Jeff Reviews “DOCTOR WHO: Vengeance on Varos – Special Edition (DVD)”
DOCTOR WHO: Vengeance on Varos – Special Edition (DVD)
BBC / 1985 / 90 mins / NR
All of the incarnations of the venerable Time Lord known only as The Doctor have had their shares of up and downs during their eras. However, I’m putting in my vote for Colin Baker’s run as The Sixth Doctor as having the most extreme run of good episodes and bad episodes. When he had bad episodes, he had some of the worst of the series’ 49-year run; “The Twin Dilemma” and “Timelash” are truly cringe-inducing embarrassing tales. When he had good episodes, they may not have been the best of the entire series, but they were some of the most thought provoking and edgy of the classic series. The crowning jewel of these is hands down “Vengeance on Varos,” a scathing examination of the cult of television and one of the most violent stories of the classic era. It also features one of the most controversial moments ever of the popular Time Lord when he responds to the gruesome deaths of two characters with a very flippant un-Doctor-like remark.
A sudden energy drain forces The Doctor to land on the planet Varos, the only source for the rare ore that powers the TARDIS. The current government on Varos is kept in office by the television addicted population. The officials receive approval from the masses via television votes: if they vote “yes” all is well and the officials go about their business. If they vote “no,” the officials are tortured via “Human Cell Disintegration Bombardment” in the “Punishment Dome,” just like the rebels who are caught trying to free Varos of this torture. The Doctor and Peri (Nicola Bryant) have their hands full as they try to get the rare ore from the evil Mentor, Sil (Nabil Shaban) who is manipulating and exploiting the planet, and not end up on television as a participant in the “Punishment Dome.”
“Vengeance on Varos” has been a fan favorite since it originally aired in 1985 and the slug-like Sil immediately shot to instant classic villain status. Sil was such a popular villain that he was immediately scheduled for a return appearance by series producer John Nathan-Turner and would be prominently featured in Baker’s epic “Trial of a Time Lord” story arc.
The story still holds up very well today with Baker in top form as a sarcastic and unusually dark Doctor. His incarnation is almost the complete opposite of current Doctor Matt Smith’s manically excitable “madman in a box.”
The concept of viewers voting on the fate of people on television seemed like science fiction back in the 1980’s, but reality shows like “American Idol” show that writer Philip Martin’s concept wasn’t far off at all.
The digitally remastered full frame 1.33 transfer is a very nice upgrade from the 2001 original release. Colors are much more stable and detail more pronounced. While the upgrade isn’t as impressive as the recent “Spearhead from Space” Special Edition disc, it is a noticeable improvement.
This special edition wins the most audio options of any classic (or current series) DOCTOR WHO of all time. You get your choice of the original Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo, the original “Mono Production Audio” (the raw studio recording with no music or sound effects) and Jonathan Gibbs’ musical score is presented on not one, but two isolated tracks(a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and a newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1!) All this and there is an audio commentary as well! Needless to say, the Doctor Who Restoration Team went all out for this release.
All of the supplements from the original 2003 release are included plus an impressive batch of new goodies.
The commentary track featuring actors Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban is still a fun listen.
“Nice or Nasty? The Making of ‘Vengeance on Varos’” is not so much a proper making of featurette but is more of a look back at the episode putting it into context of the times and how some of the more violent scenes (the acid bath scene in particular) managed to go on air as it did.
“The Idiot’s Lantern” features British television reporter Samira Ahmed discussing the ways DOCTOR WHO has used television over the years.
Twelve minutes of “Extended and Deleted Scenes,” the “Acid Bath Scene with alternate music,” a little under five minutes of “Behind the Scenes” B-roll and three more minutes of “Outtakes” gives you loads of additional footage.
Two “Trailers” and two “Continuities” show how each episode was promoted.
“Tomorrow’s Times – The Sixth Doctor” has actress Sarah Sutton (The Fifth Doctor’s companion Nyssa) hosting a look back at the critics reaction to Baker’s run as the Time Lord.
“News” and “Breakfast Time” are announcements and an interview with Baker when he took over the role of The Doctor.
“Saturday Superstore” features Baker and Bryant in costume as guests shortly after taking over their roles.
“French and Saunders” is a 7 1/2 minute comedy sketch that was filmed on the set of “Trial of a Time Lord” with the popular comedy team dressed as alien extras. It was never broadcast but clips have been shown on various documentaries and featurettes over the years.
A trailer for next month’s classic release “The Ambassadors of Death,” the “Photo Gallery” and always recommended “Production Notes” subtitle option round out a truly impressive set of supplements.
One of the best adventures of The Sixth Doctor gets a snazzy upgrade well worth the double dip. Recommended!
– Jeff Allen