0 out of 1 found this review helpful.
In two weeks' the greatest show of the galaxy will return. But what of the actual serial called 'The Greatest Show In The Galaxy'?
This is a serial often held within the Whovian community as a classic, at a time when the show was struggling during its original run. The fact that this story was even made is incredible. A discovery of abestos led to the temporary closure of various studios at the BBC - but rather than leaving the story unfinished as with Shada, the production team instead resorted to filming a large majority of the scenes inside a tent at the BBC car park. Without a doubt this production team were determined to make sure this story saw completion - the kind of determination that would be seen years later when Russell T Davies revived the show in 2005.
The Greatest Show In The Galaxy sees The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) decide to take part in the titular circus show's talent competition after receiving junk mail from a 'junk bot' in the TARDIS, despite his companion Ace's (Sophie Aldred) reluctance. This is a Doctor Who story however, so obviously something more sinister is under way. The Gods of Ragnarok are the judges, and failure to entertain results in death.
Having watched the story, I don't really understand the love the serial has within fandom. That's not to say it's terrible, it's just not as good as I expected. The main problem is one that plagues many of Sylvester McCoy's serials - the performances from the guest cast are too over the top and it makes it hard to take anything in the story seriously. The main culprits are T. P. McKenna as Captain Cook and Deborah Manship as Morgana. Their acting comes across as very two dimensional and they are little more than caricatures - another common issue with this period of the show.
The pacing of the story is also an issue. It takes way too long for the Doctor and Ace to reach the circus tent, and the first episode's big cliffhanger is 'Well Ace, are we going in [to the physic circus] or not?' rather than Mags screaming (which would have surely made more sense). Quite why the writer Stephen Wyatt decided to make the cliffhanger whether or not The Doctor and Ace enter the psychic circus I don't know, but it's a terrible decision as it doesn't make sense as a cliffhanger moment.
The fourth episode of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy is perhaps the best. The pacing improves considerably in episode four, with so much happening that there's barely time to breath. Sylvester McCoy displays a great talent for magic tricks and escapism routines; at one point he is even hanging upside down. If Sylvester McCoy hadn't become an actor, he could easily have been a magician.
The visuals of this story are very good - in fact, they are actually on the high end of the classic series' visual effects and aesthetics. This is a nice surprise given that the production crew resorted to filming in a car park, but it genuinely looks and feels like filming took place in another country such as Spain. The well of energy is amazing and wouldn't look out of place in the new series, and the Gods of Ragnarok with the bolts of energy they fire from their hands equally wouldn't look out of place in either the Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat era of the show.
One common criticism of the story is Whizzkid (played by Gian Sammarco). Whilst many don't like the character because he is a clear dig by John Nathan Turner at the show's fans, my issue is not so much that it's insulting towards Whovians but more that Whizzkid only exists in this story for that very reason. There's no clear narrative reason for why he dresses in 80's geek fashion, or rides a bike. He's literally just written as an excuse for John Nathan Turner to channel his fury at the time of the fanbase's negativity through Stephen Wyatt. The line about 'It's not as good as it used to be' is clear arrogance of the then-current production team's ignorance towards the criticism the show had been receiving. It's not so much that it's lashing out at Whovians but more that it shows a certain holier-than-thou ignorance that is pretty unforgivable.
Having said that, the story does have some good ideas. The bus conductor robot is cool, and the use of music works very well. I can't imagine raps will ever work as well in the show as they do here; the raps make sense for the ringmaster's (Ricco Ross) character and are extremely catchy unlike the awful drivel most rapping consists of. The good ideas just don't outweigh the bad. Although there was clearly something not quite right about Captain Cook, I'm not sure I liked him as an antagonist - why was he so cruel towards Mags, for instance, when it is said in dialogue that he had previously saved her? I'm also not sure about the bizarre notion that Ace can hear Mags' scream in part one but not The Doctor. Unless I missed it, I don't believe it was ever explained why this was the case. Surely it would make more sense had the Doctor heard it and not Ace, given that The Doctor is of a different species?
Overall, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy isn't a terrible story but it isn't as great as its reputation suggests either. It's marred by problems, such as characters who are too over the top to be taken seriously and pacing issues. There are a few good ideas in the story though and the visuals are breathtaking despite the fact that it was filmed in a BBC car park. It's certainly an improvement on the writer's previous serial Paradise Towers, however that's not saying much. The Greatest Show In The Galaxy is not the Genesis of the Daleks of Sylvester McCoy's serials but it's passable for the state the show was in at the time.