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5.0 out of 5 stars "Tried reading that once." **thump**, Nov. 24 2003
This review is from: Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos (DVD)
In a word, classic. Season 22 of Doctor Who was off to an excellent start... it's debut story, "Attack of the Cybermen" was great, if not perfect (I took the liberty of giving it four stars out of five in my review for it here), and the following tale, Philip Martin's "Vengeance on Varos" builds up from that. Unfortunately, this trend was not to continue (the story after this one, "Mark of the Rani", is a couple pegs down even from "Attack", at least in my opinion, though still not bad). But if I had been both British and old enough to cleary remember 1984 (I fail on both counts), I know I would have been impressed by the way the series was going. True, both this story and its preceeding one were rather violent, but... well, evil has to be evil, right? To paraphrase the Doctor himself, Colin Baker says on the "Colin Baker Years" tape that the "villains should be able to do more than just say 'boo' and then run away." Heartily agree.
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,
MN
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