Getting to know Who: Vengeance on Varos

By Christopher Allen

As Doctor Who sailed into the mid-1980s, the trend for darker, more ‘grown-up’ storylines continued. Hands were crushed or shot off, Cybermen were slaughtered, Sontarans desiccated and the dead became Daleks. But perhaps the most thought-provoking of this brace of adventures was 1985’s Vengeance on Varos.


Sixth, settling down after a turbulent regeneration a few stories previously.


Peri, beginning to trust the new Doctor.


Trying to source a vital fuel for the TARDIS, the Doctor and Peri land on Varos – a world governed by violence, torture and television. Mistaken for political rebels and lost in the Punishment Dome, their desperate struggles to survive are being broadcast live…

The story so far…

Best bit:

As the torture-hungry inhabitants of Varos watch on, the Doctor’s corpse is readied to be dissolved in an acid bath…


Key quote:

Etta: It's all changed. We're free.
Arak: Are we?
Etta: Yes.
Arak: What shall we do?
Etta: Dunno.
[their TV screen fizzes with static]

Why it’s worth a watch

Like many well regarded Doctor Who stories, Vengeance on Varos keys directly into a real political issue of the time. In the early 80s, the UK government had become concerned with “video nasties” – violent, uncensored films being sold on the home video market. In Vengeance writer Philip Martin extends this to the furthest limit: videos of violence, death and torture are an exported commodity, and political leaders aren’t voted out of office, but destroyed if they lose a live TV vote. Arak and Etta, watching events like a passive, hungry chorus are a brilliant dramatic device, never before used in Doctor Who, and the supporting cast, especially Martin Jarvis are excellent. A difficult, dangerous but important Doctor Who story.


Read more about Vengeance on Varos at the BBC Doctor Who website, or get to know more Doctor Who adventures.

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