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Team TARDIS and James Bond Jr go full Running Man, battling militarised mobility scooters and diaper zombies

On the former prison planet of Varos, the Varosians have two major exports: Zeiton-7, a precious metal used to fuel space and time ships, and reality TV. Toiling under the sadistic military rule of the governor, the Varosians record every aspect of their horrifying prison world and broadcast it all as televised entertainment. And interestingly, this is a brutal democracy where even the governor can be voted to death on live TV. To add a further layer of political complexity, the government is also somehow at the mercy of a mining corporation imposing unfair trade tariffs for their export of Zeiton-7, and Sil, mentor and local mining rep, has his sights on becoming governor himself. 

Meanwhile somewhere and sometime else, the Sixth Doctor and Peri are suffering some technical difficulties with the TARDIS and head to Varos for replacement Zeiton-7. Pretty soon, they’re thrust into a violent uprising against the governor led by a woman with low self-esteem and a man with no acting talent. When they’re not firing lasers or drowning guards in acid, they’re forced to endure hellish torment at the hands of the government or to impose a peaceful and egalitarian society in the last minute of the serial. Needless to say, it’s amazeballs.

Here's what we think of C139 Vengeance on Varos

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

4.0

Jim | @jimmythewho

3.5

Here's what we think of C139 Vengeance on Varos

We rate Doctor Who stories on a scale from 0.0 to 5.0. For context, very few are excellent enough to merit a 5.0 in our minds, and we'd take a 0.0 Doctor Who story over a lot of other, non-Whovian stuff out there.

Leon | @ponken

4.0

Jim | @jimmythewho

3.5

Here's what you think 11 Responses to “C139 Vengeance on Varos”
  1. Bob Balderdash

    Bob here! My mom and I are big fans! But enough of that, I LOVE THIS SERIAL! When you’ve been watching Old Who for this long, not a lot stands out. But this serial has so many unique concepts and characters. The Governor, Sil, Dr. Eggman, and Phantom of the Opera II are so interesting, and I love the creativity behind Sil’s Yoda speak and deplorable laugh. That unnecessary watering scene was great. I love a good dystopia, and this is a great one. The two civilians with conflicting views constantly watching the events unfold on television is such a great touch, and the TV shutting down at the end of the serial was such a strong book ending.

    Collin Baker was so enjoyable to watch, and I can’t forget that scene with the Doctor accepting execution in such a nonchalant way. I wish that scene was the cliffhanger because the guard actually pulling the lever surprised me.

    Flaws: Oftentimes Peri was a damsel or just static. I think we’re supposed to believe she had an effect on the Governor, but I’m not sure what. Phantom was too similar to the fantastic Sharaz Jek. Also, shooting the controls to reverse the metamorphosis was rather too easy. Finally, the serial resolved seemingly to random circumstance. The invasion force just found more rare material on a random rock so they gave up?

    Anyhoo, I give this a 4.8 Goveneurs out of 5. Keep up the great work! :)

  2. Andy Parkinson | @caffreys71

    Hi Chaps!

    Vengeance on Varos is where Doctor Who critiques the violence and gore on TV and video nasties (which were prevalent at the time) by……errr showing lots of violence and gore!!
    Somewhat predicting the reality TV of today it’s a dark and atmospheric story that is often held up as an example of Doctor Who going too far especially the acid bath scene. I don’t agree entirely, as although this is definitely on the darker end of the spectrum it is also hugely entertaining with some fantastic performances from the like of Nabil Shaban as Sil and Martin Jarvis as the Governor.
    There’s some brilliant dialogue too, with some witty one-liners such as “He’s the worst Governor we’ve had since…well since…. Since the last one” “I want to hear them scream till I am deaf with pleasure” “I like that one, the one in the funny clothes”

    Familiar Faces
    There are a few returning faces in this story, Martin Jarvis plays the Governor previously played Hilio the Menoptra in The Web Planet and also Butler the other scientist in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Also returning is Stephen Yardley who we last saw as Sevrin in Genesis of the Daleks. Finally, Sheila Reid who plays Etta will return in NuWho as Clara’s Gran.

    Likes
    Using Arak and Etta as our eyes to look in at the way of life on Varos. I also love their relationship and the bickering.
    Sil – he’s a fabulous villain and so brilliantly realised
    The cliff-hanger to part one is fantastically performed with Colin genuinely looking like he’s dying in the desert it’s possibly one of the best we’ve had to date.
    The music is wonderful, it adds atmosphere and never overpowers the action

    Beefs
    That bloody golf cart thing – I mean what’s the point?
    The Doctor says “If we can get back to the Tardis, we can get away from here much more easily.” – errrr no you can’t mate it’s immobilised remember?
    Cannibals in nappies – really?!?!
    At the end the Galatron Mining says they’ve found a new source of Zeiton-7, but instruct Sil to accept any price. I may have missed something here but wouldn’t a new source mean the price would go down not up?

