Colin Baker often gets a bad rap when fans gather 'round to
talk about Doctor Who. A
lot of that has to do with his introduction
in the series: the regeneration didn't
go smoothly and he acted erratically: He
was egotistical, cowardly, and he even tried to kill his companion,
Peri at one
point. By his first full season the
writers had gotten their act together and things were much better. The show was taking on a darker tone, and
seemed to be maturing. One of the best
examples of this more 'adult' version of the show is the second story
season 22, Vengeance on Varos. Fan
who didn't get a chance to pick up this
story when it was first released on DVD now have the opportunity to
two-disc SE edition that is chocked full of extras.
The Doctor isn't having any luck with the TARDIS. He's
caused fires, accidently jettisoned a
storage bay, nearly collided with and asteroid, and then, as his
is listing off the mistakes he's made, the ship runs out of energy and
dead. The Doctor sinks into a
depression, telling Peri that she's lucky... she'll just die there. He's stuck in the TARDIS, dying and
regenerating until the end.
Just when all seems lost, the column moves slightly and The
Doctor discovers that they're just enough energy to rematerialize one
time. The TARDIS needs a supply of
Zeiton-7, and the only place it's mined is Varos. If
they're lucky enough to arrive in a time
period when they have mining operations going, they just might be saved.
On Varos, things aren't so good however. The
people work long, hard hours in the mines
but the government gets little for the ore and the worker's rations are
continually being cut. This has lead to
unrest and the emergence of a rebel faction.
The government has come up with a way to both punish the rebels
the support of the workers: they start
televising the ingenious tortures and eventual execution of anyone who
the law. The most popular program is one
where criminals are put into a maze with a series of deadly traps. There is one way that leads to safety and
freedom, but no one has ever found it.
The Governor is hoping to make his situation better by
negotiating a higher price for their ore, something that will allow him
the rationing. To that end he's summoned
the representative of the Galatron Mining Corporation, Sil, a small
creature with an evil laugh and even more evil personality. Sil refuses to pay any more, and having
bribed the Governor's Chief Officer, he knows that if the Governor
a deal soon, he'll be killed by his own people.
They have an interesting form of government on Varos.
All major decisions are voted on by the
entire populace. The Governor gets on TV
and states his case, and then he's locked into his chair.
There's a vote, and if it goes against him
he's subjected to Human Cell Disintegration Bombardment, a painful
zaps his life force. The people don't
want to hold out for more money, since that will mean tighter rations
short term, and the Governor is subjected to the ray for the third time
tenure. He survives, but only
barely. The next time will kill him.
Just as things are looking bag for the Governor, The Doctor
and Peri op up in the TARDIS, right in the middle of the execution of a
leader. They manage to stop it and
release the prisoner, but that puts them on the wrong side of the law
they're soon running for their lives... right into the death maze.
This was a surprisingly sophisticated story for Doctor
Who. It manages to have an exciting
plot, create an interesting world with a unique from of government and
out society, and also make a statement about television and society
being on television). If anything the
show is more topical in America
today than when it was originally broadcast in England. With our 200+ channel cable TV, the Internet,
and constant fascination with the latest gruesome murder trial (Casey
etc.) who can say that there aren't parallels to be drawn.
The one aspect of this story that really makes it work is
the subplot that occurs with Arak
and Etta, a married couple who spend the evening bickering while
story unwinding on TV. They don't have
anything to do with the main plot, they never even meet The Doctor or
they serve to give the story a personal touch and a lot of heart. They get the last scene in the story too, and
the couple of lines that they give change the whole tone of the ending,
it a bit ambiguous instead of the normal happy ending.
The creature of the show, Sil, was very good too. A
small person squeezed into a rubber suit
and set atop a mobile platform filled with liquid and electronics, he
looks alien rather than silly and he's delightfully evil.
His grating laugh was wonderful too. He
was so well conceived and performed that
he makes another appearance in a future episode.
This was a pretty violent story too, especially for a
supposed children's show. They show both
emotional and physical torture (though no blood, just a light shining
prisoner who screams) as well as pair of guards falling into an acid
being painfully dissolved. What makes
these scenes all the more disturbing, and gives the story a real edge,
and Etta glued to the set waiting for the next kill.
It's a wonderful touch that really brings the
message of the show home.
This two-part series (45-minutes each rather than the
typical 22-minutes) arrives on a pair of DVDs, one for the episodes and
This story comes with the original mono soundtrack, which is
very good, and a fun DD 5.1 mix too. I
really enjoyed the full surround experience.
The track clean and clear and they make good use of the
soundstage. The subwoofer gets a bit of
work, but the
main advantage this track has are the incidental effects that are
thrown to the
rear. They do a good job of creating a
creepy environment and it adds a lot to the story.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration
Team and looks fine. Some scenes are a
bit soft, but generally the image is clean and the colors are fine. If you've seen the other restored Colin Baker
era stories, then you'll know what to expect.
This two-disc Special Edition release of Vengance on Varos
gets quite a few extras, most of them located on the second disc. (And all of the bonuses from the original
release are included too.)
The extras start off with a commentary track with the main actors,
Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Nabil Shaban (Sil).
It was a very good track... quite entertaining
as well and informative. I especially
enjoyed Colin Baker's defense of the acid scene, where he quite
points out that The Doctor didn't do anything aggressive or of an
The video extras start off with Nice or Nasty? a
making-of documentary that runs nearly half an
hour. In addition to the normal
reminiscing by the cast and crew, the featurette looks at the fan's
reactions. It's a show that has its
detractors, though I
thought the flaws were minimal. The
Idiot's Lantern is a short piece
looking at how television itself has been portrayed on Doctor Who and
they've occasionally broken the fourth wall.
There's also another installment of Tomorrow's
Times, a look at what critics of the time said about the show in Britain's
That would be enough for most discs, but there's still a lot
left. There are 17-minutes worth of
deleted scenes, a short reel of outtakes and some unused footage of the
filming the show. In addition there's
the acid bath scene with an alternate music track, an interview with
Baker from Breakfast Time, an
appearance of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant on Saturday Superstore (in
costume) who receive a call from one of The Doctor's fiercest enemies,
French and Sauders skit that takes place on the set of Doctor Who (it
all that funny, but worth watching.)
The disc also comes with an optional pop up trivia tracks
that's filled with information. Some of
it is minutia, the date the episodes were filmed and ever the time that
shoots wrapped, but also background info on the supporting and
characters and it points out on screen gaffs.
These are wonderful. There's also
an isolated music track (in mono and 5.1!), a photo gallery, the Radio
listings (in .pdf format) and an alternate music track too.
This is an interesting story that manages to comment of our
society as well as being exciting and fun.
Not your typical Doctor Who adventure, it's darker and more edgy
most of his adventures. If only producer
John Nathan-Turner hadn't insisted on that horrible outfit for Colin
Baker. If you've never really warmed to
Baker II as the Doctor, give this story a try.
You might be surprised. Highly