Sunday, March 18, 2007

DWM Preview! Vengeance on Varos

Varos. The name of the planet means little to Peri, but seems to stir unpleasant memories for the Doctor, who is consequently less than keen to land. Unfortunately, events have soon taken over actions and, like it or not, there is little alternative. Varos has something the Doctor, or more accurately the TARDIS, cannot do without and it is this that the wary travellers set out to find.

Having arrived on the planet, however, the problems inside the ship quickly pale into insignificance when compared to the frightening scenario outside. Very quickly Peri learns the reason for Varos' unsavory reputation and as the place begins to unleash the first of its horror the fact that this world is in the supposedly advanced developmental stage of the latter half of the 23rd century proves to count for little indeed. The whole civilisation is a nightmare of organised cruelty, insititutionalised violence and callous bureaucracy supported by mistrust, corruption and malice as well as the machinations of a visiting alien delegate.

The second story of the next season is a winner - although very different in stylistic terms from the rest of the upcoming Doctor Who stories. A combination of George Orwell's 1984, Nigel Kneale's The Year of the Sex Olympics and our own The Sunmakers. Vengeance on Varos is a return to the satirical stories of yore, balancing its wry observations on the developments of today's society with more than a few smiles. The humor of the story is very much to the foreground though it veers more towards wit than slapstick. look out for some of the best and most memorable characters the series has boasted.

Of course, not everything turns out to be so grim on Varos, and the story has its "goodies" as well as "baddies", so that the Doctor's arrival the struggle against the established order intensifies. It does not, however, turn out to be an easy or a clean fight. Without a doubt this gem of a four-parter is going to be extremely exciting when it reaches your screens sometimes around the end of January. Already with a reputation for the pacy quality of his productions, director Ron Jones has masterminded his new story with still more suspense and tension. This meant some especially intense work over the six days this story had in studio, there being no location work (as with Frontios). Part of the flavor of Ron Jones' episodes in his use of lighting, an underused area in television and Ron divides his time between direction from the floor and directing from the gallery. In a future issue of this magazine he will shortly be interviewed about all his Doctor Whos to date.

One of the most important area of any series is the acting, something, which, if on form can hide the worst sets, and which is so important in sustaining the fantasy of Doctor Who. Vengeance on Varos had a cast, who, apart from being highly impressive, seemed absolutely devoted to each other. At the head of the team Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant deserve especial praise for their professionalism. Martin Jarvis' third role in the series is also his best, his part as the Governor giving him the opportunity to do some subtle, sardonic acting. Other cast members include Sean Bean playing the seemingly heroic Jondar with a lot of spirit (and a lot of energy too). Other prominent cast members who were just as dedicated to the show include Nicholas Chagrin as Quillam, Julia Sawalha as Areta and Forbes Collins as the Chief. Above all, acting awars should do to Nabil Shaban, who plaus the repellent alien delegate Sil.

Vengeance on Varos starts as it means to go on - in fine Doctor Who tradition with good characters, fast-paced action, appropriate production and a particularly strong central plot. Perhaps its greatest success will be its clever expansion of all the most popular elements in the programme to create a polished, highly entertaining and dramatic four episodes.

Richard Marson (after substantial bribes made by NJ Verkoff were made), The Official Doctor Who Magazine, #94, November 1984.

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