Some find Baker's brash, arrogant, selfish, mean, and sometimes cowardly Doctor too different from the hero the character had been in the past, through the portrayals of actors like Jon Pertwee or Peter Davison, which is why Colin Baker is not as popular of a Doctor among most fans as some of the others. But really... compare the First Doctor with the Sixth... I think that Colin Baker's take on the character is actually more accurate to William Hartnell's original portrayal than those that came after him, making Colin Baker really a more traditional Doctor! It reinforces the mysterious, alien qualities of the character. We know that deep down, in spite of all the negative qualities that form our first impression of him, the Sixth Doctor is good and kind at heart, for we see the transformation from one to the other occur in most of his stories. Colin Baker is my favorite Doctor, but he's not the only reason why I think this was a great story.
Varos is a very believeable world (the whole concept of reality TV featured in the story was definitely ahead of its time), gritty and industrialized. The governor, played by Martin Jarvis, was a wonderful, reluctant weary character who does what he has to do (marvelous performance), as was the alien creature Sil (is it just me, or does Nabil Shaban bear an uncanny resemblance, both in his appearance and in the sound of his voice, to the late David Rappaport? The first time I saw Sil, I thought it WAS Rappaport!). Wonderful, slimy character, in more ways than one. The story is intruiging, as the Doctor arrives on Varos to refuel his TARDIS (why do so many people hate this element of the story? I mean, why not?) and things don't go quite as smoothly as he thought they might (but do they ever?).
Nicola Bryant remains wonderful as Peri, who for me had her best run of stories from her first in "Planet of Fire" (in spite of her accent, which I'm willing to overlook... it improved drastically with the next story, "Caves of Androzani") up to this one. I didn't feel like the character felt quite the same after this one, which is really more the fault of the scripts than it is Bryant's performance. Up until the next story, Peri was just an American college student... spoiled and thrust somewhat unwillingly into a completely bizarre new direction in life. Once the writers seemed to think she'd settled into the routine of things, the character for me didn't work as well. They added the whole botany thing for reasons I've never been able to figure out (not that she couldn't be a botany student, but... well why should she be?). But I'm deviating from THIS story, where Peri remains wonderfully realized as just what she's supposed to be, a student who still hasn't gotten used to time and space travel and being the constant, frustrated companion of a man that half the time seems to forget that she is just as alive and as important as he is. Love the bit where she tries to convince the Doctor to read the TARDIS operations manuel, while he tries to ask her what the point is, as she'll be dead in sixty years or so anyway?
Before I finish, let me offer up my compliments to the director/writer for the brilliant cliffhanger! Rather than describe it, just see it for yourself. I recall thinking, immediately before episode one ended, "wouldn't it be great if they put the cliffhanger HERE?", and then they did.
"Vengeance on Varos" is probably my second favorite story from the Colin Baker era (my first favorite, which I've already reviewed here at Amazon, is the incredible "Revelation of the Daleks". Of the mere eleven stories he starred in, both this one and that one are both definitely five-star efforts. Give them a shot! (the DVD commentary and deleted scenes are a nice couple of extras too, but the only two that really interested me). Give "Varos" a chance, and I don't think you'll be sorry.
Carry on Carry on,
They interrupt the execution of the rebel leader Jondar, rescuing him, and joining his wife Areta through a labryinth of passages beset by mental booby traps in order to find a safe exit. The Doctor is able to maneuvre through some of the traps, and evades capture longer than the other three.
Varos has a dysfunctional totalitarian system, where the referendum system has the governor submitting any proposals to the voters. If they approve, fine, but if not, he is subjected to a human cell disintegrator. Four losing votes generally kills the governor, and then there's a new candidate. The reason for this is that the planet isn't prosperous, its Zeiton 7 being the only asset, and that is ruthlessly exploited by the Galatron Mining Corporation through its representative, a tiny cackling seaweed-coloured reptilian slug named Sil. The governor wants to further rationing of food in order to hold out for a better price per unit on Zeiton ore, but men vote with their stomachs despite the fact that Sil is trying to buy Zeiton ore for less money, cheating them.
We meet a typical Varosian couple, Arak and his wife Etta, the former who hates the governor, the latter an ardent supporter. They, like others, have a TV screen with a set of voting buttons (yes, no) per person. They are bored and dissatisfied with their life, but kept entertained by scenes of execution and torture on TV, which also serve to deter subversive activities. The interesting thing here is that voting is mandatory, and Etta isn't above reporting her husband. But more than that, they are a society dominated by TV and must keep themselves apprised of special announcements.
The concept of forced voting is interesting. Less than 50% of eligible voters turned out for the 2000 election in contrast to over 90% in Saddam's Iraq. Voting is supposed to be a privilege, but do governments have a right to force people to participate in order to eliminate apathy? Even more is the referendum system of Varos. What if we had a setup like this, where the president was forced to directly appeal to the people and get his proposals accepted or defeated, with four strikes meaning the end for the president? Makes one think, eh?
It's not a good system for the Varosian governor, who tells Peri that "the theory [is] that a man scared for his life will find solutions to this planet's problem... except that the poor unfortunate will discover that there are no popular solutions to the difficulties he will find."
When the series was temporarily put on hold, one of the excuses was of the violence in the series. Possible targets include the acid-bath deaths of two characters, the Doctor showing little remorse for the acid-bath casualties, and resorting to killing rather than trying to talk sense to the villains. And a guard slaps Peri's face for tricking him early in the story. Nasty characters include the scientist Qwillam, who says of the rebels "I want them to scream till I'm deaf with pleasure, to see their limbs twist in excruciating agony, ultimately their blood will flow down the gutters of Varos."
Jondar is played by Jason Connery, son of you-know-who and clearly not as good an actor as his famous father. Nabil Shaban would return as Sil in part two of Trial of a Timelord, Mindwarp. The marsh minnows he eats are sliced peaches dyed green, BTW. The actors portaying the villains do a better job here, but Martin Jarvis plays the governor and does a good job conveying a well-meaning politician wanting the best for his people but trapped by the political system.
A cross between 1984 and futuristic sci-fi movies of rebellion against an oppressive regime, Vengeance In Varos succeeds despite it being totally studio-bound due to the thought-provoking ideas derived from it.
Vengeance On Varos is a story that is more relevant now than it was when it was first broadcast due to the current glut of reality tv shows that clog the airwaves. These two episodes show a populace that gets to vote on government policy through interactive television broadcasts. Rather than a simple yes or no vote, the voting involves torture of the Governor which the population gets to watch. They also get to see public torturing and executions of "terrorists" as part of their daily intake of television "entertainment". This satire of television and government rings all the more true as time goes by.
The sixth Doctor is still rather an unlikeable character here at times, only a few stories into his era which was cut abruptly short when Colin Baker was sacked after his final story, The Trial Of A Time Lord. At the beginning of the story, he is still exhibiting the mood swings seen in his first story which makes it difficult for the audience to be won over by this particular incarnation of the Time Lord. Tom Bakers Doctor was also prone to black moods, but the sixth Doctor comes across at times as a petulant and whiny child. This is not a fault that can be levelled solely at the actor as the character was shaped by the producer, script editor (who was later quite vocal about his dislike of this era of the program) and writers.
The DVD itself is another excellent piece of work from the Restoration Team. The picture and sound are excellent. The various special features are entertaining and informative, especially the commentary track by Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban who plays the stories villain Sil. It's a very funny and cheeky chat that's well worth a listen.
Apparently this is the lowest selling Doctor Who DVD in the UK, but it's certainly a story that stands the test of time and definitely worth your time and money. If nothing else, the story may make you think more about the society we live in and that's no bad thing.