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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Vengeance on Varos (Special Edition)


Starring: Colin Baker
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 10 September 2012

The Tardis is becoming increasingly erratic; with the number of accidents increasing the Doctor needs to find a source of Zeiton-7 ore to realign the ship's power systems and the only planet in range which can help is Varos. Varos, once a prison planet, has developed a civilisation dependant of selling its ore at poverty levels whilst keeping its population subdued by broadcasting executions...

Vengeance on Varos, written by Philip Martin and directed by Ron Jones, is the second story of the twenty second series of Doctor Who. The story is presented in two parts, each around forty-five minutes long, on a two disc DVD set, the first of which holds the two episodes, while the extras appear on disc two. The show was originally transmitted between 19 and 26 January 1985.

The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive at a potential turning point for the colony of Varos as its incumbent Governor (Martin Jarvis) is attempting to negotiate a reasonable price for the ore that the planet produces, unaware that it is actually very valuable, a piece of information which the mining representative Sil (Nabil Shaban) does not want known. In this deception he is aided by the Chief Officer (Forbes Collins) who retains his power through poverty and fear.

The population know only hard work and poor food, their only source of entertainment is the daily executions, which are enacted in ingenious and distracting ways. One such couple is Etta (Sheila Reid) and Arak (Stephen Yardley), who have been brutalised by their continual exposure to death and torture.

When they materialise on Varos they are confronted by the torture of a rebel, Jondar (Jason Connery), who they rescue, this then sets off a string of events which threaten both the Doctor's and Peri’s lives.

The show came in for a lot of criticism for its depiction of violence, with most commentators missing the point that the show was a condemnation of violence on television and its eroding effect on the viewer’s sensibilities. It is not the depiction of violence which is the most disturbing; rather it is Etta and Arak’s unemotional acceptance of what they are watching. Rather than question the executions, they demand more complex and gory material.

This unfortunate concentration on the more salacious aspects of the show missed the fact that, although this was not a traditional Who story, it was none-the-less a well written and acted drama, with standout performances from both Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis. Sil is a very effective monster, more so as his monstrosity is his ability to make himself wealthy on the backs of the poor and dead. The show effectively provides a criticism of both violence and unrestrained capitalism, both heady subjects for a tea time drama and probably why the show got into so many problems. The story remains at the periphery of what could be seen as acceptable in a Who story.

The disc has an impressive range of audio options including a new 5.1 mix, commentary from Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban, who share their insights of the show, always with a light touch. You can also choose the Mono Production Audio, the Isolated Score and the Isolated Score with a 5.1 mix. The disc also has the production information text. The whole disc has the option to be watched with subtitles.

The second DVD is where the bulk of the extras live, kicking off with Nice or Nasty (29 min, 40 sec) the making of documentary with contributions from the show's writer, Philip Martin and script editor, Eric Saward, Nabil Shaban (Sil) and Sheila Reid (Etta) Jonathan Gibbs (composer), all share their memories of making the show. Little, except in the last five minutes, is discussed surrounding the controversy of the show's violence, so the documentary really doesn’t address its central question.

The Idiot’s Lantern (7 min, 32 sec) with Samira Ahmed, looks at the show's relationship with television as a medium and its often self-referential relationship, where it both uses and subverts the language of television. Extended and Deleted Scenes (17 min, 44 sec) consist of half a dozen pieces which flesh out some of the characters. The quality is VHS with a time code bar.

Acid Bath Scene with Alternative Music (1 min, 38 sec), which has one of the original tracks written for the scene reinserted, it has a similar feel to the one finally used, so makes little difference to the finished presentation. Behind the Scenes (4 min, 42 sec) has the team trying to perfect the scene where Peri meets Sil.

Outtakes (3 min, 07 sec) has three scenes with the cast fluffing their lines and the odd technical fault, none of it funny. Trailers (43 sec) has two of the program teasers. Continuities (35 sec) has both introductions to the show. Tomorrows Times - The Sixth Doctor (12 min, 56 sec) and another in the fascinating look at how the show was perceived by the contemporary popular press with Sarah Sutton. Generally the show got a real kicking, from the garishness of the costume to the levels of violence in the show. It covers the show's hiatus and Colin’s final departure from the role.

News (1 min, 09 sec) has the news reporting of Colin’s acceptance of the role. Breakfast Time (5 min, 44 sec) and Colin is doing the usual publicity rounds having landed the part, it’s all very suitably light hearted and non-controversial. Saturday Superstore (15 min, 08 sec) and having introduced himself to the early risers, it’s the kids turn to get their introduction to the new Doctor, once again light hearted and very positive about the show with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

French and Saunders (7 min, 34 sec) have a crack at the program on the set of the Trial of a Timelord, with an odd mixture of costumes from Who, Blake’s 7 and Vader masks. The two girls play actors in Silurian costumes. The disc is rounded off with a Photo Gallery, PDF Materials and a Coming Soon for a reconstructed The Ambassadors of Death.

It is not a perfect story and, like most, suffers somewhat from its low production values, but the new audio mix and restored picture shows the story at its best. If you can get past the surface detail you will find a richly rewarding story at the heart of Varos.


Charles Packer

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