The latest Doctor Who Special Edition DVD is Vengeance on Varos. Part of the 22nd season, this two-part serial originally aired in January 1985. The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) travel to the planet Varos in search of a rare ore they need to properly run the TARDIS. There, they encounter the evil Sil (Nabil Shaban), who is trying to extort the planet for the mineral, not afraid to hurt or kill those who get in his way.
Vengeance on Varos has some very funny parts. In the beginning, when the Doctor is having trouble fixing the TARDIS, his exchange with Peri demonstrates why Doctor Who is so beloved. But mostly, it is a serious tale of darkness and manipulation.
Political machinations and corruption are nothing new. Yet, they remain a basis for many a story, including a number of television shows that have aired this year. Vengeance on Varos is a great example of how this genre can be done correctly, even if the villain is so evil as to be a bit cartoonish at times.
This serial also touches on execution and punishment as entertainment. On the beleaguered Varos, where the population is starving, a rebel leader named Jondar (Jason Connery, Robin of Sherwood is tortured, and this process is broadcast on television. Violence can distract from problems and diffuse tensions, which could be part of why the masses haven’t risen up. But it also is a horrendous thing to have as a part of life, something viewers complained about after this episode aired.
There are scenes in Vengeance on Varos featuring two natives named Arak (Stephen Yardley, Howards’ Way) and Etta (Sheila Reid, Benidorm). They are memorable because they are the embodiment of the public, and have grown bored with watching the torture. This not only puts a face on those suffering, but it also reveals a desensitization which is almost as disturbing as what Sil is doing.
Etta and Arak are also cool because they never enter into the main story directly, nor interact with the principal characters. There aren’t many shows that would present such an isolated, disconnected plot from the whole, and the uniqueness of this device makes the serial all the better for its inclusion.
The only plot hole that seems obvious is why, when Peri’s transformation is interrupted, is she restored to her normal self? Shouldn’t she be partially turned into something else? The mechanics of this particular machine aren’t very clear, and what is shown doesn’t really make sense.
Vengeance on Varos is a great example of what could be a rote Doctor Who adventure with enough charm and originality added to it to make it something special. This is what the show does at its best, and it makes for a very enjoyable couple of hours.
Because this is a special edition, the list of rich extras is quite long. The audio commentary provides the uncommon treat of including Baker, Bryant, and Shaban, the three stars of the serial. There are extended and deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery, trailers, and PDF materials. Fans can also listen to an isolated music score in the original mono sound, or in 5.1 surround. Production notes can optionally come up as subtitles.
“The Idiot’s Lantern” examines how the narrative of Doctor Who interacts with the medium of television. “Nice or Nasty?” is a thirty minute making of, and there’s an additional four minute featurette looking behind the scenes. A BBC News blurb covering Colin Baker’s casting as the Doctor is present, as is a thirteen minute look at the Sixth Doctor and a five minute interview with Baker.
As if all of that isn’t enough, there’s a Saturday Superstore segment featuring Baker, Bryant, and someone else (the packaging says it’s a surprise guest, so I won’t spoil it). “French & Saunders” is a comedy sketch done on the set of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who Vengeance on Varos Special Edition is a prime release featuring a terrific serial and tons of icing on the cake for Doctor Who fans. It is available on DVD now.