Our 150th update includes torture masquerading as entertainment. And then we’ll cover Vengeance on Varos.
Even though he failed to endure Night of the Mini-Macra, and he dances like a Pussycat Doll with a urinary tract infection, Colin Baker has still captured Sue’s heart.
Sue: He hasn’t put a foot wrong. It’s a pity he was too fat to enter that sewer, which is ironic when you think about it, but no one would have voted for him to go in anyway, so it didn’t really matter in the end. He’s lovely. A real gent. Not like Eric ****ing Bristow.
Me: Were you ever worried that Colin would be voted out of the Spiridon jungle first?
Sue: Not a chance. He’s still my tip to win. My only worry is he isn’t doing enough to engage the rest of the nation. And was that a Doctor Who reference? If it was, I don’t get it.
Me: Bloody hell, woman. He wrote Gangsters, one of the greatest television shows ever made.
Sue: Gangsters again? Why is everybody obsessed with Gangsters? It’s Gangsters this, Gangsters that. Enough of the bloody Gangsters already.
Vengeance on Varos begins with a topless man chained to a wall. I’ve never seen Sue take to a story so quickly before.
Me: Stop drooling and name the actor.
Sue: I don’t care. Maybe if I stare at him long enough it will come to me.
Me: His dad is very famous.
Sue: Is his dad fit as well?
Me: It’s Sean Connery’s son, Jason. He finds fame and fortune in ITV’s Robin of Sherwood shortly after this.
Sue: Oh yes. I remember him, now. He was a bit of a heart-throb, wasn’t he? When I made a living driving up and down the motorway selling posters for Anabas in the mid-eighties, he was very popular. I probably made a canny commission off of his face.
Jason Connery is Jondar, a Varosian rebel who now finds himself on the wrong end of a laser beam.
Sue: It’s a very bleak start. This is getting to be a habit.
Two Varosians, Etta and Arak, watch Jondar’s torture from the comfort (if that’s the right word) of their own home.
Sue: Who do these two remind you of?
Me: Yes, I know. I bet I have less hair than Stephen Yardley by the time this is over.
Meanwhile, on the TARDIS…
Sue: Peri’s just been for another session in the TARDIS gym. Has she got versions of the same costume in every colour of the rainbow? And have you noticed how her top is practically see-through?
Me: No, I’ve never noticed that before.
On Varos, the Governor and a reptilian creature named Sil are negotiating a complicated trade deal.
Sue: Oh, it’s Martin Thingy. He’s been in Doctor Who before.
Me: Martin Jarvis. Yes, he was a giant moth in The Web Planet. Do you remember that one?
Sue: Yes, it’s one of the few I do remember. I’m trying to forget it, though.
Sue is immediately drawn to Sil.
Sue: Is that a special effect or is he really that small? Is it done with mirrors?
They are joined by the Governor’s Chief Officer.
Sue: Oh look, it’s my brother, Gary.
Seriously, the resemblance is uncanny.
Varos is running a profitable sideline in recorded executions. Sil approves.
Sue: This guy is a creepy little ****er. But I like him.
From this point on, you can take it as read that Sue will giggle each and every time Sil does or says anything. The louder Sil gets, the louder Sue’s giggling becomes. It helps take the edge off the bleakness, I suppose.
The TARDIS pulls into a celestial lay-by. The Doctor shrugs his shoulders and slumps into a chair.
Sue: What a random chair. Where the hell did that come from?
Etta and Arak continue to comment on the action…
Sue: This is basically us on a really good day.
The Governor of Varos is put to the public vote. He loses.
Sue: I want to see Nick Clegg in a chair like that. Actually, their leader has a very Cleggy look about him.
Arak is convinced that their leader will die this time.
Sue: They can’t kill an actor this good that quickly. And the punishment is a bit extreme. He was only trying to secure a better deal for his planet. It’s not as if he was caught fiddling his expenses, or changing his mind about tuition fees. Give him a break.
Sue adores Sil but she does identify a weakness:
Sue: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any villain who needs to be carried around is going to be rubbish if it ever comes to a fight. If you have to rely on other people, you’re basically ****ed. I like the way he comes with his own swimming pool, though.
