19 October 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 657: Vengeance on Varos, Episode One

Dear diary,

Although the Baker years on the whole have something of a bad rep, there are a few stories that tend to break the pattern, and garner a fair amount of praise. Both of Philip Martin's contributions to the series (this story and The Trial of a Time Lord: Mindwarp next season), are usually considered to be some of these exceptions. I've seen this story before - it was one of the first that I picked up on DVD, but I have to admit that I can't recall it making all that much of an impact.

That said, the story's rather strong visual style did stick in the memory - I commented about the very 1980s hair on display in Terminus, but even that story has nothing on this one! Oh dear?

There's plenty to enjoy in this episode, though, and a fair amount of that needs to be put at Philip Martin's door. The script is filled with great dialogue, and possibly the best description of politics I've seen in a while;

ETTA
What would the next [Governor] do any different?

ARAK
Everything! Anything.

It's just one of many rather nice examinations of the way people in power work throughout this episode (another notable example is the difference between being allowed an opinion and a vote). It's in these moments that Martin really flies with the writing here - and it's some of the best commentary on the subject that Doctor Who has done in a long time. I'm hoping that we get plenty more of it in the next episode, too.

Elsewhere, the thing that people usually point out when discussing this story is how relevant it is to 'reality' TV these days. It has to be said that it does seem to be especially perceptive of the way that TV has moved, right down to being able to vote for what you want to happen, and it really does work as quite a nice idea for a Doctor Who story. My only concern is that I'm not really feeling the threat of the Punishment Dome yet; We've spent a lot of time in the hallucination areas, whereas I'm a vindictive sort of chap, and I'd rather see more of the other types of torture. I'm just not quite feeling the threat yet.

Also a little bit vindictive in this episode is Sil. He's often touted as a real stand-out character from this period of the programme (and he'll be back in Martin's next story for the programme, too), and I'll be honest when I say that I've never really understood the love for him. Actually, though, he's great! I can't help but like him, even when I know that he's trying to cheat the Governor (and, indeed, the whole planet). I'd imagine that I'll be discussing him more tomorrow - because he may well be one of my favourite things in the story!

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