Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sixth Doctor Part IV - "Vengeance on Varos"

Surely one of the most underrated Classic Doctor Who serials, "Vengeance on Varos" is both a powerful and compelling narrative. It stands out as one of the darkest stories from the show's history, but nevertheless a truly enjoyable one.

Varos is a very important planet in the universe. The planet has a number of important natural resources, however unbeknownst to most people is that Varos is in turmoil. The government of the planet has been corrupted by aliens and they broadcast torture and execution to the public for entertainment. It is into this dark world that the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) arrive. Accused of being rival spies, they are soon on the run - but will they be able to survive the terrifying trials on Varos?

"Vengeance on Varos" was the second serial released during the show's 22nd season. Following in the season's footsteps, the serial proves to be a dark story, but is still a very exciting one. It is wrought with suspense as the Doctor and Peri must escape the Punishment Dome, the building in which prisoners are tortured and executed on live television. This idea of television being a vessel to display cruel acts would appear in an episode of the newer Doctor Who series entitled "Bad Wolf." Due to this, it is interesting to see this serial which might have acted as inspiration for the latter.

By now, the Doctor has certainly become more mellow and humane. As I pointed out in my review of "The Twin Dilemma," I actually liked the conceited Doctor. Having the ability to travel all of time and space and be responsible for saving the universe time and time again would certainly go to your head. But, this more humane Doctor is nice and more in line with the character. Nevertheless, Colin Baker's performance is superb. He has a real dominating effect in the episode. He simply captivates in his dramatic scenes, and even shows off a bit of dark, devilish humour in one of the show's most controversial scenes (which I won't spoil for you).

The Doctor and Peri arrive at the wrong place
at the wrong time
While "Vengeance on Varos" is an example of great writing in the history of "Doctor Who," there are problems with it. My biggest gripe is the same as with "Attack of the Cybermen." Too often, the action is diverted from the Doctor and Peri. The first episode's twenty minutes or so features very little of our favourite Time Lord and we get multiple scenes of tedious dialogue, which is supposed to move the story forward, but doesn't exactly accomplish its task. A great deal of the dialogue doesn't even make much sense. However, once the Doctor arrives and finds himself on the run, the story becomes at once quite tense and exciting. The episode also has a genuinely thrilling cliffhanger ending, and you really must wonder how the Doctor could possibly escape this one alive since he seems on the brink of death.

All in all, "Vengeance on Varos" is an overlooked gem. It stands out as a testament that the show's quality didn't dip so dramatically at this point. As always, Colin Baker performs wonderfully and there's lots of creepy, unsettling atmosphere prevalent throughout the serial. Of all the stories from Season 22, this one is probably the best. Let's just remember this feeling when it comes time to watch "Mark of the Rani" and "Timelash." (Gulp)

Coming Next Time: How many times have you ever heard the word 'luddite' in conversation? Well, your about to hear it a lot more since they make up a great deal of the plot for "Mark of the Rani."

1 comment:

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