Doctor Who #692: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Part 4

"As I think it's been said before, or was it after? Anyway, you ain't seen nothin' yet."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.4 1989.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor faces the Gods of Ragnarok while Ace activates a clown-murdering robot.

There's an awful lot of energy in the climax and that all starts with the Doctor's confrontation with a Cook-controlled werewolf Mags. Sure, the Doctor is running, climbing and swinging from place to place, but that wouldn't work as well without dynamic camera movement, exciting music and cool lighting cues. It goes really limp whenever Mags catches up to him because her rubber claws can't really hurt him, but the sequence is rescued by the production values. After the Doctor crawls into the Gods of Ragnarok's "time space", with a posterization effect that recalls the Circus' history, things take a different bent. As the three gods of woolen stone (a cool design) ask to be entertained lest they turn off the set on the universe, as it were (see Theories), we get to see a showcase for the McCoy Doctor's abilities. They really do just let McCoy go wild with on-camera magic tricks and mild feats of clownish athleticism. It's somewhat entertaining, mostly because the tricks are visual puns - evoking beginnings with an egg where the Gods are endings, playing with the rope he may be hanging himself with, an escape trick which is a Doctorish symbol, making an umbrella appear as the Gods bring on the rain to get one up on them, etc. - but it is, as the Gods intuit, him (and the show) "playing for time". His final trick, knowing exactly when the reconstructed amulet will fall into the time space, is part of the new bag of tricks Cartmell and his lot are giving the Doctor. It's a mysterious power, but I suppose it's a function of sensing what time would invariably connect to something thrown into the eye well. And then we're back to energy writ large, as things crumble and explode around a smiling Doctor. Doc7 has never been so cool. Did he again land somewhere with a hidden agenda? The scamp.

Comparatively, Ace's story and the location stuff isn't quite as good. Though lip service is paid to her dislike of clowns, the idea that she's facing her anxieties isn't as well developed as it was in previous chapters. There's a search for the missing amulet piece that restores Kingpin's mind to Deadbeat, a robot that tries to crush her head destroyed when she pushes the big red button on top of its head (why doesn't Kingpin get up and slap the thing?), a race around the countryside, and the big buried robot out of the Challengers of the Unknown is used to massacre the clowns. It's all fairly well done, but strict action where previous beats were more character-led.

As for the big television allegory, thinking about the Circus this way does funny things to your head. I mean, it's quite possible that Captain Cook is revealed to be undead because he's a Star Trek repeat trying to get a shot at a remake (TNG, which was only on its 2nd season), but it's the hindsight I find most amusing. Who inherits the Circus? Kingpin and Mags, the latter and young girl with supernatural powers, which prefigures Buffy the Vampire Slayer's success not just in America, but in the UK as well. Buffy, which took genre shows out of the geek ghetto and made such things mainstream. Appropriately, Mags is the Doctor's ally, just as Buffy paved the way for the new series of Doctor Who and RTD's paradigm. Love it or hate it, that's the formula for genre that was used to reintroduce Doctor Who to the world, and it worked. But of course, these are musings 25 years on, and weren't part of the equation then, though the script might have predicted (hopefully, perhaps) the rise of genre shows and thus a return to glory for the program (and between this season and the awesome season 26, there's a huge uptick in quality, though the BBC Masters Ragnarocked the show anyway.

THEORIES: Whether or not the Doctor came to this planet on purpose, he does say he's fought the Gods of Ragnarok throughout space and time. What does that mean, seeing as we've never seen them before? On the allegorical level, it might mean the program has been fighting the BBC's plans to cancel it, at least through the 80s. But within the show's continuity, I see two possibilities, which aren't mutually exclusive. One is that there are more than three of these Gods, that they are Old Ones from the universe before this one, and are thus connected to other would-be world enders like The Great Intelligence, Fenric, etc. (Might the Doctor be cutting off Fenric's reinforcements before their final showdown?) The New Adventures series of books pretty goes with this idea, also making them responsible for the Land of Fiction, and connecting them to the Lovecraftian gods that also make appearances early in the range. The other possibility is that these guys are involved in every attempt to destroy the universe, using various villains and forces as pawns as just another sort of entertainment (a psychology similar to the Eternals' from Enlightenment). If so, I don't think they were destroyed forever at the end of this story. They possibly had a hand in triggering the Time War, and certainly tried their best a number of times in the new series!

VERSIONS: The Target novelization has a number of small differences. The more interesting ones are Nord asking directions from a clown on a high wire in the middle of nowhere; the buried robot speaks, pleads for release and makes threats; more of a meal is made of Mags' disillusionment over Captain Cook's betrayal, which prefigures the Doctor and Ace's evolving relationship; and the tent sinks into the ground at the end. It also features some of the scenes deleted from Parts 1 and 3.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - A fine climax, with lots of action, neat effects, and McCoy purging himself of his Vaudeville act.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - It starts off slow, and the guest characters are somewhat broad, but it's daring, intellectually stimulating, creepy, amusing and gives the two stars a lot to play, each developing in the direction they'll more fully explore over the next season.



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