And so we come to another Doctor Who DVD release, this time featuring the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, not to be confused with namesake and fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (he of the curly hair, scarf and endless jelly babies). No, we are talking about Colin Baker (who does have curly hair, actually) who took over the role from everyone’s least favourite Doctor, Peter Davison, in 1984. Rumour has it that producer John Nathan-Turner and Colin Baker didn't remain friendly for very long after Baker was given the role, and this was one of the main reasons he quit, before Nathan-Turner sacked him.
Like Tom Baker, Colin Baker played the role with a fair amount of wit, humour, confidence and charm - with a healthy dose of sarcasm thrown in. His busty (American) companion, Peri (Nicola Bryant), was typical of the female companions of the earlier days, all squeals and running away from aliens. Not totally useless in a fight, but she was no Leela or Sarah Jane Smith.
Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos was written by Phillip Martin, responsible for some of the better Doctor Who stories. However, much maligned director John Nathan-Turner has his trademarks all over this story, as he did for the ten years he was director. Many fans never forgave him for the direction he took Doctor Who, but that's for another day.
The Doctor and Peri are forced to land on Varos after the TARDIS malfunctions (what? - again?) and needs to top up on a rather rare mineral called Zeiton-7 that powers the TARDIS (even though it’s never been mentioned before). Unfortunately for them, they land in the Punishment Dome where a young man is being tortured (and you just know this can't be right). The Doctor frees the young rebel, Jondar (Jason Connery, son of Sean), but the whole saga is being beamed live into every home. A race for survival ensues as The Doctor and Peri unwittingly become the televised stars of the show as they fight for their survival.
Varos turns out to be a rather interesting place indeed, with a very dictatorial society governed by The Governor (original) who is answerable to its citizens via instant in-home referendum polling (a la Big Brother). If the Governor’s decision is voted down, his punishment is instant, potentially fatal, and broadcast into every home (it’s a shame Canberra doesn’t operate this way). Varos mines and sells the precious Zeiton-7, and it is the role of The Governor to secure the best price. The only buyer (so far) is the Galatron Mining Corporation represented by Sil (who has his own agenda as it turns out), a nasty, slimy creature that looks like a cross between a tadpole and a turd (the actor's words, not mine - listen to the commentary). As negotiations stall, the people become increasingly restless, as money is short, food is rationed, and rebels continue to disrupt proceedings.
This is quite a well-written story with some well thought out sub-plots running through it. First broadcast in January 1985, it deals with such topics as reality television (years before we were bombarded with it), death and punishment as entertainment, population control, political processes, and rebellion. Characters get a chance to develop some depth, and the acting is generally good (but there’s always one plank isn’t there? This time it’s Jondar’s wife who is so wooden, I can’t even recall her character’s name). The rubber suited monsters are still there, as are the cheap models of planet surfaces that wouldn't fool a five year old, but at least the storyline is fairly straight-forward, believable and continuity is fine.
Unlike most Doctor Who adventures, the stories from the same season as Vengeance On Varos were shown as two 45 minute episodes, and not the usual four 25 minute episodes. The cliffhanger is still there, and the familiar Doctor Who theme has again been slightly tweaked for Colin Baker's Doctor. My memory of the Colin Baker years is not as good as for some of the other Doctors, but I remembered that he played the part well, and injected some of the fun (and violence!) back into the role. Perhaps this isn't the best of the Colin Baker stories, but it has enough going for it to enable me to give the thumbs up.
Again, the BBC restoration team has come up with a pretty good result. Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos was shot wholly indoors onto videotape and is presented in full frame ratio, and is not 16x9 enhanced. The image is generally clear, and is certainly very clean. There are almost no instances of video artefacts save for one or two extremely minor flashes of white horizontal lines, but you will really struggle to find them. There is some minor aliasing, but nothing distracting.
Colours are generally good, especially when the Doctor is on screen as he has a very colourful costume indeed. Shadow detail is good, and black levels vary greatly, but are generally consistent. There are also some minor instances of video noise, but again, not enough to distract.
There is a layer change placed at the end of a scene approximately ten minutes into Episode 2. No time display has been encoded for this release and all timings are approximate.
As the Doctor Who titles continue to trickle our way, many fans are, no doubt, still waiting for particular adventures. With so many to choose from, it is unlikely that we will see all of them make their way to DVD. Most of those released so far are not the best examples in my opinion, but Vengeance on Varos was one of the better Colin Baker adventures. If you are a fan, then I am sure you will find something in every release to justify purchase. For me, it is Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor that I found most interesting, but I am sure there will be disagreement on this. Die-hard fans are welcome to email me (just be nice, okay?).