Ever wanted to run off and join the circus? Well you may change your mind after this, the final DVD of the McCoy era, to be released.
The Doctor and Ace are invited to see the Psychic Circus and they find themselves on a desert world where along the way they meet some very strange folks all heading in the same direction. One of these is Whizzkid, played by then Adrian Mole star Gian Sammarco. He was supposed to be a reflection of the ultimate Doctor Who fan, a complete and total geek but in this case the circus’ number one fan.
Spouting lines like ‘It’s not as good as it was in the old days’ wasn’t a good idea for a series that was coming under exactly that sort of criticism and really underlines the fact for many. However, these final two years of McCoy’s era produced some of the best stories in Who’s history, whether people acknowledge it or not and with the re-evaluation of this time twenty years down the line, finally its brilliance is being recognized.
But back to the story. The circus is definitely not what it seems as customers become performers for a family of three that sit in the stalls and if they fail to entertain the family, they are vaporised.
Think Simon Cowell’s ultimate wish when someone comes on Britain’s Got Talent and a pensioner flashes his saggy arse at them in the name of entertainment. I bet he’s watching this DVD and wishing it were true; maybe next season.
The first episode sets the scene brilliantly and we learn Ace has a fear of clowns, a cliché but for once really integral to the story. For in the circus here we have robot clowns that kill and for me, one of the best villains ever to have graced the Who universe.
The Chief Clown played by Ian Reddington is beautifully rendered with his fake smile and balletic body language as he invites people to perform knowing full well what their fate is to be. He is almost Joker-like in his make-up and intentions and Reddington gives a flawless performance. Bu he has a day job too; run away from the circus and he and his fellow clowns hunt you down in a hearse in full undertaker gear. Again what makes this image so aurreal is that they act like respectful undertakers at a funeral and there is no doubt you are on a one-way trip if they catch you. There is something beautiful about their movements in the same vein as the Weeping Angels and Ace’s fears are well founded when she is locked in a room with a gang of robots that are coming to life in the most frightening of ways.
This story is famous in Doctor Who history because it almost never got made due to an asbestos scare which threatened to shut the production down. But they simply threw a circus tent up and made it anyway. There is so much to like in this story. It is haunting in places and genuinely creepy. The flapping tent only adds to the atmosphere although the final dénouement lets the story down. I expected more rather than the family being three Gods the Doctor has previously fought. But even that detail is fine. Modern Who does it all the time and simply fires the imagination as to exactly what this previously unseen adventure was. Even Peggy Mount’s small role as a stall vendor who warns the Doctor and Ace off the circus plays a purpose.
It’s like a beautiful meal only to reach the last bite and find a dog air in your mouth but it does give Sylvester McCoy a chance to show off the skills that earned him a living when he was starting out. And nothing compares to that fantastic shot of the seventh Doctor strolling out of the tent as it explodes literally inches behind him. There is only the slightest of flinches from McCoy as it does so but otherwise that sums up his Doctor. He goes in, wipes out the bad and walks away never looking back. Hmm, wonder where the modern day show got that idea from?
All in all, I love this story even with its weak ending. Giant robots buried in the desert, more companion development, creepy clowns who actually deliver in the fear stakes, super performances, the imagery is fantastic, the Doctor trapped with the show’s first genuine werewolf in a star turn from Jessica Martin and her tormentor, the Captain plated by TP McKenna. He is a character that mirrors everything else in the story. On the surface he appears one way but in reality, when you look beneath the surface, you find something else completely different.
DVD extras are pretty standard but I find it appalling that McCoy is not involved in any of the background stuff especially when this is the final story of his to be released. Also liking the new style art 2Entertain; you’ve come a long way from sticking poorly chosen photos on the front like the impotent Dalek on the original Remembrance of the Daleks original release.
Have a look at the Greatest Show in the Galaxy again if you can, because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what Doctor Who is.