Chapter 128. Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos (1988)

Synopsis: A former prison planet is now the home to a broken society, where the Governor faces disintegration on the turn of a public vote, where the citizens are tortured for entertainment and where an unscrupulous alien financier can hold the planet to ransom for its minerals. The Doctor could help, but the Doctor is dead – dead as death…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Dome of Death
  • 2. The Vital Vote
  • 3. Execution
  • 4. Escape into Danger
  • 5. The Purple Zone
  • 6. Capture
  • 7. Death in the Desert
  • 8. Night and Silence
  • 9. Interrogation
  • 10. Quillam
  • 11. Condemned
  • 12. The Changelings
  • 13. Realm of Chaos
  • 14. The Final Vote
  • 15. Into the End Zone
  • 16. Goodbye to Varos

Background: Philip Martin adapts his own scripts from the 1985 serial. This is the missing book ‘106’, published 23 volumes late.

Notes: Bax wears the orange uniform of the Comm Tech Division. Etta fills in viewer reports about both the content broadcast to her screen and the reactions of her husband Arak, who works in the ‘Zeiton Ore division of Mine Tech’. Peri tells the Doctor she wants to go back home to America to continue her studies (this is probably just a reaction to the Doctor’s new personality, which the Doctor takes at face value and agrees to take her back). Sil is leaf-green in colour with ‘deep-set yellow eyes’ and he sits in a moveable water tank (into which he falls, during his first negotiations with the Governor); he is a mutant native of the planet Thoros Beta and representative of Galatron Consolidated (also known as  the Galatron Mining Corporation, as on screen). The Chief Officer holds more power than the Governor, something Sil tries to exploit with his alliances. The anthem of Varos is a march (not the ‘BBC Video jingle’ we hear on telly).

Chapter 4 is a familiar ‘Escape into Danger’. The Doctor has ‘steel blue eyes’. The Governor travels by private monorail car from the administration dome to his own residence, which he shares with the rest of the officer class. He has a trustee, called ‘Sevrin’ (reinforcing the suggestion that the ‘former prison planet’ still runs along prison lines, if the governor has a trustee). This governor was born into the officer class and while enjoying some blue wine from the vineyards of the planet Emsidium, he simply accepts that he should enjoy a life of luxury that is kept secret from the rest of the population. He recalls how he became the 45th Governor of Varos when the Chief Officer drew lots as a form of election. The Chief Officer and Quillam, the designer of Dome technology, are of equal rank and are apparently old enemies. The Governor is interrupted while bathing by a visit from the Chief Officer, which annoys the Governor as he was hoping to review some recordings from Taza, ‘the entertainment capital’ of his galaxy. 

Peri doesn’t witness the Doctor’s apparent death, but learns about it later when she’s taken by monorail to the Communications Dome, which houses the Governor’s office. The Governor tells Peri that he no longer has a name, now that he’s the Governor. The two mortuary attendants are called Az and Oza. When the Doctor dodges his charge, Az falls into the acid and then pulls his companion in too (there’s no battle where the Doctor might be said to have caused the death of at least one of the attendants). Quillam remains unseen until chapter 10 (though his voice is briefly heard issuing orders), which helps to build anticipation as the Chief and the Governor discuss him in his absence; the technology designer walks with a limp and swiftly replaces the mask the Doctor removes (rather than continuing with an exposed face as he does on TV). Arak watches the exploits of the Doctor and offers a running commentary, claiming Jondar’s torture is ‘fake’ and the Doctor’s acid-bath escape is ‘all fixed’.

Jondar used to maintain the shuttle cars that are reserved for the elite and he once managed to sneak inside the Governor’s dome, where he witnessed the luxury the Governor enjoys; this was the reason he was imprisoned and tortured. The savages who attack the Doctor’s party are ‘Wretches’, relatives of the condemned who are left without any means of support and who scavenge in the outer reaches of the Punishment Dome. The Governor, Maldak and Peri wear protective clothing with breathing equipment to cross the surface of Varos to reach the Punishment Dome.

As his negotiations with the Governor begin to fail, Sil becomes so enraged that he slips into a torrent of Thoros Betan curses which make his translator device explode under the strain. There are a fair few references to elements of Sil’s life that weren’t revealed in TV until Trial of a Time Lord: Sil has two bearers from Thoros Alpha – one of whom is called ‘Ber’ and who refers to Sil with due deference as ‘Mentor’; Sil receives confirmation of his failure aboard his star-ship, where the Governor informs Sil that he has been summoned back to his home world to appear before ‘Lord Kiv’. The news makes Sil’s green skin turn a few shades lighter. Aboard the TARDIS, as the Doctor sets the restored TARDIS on its way, Peri comes to terms with the horrific transformation she endured. The TARDIS leaves Varos, its dematerialisation witnessed by the Governor and his new ministers.

Cover: The Sid Sutton neon logo returns as David McAllister combines Sil, Quillam, a Varosian guard (probably Maldak), the ‘V’ icon of Varos and the planet’s dome-shaped dwellings. Alister Pearson’s 1993 cover is simpler but very effective, showing just Sil, the Doctor and a Varosian ‘V’ logo against a background that evokes the mottled brown walls of the corridors. Chris Achilleos came out of retirement to provide a new illustration for a 2016 BBC Books rerelease, showing Sil, the Governor, a guard and the Doctor, but it’s just not up to the standards of his past glories.

Final Analysis: It was worth the wait. Philip Martin might have delivered his manuscript later than expected, but he makes good use of the wider canvas offered by the printed page. He gives us a Varos that has a sense of scale, with monorails connecting the domes across the planet and patrol cars that soar, rather than trundle. The Governor, a vaguely sympathetic figure on TV, is as much a product of his time as the Controller in Day of the Daleks and we are shown a little of the privileges he enjoys while the rest of the population survives on basic rations. Of course, Martin’s greatest contribution to Doctor Who is his monstrous Sil and here, the author’s descriptions acknowledge the performance of actor Nabil Shaban, who brought the role alive so completely; Sil is every bit as slimy, as wet, as disgusting as he was on telly, gurgling and spitting as he thrashes about ‘like a trapped tuna’.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 128. Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos (1988)

  1. Philip Martin, almost Douglas Adamsian in his deadline delaying… I think they also boobed on the number for Time and the Rani, didn’t it have a duplicate number (127) with the previous book, The Mysterious Planet (which is a terrible title, sounds like a working title or placeholder description)?

    Liked by 1 person

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