A Varosian named Bax (“The one from Peep Show who isn’t married to Victoria Coren.”) suggests they execute Jondar to take the public’s mind off the fact that their Governor doesn’t have the X-Factor anymore.
Sue: This is well ahead of its time. Where there many reality shows around at the time?
Me: Does Game For A Laugh count?
The Doctor and Peri are still languishing in the TARDIS…
Sue: Are these two ever going to do anything this week? At least William Hartnell had the decency to take a holiday when he had nothing to do.
Peri has found the TARDIS’s instruction manual.
Sue: Is that the Doctor’s Haynes manual? He should have had that out years ago.
In a cell, a rebel named Areta (“She’s Hazel O’Connory.”) and a guard named Rondel (“Ron to his mates.”) reminisce about the history of their planet.
Areta: Varos is what is always was. A prison planet, a colony for the criminally insane. The descendants of the original officers still rule, by fear, with the spectacle of death our only entertainment.
Sue: This is cheerful.
The TARDIS has run out of Zeiton-7…
Sue: Why hasn’t the TARDIS got a fuel gauge? Why didn’t she warn the Doctor that this could happen? Even my car does that. Oh well, at least they have to go to Varos now. I thought they’d never get going.
Quillam, the chief scientist on Varos, hides his features behind a mask…
Sue: (singing) “The Phantom of the Opera is here, in my very cheap set”.
Jondar is told that he has been sentenced to death.
Sue: He didn’t inherit any acting talent from his dad. He’s dreadful.
The Doctor and Peri arrive on Varos just in time to save him. Jondar decides to lend a foot.
Sue: At least he can kick people in the face like his dad.
The Governor monitors events from his control room…
Sue: This is nicely lit. But it has to be. They obviously haven’t got enough set to go around. This is like a stage play. A very cheap stage play. It’s basically Rep.
Sue claps eyes on the Varosian security’s transport.
Sue: And I thought smart cars were stupid. I’m surprised they don’t come with a set of golf clubs in the back. And why bother? You could walk faster than that.
Jondar wants to know why the Doctor saved his life.
The Doctor: You’re the only person we’ve encountered so far who hasn’t tried to destroy us.
Sue: That’s because he was tied up! For all you know, he could be the world’s most notorious serial killer and you’ve just let him go. You’ve only been there two minutes.
The Doctor, Peri, Jondar and Areta are hunted down by electric go-karts.
Sue: I’d like to see one of those do a three-point turn in that corridor.
Etta and Arak watch the action unfurl on their television…
Sue: OK, so people on this planet get their kicks from watching people suffer? That would never happen today, would it?
Me: Not without a premium rate phone line it wouldn’t.
Etta: I like that one, the one in the funny clothes!
Sue: This is very postmodern. Wait a minute… Is that really supposed to be me? Is this where you got the idea for the blog from? Is it?
The Doctor asks Jondar where they are.
Jondar: Near the purple zone, next to the interrogation and execution area.
Sue: Opposite the diary room.
Our heroes continue down the corridor.
Sue: The direction is a bit crap. The script is excellent but the director hasn’t got a clue. This is the opposite problem to last week. One of these days they’ll get it right. You could definitely re-make this today and it would look amazing.
Our heroes are suddenly confronted by a giant fly.
The Doctor: It’s just an illusion.
Sue: Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ooh, Ah-ahh.
Peri: What was that thing we saw? A creature from my worst imaginings.
Sue: That’s the worst thing you can imagine? A fly? Really?
The Doctor: That little fly was enlarged by the effect of the purple zone on our visual cortex.
Sue: I bet you wish you had a machine that could make small things appear big. Eh? Eh?
Me: Yes, Sue. Very good, Sue.
Sue: Then you could be like Robert Holmes.
Sue: You know… The porn star with the big dick.
Me: That’s John Holmes, you idiot. Interesting Freudian slip, though.
Next, our heroes encounter some green lights and Jondar practically wets himself.
Sue: Did Sean pull some favours at the BBC to get his son this gig? He can’t have passed the audition. He must have taken some acting lessons before he became Robin Hood. Because he’s bloody awful in this.
