Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos Review (or “Cut This In Half And You’d Have A Good Story”)

Season 22’s move to a 45 minute episode format meant that the way the show was written changed.

Without the need to come to a climax every 22 minutes, it was believed that the pace could slow down a bit.

But is that a good thing?

Does a show like Doctor Who benefit from slowing down?

As I move into my next story – Vengeance on Varos – I’ll see.

Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos Review: What’s This One About?

Trade agreements gone wrong, reality TV style voting on whether the Governor should live or die, and lots and lots and lots of walking through corridors.

Thoughts – One Episode Too Long

I feel as though Vengeance on Varos is an example of a Doctor Who story I’m supposed to like, but I don’t.

Boo!!! Hiss!!! It's Quillam, the evil pantomime villain almost completely redundant to the plot

Boo!!! Hiss!!! It’s Quillam, the evil pantomime villain almost completely redundant to the plot

It’s not that I dislike it, but I just don’t find it enjoyable enough to sing its praises.

The problem? Well as you might guess from the section heading, I feel it’s one episode too long.

I mentioned in my introduction about the move to the 45 minute format and the resultant slow-down of pace. Well I don’t think it’s a good thing here. Yes, it means that stories don’t need to have a cliffhanger every 23 minutes, but that wasn’t exactly a major problem for the previous 22 years.

To me, there’s just not enough plot here for 90 minutes of material.

Instead, what happens is that everything gets dragged out. The Doctor and Peri only leave the TARDIS 24 minutes in. If this was the normal format, that would mean they spent the whole of Episode One there.

Last time I checked, people criticised that sort of thing when it happened in the likes of Meglos.

Then once they leave the TARDIS, they – or the Doctor mainly – spend the rest of the story wandering through corridors, with only a brief sidetracking where they are nearly executed. And not just that, when they walk around those corridors, they face the same bits more than once. In Episode One, they walk towards danger with happy looks on their faces because of pink smoke, in Episode Two, it’s the same thing with green smoke.

Similarly, there’s a great deal of repetition with the stuff in the Governor’s office. We don’t need to see him face the vote three times, and there’s too much to-ing and fro-ing over the price of Zeiton-7.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea behind Vengeance on Varos is good  but they could have made a far better story if it had been a brisk paced one part affair.

Cut out all the repetition, get rid of the mostly pointless pantomime villain character of Quillam, remove the bit where Peri and Areta are turned into animals for a couple of minutes and you’d end up with something really good.

And it’s not even that the idea of doing a 45 minute story is alien to Eric Saward – he did 3 of them in the Peter Davison era. What’s more, it’s proven to be a success with modern Who.

I get the feeling they really missed the boat here.

Sil

One thing I do like about Vengeance on Varos is the character of Sil.

The idea behind him is interesting, and it’s clearly written with a disabled actor in mind (I mean, can you imagine if he was played by a 6 foot bloke?) but what really makes him memorable is the acting of Nabil Shaban.

As written, the character is probably pretty dull. Sure, he might pronounce words wrong, what with his faulty translator, but beyond that, a lesser actor wouldn’t excel.

But Shaban’s mannerisms, delivery and especially that laugh make the character into probably the most recognisable and interesting thing about the entire Sixth Doctor era.

Is It Getting Too Violent?

When Doctor Who was put on hiatus (I would say cancelled but that never happened; rather it was delayed for 18 months and people got the wrong end of the stick. That’s the story according to About Time anyway) one of the reasons given was

Luckily, this deleted scene with particularly unpleasant domestic violence didn't make the cut. Michael Grade would have had a stroke

Luckily, this deleted scene with particularly unpleasant domestic violence didn’t make the cut. Michael Grade would have had a stroke

that it was becoming too violent.

That was one of Michael Grade’s points when explaining the hiatus.

Is he right?

Well, yes and no.

Violence works when there’s a cause and character motivation – like in Caves of Androzani – but violence for the sake of it is a bit much.

In my Attack of the Cybermen review, I pointed out how I felt that the scene with Lytton’s hands being crushed was gratuitous, and I stand by that.

Here, there are two bits that stand out.

The first is the part where the Doctor apparently “throws people into a vat of acid and grins”. He doesn’t. One falls in by accident and the other is pulled in by the first guy. The Doctor doesn’t push either in.

