Vengeance on Varos

How times change. In the mid-80s, it was the video nasties that were going to desensitise us into a nation of subjugated slobs. In the mid-00s, it was reality TV, and we ended up with Bad Wolf. Colin Baker is no stranger to shows where the viewers vote on which participant gets tortured, but before I’m A Celeb he did this, which manages to combine The Hunger Games and Gogglebox, years before either of them were a thing.

A healthy slice of meta-fiction ran through the first part, thanks to the commentary from the bickering old couple. More Dave and Shirley than Steph and Dom, and their chat about his funny clothes at least reassured me that they’re supposed to be ridiculous. This built very nicely to a cliffhanger that leaned on the fourth wall to show us the process of creating a cliffhanger, but which somehow also felt real and scary.

It was good to finally see Colin’s Doctor put through the ringer, as both character and actor were thoroughly tested for the first time. You get to see what a Doctor is made of when he’s placed in constant peril, and the slightly false and formulaic nature of the prison complex allowed for surreal and experimental things to happen within a familiar format. It’s basically The Crystal Maze – or even The Celestial Toymaker – you know all he has to do is escape the room, so all manner of weird stuff can happen inside the room without being too disorientating.

While the fun stuff is going on, however, you’ve got the tedious trade negotiations and detailed political procedures to contend with. The latter isn’t too bad, largely thanks to Martin Jarvis and his Martin Jarvis face, but even without that it’s an interesting situation to explore. I could have done without Chief Officer Wario’s confusing double agent status, as that added one too many threads to follow.

The rest of it relies heavily on the success or otherwise of Sil, who’s certainly a most memorable guest star and possibly the best looking new alien we’ve seen for a while. However, he doesn’t sound as good as he looks, and he’s a little hard to understand at times. The over-complicated language – a problem that seems to be endemic during the Colin Baker era – didn’t help, as it caused his scenes to be slower paced than the rest. I liked his little tongue thing though, and am intrigued to learn that he’s coming back.

Ultimately, and somewhat unfortunately, the balance between exciting action and tedious discussion tipped too far towards the latter in Part Two. There was just so much talking, with only The Doctor throwing people into an acid bath and Peri being turned into an owl to break it up. You really felt every one of those forty-five minutes, which I guess is easier to avoid when you’ve got battles with Daleks or Cybermen to pepper throughout. This one bad experience with a longer running time is now making the prospect of sitting down to watch each day slightly daunting, when you know you have to commit the best part of an hour to something that could well be shit.

RATING: 6

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