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4.5 out of 5 stars
Doctor Who - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy [DVD] [1988]
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2012
I'm not a huge fan of the stories script eidted by Andrew Cartmel becuase I don't think his approach could deliver within the budgets etc. of the time he was working on Who but when the stories came together ( Remembrance of the Daleks, Curse of Fenric and this), you can't deny something special resulted.
Following the teleportation into the Tardis of an advertisting robot(nice touch) the Dr and Ace go to see the Psychic Circus but soon discover that what with the lack of audience, death dealing bus conductor (played by Dean Hollingsworth also an android in Timelash)and strange family watching the shows, something evil lurks at the heart of it.
Sylvester is the dark Doctor here. Ace clearly doesn't want to go due to a fear of clowns but he insists and seems to revel a bit in the goings on. Great performance from Sylvester who is given a neat scene to reveal is skills form his earliest showbiz incarnation as a physical performer e.g escapology and magic tricks. (interestingly Cartmel reveals in the commentary that he wasn't in favour of the way it was done)
Ace's fear of clowns give something different for Sophie Aldred to do & it's good to see a chink in Ace's armour. Her best scenes are with Christopher Guard the 2 working really well together.
Great guest cast most notably Ian Reddington's Chief Clown who switches form an almost Stephen Fry demeanour to menacing very effectively, T P McKenna's bombastic explorer Captain Cook (revealed in the info titles to have been inspired by politician Lord Hailsham!) and Jessica Martin's Maggs. Watch also for Daniel Peacock's Nord and the stallslady played by Sitcom legend Peggy Mount!
Well directed and the tents, plus location filming all convince us the circus is real. Some effects inevitably fail to look good after all this time (wonder if in a few years people will say that about Christopher Eccelston's stories?). Coolest moment? Sylv strolls nonchalantly off with a huge explosion behind him!
Good remastering although as well as delivering a good picture it has sharply pointed out how knackered that tardis was inside and out, by this time!

The pic n' mix commentary is the best in some time. It's funny e.g. cartmel recalls during the filming in the Elstree car park the "Allo Allo Girls doing a Can Can!"Sophie says this was his dream and also tells us that the custard and sweetcorn her and Sylv had to eat may be the forerunner of Matt Smith's fishfingers in custard! It's informative e.g. the original story idea was a bit more space museum and would have featured home of a Who Exhibition of the time Longleat and there are interesting view points e.g. Mark Ayres says that a lot of JNT's ideas didn't work but when they did they were terrific and he did give new talent chances. The Moderator Toby Hadoke shocks them all by referring to Daniel Peacock's character as dead in such a way they think he means the actor and are shocked, whoops! He does clarify himself thankfully.

There are deleted/extended scenes and and unused effects shot put into context by Mike Tucker's introduction. The shot looks a bit like his Red Dwarf work.

There's The Psychic Circus a song sung by Christopher Guard, Jessica Martin and (channelling Vincent Price in Thriller) T P Mckenna about the story, made into a video with clips.

Mark Ayres' test run on scenes from Remembrance of the Daleks is synced up to the action for us and there's a mildly amusing sketch with Jim Broadbent as the Dr.

Tomorrow's Times covers the 7th Doctor's Era, a period when the show was not loved by Fleet Street. You may need a stiff drink!

Best saved til last "The Show Must Go On" is a terrific making of covering the story's genesis, how part of the way through filming the unavailability of studios led to the cancellation before setting up a marquee in Elstree car park saved the day. As in the commentary tribute is paid to JNT as the man who saved the show. A fantastic doc. Just a shame that as in the commentary, there's no input from Sylv

I once said that I thought the extensive (even if mostly second hand)extras on Curse of Fenric made it doubtful, there would be a better DVD release. Delighted to be proved wrong, I recommend this to everyone!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First aired in late 1988 - early 1989, this four parter finished season 25 of the classic series on a real high. Season 25 had been much better than season 24, with exciting new companion Ace and the writers having a better idea about the Seventh Doctor's character, and this serial was the apogee of that progression.

I was 12 when this first aired, and I can distinctly remember enjoying it immensely, hence upon viewing it again some years later I cannot help but see it through rose tinted specs and am going to find it hard to write an objective review.

