“It’s crazy. Cruel.” – Peri
“It’s Varos”.- The Governor
I am not sure why this story has never been a favorite of mine. It takes a slight step back in terms of the character of the Doctor, showing him suddenly again having piques and fits of despair such that he sulks and seems ready to abandon his companion to isolation. Most people also are shocked at how casually he responds to the death of his captors by the acid bath. Much of the run around in the tunnels (especially the attempts a trippy camera work) is also silly or illogical. But for me, I think the overly hammy acting and costuming are what most undercut what could be a decent story. The plot is after all not out of the ordinary for Doctor Who as the Doctor accidently stumbles into a repressed society and ultimately usurps a conspiracy and inspires the leader to free the people.
The moments of the story in which we see the couple (representing the whole society) quite bored watching torture and death for entertainment is of course a kind of commentary on what we now would call reality TV. It ties in readily to a society controlled by corruption and full of fear of being reported for infractions like “thought rebellion.” Though perhaps a touch too comical, their scenes nevertheless work fairly well at showing the gritty but empty life of Varos and a society accustomed to death. I distinctly remember in childhood watching the final moments when the Doctor sways the governor to announce the society being free and the two of TV watchers bland exchange: “It’s all changed. We’re free.” “Are we?” “Yes.” “What shall we do?” “…Dunno.”
Though he is rather disgusting, the character of Sil is pretty standout both in terms of the costume and the acting. He’s not as central to the story as I’d remembered here, but it’s not a surprise that they bring him back later as the primary villain. I’d definitely forgotten the pathos of the governor, the pitiable position that he is in through no selection of his own. Again, there’s dystopian imagery–a leader forced to serve under pain of death with “the theory being that a man scared for his life will find solutions to this planet’s problems” The second episode of the story highlights these last elements a lot better and makes me appreciate the story over all.
Best (or worst) unsettling moment:
The callousness brought about by years of exposure to the torture of others is well highlighted when the husband and wife argue about the person in the last episode and she can casually mention: “He wasn’t blind…not at the beginning, anyway.” I also find her quick willingness to be ready to turn in her husband for not showing loyalty to the company in even his private moments disturbing.
Best description of the Doctor:
“He smells the truth of things.”
The scene between the Doctor and Peri that is supposed to show a funny rapport just comes across fake and badly acted. They also really should have ended the first cliffhanger scene on the close up of the Doctor seeming to die with the voiceover of the director in the background saying “Cut!” before a fade to black.