Writer Stephen Wyatt wrote two Doctor Who adventures,
both for Sylverster McCoy. The first was Paradise Towers,
a story that I really disliked, though I would be remiss to fail to
that the adventure has some ardent fans.
So I was a bit apprehensive about screening his second tale, the
wretchedly named The Greatest Show in the
Galaxy (in Wyatt's defense, producer John Nathan-Turner came up
moniker). A definite improvement over Paradise Towers
in both conception and execution, this story is a surrealistic romp
a bit of getting used to, but has some great concepts and a creepy
While The Doctor practices his juggling and Ace digs through
old clothes in a closet looking for her backpack, a robot materializes
the TARDIS and announces that the Psychic Circus, the Greatest Show in
Galaxy, is currently on the planet Segonax.
It's an advertizing robot, of course, and though Ace has a fear
clowns and a general dislike of circuses in general, The Doctor sets a
for the planet.
Once there the two travelers meet an unusual assortment of
people who are also going to the Psychic Circus. These
include a tough biker, Nord, an older
space explorer who keeps dropping mentions of his past adventures,
Cook, and his companion Mags, and a bespectacled, sweater vest wearing
the Circus, Whizz Kid, who travels across space riding a bicycle.
Everything isn't well at the circus however. Two
of the performers, Bellboy and
Flowerchild, are trying to escape from the show and they're being
hunted by the
Chief Clown. He eventually catches up
with them both, and while the woman is killed, the circus has need of
electronic knowledge and takes him back to be punished.
The Doctor and Ace eventually arrive at the venue and are
curiously allowed to enter for free, and though they heard the roar of
there are only three people in the stands.
The small audience watches the jugglers, clowns and the rapping
Ringmaster (who is black, of course).
When the Ringmaster turns the spotlight on The Doctor and
he'll to be the next performer, things go from odd to sinister quite
I think part of the reason that I've never fully embraced
Sylvester McCoy's incarnation of The Doctor is because I've always
stories by themselves rather than one after the other.
The stories that the show was churning out at
this time was markedly different from what had come earlier. Possibly in an attempt to combat the falling
ratings, the show had become more surreal and didn't spend a lot of
worrying if things made sense, as long as the plot moved forward and
setting was unusual or different. The
change in style takes a bit to get used to.
The Greatest Show in
the Galaxy is a good example of this.
Like a circus itself, the story is colorful, dynamic, and has a
style, but doesn't have an engaging plot.
A lot of cool stuff happens and it looks interesting, but these
aren't really tied together very well.
There's a mystery surrounding the circus, but the resolution is
an afterthought. The APE (All Pervading
Evil) that is behind the scenes is incredibly generic and the same can
of the weakness it possesses. A lot of
the events don't make any sense when looked at from a distance. A hippy circus performer makes a giant killer
robot? A private bus has a ticket
collector? Someone designed a robot that
would blow up if you pressed a single button... that's large and on the
his head? No one notices that anyone who
goes into the Psychic Circus never leaves?
They advertise by sending robots into the vacuum of space and
can latch on to a passing ship? The
villain who his and has guarded his only weakness doesn't know what is
There are a lot of nifty images though, from a robot
shooting lasers out of his eyes to The Doctor walking out of a building
explodes without flinching the whole serial does have some cool scenes,
that's what you're looking for.
That's not to say that the script is all style over
substance. There are some interesting
ideas... and some not so great ones thrown into the mix.
My favorite aspect of this story is the
nature of the circus itself. It started
out as a bunch of hippies who, as one of members explains, each had one
or skill that could be used in a circus.
They got together in a self-painted Partridge Family style bus,
toured the cosmos. Then something happened
and things changed. After a while the
circus wasn't about being free and bringing people joy, it had turned
sinister. What a great metaphor for
Western culture and how it changed between the 60's and the 80's. From 'free love' to 'greed is good.'
Another idea that was a lot of fun was having The Doctor
cross paths with another space explorer who also has a companion. That is brilliant. While
Captain Cook plays a more self-absorbed
(not to say ruthless) version of The Doctor, it's an interesting
concept and I
enjoyed seeing that alternate version of The Doctor.
Then there is Whizz Kid.
He's one of those slap your palm against your forehead
Obviously he's inspired by obsessive Doctor
Who fans. "Although I never got to
see it in the early days I know it's not as good as it used to be' he
as he rambles on about having collected all of the posters and program
guides. So what did they do with this
ultra-fan? Made him a geeky,
dullard with no social skills, and that's before his ignominious end. What a way to bite the hand that feeds you,
especially after catering to those exact same fans earlier in the
season in Remembrance of the Daleks.
That serial was sprinkled with references to
the show's earliest days with a wink and a nod to the hardcore fans. Whizz Kid was pretty insulting and a surefire
way to alienate the few fans they had left.
The acting was very good in this story however. Ian
Reddington does a fantastic job as the
Chief Clown. He doesn't have a lot of
lines, but he does look menacing every time he's on screen and his
innocent hand gestures are really sinister.
That's one eerie clown.
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred have really grown used to
their parts by this time and their banter is fun and enjoyable. A circus is the perfect setting for McCoy,
where he can ham it up to his heart's content (as he does in the final
and not be accused of overacting.
This four-part series arrives on a single DVD.
The original stereo soundtrack is included as well as a much
appreciated DD 5.1 mix, both of which are very good.
It's clean and clear with no hiss or
background noise to take away from the story.
The dialog is easy to discern and the background music and
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration
Team and looks fine. The image is clean,
the lines are sharp, and the colors are bright.
If you've seen the other restored McCoy era stories, then you'll
what to expect.
The extras start off with a commentary track with actors
Sophie Aldred, Christopher Gerald, Jessica Martin, writer Stephen
editor Andrew Cartmel, composer Mark Ayres and moderated by Toby Hadoke
usual. There's a lot on background
information and anecdotes about the creation of this adventure and Toby
the guests on track and talking. That's followed by a nice making-of featuette,
The Show Must Go On, which covers the
production and spends a good deal of time on the way this installment
up like Shada. After the
location work was finished the cast
and crew discovered that they couldn't use the BBC studios (asbestos
discovered and it was being removed) and so they filmed this circus
story in a
large tent. It's a pretty interesting
There's also an assortment of deleted and extended scenes,
running 11-minutes in all, and some models shots that were cut from the
(which should have been included). Other
video extras include a music video, a short sketch from Victoria
Wood - As Seen on TV which mercilessly makes fun of Doctor
Who. It takes a lot of cheap
shots and wasn't really funny.
One of my favorite bonus items on this disc was Tomorrow's
Times - The Seventh Doctor
where printing reviews of Doctor Who from British newspapers of the
quoted. It's interesting to note that
reviews become rarer as McCoy's tenure goes on to the point where his
season was largely ignored. It's a sad
ending to a great show.
The story also comes with an optional pop up trivia tracks
that's filled with information. Some of
it is minutia, the date the episodes were filmed and ever the time that
shoots wrapped, but also background info on the supporting and
characters and it points out on screen gaffs.
These are wonderful. There's also
a photo gallery, the Radio Times listings (in .pdf format) and an
If you liked Paradise Towers,
you'll likely enjoy this Doctor Who adventure as well.
Written by the same scribe, this story comes
off better and has some interesting ideas that make it worth rewatching. There are a lot of problems with the plot and
the basic story, but as long as you go in knowing that it's a
adventure you won't be disappointed. Recommended.