“Vengeance on Varos” is an adventure of the twentysecond season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1985. It follows “Attack of the Cybermen” and it’s a two parts adventure written by Philip Martin and directed by Ron Jones.
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is trying to repair the Tardis, which halted in deep space. He realizes that it needs Zeiton-7, a very rare mineral found only on the planet Varos. Using an emergency patch, the Doctor manages to move the Tardis to carry Peri (Nicola Bryant) to Varos and proceed with a proper repair.
The planet Varos used to host a prison that over time turned into a strange democracy. The Governor’s proposals go under a mandatory vote for all citizens and television programs are about torture and executions. Zeiton-7 is purchased by the Galatron Mining Corporation and its representative Sil thinks that the Doctor has come to conclude a new deal for another mining company.
The original edition is poor extras while the Special Edition is rich in extras. In both editions there are typical contents such as production subtitles and a gallery of pictures from this adventure. The Special Edition also contains the Radio Times Listings.
There are various comments in the adventure alternative audio track of both editions by its protagonists Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant and the actor Nabil Shaban.
The original edition contains:
BBC One Trailer: Episode 1 / 2. BBC1 trailers for the two episodes aired in 1985.
Both editions contain:
Extended/Deleted Scenes. Some scenes cut in part or completely from the final version. It’s longer in the Special Edition.
Behind the Scenes. An extra that shows some scenes from the production of this adventure.
Unmixed Soundtrack / Production Audio. The option to listen to the audio without music or sound effects.
The Special Edition also contains:
Additional Audio Option. Various audio options.
Nice or Nasty? A nearly 30-minute documentary about the production of this adventure.
The idiot’s lantern. A mini-documentary that talks about the relationship between “Doctor Who” and television.
Tomorrow’s Times – The Sixth Doctor. Sarah Sutton presents the press’s comments from the time of the Sixth Doctor’s adventures.
Acid Bath with Alternative Music. An alternative version of the infamous acid tank scene.
Outtakes. Different versions of some scenes.
Trailers & Continuities. Various promos aired at the time.
BBC News. The coverage for Colin Baker’s announcement as the Sixth Doctor.
Breakfast Time. Colin Baker interviewed after the announcement of his selection as the Sixth Doctor.
Saturday Superstore. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant on a TV show.
French & Saunders Sketch. A parody of “The Trial of a Time Lord”.
Isolated Music Score. The option to watch the story with Jonathan Gibbs’s musical score.
Coming Soon. A promo of “Doctor Who” DVDs about to be released.
BBC Sales Sheets. A PDF file with additional material.
The story that became “Vengeance on Varos” was the result of a long and chaotic preparation phase. The writer Philip Martin had worked for years as an actor but in the late 1960s had become a screenwriter and as such had worked on various TV shows. Already in 1980 he was invited to write a screenplay for “Doctor Who” but had declined, however a couple of years later he changed his mind.
During the 1980s, the growth of a certain type of television and the development of the VHS market raised the issue of violence in the entertainment field. Philip Martin started developing some ideas related to the commercial development of violent programs by an alien group and talked to “Doctor Who” script editor Eric Saward. His proposal was considered interesting but producer John Nathan-Turner was concerned about the political elements so Saward worked closely with Martin in this adventure’s development.
Originally, the screenplay was written for the Fifth Doctor with Nyssa and Tegan but had to go through a series of changes and delays due to the changes that took place in the cast during that period. First of all, companions who went and came and then the Doctor’s regeneration up to the change of format forced Philip Martin to make various changes. Eventually, it was decided to produce the story with the title “Vengeance on Varos” during the twentysecond season after another screenplay proposal was rejected.
In its final version, “Vengeance on Varos” is set on a planet that was originally a penal colony that over the course of several generations turned into a strange form of government. Citizens are required to vote to accept or reject the Governor’s proposals and to watch televised programs where criminals are tortured and killed. The planet is a source of the rare Zeiton-7 mineral and the Doctor directs the Tardis there because he needs it but gets involved in local problems.
The Galatron Mining Corporation acquires the Zeiton-7 at very low prices earning a fortune but the citizens of Varos don’t know it and get exploited. Sil, the Galatron Mining Corporation’s representative, interferes in the planet’s politics to get the mineral at very low prices and when he discovers the arrival of the Doctor he thinks that he and Peri are representatives of a competing mining company.
Among the protagonists of “Vengeance on Varos” there are also Arak and Etta, a couple of ordinary citizens of Varos who spend their free time watching TV and voting when required. The two of them are used to seeing violent shows such as torture and executions and their vote may also contribute to the Governor’s death because if a proposal is rejected, he’s punished with a ray that damages his tissues and after a few times the result is deadly.
This means that the Governor of Varos has even greater duties than ordinary citizens. He has some privileges but he must always try to think of proposals that are popular or to find ways to convince the citizens that his proposals are go to their advantage. Inevitably, in that situation, the Governor never lasts very long in office because he tends to end up killed.
Today, the comparison with reality shows is perfect to describe the programs that air on Varos. From this point of view, the story is almost prophetic and Arak and Etta’s reactions while watching those programs is even more disturbing thinking of how some people react to today’s reality shows.
The problem of “Vengeance on Varos” is in some aspects of its development. Originally, light-hearted moments were included to offset in part the violent ones. Sil’s character is the one that best expresses this combination and the actor Nabil Shaban’s performance is considered memorable, so much that Sil reappears in the following season.
Unfortunately in other cases the development doesn’t work as well and violence seems gratuitous. The infamous scene of the acid tank was supposed to be over the top and appear surreal but turned out to among the most brutals, with the Doctor who seems really callous after causing the deaths of two men.
In some ways, the element of criticism contained in “Vengeance on Varos” can be applied to the story itself. It’s no coincidence that it’s one of the serials most criticised for its violent contents at a time when the producers no longer tried to make the show suitable to children.
“Vengeance on Varos” is an adventure that is far from perfect but overall I think it has more merits than flaws and it makes more sense now than it did in the 1980s. The original edition of the DVD was one of the first published and was poor in extras while the Special Edition is very rich in extras makeing it a must-have product especially for the Sixth Doctor’s fans.