‘I’ve seen so much, I’m going blind
and braindead virtually’
~ Blur, Coffee and TV
After gouging themselves on pineapple-and-ham pizzas, the Doctor and Peri arrive on a planet dedicated to reality television. Just imagine Big Brother with torture.
Not only is this planet full of trouble for our heroes, they are also unlikely to get their hands on more pizza.
Sorry, I have no idea why I think pizza was a funny thing to joke about. It sounded funnier in my head. I always forget that pizza is inherently unfunny. I won’t mention it again. Sorry.
Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor is seen as being quite bad by some, Yes, it can be embarrassing to admit that you like his time on the show but it is the equivalent of popping down to the chemist to buy tampons, thrush cream or condoms…erm…by which I mean that it may be something you wouldn’t admit to but you are glad that you did. Yes, Colin Baker is the Vagisil of the Doctor Who universe. Um, to put it another way: Colin Baker is a great Doctor, or specifically, the 12th best Doctor.
I really am making a hash of this unreview, aren’t I? But that is OK because the production team made a hash of making the show during Colin’s era.
So anyway, the TARDIS needs something called Zeiton-7. The only source of this stuff is the planet Varos. Which raises a few questions…
How likely is it that the Time Lords would use Zeiton-7 in their time machines? I mean, how the hell did they know that only this stuff would be what they need to help their TARDIS ships work? This is the same as a car manufacturer making a car that needed a special fuel that could only be found on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Yeah, not bloody likely at all! What happens when the Zeiton-7 runs out? Varos is only one teeny weeny planet, so therefore there must only be a finite amount. What happens when it runs out, will the Time Lords stop travelling in time? This is a pretty stupid plothole.
Varos was a prison planet and is more or less still a prison planet but not they are enslaved to the idiot’s lantern, the television. It is a little sad that these saps are addicted to their telly-boxes. I am sure that there is some kind of subtle social commentary here but it escapes me for the time being.
Satire: this story has some. At the time this story was written, there was a bit of fuss about video nasties and violence etc. This story manages to see what our television shows would turn into. Vengeance on Varos predicted the rise of reality TV (if you squint your eyes). Happily, our televisual pleasures don’t include torture or death. Russell T Davies played on the same themes with Bad Wolf but he pulled his punches to some extent. Vengeance on Varos is undiluted compared to what Davies would later do. And it is all the better for it.
This satire is more than just a cynical nod at our viewing habits, it is also political. Everyone is trapped. The citizens and even the Governor. Trapped by how their society works. It is a vicious circle of diminishing returns. Much like my unreviews.
The Governor is superficial but he has to be otherwise the electorate won’t vote for him. He has to bend over backwards because if he doesn’t he’ll be punished or killed. If this poor man doesn’t appeal; to the hoi polloi, he will be given the chop and replaced with another idiot.
This raises problems because the Governor is ultimately just trying to please people without doing anything that will be of actual use to them. He gives them what they want when he should be giving them what they need. Subtle difference but a very important one. With a system like this, it means that all your leaders would be shallow and untrustworthy. See how the satire works?
From what I have mentioned, you may be wondering, “Wot no monsters?” Well, there is a monster. Or rather a monstrous character. Sil, a giant amphibious sluggy alien with reptile heritage (maybe he is half Gorn and half Kermit the frog?). Sil is representing the Galatron Mining Corporation. Guess what? They want the Zeiton-7 as well. Hah, now the plot thickens.
Sil’s costume may not hold up to well nowadays but that is alright because Nabil Shaban’s performance is what makes Sil such a classic character.
Oooh, just had a mental image of Sil dressed up as Adam Ant, singing Stand and Deliver. Sigh, gotta stop drinking coffee…
One of the nice touches about Sil is his dodgy translator unit. It causes him to say the weirdest things. Imagine if your sat-nav had just enjoyed some rather good champagne, it’d sound exactly like Sil.
Just had another mental image. This time Sil and the Doctor are break-dancing to Parliament’s Flashlight. That would be a dance-off that Colin Baker would come in second place. Hold on, just putting the coffee far far away from me…
Where was I? Nabil Shaban! Yes! Shaban is really wonderful as the feculent Sil. The most slimy untrustworthy character you could ever imagine. Donald Trump without the naff hair.
Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, yeah, I like him. He is easily the tenth best thing about Vengeance on Varos. I still can’t accept that damn costume though (which incidentally is 29th in my ranking of Doctor costumes, fact fans! At 30, final place, is the costume he wore during Trial of a Time Lord). Baker would have been better served if he had been dressed in Ginger Spice’s Union Jack dress and, quite frankly, that is saying something.
But if you can get past what he is wearing (wearing sunglasses helps a lot), Colin Baker’s performance rewards close watching. True, he is a little brash but there is nothing wrong with that and Baker is always arresting to watch. I loved his performance in this story, quite easily the eighth best performance of the entire adventure.
Nicola Bryant gets to do more than her usual ersatz American accented complaininess in this story.. Peri turns into a bird! The whole pathos of that is possibly beyond her acting abilities but I have to admit that she truly knocks it out of the park. Bryant is a better actress than I had though. Like Baker though, she is failed by her costume.
I could say much more. I have only just touched on the Governor (Martin Jarvis) and his is such a good part, oh boy. If you haven’t watched this story before, you are in for such a treat.
Vengeance on Varos might have been a bit more fun if they had played De La Soul’s Three Is The Magic Number in the background instead of the usual din. The music is, as always during this era, either good or terrible. This music? Terrible.
Hey, watch this story for yourself. It really is quite fantastic. Yes, really! It is the cat’s miaow.
Should there be any characters that I have not dealt with in this unreview, please note that they all met their deaths between the buttocks of two bull elephants.