    Overall, this is a fabulous story and one of my favourite Colin stories. A lot of the humour was taken out of the story at the script editing stage and it may have helped to take some of the sting out of the very dark atmosphere, but that might also have lessened the impact of points the story was trying to make. Although not without minor issues it really is a great Doctor Who story.
    I award this 4.7 Peri Eh? So bad it’s good jokes out of 5

  3. GP Haynes

    What a great episode. One of Bakers finest and certainly a thought provoking dark satire on violence and the media

    I feel this captured the Zeitgeist of the 80s obsession with violent TV and movies trying to outdo one another, coupled with the worldwide growth in CCTVs, video surveillance, home video sales, and even the introduction of interaction of audiences with their production counterparts in various forms of media. All which exploded in the 1980s.

    Bakers portrayal is spot on with his version of the character, his absent mindedness in parts, wholly reflective of this character trait.

    Sil was the perfect alien, not only a wonderful costume and prop, but played to perfection as a truly disgusting, evil and darkly humorous character. Top marks here!

    Controversial at the time, this episode has some amazing moments, and I think they work well. Do I want to see this type of episode every week? No, but on its own, it stands as a great example of what Dr Who is capable of when it stretches

    I pretty much enjoyed everything ( minus the Bond quip, after the two people are killed in the acid bath ) The production and sets were suitably dark and menacing. The terrific cast ( which includes Jason Connery and Owen Teale ) were also excellent, with the Doc and Peri pretty much at the top of their game.

    Great work all round.

    Rating: 4.7 Tonnes of Zeiton-7 Ore

  4. Steven from Canada | @SAndreyechen

    The Doctor and Peri run out of gas and have to go to the planet Varos. Upon landing they are forced to run a torture gauntlet that is broadcast across the planet. Will they survive?! Tune in next week to find out! Up next Execution Street, followed by news at 7:00.

    This story presents an incredibly fleshed out world, as we get to experience the bulk of the first episode from the perspective of many of the planet’s inhabitants watching the events unfold. It works well to endear the audience to the audience. (Pun intended!)

    The episodes’ cliff hangers were also ingenious. This story really plays well with its subject matter, something they were wild ahead of the game with. Indeed this story is often praised for it being awfully prophetic, predicting the reality TV boom and more recently the prolificness of live-streaming. So too does it predict the divisiveness of politics and the tensions politics have reached in the 2020s.
    And if that isn’t the greatest compliment that a sci-fi story can get I don’t know what is.

    A lot of people argue about this story though, especially with regards to whether it is in character for the Doctor to kill. After watching every story up to this point I can say with certainty that this is indeed the case! His blood thirstiness is present from his very first story, though it is *almost* always justified: The First Doctor tried to bludgeon a caveman, Two killed Cybermen like they were going out of style, Three Judo chopped anything in his way, Four blasted Sontarans into the ether and Five popped caps in Dalek ass. More like the man who wouldn’t hesitate am I right! 😂

    From a production standpoint this story is fantastic.The sets and costumes are great and the music fits incredibly well. Sil is well realized both in design and performance.

    Overall this story earns the coveted 5 votes out of 5.

  5. Kieren Evans | @kjevans2

    Hi folks

    So for me this is the best of the season. A dark satire on TV and media, particularly video nasties which were a thing at the time. In a weird way, a lot of it feels more predictive with later shows such as Big Brother and Gogglebox. That said, it is quite brutal in tone (picking up from last times) and there were quite a few complaints about things, in particular the acid bath scene with the Doctor apparently pushing that guy in. Personally I don’t think he does, but the quip doesn’t help. The 45 min format does often mean that the Doctor and Peri take a while to turn and it’s about 23 mins in when they arrive on Varos. In fact in some countries this season was shown in 25 min parts so them arriving was the end of part 1. That said there’s worse offenders in this season for that.

    Martin Jarvis is wonderful as the governor (we have previously seen him in The Web Planet and Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Other well-known names are Jason Connery (yes, Sean’s son) and Owen Teale (GoT’s Ser Alliser Thorne). Sheila Reid who plays Etta the viewer at home returns to play Clara’s Gran in The Time of the Doctor and Dark Water.

    The music by Jonathan Gibbs is generally quite good and Philip Martin’s script is very good. He’ll write another classic who and a couple of audios though sadly passed away recently.

    4.0/5

    Ps 1,620,783 votes in the vote they show which is a nice way of telling us how big Varos is.

  6. Ed Corbet

    We open with Jondar being tortured with a torch-beam. The viewer states “he’s only acting” which is a bit of a dick-move as Connery now has to act extra hard to look like he isn’t just acting.

    Peri gives-out at Doc again (is she still holding trying to murder her against him?), so he basically does the stop-the-car until everyone behaves thing that your Dad used to do. So Peri suggests a lovely trip to Varos, because she doesn’t want to grow old and die in Doc’s temporal sarcophagus.

    I liked the way the Viewers were set-up as moaning and bickering, but still basically friends, which later became darker as they threatened to snitch each other to the Government as the tension started building and events were raising them out of their apathy.

    Martin Jarvis did a good job at making the Governor sympathetic (even though he was complicit in this totalitarian society) by playing him as a weary individual who genuinely wanted to help his people, but felt utterly powerless to change anything as any tough decision could be vetoed with his death.

