DVD Review: Doctor Who: "Vengeance on Varos"
Release Date: September 12, 2012
Distributor: BBC America
· Ron Jones
· Colin Baker
· Nicola Bryant
· Stephen Yardley
· NAbil Shaban
by Dennis Russo
Published: December 7, 2012
Doctor Who: "Vengeance On Varos" is a 2 Disc Special Edition digitally remastered (picture and audio) DVD that stars Colin Baker in the role of the Doctor. In this 2-part episode which originally aired on the BBC on January 19th and 26th, 1985, we find the Doctor and his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant) in an odd predicament. It seems the Tardis has somehow run out of gas, and without fuel the two of them face the possibility of drifting through space for eternity... which, for the Doctor, is a lot longer than for most.
Fortunately for our heroes they find a little reserve power and, using a little ingenuity and the idea that they could make it to the one planet in the universe (Varos) that has the source of power the Tardis needs, set off on their quest. We must remember though that just finding the planet is not enough -- they must find it at the right time in its development as well.
The Doctor and Peri make it to the planet and find themselves in the midst of a fierce negotiation between the inhabitants of Varos and the mining company which has had the contract for the ore -- which, as it turns out, is the fuel needed for the Tardis.
The Governor of Varos (Martin Jarvis -- hat tip to Tim Pieraccini for the correction), acting in what he feels is in the best interest of the planet, wants more money for the Zicon ore and the mining company, represented by the half-larvae, half-humanoid Sil (Nabil Shaban), wants things to stay as they are because the people don't know how valuable the ore is, and they want to continue to exploit them and grow richer.
The Governor's job is precarious because the people of Varos vote on each decision the Governor wants to make. If they are for it, all is well. If they vote against him or he does not do what they want done, then he is subjected to a ray of some sort that could kill him. Varos itself it peculiar in that there is a definite class struggle between the" haves" and the "have nots" and anybody who tries to stand up to the government is tortured and executed on live TV.
All of this really made for am excellent story, but sadly it was not pulled off effectively.
First off, Colin Baker's Doctor, to me, is made up to look like Harpo Marx. The garish patchwork coat with varying patterns and colors with a shirt with question marks on the collars (a carry over from his predecessor) was just too juvenile. I understand that the Doctors all had their own idiosyncratic dress -- Pertwee's tux, Tom Bakers long multicolored scarf, etc. -- but this was just Saturday Morning Television silly, and with his curly Harpo Marx-ish hairstyle he was more to laugh at than take seriously, even when he was trying his best to be.
The acting of his companion left something to be desired as well. She delivered her lines much as one would when rehearsing them for the first time in front of a mirror to herself. Wearing what looked like a body suit and shorts, it seemed to me that the camera centered more than one once on her cleavage as she ran (and bounced) around some of the various scenes. I only wish my ears were treated to the same enjoyment my eyes were.
The acting of the supporting cast, for the most part, was sadly painful to watch. At times the mix of overacting in both spoken and physical form was just sophomoric, especially in the way they reacted to being tortured, shot or punched.
The effects was a mix of some very good set design and make-up, and some horrible special effects. There was one scene where the Doctor and some others were "speeding" away in a little motorized buggy down a hall from guards who were shooting at them. As they also returned fire, nothing is hit and the "blasts" are shown as little balls of light that are emitted from the guns. Even when they miss their targets the blasts don't do anything when they hit the walls. I take that back, once towards the end of of the chase what must have been a firecracker popped on the wall behind them. I'm sorry but even in the eighties special effects on television were capable of so much more believability.
The one exception to all of this was the role of the mining company ambassador Sil (Shaban). Both his make-up and acting was, for the most part, always good, and his character was interesting to watch. He was conniving in his role, and you really got the sense that his character wielded a lot of power and was used to always getting his way. I did find it difficult at times to understand his dialog because of the effects used on his voice, but all in all he was very good. He even had is own "evil laugh" which I found to be both annoying and at the same time eerily enjoyable. It was too bad he didn't get much support from the rest of the cast.
As I said earlier, the story itself was very solid and that's why it pains me not to say this was an awesome episode to watch. Since this is a 2 disc Special Edition set, it devotes one whole disc to extras that, despite how I feel about the episode itself, makes it worth owning. In other Doctor Who DVDs I usually like to wait until I watch the episode first so that I don't get any "spoilers" but in this case I will say watch them first. It will make the episode more enjoyable. It was interesting that many of the mixed feelings I had for this episode were shared by others at the time it was first aired. While many of the extras have nice length to them and some are downright excellent (I loved the French and Saunders sketch, but I could be biased there as I am a huge fan of theirs), there are a couple other extras that are so short that you just get into them and they're over; it was reminiscent of the producers scraping together everything they could find on the episode to fill the second disc. Still, I'll add a 1/2 grade for the extras.
Special Features: Audio Options and Info Text On/Off (Production notes subtitles that, in my opinion, should be turned on as it will make watching this episode much more enjoyable.)
Nice or Nasty? - Making of the episode with cast and crew (29 minutes). Very good but a little slow at times.
The Idiot's Lantern - How Doctor Who has incorporated the medium of television within its narrative (7 minutes)
Extended and Deleted Scenes (17 minutes)
Acid Bath Scene with Alternate Music (1 minute)
Behind the Scenes (4 minutes)
Outtakes (3 minutes; not the funny kind you expect nowadays)
Continuities - Basically just the introduction of the show on the BBC before it came on.
Tomorrow's Times - The Sixth Doctor (13 minutes)
News - BBC News coverage of Colin Baker's casting.
Breakfast Time - Colin Baker Interview
Saturday Superstore - With Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and a Surprise Guest (15 minutes)
French and Saunders - Rare Comedy Sketch from the Doctor Who Set (7 minutes)
Photo Gallery (6 minutes)
PDF Materials - Radio Times Listing, BBC Sales Sheet