In this adventure Seven and Ace are drawn to the mysterious `Psychic Circus' by a direct mail shot. The Doctor is aware that all is not as innocent as it seems, and pretty soon it is clear that something is very very wrong, with performers dying at a rapid rate in what seems like an extreme version of `Britain's Got Talent' (I wonder if Cowell had to pay the script writers for nicking their idea? Or if he has considered similar fates for contestants who fail to entertain?) What follows is an atmospheric run around with a grand finale that had me right on the edge of my seat.

What made this stand out was the sense of something different. The setting and characters were like nothing Who had done before. The chief clown in particular still haunts me, he is probably the most disturbing Who villain in the entire canon. And there is a dash of humour that is not only welcome, but really works, putting Sylvester McCoy's physical talents to good use for a change and not just the pointless pratfalling of his earlier episodes.

Rewatching this recently I found myself enjoying it every bit as much as I did way back then. The story, with its thrills, chills and high production values deserves 5 stars. As an adult I also now understand a lot more of what is going on. The script writers were making a lot of comments about Dr Who itself. These passed me by back then, but now I could understand them and I appreciated them.

This release from 2¦Entertain is similarly excellent. The picture is clear and fresh and the sound superb. The restoration team probably didn't have too much to do with this story but they have taken every care with it. As usual there is a plethora of extras, from the usual info subtitles (always interesting and entertaining), an audio commentary, PDFs of radio times listing, interesting documentaries and a deleted scene. A 5 star package.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 December 2013
Featuring excellent direction and choreography, superb performances from the regular and guest cast and a very pleasing script packed with engaging characters and ideas, 'The Greatest Show in the Galaxy' is one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever.

The execution of this story is near faultless with some fine sets, location work and model work. Memorable moments include Bellboy's suicide which is nothing short of chilling, Mag's perfectly executed werewolf transformation and the Doctor's calm walk away from the exploding circus which is one of the finest images ever in Doctor Who.

Ian Reddington, TP McKenna and Chris Jury are the best of a stellar guest cast but Jessica Martin also deserves considerable praise for her very good turn as Mags considering she was known mainly for comedy. The regular cast don't let the side down either; Both Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred give fine performances and they continue to work brilliantly together. Mark Ayres' incidental music contributes greatly to the atmosphere of the story.

As far as extras are concerned there is the usual 'Making of' documentary which sheds some light on the troubled production of this story and how the difficulties were overcome. Additionally there is one of those 'Tomorrow's Times' features for the Seventh Doctor's era which rounds up some of the Doctor Who related newspaper articles from the time. Naturally there is also a 'coming soon' trailer.

So in conclusion, I can't recommend this story highly enough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2013
Ian Reddington played the Pied Piper at the Stoke Vic in 1982, and by gum he was chilling, and then that significant talent for being scary found its way to Dr Who. Stick him in clown make up and weepers and give him a hearse...

It is of course wrong to suggest that any writer has ever done anything as heinous as take drugs. It's a circus, in a desert, miles from anywhere, and people just turn up, like moths to a flame, and they never come out again.

And hanging onto the edges of this catastrophe curve are the circus folk, the fortune teller, the ringmaster, the Chief Clown, the kite-maker, the android engineer, and the android clowns he made, and out in the dunes a gloriously grumpy Peggy Mount serving up a mixture of Ambrosia Custard and sweetcorn. Apothecary, thy drugs are quick.

Sylvester really is in his element here; the days of the Ken Campbell Roadshow and the Theatre Royal Stratford East don't seem so far in the past. He's very much at home in a circus, while Ace just as clearly hates it - as so often he's happiest in places that have her climbing the walls.

Filming the circus stuff in a real tent in the BBC car park (because of asbestos shutting the studios) really pays off. You can see it's real, and the chases through canvas corridors have a nightmare quality all their own.

It's got a lovely cast; TP McKenna is wonderfully awful as the Captain, while Rico Ross is great as the rapping Ringmaster (he'd not long since played Pte Frost in Aliens). Chris Jury does a very nice job as Deadbeat/Kingpin, and then went on to do Lovejoy.

But it's in the circus skills of physical theatre at that the show really hits its mark. The clowns are beautifully slick, and wonderfully sinister; Ian Reddington is a delight to watch.

Besides the awful Captain, the snarling werewolf, and the two fall guys (Gian Sammarco reprising Adrian Mole in all but name), there's the audience, and you know there's something deeply wrong with them before they turn into the Gods of where? Raganrok? Norse mythology isn't it? What's that to do with circuses? Nothing? Oh well...

It doesn't really matter, because for once there's so much going for the story; besides the excellent production and acting, the script is extremely well crafted and full of incident - the Dr remarks on 'two brushes with death ' before they even arrive at the circus - so that's two thirds into the first episode - there's lots of story in this.

