The Greatest Show In The Galaxy: Doctor Who: Season 25
The Greatest Show In The Galaxy SYNOPSIS:
Summoned to the Pyschic circus by intergalactic junk mail, the Doctor and Ace land on the planet Segonax. The locals disregard the circus and any who are affiliated with it. The Doctor and Ace meet Captain Cook and Mags, two travellers like themselves who have also come to find out what the greatest show in the galaxy is all about.
They find a ruined bus on the way and the Doctor deals with a deadly android ticket collector before they head to the circus. Once there first Captain Cook and Mags and then the Doctor are trapped in a giant cage by the ringmaster while Ace escapes but is pursued by android clowns. Each of the people captured in the cage is summoned to the main ring where they must entertain the audience of three or they die.
The Captain is good at playing off others in the cage to go on first, such as Nord and the Whizz Kid. The Doctor escapes and finds a well with an eye peering out of it. With Ace and Bellboy he finds out that the circus hippy used to control the forces now in charge of the circus. Forces which have now got out of control and kill people.
The secret lies in the ruined bus and the Doctor must divert the attention of the gods of Ragnarok who control the circus while Ace and the Kingpin retrieve something from the bus but must first deal with the chief clown and his minions.
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The Greatest Show In The Galaxy DETAILS:
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The Greatest Show In The Galaxy CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
T. P. McKenna — Captain Cook
Jessica Martin — Mags
Ricco Ross — Ringmaster
Ian Reddington — Chief Clown
Peggy Mount — Stallslady
Gian Sammarco — Whizz Kid
Daniel Peacock — Nord
Christopher Guard — Bellboy
Deborah Manship — Morgana
Chris Jury — Deadbeat
Dee Sadler — Flowerchild
Dean Hollingsworth — Bus Conductor
David Ashford — Dad
Janet Hargreaves — Mum
Kathryn Ludlow — Little Girl
Production Staff for Serial 7J:
Writer - Stephen Wyatt
Director - Alan Wareing
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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The Greatest Show In The Galaxy REVIEWS
So from 16th century Windsor to the planet Sagonax (?)for the Greatest Show in the Galaxy!
Stephen Wyatt is drafted back in to write, he who contributed the dire Paradise Towers gives us his second odd ball offering the only thing is - this bizarre collection of characters and storyline that makes up Greatest show in the Galaxy is actually entertaining!
Obviously Wyatt has learnt a lot about what used to make the show creepy and special since his '87 debut and writes accordingly, taking an interesting premise and well known setting and subverting it like they did back in the grand old days. This time it's a circus and what's amazing is the Doctor has never visited one before in the show's 25 year history. All the elements are there you have hippy and beatnik types of people, robot clowns who go bad and the three people who keep the circus going as a giant deathtrap to capture visitors and force them to entertain their dark masters who remain unseen. Good strong premise made all the more believable by the directorial debut of Alan Wareing, a new director who would shock the production team by actually caring about the source material to make the Greatest Show in the Galaxy tense, creepy, atmospheric and downright memorable.
Hmmmm, the ending is a bit confusing and it seems a bit of the plot has fallen off the back when the Doctor finally meets and defeats the the Dark Gods of Rrrrrrrrragnorrrrrrrrrrrrok. Like how did he get that piece of metal to turn into a sword by throwing it in the air, how did he come by it anyway? What was the relevance of it and how did it act as anything other than a fancy hook to hang the amulet on when it finally arrived and how did the good 'ol doc know the exact time it would appear in the dark circus?
Anyway that bit aside, the guest cast are top notch, Christopher Guard is great as the deranged Bell Boy repairer of circus robots, T.P. McKenna is perfect as the pompous, bombastic, cowardly Captain Cook who has his own agenda ably assisted by weregirl Mags. The Ringmaster stands out as alternately happy and welcoming but actually sinister (love his raps), Deadbeat is good as a childish hipster doofus who knows more than everyone realises and special mention must go to Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown, so quietly deadly and understated in his evil clown make up. Made him the most memorable new villain to come along in years. Ok the guy who played the biker Nord was hard to take seriously, he thought the Greatest show in the Galaxy was a comedy show but apart from him the whole cast play the material for real and that's what makes it interesting.
