Vengeance on Varos is an interesting one. It has a lot going for it. It has the simply superb Sil, played with relish by the fantastic Nabil Shaban, who totally steals the episode for me. It has a dystopian world which seems to have evolved from a prison planet like the sort you would see on Blake’s 7 which appears to have one thing going for it, which is a surfeit of a particular ore, Zeiton, and a sideline in video nasties used to keep the people quiet, and also to make money.
It is definitely a story of the eighties and is very much a product of its time more so that any of the other sixth Doctor episodes so far. The episode is suitably dark and dingy when on the planet of Varos which is very different from the brightness of the TARDIS scenes which take up a lot of the first half of the first episode where the Doctor discovers that the TARDIS is lacking a Zeiton 7 which means that it is effectively useless and then decides to go into a bit of a fug for the second time this regeneration so far and retreat into himself and, if it wasn’t for poor Peri chivvying him along he probably would have done absolutely nothing about it at all but she managed to get him to actually believe that it wasn’t the end of the road, and that they might be able to actually get some of the Zeiton that they needed but even then he opined that they may miss the mining era of Varos which wouldn’t help them at all.
So it was only due to serendipity that the TARDIS was able to land on Varos at the exact time that it did that saved Jondar’s life and also saw the Doctor and Sil meet for the very first time. Obviously Jondar would not have been saved and Sil would probably have gotten away with his plan to get the Zeiton ore for the cheapest possible price and of course the poor Governor would have been a goner as well so it was quite good luck at least for two people that the TARDIS managed to get exactly where it needed to be at that particular moment in time and also for the story itself as it would have been rather boring if we just had Peri and the Doctor grumbling in the TARDIS for the entire forty-five minutes of the episode. Things really got going when the TARDIS eventually landed which was not before time if you ask me.
What was interesting though was the little cut away scenes to two ordinary residents of Varos which were often some of the best scenes in the entire episodes, apart from any scene that Nabil Shaban appeared in naturally, with their pithy comments about what they were watching, a sort of proto Gogglebox if you were.
Aside from Nabil Shaban, Martin Jarvis was impressive in this episode as the Governor showing a man who was effectively powerless despite his apparent high standing in the planets hierarchy. Jason Connery was rather wooden as the rebel Jondar and didn’t really seem that rebellious at all, but having said that it was rather easy to be considered a rebel on the planet of Varos.
Connery was much less wooden in Robin of Sherwood but here did seem to be just reading his lines out loud rather than attempting to actually act them. Geraldine Alexander as his wife Areta showed far more emotion in her few scenes in this episode than Connery managed in all of the scenes that he appeared in this episode, which were considerably more than Alexander was afforded.
The cliff-hanger was a bit rubbish though and once again ending on a close up of either the Doctor or Peri’s face, which has been a hallmark of the sixth Doctor’s era so far and didn’t need to end with the governor asking them to cut the cameras and just could have ended with the Doctor seemingly to slump to the floor dead.