The TARDIS stalls in deep space, drained of one of its power sources. The Doctor is able to nudge the TARDIS toward the planet Varos, the galaxy’s only known natural deposit of zeiton-7 ore. But the rightful governor of Varos is under the thumb of Sil, a sinister profitmongering alien who plans to take over Varos and strip-mine it dry with no regard for the natives of the planet. Life on Varos is so bleak that executions and elections are both broadcast publicly, and they’re not exactly two different things – anytime one of the governor’s referendums fails to meet with the approval of the public, the governor himself suffers at the mercy of a disintegration beam, and naturally it’s on the air. The Doctor and Peri arrive right in the middle of just such an execution, setting a condemned prisoner free and setting in motion a chain of events that could free Varos from Sil’s murderous business dealings.
written by Philip Martin
directed by Ron Jones
music by Malcolm Clarke
Guest Cast: Martin Jarvis (Governor), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Jason Connery (Jondar), Forbes Collins (Chief Officer), Stephen Yardley (Arak), Sheila Reid (Etta), Geraldine Alexander (Areta), Owen Teale (Maldak), Graham Cull (Bax), Nicholas Chagrin (Quillam), Hugh Martin (Priest), Keith Skinner (Rondel), Bob Tarff (Executioner), Jack McGuire, Alan Troy (Madmen)
Broadcast from January 19 through 26, 1985
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: A couple of years before Gene Roddenberry conceived the Ferengi, the Doctor Who production team gave us Sil, a slimy green slug with a disturbing laugh and a bloodlust exceeded only by his lust for money. With a potentially brilliant satire of television’s effects on society, Vengeance On Varos could have been one of the best and most socially relevant Doctor Who stories ever. But there were so many distractions that this point was lost on a lot of people. In a surprisingly adult reference, there was even a very brief mention of pornography, but not much of a message – just enough to register with an older audience. (I must admit, it went over my head for several years.) But if you think about it, some of the show’s observations are spot-on. Jerry Springer might not be public executions, but it’s certainly responsible for the grisly death of many a brain cell. And people keep coming back for more. Just like wrestling. And The World’s Greatest Police Chases. And car races. They keep hoping to see a wreck, a mangled mass of machine or man, just for the morbid fascination value. But that issue, which could’ve been the basis of a much more fascinating story, is only touched on in a few token scenes. Either it wasn’t central to the plot to being with, or this angle of the story was downplayed by the script editor, but whatever happened, the only way one knew to look for the media satire in this story was if they’d been told in advance by helpful reviewers like myself – because it really didn’t appear too much in the show itself.
On the good side, Nabil Shaban outshines the rest of the cast – including the regulars – as slimy Sil, who is easily the sixth Doctor’s most distinctive and enduring companion. Sil returned in the disastrously bad second segment of 1986’s Trial of a Time Lord. On the downside, a trend is carried over from the Peter Davison years, as the TARDIS continues to be treated as a very ordinary spaceship so the writers can foist occasionally ridiculous plot twists on the Doctor and Peri – in this case, the TARDIS runs out of fuel for all intents and purposes.