Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos by Philip Martin

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Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos by Philip Martin

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Considering this is from a time when Doctor Who was entering the doldrums, the book of this troubled episode isn't too bad a variant.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: April 2016
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN: 9781785940408

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If only those critiquing Doctor Who had access to a time machine, they would be able to temper all their responses. When Mary Whitehouse found the likes of Genesis of the Daleks to be too violent, she and her coterie had no idea the series would soon turn to a prison world, where soon-to-be victims of snuff movies are trapped in a reality-show styled existence, and a hard-done-by populous are sat at home doing nothing other than watching the feeds from the executions, the morgues and worse. If those watching Doctor Who had the benefit of foresight they might have responded to Vengeance on Varos differently. They were quite vocal in complaining about a horrific character being a trade delegate who is half-man, half-slug and wholly stupid evil laugh, and such an artificial premise. Little did they know the series would soon lumber people with Bonnie Langford, and aliens looking like liquorice bleeding allsorts…

But there is a sense the creators of this book didn't look back enough – use the time machine that is hindsight and learn what they should be doing. The story was much-delayed and rewritten before it did get to screens, and the novel took another couple of years to be ready. It makes for an unusual entry into this 2016 series of reprints – where BBC Books have decided to give us one of these novelisations fresh from the vaults for all of the first seven Doctors. Bizarrely it's the second to feature a character called Sevrin, and the second to have a chapter called 'Escape Into Danger'. But the problems are greater than such trivial matters – or at least they were on TV.

Here, they aren't actually that bad. As the Doctor finds his needs overwhelmed by the desire of some prisoners to revolt and overcome their lot, things do get to resemble the computer game style of the era, and while the book isn't quite the literal reportage of a game character (and I use the term advisedly, considering how many baddies are playing with the prisoners), this certainly isn't the Hunger Games. But I found the book to be better than the memory of the programme.

The long gestation of it has allowed for a few instances of very purple prose to be added to the description of the TV happenings. More importantly, the mood of the piece is more successful. We don't veer too much between the bickering audience members and the bickering other Varosians, and if it does try to be high comedy it certainly fails, allowing for the dystopian mood to be sustained. The Doctor's character fits in well, with a novel use of his alien biology at one crucial point. There are still stupid decisions made (that transformation – and what the heck is with the Doctor's foolhardy, gung-ho response, when a reversal may have been needed?!), but I can't review the TV version as such. I can review the book, and it's a decent version of it.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

These reprints, that deserve to be collected as a whole, began with Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton.

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