Doctor Who #689: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Part 1

"Now welcome folks, I'm sure you'd like to know, we're at the start of one big circus show. There are acts that are cool and acts that amaze. Some acts are scary and some acts will daze. Acts of all kinds, you can count on that, from folks that fly to disappearing acts. There are lots of surprises for the family at the Greatest Show in the Galaxy! So many strange surprises, I'm prepared to bet, whatever you've seen before, you ain't seen nothing yet."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Dec.14 1988.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Ace walk from the TARDIS to the Psychic Circus.

REVIEW: Full disclosure - this is probably the first time I've seen The Greatest Show in the Galaxy apart from selected clips, and... Part 1 is really disappointing. We know there's this Psychic Circus, and it looks dangerous an creepy, but it takes the Doctor and Ace an entire episode to get within a stone's throw of it. And when they do, we get one of the strangest cliffhangers ever - do we go in or don't we, sting on Ace's timid shrug. ???? So it's just a trek through a windy quarry as they meet zany characters typical of the Cartmell era, though these are broad archetypes, often with no real name! What's going on here? Part 1 doesn't tell us ENOUGH to make us want to stick around for three more episodes.

Now, knowing what I know of Doctor Who lore, and the Gods of Ragnarok are involved somehow, I kind of get the feeling (and I may be proven wrong) that these archetypes are kind of a shabby, "Yeti in the loo" version of Kirby's Fourth World. JNT's New Gods, or something. The characters have names that could almost be superhuman handles, and wear all manner of anachronistic costumes. This is a planet in some future time frame, but people are wearing 20th century gear and driving cars and buses from 20-50 years in the show's past. Bellboy and Flowerchild might as well be Mark Moonrider and Beautiful Dreamer of the Forever People. Nord has fantastical headgear like someone out of New Genesis or Apokolips (the latter going by his manners). (Substituting JNT for Kirby gives us an actress dressed as a panto Dame instead of the angel of death on skis.) If this IS a deliberate play on archetypes, tying into the dream-like feeling of this world, then it's interesting that the Doctor and Ace meet up with their mirror images, Captain Cook the explorer and his young (screaming) companion Mags. Is this a finely-balanced Jungian universe in which the appearance of SECOND versions of the explorer and companion archetypes will throw everything askew?

But because we don't know what's really going on, and don't get to know the characters meaningfully, it's really hard to get into this thing. I do like Ace's story in this. Dared by a junk mail robot to go to the circus and confront her fear of clowns, she's reticent throughout the episode but won't back down. The whole episode is a bit like some Dantean journey for her, going through various experiences until she gets to the big tent (eating gross food, getting harangued by Nord, finding a new badge, and so on). Her memory of the circus can't be all bad, because she hides a smile there. Hopefully it will be explored later in the story. One thing's for sure, she'll be forced to confront her past a whole lot more in the season to come. I kind of starts here.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes scenes deleted from this episode, like the robot approaching the TARDIS in space and the Doctor trying to find a tool to properly scan it, a reference to the planet normally being a happy place, and an alternate cliffhanger that would have ended the episode on a clown coming out of the tent to wave the heroes in.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - This one's taking its time getting the heroes to where the action is and comes off as a bad spoof of some weird Jodorowsky film.


Madeley said...

Another one that I really liked as a kid, that I haven't seen in something like 15 years. Expecting it to be rubbish, I've never got round to buying the DVD, so I'll be interested to see what you think about it.

snell said...

You must type out "Gods of Ragnarok" the same way as Sylvester McCoy pronounces it, with as many R's as possible. "Gods of RRRRRRRagnarrrrrrrok!"

Siskoid said...

I'm expecting it to get a good score in Story Rewatchability, but Part 1 on its own was rough-going.


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