    A satire on politicians having no real power and having to do dumb things to appeal to voters, who just want to gawp at their TV screen and enjoy other’s torment. It’s good to see that in nearly 40 years nothing’s changed. It’s overall a good series (the “high-speed” escape on a golf cart was particularly entertaining).

    3.3

  7. Richie Blagg | @richiesexington

    Wellity well well what do we have here. I tell you what we have a call back to the Sunmakers

    Evil dude in chair check
    Subdued populace check
    Social commentary on the rise of TV subduing said populace check
    Extravagant punishment zone you bet your ass there is

    Age old story doc needs a thing thing is in a place place is nightmare fuel. Bad guys love money and voting and losing kills the guvner Some heavy themes juxtapositioned with Peri bring turned into a bird thing and perved over by the try hard Sil

    I cant get over how much better thus far Baker has been than I was led to believe. Even if the story is a little ropey in places it didn’t matter cos he drags you through it by the eyeballs

    Final score 3.7 couples watching TV having no idea what to do when the TV turns off. Wait until they see Twitter

    Richie Von Sexington the third aka Richie Blagg

  8. Neil | @neilandrozani & @neiljamesactor

    Let’s start with Sil! He’s brilliant. Great costume and make-up design, and the performance is big and fun. In fact, most of the actors playing the villains are really strong. Sadly, the actors playing the rebels God-awful. Yes Mr. Connery that includes you!

    Having Arak and Etta watching the ‘action’ unfold on their screen is an interesting storytelling device and it seems the writer foresaw the future of public voting on rubbish reality TV shows. These characters highlight the divide in the world that is still horribly apparent today.

    Peri has a horrendous time in this story – she is slapped across the face, forced to watch the Doctor die on live TV, and finally turned into a birdwoman! Other dreadful things worth mentioning include:

    -Two old men wearing nappies going mental.
    -Actors pretending to be terrified by a really slow golf buggy.
    -Everything is brown.

    I want to enjoy this one (honestly), but I can’t help finding it drab, dull and joyless.

    Rating – 1.8

  9. Dan from Devon

    Hello chaps,
    Every few years, digging this one out for a rewatch, I find there’s yet another aspect of it that’s turned out to be spookily accurate. There’s the reality-show-of-death thing, which is queasily on point (and anticipates Arnie’s ‘The Running Man’ two years later). There’s the constant round of elections purporting to be democracy in action, though corporate greed is really running the show. It also predicts, in the form of Martin Jarvis’s Governor, the 21st century trend for privileged, wet-weekend leaders who are slaves to their popularity ratings and the price of fossil fuels – sorry, Zeiton-7.
    The dialogue between Arak and Etta is equally grim and hilarious, played really well and giving great metatextual context for viewers of a show relishing its grittier, nastier side.
    Sil is sublimely icky and gittish, and probably the last really memorable villain of the classic series.
    A few beefs: Doc is still being periodically unbearable to his companion and, despite Colin being terrific in the role, his character is still hard to like even when he’s being the hero. Peri is still in her whiny annoying phase and is lumbered with lines that no living human would ever actually say. And the less said about some of the supporting cast’s acting, the better.
    But overall, in the words of everyone’s favourite Thoros Betan, ‘This is the most wonderful entertainment.’
    My rating: 4.2 marshminnows out of five

  10. Peter Zunitch

    (Okay this one’s on you (or Gmail). I def sent it this time (July 4th)! No worries. I didn’t really have much unique to say this time.)

    This installment certainly has many flaws. However I vote to ignore them all because I LOVE this story. Honestly did anyone ever expect anything less than an 11 from Nabil Shaban? I challenge anyone to take their eyes off of Sil any time he’s on camera. Colin Baker similarly dominates every scene he’s in, solving the problems of the hour with simple force of will. Kinda strange that, since he so easily gave up in the Tardis. Unfortunately Peri’s arc sees her going from damsel to damsel with a bit of damsel in between. Still at least she has company this time. The Chief Officer is solid and some of his reactions are to die for. The technical director is so OTT he’s beautiful.

    The golf cart and the lasers are barf-o-rama this week. Other than that the effects and props were utterly wonderful. I want one of those pistols.

    Ultimately how can we decide between the loyalty of Viewer #1 or the skepticism of Viewer #2? How many viewers besides me were both wishing for the Governor’s demise, but hoping he would survive? It’s a story about choice when there are no choices. It’s about the voyeurism and dangers of social media a year after The Running Man but decades before Facebook and Instagram. Sorry was I getting political? I’ll stop now before I’m vaporized.

    So what should we, as viewers do now that we’re free? Well watch it again another day of course. It gets my vote. 4.3

    • Hey amigo!
      Really sorry we didn’t feature your mini in the episode. (What we actually should do is set up a mini-review form on the site with a dropdown list of the upcoming episodes, because this happens to lots of Podcastland all the time. I’ll have a think…)
      In the meantime, wonderful mini as always, with excellent points I can get behind. :) And “Barf-o-rama” still has me in stitches, haha!
      Ciao,
      L

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