Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos: Special Edition

Doctor Six and Peri feature in this 1985 adventure, given a new lick of paint in this Special Edition DVD.

As the last remaining surviving stories come to DVD – as I write this, there are just six to go, plus odds and ends such as the footage from the abandoned story Shada and the two previously missing episodes found last year – 2 Entertain have been “revisiting” stories that were released earlier in the run, giving them more extras and in many cases improved DVD transfers. They released three Revisitations box sets, which I reviewed here, here and here, plus a new edition of Spearhead from Space packaged with the new-to-DVD Terror of the Autons as the Mannequin Mania box set. However, possibly conscious that such box sets might bring together a story you want with one or two that you don’t, 2 Entertain seem to have abandoned them, and are releasing their revisited stories as standalone DVDs. Later in the year, we will have a special edition of The Claws of Axos, but now we go back to 1985, the Sixth Doctor and Peri and Vengeance on Varos.

This story was originally released on DVD early in the run, in 2001, and was reviewed for this site by Mike Sutton. As usual with my reviews of the revisited DVDs, I’ll link to the original review, for assessment of the story itself, then come back to discuss the new editions, picture, audio and extras. So, take it away, Mike!

Review by Mike Sutton


The Special Edition of Vengeance on Varos comprises two dual-layered DVDs, both with audio-descriptive menu options. Disc One is encoded for Regions 2 and 4, Disc Two for Region 2 only.

Season Twenty-Two saw a return to Saturday nights, but forty-five-minute episodes instead of the traditional twenty-five or thereabouts. Vengeance on Varos is presented on DVD in its original two-part form, though it and other stories in the season were re-edited into four twenty-five minute episodes for some foreign countries. Vengeance was shot entirely in the studio and transmitted from one-inch master videotapes which still exist in the archives. Watching 80s Who on DVD demostrates the advances in video technology: colours are richer than many 70s examples and it all looks very smart. The episodes are presented in the correct ratio of 1.33:1, as you would expect from 80s television.

This DVD has more audio tracks than any other Who DVD I’ve seen: five, not counting the commentary. The original mono is there, and is clear and well-balanced, but it has also been remixed into 5.1, a mix which favours Jonathan Gibbs’s music score with some use of the surrounds for ambience. In addition you get mono production audio (the soundtrack minus Gibbs’s music and postproduction sound effects and clean-ups) and Gibbs’s music as an isolated score in both mono and 5.1

The commentary features Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban, reused from the 2001 DVD release. It’s a very entertaining and sometimes quite earthy chat. You can all but hear Bryant blush when she comes out with an inadvertent double entendre near the end of Part One.

The information subtitles are provided this time by Paul Scoones. There is more detail about deleted material (both episodes ran considerably overlength and had to be edited), with less outright trivia, though you do get to find out that Philip Martin called the Doctor’s companion “Perri” in early drafts. Fair enough, she hadn’t been introduced onscreen at that point. English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are available for the two episodes and all the extras except the commentary.

The rest of the extras are on Disc Two, whose menu takes up three pages. First off is “Nice or Nasty?” (29:40), which is the making-of-documentary. Many of these featurettes tend to follow a pattern: a straight-ahead description of the serial’s making, from inception to broadcast, with talking-heads interviews with participants. This one is a little different. Matthew Sweet introduces, and conducts the interviews. Jeremy Paxman he isn’t, but he does get his interviewees to dig a little deeper than they might have done. Eric Saward says that he often wished to ask some big-name writers to write for Who – his example is Harold Pinter, and if the makers of the current show are reading, Salman Rushdie and Sarah Waters, to name but two, have shown signs of Who fandom. Philip Martin was a writer with a strong track-record, having worked on Z Cars and Shoestring and probably best known for Gangsters.Producer John Nathan-Turner was suspicious, and asked Martin to produce a scene breakdown, something a little infra dig for a writer of his standing. But Martin did it, and the story was made. He, Sweet and Saward discuss the issue of violence – this is a pretty dark story in the midst of a violent era for the show, and this didn’t sit well with some viewers. Nabil Shaban, in an archive interview, talks about the distinctly uncomfortable rubber suit he was encased inside as Sil.

“The Idiot’s Lantern” (7:32) is a short piece on how Who has used the medium of television itself, with examples from the very beginning to the revived show and how the new show plays on television conventions for some of its stories. It’s not comprehensive – the live broadcast that features in Episode One of The Daemons isn’t mentioned – but is useful and otherwise to the point. The presenter is Samira Ahmed.

Next up are some deleted scenes (17:44), transferred from a timecoded U-Matic video copy. This includes more of the story’s “Greek Chorus”, Arak and Etta, watching the events on television and commenting on them, but otherwise not interacting with anyone else in the cast. When the soundtrack was being prepared, an alternative music cue was found for the acid bath scene, so here it is (1:38) with an explanatory opening caption.

“Behind the Scenes” (4:42) is an extract from an unedited studio recording tape, complete with the floor manager’s call for action at the beginning. Outtakes (3:07), trailers for both episodes (0:43) and BBC1 continuity announcements for both episodes (0:35) follow.

“Tomorrow’s Times – The Sixth Doctor” (12:56) is another in the series detailing how the show was discussed in newspapers and magazines of the time, presented Points of View-style by Sarah Sutton. Many of the comments refer to Colin Baker’s garish wardrobe, the violent content of the show and reactions to the series being put on hiatus by Michael Grade. It ends with coverage of the death of Patrick Troughton, who had co-starred with Baker in The Two Doctors, and who passed away during the Sixth Doctor’s tensure.

A couple of short items relating to the announcement of Colin Baker’s appointment as the Doctor, one from the BBC News (1:09) and Colin Baker, suave as ever, interviewed by Frank Bough on Breakfast Time (5:44), where he is introduced with clips of the previous five Doctors.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are interviewed on Saturday Superstore (15:08) by presenter and then Radio 1 DJ Mike Read, shortly after the broadcast of Caves of Androzani. (The regeneration sequence from the end of that serial is shown.) It’s a bit of a shock, commentary notwithstanding, to hear Bryant talking in her real voice. Baker and Bryant take phone-in questions from children watching, including one young girl called Nicola Bryant, and a call from The Master himself. They ask questions so that you can win some Who merchandise and Baker has his handwriting analysed.

The extras are concluded by an unbroadcast and not especially funny French and Saunders sketch (7:34, including introductory caption), featuring George Layton dressed up as the Fourth Doctor, a self-navigating stills gallery (6:41) and Radio Times listings (and some letters and a cartoon) and the BBC Enterprises sales sheet in PDF format, plus a Coming Soon trailer for The Ambassadors of Death (1:07). No Easter Eggs this time.


Updated: Sep 27, 2012

Get involved
Continue the conversation over on The Digital Fix Forum
Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos: Special Edition | The Digital Fix