You're actually left wondering what the mysterious secret of the circus is, why people are lured to appear in the circus talent contest then killed if they don't perform well. Why is their a giant eye at the bottom of a stone well and why are robot clowns or rather clowns in general creepy? Plus the leads really throw their weight into their performance as well. Ace actually showing there is something she is scared off and Sylv has many nice moments from his dealing with the robot bus conductor to the magic tricks he's forced to perform for the Gods of Rrrrrrrrragnorrrrrrrrrrrrok when he finds a way into the Dark Circus dimension for the finale`. The Greatest Show in The Galaxy all holds together well and there's FINALLY a director who's decided to get the mood through music so Mcklunkoff gets the boot and Mark Ayres is brought in to really lend some atmosphere to the show's pace, set pieces and add to the tension. No cheese!
Also like the nice nods to the series own past how the circus is claimed to be good but "not as good as it used to be" even down to having a character based on a fan appearing (well you can't win 'em all). Crafty production this a huge step in the right direction but points off from lack of plot explanation at the end, Greatest Show in the Galaxy gets a 7.5/10
The centre of the action is the Psychic Circus which could be a metaphor for the production house which is run by a bunch of out-dated hippies (JNT and Gary Downie?), the mum, dad and child characters are the viewers at home, while the three Gods of Ragnarock could be Michael Grade, Jonathan Powell and Peter Creegan. Captain Cook and Mags are parodies of the Doctor and Ace, Whizzkid is obviously the typical bespectacled spotty nerdy Who tragic who spouts lines like "I know its not as good as the early days but I'm still terrible interested!" and the Chief Clown...well, I'm betting that is that wanker Who fan named Ian Levine.
Writer Stephen Wyatt is big on parodies and allegories and satire if Paradise Towers is anything to go by and With Greatest Show in the galaxy his writing does go up a notch with some more interesting ideas and characters and dialogue. Sadly he does let the side down with a number of his resolutions such as the whole Gods of Ragnarock thing. The Doctor claims he has been fighting them all through time. Really? I never knew that. Likewise that whole throw up the piece of metal and watch it come down a sword and even the whole "Dark Circus" concept seemed just totally tacked on as if it would explain the entire goings on. If anything, the way that gets so casually mentioned at the start of episode four really annoys me cos Deadbeat (?) just comes out with "The Doctor could be in Dark Circus with the Gods." as if that explains everything.
The two things that overcome a bit of a dodgy script are the performances and the direction. Taking the performances, everyone is up for the game in this one. I really liked Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown who showed just the right amount of creepy menace (He reminded me of someone I once worked with in amateur theatre right down to the creepy smile and freaky hand gestures). TP McKenna was also very good as Captain Cook and full points for Jessica Martin as Mags who (aside from looking absolutely HOT as the punk/goth) was just amazing and full on as the werewolf. JNT once more aired his "light entertainment" bent with a cameo from Peggy Mount as the Stall holder. I didn't mind her but it made me wonder where the other inhabitants of the planet Seganox were. Speaking of which, I was never convinced that this was an alien planet but that ringed planet in the sky did look pretty cool.
Sylvester McCoy has returned to the dark and moody Doctor from the start of the season and I like that. He also plays to the strength of the scripts and doesn't slip too much into pantomime, even during the magic acts for the Gods. Yeah, his R rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrolling does grate on the nerves though. Ace is okay, well better than she was in the previous story.
Alan Wareing's direction is first rate on Greatest Show in the Galaxy. He shows a lot of imagination and class with his camera movements and hand-held shots. I really liked the scenes on board the bus when the bus conductor came out and also the transformation of Mags and when she attacked the Doctor. For a script that is chock-full of deaths, almost none of them occurred ON SCREEN and yet they were all equally effective because of it. The one major death that DID happen on screen - the Chief Clown - was actually LESS effective to the point of it being casually glossed over. He was just shot in the face and then fell down. Although as mentioned I wasn't convinced one iota that this was an alien planet, Alan Wareing does a very good job in attempting to make another bloody quarry look interesting so full points there.
