Which One : The degeneration of video society.
Cast : The Doctor : Colin baker
Peri : Nicola Bryant
Sil : Nabil Shaban
The Governor : Martin Jarvis
Chief Officer : Forbes Collins
Quillam : Nicolas Chagrin
Arak : Stephen Yardley
Etta : Sheila Reid
Jondar : Jason Connery
Areta : Geraldine Alexander
Bax : Graham Cull
Maldak : Owen Teale
Rondel : Keith Skinner
Priest : Hugh Martin
Written By : Phillip Martin
Produced By : JNT
First UK Broadcast : 19–26 January 1985.
Length : 2 x 45 minute parts.
Plot : The Tardis requires repairs and the only place the Doctor can source the required metal Zeiton-7 from; is planet Varos. However, the Varosians are operating their own violent form of X-Factor Phone-In TV Talent show and the Doctor is forced to take part in the grim proceedings.
Whats good : A comment on the degradation of society, through video violence de-sensitization.
Whats bad : That the above message is somewhat lost, as it revels in the violence – a little too much.
Review With Spoilers : Vengeance On Varos is one of the few Colin Baker episodes to make a serious statement on society. Chiefly, the moral degradation of a society hooked on interactive televised violence.
The Varosians, vote for and watch elaborately planned executions – transmitted live, from the aptly named Punishment Dome. Pressing yes/no buttons – depending on whether they are enjoying the gory spectacles – or not.
The problem with this stance though, from the scripts point of view, is; the serious message gets a little lost in between all of the nasty uber-violence on offer.
A phantom hallucination makes The Doctor believe he is dying of thirst. He is then nearly dispatched in an acid bath. Instead, happily dispatching 2 guards in his place. He is then sent to the gallows, where he has a noose tied around his neck and the lever pulled.
The Doctor also tricks some guards into entering an area filled with poisonous vines and proceeds to kill them by dropping some from the ceiling, tied to a bit of string.
In between all of this, we are supposed to be exploring how a society can get hooked on the sci-fi equivilent of the 80’s video nasty. But the message is lost in between all of the bouts of cheap violence.
“When did they last show something worth watching, eh? When did we last see a decent execution?” Arak
Its not a Baker classic by any means – and it falls into its own trap, of glorifying – rather than abhorring the violent subtexts.
However, in an age (now) where TV is ruled by a slew of cheap and nasty voter participation reality shows. Some entering the slightly more extreme spectrums, such as I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here or even Big Brother. Where contestants are forced to undertake horrible tasks following a public vote, maybe Vengeance On Varos fits better in the modern age, than the era it was inspired by – and written for.
Sil – the sluglike alien is quite gloriously realised in all his slimey, wet rubbery glory. But what really makes his character memorably horrible, is the snivelling way in which the actor; Nabil Shaban – plays him.
Especially his perverted tongue lolling evil laugh. Its interesting that companion Peri is particularly put out by Sil’s appearance and manner. As Per’s ultimate fate is entwined with Sil’s, in the future episode Mindwarp.
For now though, we are left with an episode that tries hard to say something about violence in society but is too busy purporting that violence, for its own ends.