The extras are good too - The Making Of tells a good story of a highly-committed company determined to tell the story as well as they possibly could, the music video is fun, and the feature about press coverage just goes to show how many unpleasant people make a living in journalism.

And this is a great story for the Seventh Doctor; one person that can be relied upon in a circus is a man that plays the spoons and used to put ferrets down his trousers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2014
Closing off the show's 25th anniversary season, this Stephen Wyatt scripted entry sees the Seventh Doctor and Ace investigate the odd-goings on at The Psychic Circus, a once great show now stuck on a dead end planet, where frankly, if you don't please 'them', you won't just get a boo-ing: you'll get obliterated.

Though the show may have been in its dying days; I think the team rose to the challenge. On top of our really solid double act in the cunningly-deceptive 7th and the spunky Ace, the story's setting allows for a lot of colorfully sinister imagery, be it the sinister yet eternally smiling head clown (who also sports a suit and hat, not unlike Nicholson Joker in Batman '89), or the unsettling ambience within the circus created by a strange trio who observe the acts. This is the production team at its finest, taking the limited budget and simple setting, and then crafting an often tense and creepy atmosphere.

Of course, this is then raises up the script which, much like the setting, is more than what it seems. What seems like another 'weird circus' story actually functions as a rather effective satire of what was going on at the time within the Beeb. In the same way the 'trio' get bored with performances and have run the circus into the ground, one can easily read this as the higher-ups treatment of Who over the years; for all the money it made, no one cared about it and wanted it gone, so they kept piling on more and more adversities, mainly budgetary. Mixed with that strong atmosphere, and you have a very engaging, as well as rather clever, serial that acts as a perfect swansong for the 25th anniversary season.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 September 2013
This is one of the better stories from the time when Sylvester McCoy's Doctor was in charge of the TARDIS. A creepy circus where there are only ever three audience members, and the chief clown rides around in a hearse! Watch out for Gian Sammarco (of 'Adrian Mole' fame) as an unfortunate fan of the circus who meets a sticky end. The late Peggy Mount also puts in an appearance as a bad tempered stallholder.
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on 29 November 2014
What I loved about this story is that it is not predictable. The story draws you in. It is not deliberately opaque; rather, you are given the right amount of information as you go along, and become more and more intrigued as a result. The dialogue is natural for the most part, and particularly praiseworthy are the conversations between the chief clown, the fortune teller and the ringmaster. For once you feel as if the characters are saying just as much and as little as they would say in the circumstances, rather than fortuitously unveiling the critical elements the hero needs to hear at this point in order to progress the plot. The hero (the Doctor) behaves quite logically in unravelling the mystery, and his giving himself up for recapture once is not the usual careless repetition. We can see the Captain acting entirely plausibly according to his strikingly repulsive character in both setting up the Whizz Kid - there is a tragic element to the latter's childish credulity - and then betraying Maggs and the Doctor in the Rimg. (Admittedly, this does make one question the Doctor's intelligence for not anticipating something like this, although there was no reason for him to know Maggs was a werewolf apart from the reference to "quite a specimen".)

This intelligent writing lasts to the very end. Neither the (one has to admit it) at times wonky and somewhat laughable models nor the quarry setting destroy the excellence of the script. All the characters are memorable in their distinct ways, and there are winning performances, particularly by the actors of the Chief Clown - as many others have pointed out - and Maggs, as well as the leads.

Two notes: the opening attempted flight of BellBoy and Flower Child seeks to explain why flight is no answer; the critic on AVClub, I think it is, points out the metaphorical dimensions of the story which he thinks the crew and cast are more interested in - namely the need to entertain a critical public (the three in the tent), the desperate attempts of the BBC executives (the three main carnies) to find an entertaining act, the fact that whether a show (like Dr. Who) survives or not is at the whim of a fickle, bored an distracted audience. What they think of your show literally determines whether the show lives or dies (= is cancelled). Pretty convincing interpretation to me, along with the less than subtle crack at fandom.

