Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos (Special Edition) [DVD] [1985]

One of the most popular of Colin (the sixth Doctor) Baker’s adventures, Vengeance on Varos finds the Doctor and Peri (Nichola Bryant) involved with rebels in a 1984-like world, where televised torture is used to support and enforce an unworkable regime ruling a mining society on the planet Varos. When first broadcast the story aroused condemnation not only over the violence shown–particularly two men falling into a vat of acid–but also over the implied horror and moral corruption. However, these complaints missed the satiric subtext of a world in which the reality TV suffering pacifies the masses while big business carries on exploiting them; and none were more memorably corrupt than the reptilian alien Sil–a love-it-or-hate-it OTT performance from Nabil Shaban. While there is rather too much running about in corridors, the surreal terrors of the Punishment Dome make for good Doctor Who, and the adventure develops ideas from both The Sunmakers (1977) and The Caves of Androzani (1984) with considerable low-budget aplomb. Filled with bizarre touches such as Peri’s transformation into a bird creature, the show also marked Jason Connery’s TV debut as a rebel leader.

On the DVD: There’s 15 minutes worth of deleted and/or extended scenes and four minutes of stage footage, but by far the finest extra is the three way commentary track, with Baker, Bryant and Nabil Shaban. Affectionately sending the show and themselves up, while still demonstrating a great love for Doctor Who, the track sometimes degenerates into trivia, but at its best is simply hilarious. Both original BBC1 trailers and a continuity link are included, as is a photo gallery and the option to listen with the unfinished “production sound”, something which is likely to appeal only to die hard fans. Rather more interesting are the optional on-screen production notes, which offer a wealth of behind-the-scenes information. The extras are completed with a small selection of outtakes. The sound is strong, clear mono, the 4:3 transfer has no sign of compression artefacting and is good enough to reveal the weaknesses in the original studio-bound video production. —Gary S Dalkin