Vengeance On Varos
Working Titles: Domain, Planet Of Fear.
Starring: Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown).
When the TARDIS runs out of vital Zyton-7 ore, the Doctor makes an emergency landing on the planet Varos, rich in the mineral. Varos is a former penal colony whose residents now derive pleasure purely from the televised tortures which perpetually pass across their screens. The Governor of Varos is engaged in negotiations with the ruthless sluglike businessman Sil, who is trying to cheat the Varosians out of their rightful profit on Zyton-7. It is up to the Doctor and Peri to stop Sil's plans, and break the natives of Varos out of their daily cycle of video nasties.
Philip Martin had started out as an actor, including a role in the feature film The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner. In the late Sixties, he turned his hand to writing, with material including episodes of Z Cars and the series Gangsters. Martin began watching Doctor Who in 1982 with his seven year-old daughter Hilary, who was a fan of the show, and this inspired him to submit ideas to the programme's production office. On April 13th, Martin was commissioned to pen a scene breakdown for a storyline entitled Domain. Script editor Eric Saward hoped that the serial could form a part of Season Twenty and, when this did not pan out, Season Twenty-One. This meant that Martin had to frequently adjust his scripts to account for the changing regular cast, Domain having started out as an adventure for the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan.
Eventually, it became clear that the serial -- retitled Planet Of Fear in early 1983 -- would be held over until Season Twenty-Two. Because of the change in Doctor Who's format, Martin was asked to reformat his scripts once again, changing them from four twenty-five minute episodes to two forty-five minute installments. When it was noted that the serial's title was very similar to the Season Twenty-One tale Planet Of Fire, Martin rechristened it Vengeance On Varos. Meanwhile, it was Saward's suggestion that Martin amplify the role of Arak and Etta, who had no lines in Martin's original conception. Further rewrites were requested from the writer in early 1984, when Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner decided that Martin did not have an acceptable grasp on the characters of the Sixth Doctor and Peri. These changes made only reluctantly by Martin, who was beginning to grow weary of Vengeance On Varos's long gestation period.
In the end, it was due to continued problems with another long-developing set of scripts -- Song Of The Space Whale by Pat Mills -- that Varos earned its spot in the schedule. Song, which had first been offered to the Doctor Who production office in 1980, had been planned as the second story of Season Twenty-Two, but Saward and Mills finally concluded that the differences between them were too great and the serial was abandoned (although it was not officially rejected until July 1985). It was decided that Varos would fill the resulting void.
The director originally planned to helm Serial 6V was Michael Owen Morris, who had worked on The Awakening a year earlier. When the decision was made to drop Song Of The Space Whale, however, Morris moved on to an episode of Tenko. His replacement was Ron Jones, who had most recently directed Frontios the previous season. Jones' biggest casting requirement was an actor to play the diminutive Sil. Martin had originally envisioned the character as floating in a tank of water, but it was felt that this would be too difficult to realise and the scripts were revised such that Sil would actually sit on a platform above his water tank. Nonetheless, a performer of unusual proportions would be needed for the role, and so Jones auditioned several dwarves and midgets. Ultimately, he settled on Nabil Shaban, an actor who had suffered from the brittle bone disease osteogenesis imperfecta all his life and had badly underdeveloped legs as a result. Also amongst Jones' cast was Jason Connery, the son of famed actor Sean Connery, as Jondar.
Varos was an entirely studio-based serial, requiring two three-day studio sessions. The first began on Wednesday, July 18th; amongst the scenes recorded on this day was the sequence in which two Varos guards fall into a vat of acid. This segment ended up necessitating several takes, and although Jones was satisfied with the final result, he was aware that it had been taped in such a way as to make it appear that the Doctor was directly responsible for the men's demise. In fact, Martin had scripted this as an essentially comedic routine and was dismayed by the manner in which it was portrayed onscreen. This sentiment was compounded by the fact that most of the cuts to the finished episodes consisted of his more humorous material, making Varos a much darker story than he had intended. Recording for Vengeance On Varos concluded with the second studio block, starting on Tuesday, July 31st.