The Doctor recognises the lights for what they really are: lights.
Sue: That’s cheap. Even by Doctor Who‘s standards, that’s cheap. This is basically a cheap Haunted House when what you really want to see is a homicidal version of Wipeout. The idea is sound, though.
Chief: The strangers will be captured soon, then we’ll force some answers.
Sue: Yes, I bet you will. With an emphasis on the word ‘force’. I keep expecting a gay orgy to break out at any moment.
A go-kart is heading straight for the Doctor…
Me: Put your helmet on, we’ll be reaching speeds of 3!
A guard named Maldak (“Evil David Coulthard.”) captures Peri and he slaps her across her face.
Sue: Hey! There was no call for that. What a ****.
The Governor of Varos is put to the vote again. The poor thing.
Sue: Who’d want to put themselves up for a job like that? It’s crap. Unless it’s endless hookers and cocaine on your days off?
The Doctor finds himself alone and dying of thirst.
Sue: This will be Colin Baker on ITV any day now.
Governor: And cut it…. now.
Sue: I loved the cliffhanger. That was very clever. And Colin Baker took his coat off, which was nice.top
The episode begins with the Doctor succumbing to the elements again.
Sue: That’s what happened to Brian Conley. Poor sod.
Etta and Arak can’t take their eyes off the screen.
Sue: This is bleak. They’re drinking their own urine, now.
Sil and the Governor continue to negotiate over the price of the planet’s ore.
Sue: It’s Dragons’ Den. The hideous creature with their own swimming pool is Hilary Devey. Obviously.
The Doctor faces a quick dip in an acid bath.
Sue: That’s very James Bond. Have they got a room full of piranhas next door? And do they video this bit as well?
The Doctor “accidentally” knocks a man into the acid bath, and then he “accidentally” helps his colleague fall in after him.
Sue: This isn’t for kids. What’s got into everybody? It’s worse than usual.
Me: Should the Doctor be blamed for their senseless deaths?
Sue: No. It was just an accident. But he didn’t show any remorse. That’s my problem with it. It’s not a very Doctorish thing to do, but this Doctor is a vicious swine.
Me: Do you think the programme is having its cake and eating it by criticising violence and showing so much violence at the same time?
Sue: That’s a bit deep, isn’t it? You’re not writing one of your essays now, you know. I don’t mind it personally, I just don’t think it’s appropriate for younger children.
Quillam finds the Doctor, but the Time Lord has disguised himself with one of Quillam’s masks. Quillam asks him to remove it and when he does, the penny drops.
Quillam: I’ve seen you on the screens!
Sue: Wait. You didn’t recognise him from his coat? How many people are wandering around this place dressed as a ****ing clown?
Quillam’s disfigurement is a source of fascination for Sue:
Sue: How did he injure himself? Did he wash his face in some acid by mistake? I bet it’s easily done when you live on this shit hole.
And then, completely out of nowhere, as Quillam leads the Doctor away at gunpoint:
Sue: How many times a day do you think the Doctor wishes he still had K9?
Elsewhere on Varos, Etta and Arak are watching their favourite prime time TV show – Old Men Wrestling In Nappies!
Sue: This is way ahead of its time. This is basically YouTube today.
The Doctor is led to the gallows.
Sue: I wish it didn’t look so cheap. This would be a very iconic scene if it didn’t look so flimsy. It’s the script that saves it.
Sil eagerly looks forward to the Doctor’s execution.
Sue: He’s horrible but I love him. He’s a great character. I won’t forget him in a hurry.
The Governor is satisfied that the Doctor is telling the truth.
Sue: Colin is really good. I didn’t think I’d like him, but I do. He’s totally committed to the part.
Peri is transmogrified…
Sue: If this thing is supposed to turn you into the thing you fear the most, Peri must be terrified of chickens. She should have pretended she was frightened of Raquel Welch.
Me: Nice topical reference, love.
The Doctor is struggling to find a solution to the problem.
Sue: Just reverse the polarity! Don’t tell me that you’ve forgotten to reverse the polarity.
