Back in 1984, Doctor Who foresaw Twitter. No, seriously.
Without a doubt the highlight of the Colin Baker era, Vengeance on Varos is a wonderful critique on the way media and individuals treat political officials. When the TARDIS runs short of a mineral vital to its function (more on this later) the Doctor and Peri are forced to travel to the planet Varos to procure the mineral, Zeiton-7. A supposedly improvrised planet, the planet is governed by an elite who are content to keep the planet enslaved, in exchange for selling the mineral at a marked down price to the Galatron Mining Corporation, led by the insidious Mentor, Sil. The figurehead of this elite is the Governor, a man who in reality has little power because all inhabitants are required to vote on his performance, and the penalty for his inevitable failure to meet their demands is potentially lethal Human Cell Disintegration Bombardment.
Let’s not beat about the bush – there are few stories grimmer than this one in Doctor Who’s history – arguably only State of Decay is darker. The story however is also brilliant and superbly realised – arguably the gritty tone is what makes this a triumph, where stories like Timelash and Paradise Towers would fail. While it made the story difficult viewing as a seven year old, ten years later I found myself enthralled by a story I’d completely written off. Had Baker been given more stories of this ilk, we wouldn’t be having conversations about a painfully short tenure as the Doctor; Colin Baker is completely fantastic in this story, displaying a mastery sadly only captured elsewhere in Terror of the Vervoids.
The only reason this story is not higher is precisely because the tone is so grim. I hugely enjoy and respect the story, but I find it difficult to love. The odd comic relief from the two Varosian voters watching proceedings on their television doesn’t really compensate for the continual pessimism and despondency throughout the tale. Unlike some of the other stories at the sharp end of my countdown, I wouldn’t recommend Vengeance on Varos as a good introductory story to classic Doctor Who. But I would absolutely say it is a must watch, and deservedly one of the very best from the original series.
You can buy Vengeance on Varos on Amazon for £6.99
Next Time: Meet one of Doctor Who’s best double acts, Messers Jago & Litefoot …
It has occurred to me that poor Colin Baker is rather harshly judged on his first season. Yes, it did contain such travesties as Timelash, and such ill-executed ideas as Attack of the Cybermen, The Two Doctors and Revelation of the Daleks – but it also contained two perfectly decent and well executed stories, that would have worked well in any other era of the show. While Vengeance on Varos tends to steal the plaudits, I think it is a little unfair to dismiss The Mark of the Rani with the rest of the season.
There are no words for how disappointed I was when I watched Attack of the Cybermen on VHS. I had loved The Tomb of the Cybermen and enjoyed The Tenth Planet, and having read that this story brought elements of these two stories together (and included the return of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cyber Controller) I really wanted to see this story. My disappointment was reflected in the fact that it does not do the least justice to the older serials, and especially Tomb.
This serial really confused me when I first saw it. The BBC did repeats of one serial for each Doctor – and I started watching from Genesis of the Daleks. I accepted the change to Peter Davison with confusion but reasonably equally, but was confused when Colin Baker appeared in Revelation of the Daleks, with no explanation to his change. Of course, I very soon figured out that the BBC had not shown the serials in order!
This was a story that severely disappointed me when I got my hands on the DVD. As a youngster I had rather enjoyed the other multi-doctor stories (The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors) – I think mainly for the sheer novelty of having more than one doctor in the story. This story is rather different to the other multi-doctor stories in that the others were written to celebrate the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the show respectively. The Two Doctors was sparked by producer John Nathan Turner’s desire to write a multi-doctor story that was not a celebration story, but genuinely an attempt to ask what happens when two doctors get involved in the adventure. The window of opportunity arose after Patrick Troughton enjoyed his return for The Five Doctors and mentioned he would love another opportunity to return.
It’s good news! The next serial is not from Season 24!
The bad news is that Timelash is a serial with very little to redeem it – it was a very strong candidate to finish absolutely rock bottom – which unfortunately therefore says a lot about the two serials that finished below it!