And Chris Goldby's mate Andrew did a good job of the music, for once someone used music to add to a scene rather than detract from it.
In all, Greatest show in the galaxy is a pretty good story with some nice concepts and dark places and very good direction by the Alan Wareing and a lot of top shelf performances by the cast. 7.5 out of ten from me
OK, there's certainly more nuance and character development in Greatest Show in the Galaxy - unfortunately there's also a lot more padding (especially in part one) - but the similarities are still there... but like the similarities between Remembrance and Nemesis, the ones here don't change my enjoyment of this at all.
Continuing on the theme of learning from mistakes, Stephen Wyatt, who's previous effort showed a lot of originality (unfortunately with little polish... or coherence!) has once again delivered a story that has some great ideas. The psychic circus is good, as is the way that the Doctor and Ace are drawn to it (in the finale for the old TARDIS backdrop!). The Gods of Ragnorak are a nice idea too - apparently in one of the new adventure novels it's revealed that they were pulling the strings in the Mind Robber... probably not cannon though - but the idea of them being "meddlers" that the Doctor has encountered in the past and will encounter in the future is good - a more original idea than the Rani (the most recent recurring enemy at the time). The Captain and Mags kind of work well as subplots too - as does Adrian Mole... apparently playing a stereotypical "fan" - but clearly playing Adrian Mole! The best idea of all though is the clown. This would have been around the time of Stephen King's "IT", so capitalizing on the whole clowns are freaky thing is great. I remember at the time that even my sister (who always had and always will hate Dr Who) thought the way they did the smile thing (punctuated with the hand) was cool... and scary.
So all up, my memories of Greatest Show In The Galaxy were all good... but watching it again it kind of wasn't as slick as I remembered... and some of it doesn't really make sense. For example, the premise. I take it that the Gods took over the circus just so they could be entertained - and if they weren't entertained they'd just kill people? I'm not really sure, cos this is never made clear. Neither is the reason that Captain Cook is there... is he there to play with the fact that Mags is a werewolf? It's just a bit muddled.
And then you get the opposite too - where some things are telegraphed way too much... like the Robot that's clearly going to come back and save the day thanks to Bellboy's convenient remote control that only controls two things. There's also a fair bit of padding in the first part... especially with the bike rider and the street seller... and maybe even the robot ticket guy on the bus... but the kite thing is kind of cool - as is the Bellboy and Flowerchild escape... that sets up the story really well.
There are a few pretty powerful moments in Greatest Show in The galaxy that should be mentioned too - particularly the bit where Bellboy turns his robots on himself, and the final showdown in the dark circus arena.... Captain Cook coming back as the eyes of the Gods was nicely done too, as were the first couple of ringmaster scenes - although they got a bit sameish after a while. One scene that could have been added to this was the Mags turning into a werewolf cliffhanger... but again, this was a bit telegraphed, and didn't work as well as it could have.
The tent scenes all work well too - and it seems that was all by accident as they were forced to film a lot of Greatest Show in the galaxy in tents in the BBC parking lot thanks to an asbestos scare in the studio... a blessing in disguise I think... but some of the chasing in the tents gets a bit silly... on the whole though Alan Wareing does a pretty good job in his debut, bringing together a lot of good ideas and realising most of them pretty well. His best decision though was to use Mark Ayres - a much better score than your standard Keff effort!
Performances were all pretty good here too. At times Deadbeat was a bit over the top in his deadbeatyness, but he was fine once he became Kingpin... and I guess Captain Cook was a bit over the top too... but that was kind of in character. The Doctor and Ace continued their improvement. Their team is certainly the best we've seen in the TARDIS for a while - and Ace continues to take more and more initiative as the season goes on - and here she really takes on and beats all of the main baddies, and then helps the Doctor with the Gods. Whilst linguistically she grates a bit (it's very dated - and I doubt anyone ever really spoke like that anyway), as an assistant she's certainly one of the stronger and more resourceful ones since Romana.
Well, it's only taken me about a month to write my Greatest Show in the Galaxy review... can't remember what score I was going to give it originally any more! I'll go with a 7.7/10 now though.