The Doctor draws a gun and then he starts waving it in people’s faces. I specifically ask Sue to comment on this development.
Sue: It’s not the first time he’s done it, and it probably won’t be the last.
The Doctor blasts the machine’s controls.
Sue: This Doctor doesn’t **** around. I like that about him.
Peri is rescued in the nick of time.
Sue: She was strapped to some corrugated iron roofing. Her back must be killing her.
The Doctor decides to steal a go-kart…
Sue: I’ve just noticed that the little cars have giant K9 ears on top of them.
Me: That’s two K9 references in one night. What is wrong with you?
Sue: I don’t know why he’s bothering to steal the car anyway. A brisk jog would do the job.
Elsewhere, Etta and Arak are bickering over the events that are unfolding on-screen.
Sue: It really is me and you. It’s uncanny.
The Governor explains to Peri that the role of Governor isn’t something you would wish upon your worst enemy.
Sue: That makes sense. It’s a very weird system, though. It’s even worse than America.
The Governor pleads with Maldak to spare Peri.
Sue: Has Martin Jarvis got a crush on Peri? Is there anyone in the universe who hasn’t got the horn for Peri? Is this why the Doctor drags her around with him – so she can beguile the bad guys?
The Doctor, Jondar and Areta enter a green mist…
Sue: They are very happy all of a sudden. They must have found their way back to the green room.
As the Governor begins his speech to the nation, Arak presses both ‘No’ buttons.
Sue: Smack him in the face with a cushion!
The Governor has had a change of heart. Their system is wrong.
Sue: He really is Nick Clegg. It’s too late, Nick. You are so dead.
But Maldak comes good and he frees the Governor and Peri.
Sue: Now he needs to apologise for slapping her earlier. Bad David Coulthard.
Meanwhile, the Doctor, Jondar and Areta are enticed by visions of themselves.
Sue: If I saw a ghost of myself, I’d run away. It should be more tempting, like some sandwiches or Adric.
Our heroes are intercepted by two old men in nappies, and that isn’t a sentence I get to write every day.
Sue: That has to be the most disturbing image in all of Doctor Who. That is completely ****ed up.
Quillam pursues the Doctor to a garden of poisonous vines.
Quillam: Let the show begin. I want to hear them scream till I am deaf with pleasure.
Sue: What time did this go out again?
Sue: That’s mental.
Back at the Control Centre, Sil demands that water be sprayed on him.
Sue: He reminds me of Cassandra in the new series, always demanding to be moisturised. RTD must really love this story.
A series of fortuitous coincidences results in Varos gaining the upper hand in the negotiations with Sil.
Sue: That was a bit convenient. Did I miss something?
The episode concludes with Etta and Arak faced with nothing left to watch.
Sue: That will be us in a couple of months.
Me: I’m pretty sure we’ll look a lot happier than that.top
The Final Score
Sue: I really enjoyed it. That was a nice change of pace. The direction was poor but some of the performances were very good – especially the Governor, Sil and the married couple – and the script was excellent. And Colin’s great.
The experiment continues…
Sue: Don’t you think it’s time you turned the comments back on?
Sue: You have to make the site interactive or what’s the point? I can take it. They can call me a ***** ****** ****** **** if they like. I don’t care. Just as long as they don’t call me a fan.
Me: But the comments take time to moderate.
Sue: So don’t moderate them. Let them write anything they like. If it keeps them off the streets, it’s a valuable service. And you don’t have to read the comments. It’s not compulsory, you know. I never read them.
Me: Yes, but…
Sue: I would like to know if I’m called a ***** ****** ****** ****, though. Just so I can laugh about it.
Me: OK, you asked for it.
Next update due: Tuesday 27th November.
UPDATE: To celebrate Doctor Who’s 49th anniversary, Faber & Faber have officially announced to the world that they will be publishing a Wife in Space book next year. See here and here. PS: If the Moff happens to be reading this, can you get in touch, please?
If you don’t own this story, why not buy Gangsters on DVD? It’s only a tenner. If you use the link below, we’ll get a (very) small cut, which will help pay for the site’s running costs. Many thanks for your support (UK residents only).