Too many plots move so predictably that you have figured out the traps, the dangers and the ending way before the characters do. This story is a very honourable exception. Well done the script writer. It was not the show's fault that it was so undermined and underfunded, and had to wait many years for a decent budget that would have made this story exceptional in appearance as well as plot. As it was everyone did well.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 2013
everyone claims that every doctor who fan has 'their' doctor well my doctor is mccoy.

returning to dr who after a long time i am struck time and time again by how many enduring tv memories come from the mccoy era: a man walking through vampires holding out a hammer and sickle badge, a joke turning bad in a corner shop and kites with eyes.

the last of these images come from this dark little tale where the doctor and ace (by far the best companion since the early 70s) go to see an intergalactic circus against ace's better wishes (she's afraid of clowns)

this adventure is a dark affair dealing with our fear of 'others' (the automatons), issues of compliance, the dangers of a sensationalist culture and...well clowns because we all know clowns are terrifying.

the run of doctor/ ace adventures was cut unfortunately short with the wonderful 'survival' just as it had began to unify direct political commentary with discussions of mythology, feminism and monsters.

the mccoy ear stands as the point at which dr who began to show a level of depth and intelligence reminiscent of the quatermas shows of a few decades before. sadly we never got to see where it could have gone and the doctor/ ace years remain as one of television's greatest 'what ifs'
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The fourth and final story to be shown in Sylvester Mccoy's second season as Doctor Who comes to DVD, with all four episodes complete on a single disc.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy sees the Doctor and his companion Ace visit the famous Psychic circus whilst it's on the planet Segonax. Despite Ace not being too keen on clowns. The two time travellers aren't the only people on their way there, as an electic bunch of travellers are doing the same. But the circus is no longer the happy and carefree place it once was. As the performers live in fear of the chief clown. And a very demanding and rather small audience.

Can the Doctor find the truth that lurks under the big top?

Coming from a period when the style of the show didn't find favour with many, this is one story where it works to it's advantage. Because the level of quirkiness is just right and it never goes too far or pantomimey. The outdoor filming may be in quarries but it creates a wonderfully alien and desolate landscape. The supporting cast of characters are all played at just the right level of eccentricity - although it could probably survive without the dig at Doctor Who fandom - and a problem with the production that led to most of the interior work having to be shot in a big tent in a car park rather than the usual bbc studio also works to it's advantage because it makes it look more convincing.

With a good plot that develops at just the right pace, and superb villainy from actor Ian Reddington as the chief clown, it's not the greatest story ever. But it's a very good one indeed.

The DVD has the following language and subtitle options:

Languages: English.

Subtitles: English.

It's also English audio captioned.

It has the usual features for this range of:

A commentary from some of the cast and crew [not unfortunately including Sylvester Mccoy].

A photo gallery of stills from the story and it's production.

Production information subtitles.

The radio Times listings for the story as PDF files.

The option to listen to the score of the story all on it's own.

And a trailer for the next dvd in this range, that as ever involves fast editing and is one epileptics may have a problem with.

There's also:

A typically excellent thirty minute long making of documentary. Which among other things tells the full story of why they had to go to the car park.

Eleven minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes. These usually involve people walking from one set to another but this lot does have some good character moments. And some are unfinished so it means they will go from black and white to colour at random. Do look out for a scene of the buried robot, as it shows it got some dialogue which was cut from the final version.

Model effects: a two minute long feature about a visual effect shot planned for episode one, showing the shot itself and a visual effects man explaining it and why it was cut.

The psychic circus: a pop song recorded by some of the cast all about the psychic circus, using images from the story for it's video. This also involves flashing images and fast editing which may cause problems to some.

Remembrance demo: Mark Ayres, who wrote the score for this story, did a demo of his work by taking two scenes from earlier story 'Remembrance of the Daleks' and writing new music for them. This is that music set to the scenes in question.

Tomorrow's times - the Seventh Doctor: is the latest in the series that looks how the press of the time covered a various era of the show. In the case not very nicely. The quality of the journalism is as poor as many say this era of the programme was, but there are a couple of better articles than expected. Although the Janet Street Porter impression isn't very welcome. And it ends rather abruptly on a to be continued note that seems to promise a look at how the show survived in other media post 1989.

There is also a one minute long clip of a parody of the show from 'Victoria Wood - seen on TV' which also plays exactly as you would expect, parodying stupid companions and cheap sets and monsters and the Doctor's costume. There is one good joke in the middle of it. But that's that. It's only a minute long. Thankfully.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2014
This is a great story for the McCoy / Aldred team. It's a metatextual nightmare with genuinely creepy moments in. If you're not unnerved by clowns, you will be after this. It's utterly barmy and hugely enjoyable, as all great Doctor Who is. Watch out for Sylvester McCoy's "cool guys don't look at explosions" moment.
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