, which is later revealed when the Doctor takes off his mask in ‘Part Two’. Quillam is a pretty sadistic person, being the technical director and principal divisor of programs on Varos. 😐
Quillam has that line of dialogue of “I want to hear them scream until I’m deaf with pleasure.” I think Quillam would make a good Dwaxi if he appeared in one of my ‘Doctor Who’ stories. Heck, most of the people of Varos would make good Dwaxi. It’s just as well that Quillam and the Chief Officer got killed off.
This story has a couple watching the TV violence at home. Whether they’re married or not is a matter of debate. They’re Stephen Yardley as Arak and Sheila Reid as Etta, who I found enjoyable in their scenes together. It was amusing to see their reactions of the Doctor, Peri and friends escaping.
On a sidenote, wouldn’t it have been better to show more couples or families in their homes watching the TV violence to get a variety of opinions about what they watch? It would’ve been interesting to see a family at home being anti-violent as well as a family at home being bloodthirsty.
Stephen Yardley has been in ‘Doctor Who’ before, since he played Sevrin in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. Sheila Reid would go on to play Clara Oswald’s gran in ‘The Time of the Doctor’ and ‘Dark Water’ as well as playing Janaiya in ‘The Middle’ and Claire in ‘The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield’. 🙂
As well as being entertaining in their scenes, it’s also shocking that Arak and Etta would watch these executions and scenes of TV torture in a casual manner. It was interesting to see their reactions about the announcement of the TV violence being over and their uncertainty about what to do next.
There’s also Jason Connery as Jondar and Geraldine Alexander as his wife Areta. Jason Connery, of course, happens to be the son of Sean Connery, which was interesting to discover when checking out the DVD and Blu-ray for this story. Jason Connery later starred in the 1986 ‘Robin of Sherwood’ series. 🙂
I’m not sure how much he enjoyed being tortured by a machine at the story’s beginning, especially with his chest and torso exposed. 😀 Jondar and Areta are two characters that you can easily sympathise with, especially as the Doctor and Peri help them to escape from their Varos oppressors in the story.
The story also features Graham Cull as Bax, who worked as a camera technician in the Punishment Dome on Varos. There’s also Owen Teale as Maldak, a member of the Officer Guard on Varos, who first works for the system encouraging the violence before he helps the Governor and Peri to escape.
Owen Teale is a Welsh actor who would go on to play Evan Sherman in the ‘Torchwood’ episode ‘Countrycide’. He also played Hayton in the ‘Doctor Who’ audio ‘The Mind’s Eye’. Owen Teale has also been in the 2019 film called ‘Tolkien’ and a ‘quite popular’ TV show called ‘Game of Thrones’. 😀
There’s Keith Skinner as Rondel, a Varosian guard who gradually helps Areta, Jondar, the Doctor and Peri to escape before he gets killed in ‘Part One’. And there’s Hugh Martin as the priest who presides over the faked hanging of the Sixth Doctor and Jondar and reads from the book of the ‘sacred video’.
The original DVD special features were as follows. There was a mono sound audio mix option for the story, a 5.1 surround sound audio mix option for the story, and an audio commentary with Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban. There was also a mono production audio option of the story, an isolated music option by Jonathan Gibbs to enjoy, a 5.1 isolated music option by Jonathan Gibbs to enjoy, and an info-text commentary option to enjoy.
There was the making-of documentary called ‘Nice or Nasty?’, featuring behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There was ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’, which looks into how ‘Doctor Who’ utilised television in some of their stories. There were also some deleted and extended scenes of the story to enjoy, the ‘Acid Bath Scene with Alternative Music’, and some behind-the-scenes footage that looks into how the story was made. There were also some outtakes from the story, BBC trailers of the story, BBC continuity announcements of the story, ‘Tomorrow’s Times: The Sixth Doctor’ presented by Sarah Sutton, a BBC News report on Colin Baker’s casting in ‘Doctor Who’ back in 1983, and a ‘Breakfast Time’ interview with Colin Baker. There was a ‘Saturday Superstore’ interview with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, an amusing ‘French and Saunders’ comedy sketch, a photo gallery of the story and PDF materials, including a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story and a BBC Enterprises Sales Sheet. There was also a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ with Jon Pertwee, Caroline John and Nicholas Courtney.
On Disc 2 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 22’ Blu-ray, the mono sound audio mix option, the 5.1 surround sound audio mix option, the DVD audio commentary, the mono production audio option, the isolated music option, the 5.1 isolated music option, the ‘Nice or Nasty?’ making-of documentary, ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ and the deleted and extended scenes of the story can be found on there. The info-text commentary option and the photo gallery have been updated for 2022 on the Blu-ray. The BBC trailers and the BBC continuity announcements of the story have been combined together and are also updated for 2022 on the Blu-ray. The ‘Tomorrow’s Times: The Sixth Doctor’ feature and the ‘French and Saunders’ comedy sketch are now included on ‘The Ultimate Foe’ Blu-ray disc (Disc 4) of the Season 23 (‘The Trial of a Time Lord’) Blu-ray box set.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘Vengeance on Varos’ with Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri) and Terry Molloy (Davros) as well as Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and Janet Fielding (Tegan) as well as Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe). There’s a ‘See Hear’ item with Nabil Shaban, a ‘Points of View’ item, and an audio archive interview with director Ron Jones.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of ‘Vengeance on Varos’, there are production documents; and scripts for the story, including two rehearsal scripts, two camera scripts and the script for ‘Planet of Fear’ (which must’ve been the original working title for ‘Vengeance on Varos’). The BBC Enterprises Sales Sheet isn’t included on any of the ‘Vengeance on Varos’ Blu-ray discs.
On Disc 3 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 22’ Blu-ray, the ‘Acid Bath Scene with Alternative Music’ can be found on there. The behind-the-scenes footage and the outtakes of the story have been combined together and updated for 2022 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the extended version of ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘The Colin Baker Years’ programme – originally released on VHS and now on Blu-ray for the first time. The BBC News report on Colin Baker’s casting in ‘Doctor Who’ and the ‘Breakfast Time’ interview with Colin Baker isn’t included on the ‘Vengeance on Varos’ Blu-ray discs, but they can be seen in ‘The Colin Baker Years’ programme. The ‘Saturday Superstore’ interview with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant isn’t included on the ‘Vengeance on Varos’ Blu-ray discs either. There’s also the ‘Michael Grade: In Conversation’ interview conducted by Matthew Sweet. I’ll be honest, I think it’s good of Michael Grade to share his side of the story about the turbulent period that ‘Doctor Who’ went through in the mid-to-late-1980s. There’s also the six-part audio story ‘Slipback’ with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.
On the PDF front, there are ‘Slipback’ production documents, a ‘Radio Times Listings’ of ‘Slipback’ and ‘The Colin Baker Years’ VHS cover.
I enjoyed ‘Vengeance on Varos’ as a ‘Doctor Who’ story. There’s no denying there are issues concerning the violent content featured in this adventure, but I appreciate the moral stance Philip Martin tried to get across concerning TV violence, which is a reflection on our modern society today.
‘Vengeance on Varos’ is a decent story with Colin Baker’s Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri. It also features a brilliantly funny and vile performance from Nabil Shaban as Sil. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. Just remember though! Make sure that you don’t fall into any acid baths. That could be fatal. 😀
‘Vengeance on Varos’ rating – 7/10
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