What’s the point of the scene though? Two characters are introduced purely to be burned to death in acid. Pointless and again gratuitous.

The next example is a bit more disturbing though, as the Doctor plans and orders the carrying out of the pre-meditated murder of Quillam, The Chief Officer and a bunch of guards. Yes, he waited until his life was threatened, but it doesn’t seem even slightly “Doctorly” in my opinion.

So yeah, I do think the show at this point is relying too much on the crutch of violence. I don’t really see why people would tune in just for that. Viewing figures would suggest they do the opposite.

I’ll take proper storytelling any day.

The Colin Baker Cliffhanger Close-Up Count

Nothing to report today.

So the score is still

The Doctor 4-2 Peri.

Random Observations

  • I would have said that in the main, the standard of acting in Vengeance on Varos is good, but that would be a lie. The truth is that while Nabil Shaban and Martin Jarvis are both excellent in their roles, the rest of the guest cast are ordinary
    I imagine they were probably proud of their performances

    I imagine they were probably proud of their performances

    at best.

  • Especially bad are the two cannibal blokes who make the odd fleeting appearance.
  • The Doctor – but for another tiresome set of early scenes in the TARDIS – acts pretty normally here. It’s almost as if the contracted writers pen him as a normal bloke and Saward insists on adding some added arsey touches (innuendo unintended) at the beginning just to remind us not to like him.
  • Hey, that Guard Captain is in Game of Thrones!
  • Nothing to report on Incidental Music, which is a good thing. It blends into the background well.
  • Peri seems to have a very limited wardrobe. Here she’s wearing the same combination of skin tight top and dumpy shorts in powder blue rather than pink. At least she changes her clothes though; the previous four companions barely managed that.
  • That line about “It was supposed to be a cold dinner” was excruciatingly bad. Whoever wrote that – steer clear of ever attempting to write a sitcom.
  • The premise for the story – that the Doctor suddenly ran out of an important element that could only be found on one planet – is a bit of a stretch. Surely he’d keep a backup supply? Did he learn nothing from his first trip to Skaro?
  • I like the cliffhanger to Episode One. It works, even though they are making a pretty big assumption that the Doctor is dead. The addition of Sil’s laugh adds to it.
  • Speaking of Sil’s laugh, I’d a) love to be able to do it and b) if I could, I’d do it at a job interview just to unnerve the interviewers.
  • Why exactly is it called Vengeance on Varos other than for alliterative purposes?
  • DWM Mighty 200 Ranking: #124. Hmmm.

Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos Review: Final Thoughts

There’s just too much padding and repetition to make Vengeance on Varos the sort of Doctor Who story I’d recommend.

If they’d cut it in half and had one brisk paced 45 minute story – like they do in Modern Who – I reckon it would have been excellent.

Indeed, it’s the sort of story that you could imagine working today.

But sadly, it wasn’t to be.

And so I would say that Vengeance on Varos ends up being a disappointment, meaning that we’re still waiting for a Sixth Doctor story that I can give the thumbs up to.

 

 

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4 Responses to Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos Review (or “Cut This In Half And You’d Have A Good Story”)

  1. Professor Thascales says:

    “Speaking of Sil’s laugh, I’d a) love to be able to do it and b) if I could, I’d do it at a job interview just to unnerve the interviewers.”
    Instead of them hiring you, they’d probably call the cops.

  2. Rob L says:

    I have a friend who once used Sil’s laugh on a one night stand who was….erm….taking a bit too long. Rather than frighten the bloke off however, he instead asked if my mate was a fan. Rather sweetly, they still make eyes at each other whenever meeting at conventions.

  3. Ralph Burns says:

    I do enjoy it, but agree it would work better in the current 45 min format.

  4. WiseWolf says:

    About the “Vengeance” in the title: I had a thought that at the end, when Sil’s people find more ore and need Varos’ ore to mine it and will pay whatever the Varosians ask for it, the Governor triples or quadruples the price Sil wanted to pay. Revenge for not paying the original price for the ore.

    (Of course, finding more ore would lower the price of the existing ore, whether it could be immediately mined or not, so the ending doesn’t make much sense, but whatever)

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