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…
As the torture-hungry inhabitants of Varos watch on, the Doctor’s corpse is readied to be dissolved in an acid bath…
Etta: It's all changed. We're free.
Arak: Are we?
Arak: What shall we do?
[their TV screen fizzes with static]
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.