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on 9 March 2000
A traditional Dr Who story with excellent characterisation, plus superb incidental music from Mark Ayres. The design is inspired, considering it was all filmed out of the studio, owing to a BBC asbestos hiccup. It's let down maybe by the then producer's insistence on guest stars - not all of them work here... And as for McCoy's circus act - hmmm.....
In general though, a success!
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on 5 January 2007
So, then. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. A tale with a decent reputation, a tale that has been well received by everyone else who's reviewed it so far. An 'oddball story', true, but one which commands far more respect within fandom than, say, Delta and the Bannermen. A difficult story to attack, one would say.

But really, it's tripe, isn't it?

OK, that's not entirely fair. 'Tripe' is a strong word, and it isn't one I'd attach to any Doctor Who story. But if I was forced to, really forced to, Greatest Show is without any doubt the one I would choose.

It's a shame, really, because it boasts some excellent features. Mike Morris above mentions the direction (at some length), and fair point, it's a well directed tale. Also you've got the great advantage of Sylvester McCoy, by now at the top of his game, as the Doctor. In this story he's as good as ever. One of the things I love about Sylvester is the way he can transform a mundane line into something special. Listen to him in Episode One where he delivers the line, "it's just a promotional device trying to get us to go." 99% of actors would have simply read the line, passed over it in a hurry to get to better material. Sylvester gives it everything, putting those McCoy-patented tones of sadness into his voice and completely altering the line. Wonderful.

So these are two good points about this story. But neither of them are the best. The best thing about this one is the Chief Clown, and to a lesser extent the other clowns. Ian Reddington delivers a wonderfully sinister performance in a role that could have descended into Batman-style camp. He's one of the most menacing figures in Doctor Who history - the smiling (well, sneering) face paint concealing a deep seated malevolence. And the clowns in undertakers' raiments and a hearse work very well.

So yes, these are all plus points. But there's a downside, an aspect of this story which should be seen as the enemy of fandom, if you will. I call this enemy "the script". It's frankly diabolical.

I could attack the tedious cartoon characters which pepper the tale (Nord, Fanboy and the annoying woman on the stall) but that's far too easy a target. It would be better to look at the plot and its development in the tale. But unfortunately that's rather difficult to do, as nothing makes any sense. I'm aware that Mr. Morris above described criticism of this rather glaring deficiency as "missing the point", but I disagree. The script isn't, as he contests, deliberately not making sense. In writing it, Wyatt seems to feel that he's explained everything. Sorry, Steven, but I've still no idea what's going on. What really happened to Kingpin? No idea. Why would a bunch of hippies have owned a psychotic machine dressed as a bus conductor? No idea. Who the **** are the Gods of bloody Ragnarok?!? No idea whatsoever. Stop being so opaque, Wyatt, and sort it out.

Another problem seems to be with Ace's characterisation. Compare the portrayal of Ace here to Marc Platt's in Ghost Light, which dealt with a similar theme (Ace's fear). Ace isn't interested in the circus due to her strong dislike of clowns, so Wyatt uses the age-old and boring device of having the advertising drone ask if she's 'scared'. At which she immediately wants to go to prove the machine wrong. This is broad-strokes characterisation, dull and horribly unsubtle. In Ghost Light, Ace feels like a real human being with many different shades to her character - in this she is nothing but a stereotype of herself. (Another note - the "not scared, are you?" device is unbelievably repeated later in the same episode - this time, unforgivably, the Doctor of all people says it. In fact he says "oh, you're just making excuses because you're scared of clowns." He refuses to listen to Ace's well founded fears. This is not the sensitive Seventh Doctor we know - it feels more like Colin Baker. Awful scripting.)

The acting in this one is a very mixed bag. McCoy and Aldred are good as ever, despite the script, and as I have said Ian Reddington is superb. However, the MC is wooden, and TP McKenna as Captain Cook bored me - I know this was the point of the character, but it's a golden rule that boring characters should never bore the audience. The old woman selling food is simply unspeakable.

In essence then, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is arguably the worst Doctor Who story I've ever seen. It's not only got no depth - it's got no width, no breadth and indeed no dimensions of any sort. Over-written, over acted twaddle.

Not as good as it used to be? How right he is.
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on 14 June 2011
classic who .. one of my fave dr who episodes .. which really show s the artistic skill s of the classic who team the tape is perfect .. .yay lovely veiwing
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on 7 September 2001
I love Dr Who and (almost) everything about it. But this story is just barrel-scraping tosh. Sorry, but the camp clowns are just not frightening. The chap who plays the Chief Clown is actually more scary in Eastenders than here. I visibly cringed every single second that Daniel Peacock (as the Barbarian) and Adrian Mole (as the WhizzKid) were on screen. Especially the latter. That youth that was Adrian Mole proves once again that he absolutely cannot act. Avoid this like the plague, it's one of the worst shows in the Galaxy. If you want to see good Sylvester McCoy, get the peerless Rememberance of the Daleks instead.
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