Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

The fantastic Ian Reddington.
I think that so far, without a doubt, this is the best Sylvester McCoy story. It is let down by the final episode which is rather impossible to follow and when you look at it closely doesn’t make a lot of sense, but all in all Steven Wyatt’s second story is creepy, full of great characters, well directed, well shot and achieves everything that ‘Paradise Towers’ was lacking in atmosphere.
It’s just a pity that episode four, or to be more exact the last 10-15 minutes of the story, is so bewildering. The reveal of the ‘Gods of Ragnarock’ is something of an anti-climax because
really, who are they? They don’t have a place in Doctor Who folklore yet the Doctor says he has been hunting them all through time, so that’s somewhat strange. The polystyrene circus in another dimension is not the most impressive set, well it isn’t when it crumbles, but the show was millimetres away from being cancelled so these things can easily be forgiven. But the events of the final episode need to be addressed because it really left this viewer mystified as to what had gone on.
Mags (Jessica Martin) and the Doctor.
King Pin has the medallion, which he needs to get to the Doctor in the ‘dark circus’. Now despite never discussing how this was to be done, the Doctor spends his time trying to entertain the Gods of Ragnarock whilst constantly looking at his watch as if  waiting for the appointed time at which the medallion is to arrive. Either that or he is worried about how long he can survive. He then points a sword which he created from nothing (well a small piece of metal he just happened to have) at the ground, in the ‘real’ dimension the medallion falls down the pit aimed at the eye, and it appears at the end of the sword. How was this pre-organised? Then the Gods fire at the Doctor and he uses the medallion to deflect the ‘laser beams’ (for want of a better word) back at the Gods and the circus itself. That was the plan?  I’m sorry maybe people were so taken by McCoy’s bag of magic tricks (most of which are achieved by trick photography although he is in his element here which is great to see) that they didn’t notice the illogical nature of the plot and the way it was all resolved.

The somewhat dodgy Gods of Ragnarock.
At the end of the day, no matter how good the story is the audience wants a good resolution that they can understand. The better the story, the more disappointing a dud resolution is and that’s exactly the case with ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’.
The first three and a half episodes are the best stuff for a long time. The clowns, led by the amazing Ian Reddington are wonderfully creepy. TP McKenna’s Captain Cook is a truly superbly realised character, double-crossing, back stabbing, killed and then brought back to life. Jessica Martin as Mags is again perfect casting, I even liked the Whiz Kid (Gian Sammarco).

As sick as I am of quarries, I didn’t mind the location so much either. It suited the story. All in all the story is very enjoyable, creepy, with a magnificent atmosphere. The music by Mark Ayres is perfect and Alan Wareing’s direction is spot on, both first timers. Considering the production was nearly cancelled like ‘Shada’, and the studio worked was instead mounted in a tent in a car park, it just goes to show that working under duress can really bring a production team together to create something amazing. This was heading for full marks until the final episode. I
Ace puts a big robot out of action.
especially liked the ending to episode one, which is not the traditional ‘peril-style’ cliff-hanger, but instead a dilemma when Ace is asked by the Doctor ‘Are we going in or aren’t we’ as we hear screams coming from inside the circus. Also, a great effort from McCoy and Aldred, supported by a great guest cast.



  1. Great review, Prof, as usual I agree with just about all the points you raise here. I think the problem with much of McCoy's era is that a lot of the plot points are deliberately "meta', and have to be thought of in those terms - i.e. the literal cliffhanger in Dragonfire, the chess game in Curse of Fenric, the entire plot of Ghost Light (sorry to pre-empt). Still unsatisfying I know, but as you mention there's still much to enjoy here. This is the Space Pirate ;-)

  2. from planet mondas? Excellent! you will soon see though, Ghostlight is one of my all time favs.