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"...diligent character delineation with a skill and a comprehension...",
This review is from: Doctor Who: The Greatest Show In The Galaxy (Audio CD)
From a period in DOCTOR WHO's legendary history when it was traumatically ailing, almost terminal without a defibrillator to reinstate any form of dramatic pulse, however, as part of SEASON 25, Stephen Wyatt's DOCTOR WHO - THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY injected a much need Adrenalin shot of fantasy intrigue and delivering an array of engaging characters that truly was the beginning of the end of mediocrity that had plagued the series over the previous four.
A chance encounter with `space-based junk mail', the Doctor and Ace are tempted to visit the planet Segonax-based Psychic Circus that is, effectively, at the centre of a web controlled by Ragnarok, who feed insatiably on `entertainment' (rather like the Weeping Angels who feed on `future time' by sending their prey back in time) of the unwitting attendees of the Circus performers pressganged to perform & die or die.
Certainly, if this four-parter had been conceived within the NEW SERIES and contracted into a single 45-minute episode then DOCTOR WHO - THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY would be hailed as a disturbingly haunting `classic'. I wonder if a clever fan-geek has re-edited it into a truncated single episode for a YOU Tube upload? However, it is generally ignored by fans for any form of recognition or appreciation as it is unexpectedly overshadowed by McCoy's equally impressive THE CURSE OF FENRIC or GHOST LIGHT or SURVIVAL.
With AUDIOGO's commitment to the CLASSIC SERIES continuing unabated, Wyatt's taut, psychological adventure can be once again envelope fans with the disquieting oppressiveness like the billowing, swaddling fabric sheets of the Psychic Circus' tents themselves, and with Sophie Aldred (`Ace') reading-performing the TARGET novelisation (1989) the story has had a new life breathed into it (and, like myself, will prompt you to reach for the BBC DVD Doctor Who - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy [DVD]  and re-watch it again).
In her first CLASSIC SERIES unabridged novelisation reading, Sophie Aldred, no stranger to audiobook readings, is a reassuring voice - like a visiting Aunt reading you your favourite bedtime story when you were a mere toddler - who delivers a restrained yet diligent character delineation with a skill and a comprehension of what exactly DOCTOR WHO is and can be.
Underplaying the often `broad' on-screen characters (probably due to lack of television direction as opposed to actor inexperience), Aldred tempers them with a `care of duty' to Wyatt's layered narrative, giving each of the disparate protagonists a undercurrent of motive & soul that was previously not expressed or explored throughout the televised version.
The Circus' Ringmaster is suitably `cred' (and Aldred's effortlessly delivers his 80's Rap introductions) whilst the cheerfully sarcastic Stallholder is a glorious impersonation of Peggy Mount's broadcast version, and as scared Ace, undermined & manipulated by the Seventh Doctor, Aldred gives her own character a depth that had sometimes been missing from the on-screen persona. As chilling as on-screen, Aldred breaths true chilling malevolence into GREATEST's `villain'; the Chief Clown replete with a sterile psychotic grin etched into his flesh.
The sound treatment for Aldred to channel the Ragnarok, by MEON POWER's Simon Power, is quite disturbing; deceptively simple but all-consuming. Due to Wyatt's four-parter narrative, the supportive sound effect & music content is not as expansive as other releases, however where it has been applied it is accurate, appropriate and creative.
Overall, DOCTOR WHO - THE GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY's transference to audio is, perhaps, more rewarding than the novel and the televised version themselves, and this is all due in part to Sophie Aldred's reassuring, commanding and entertaining reading, which makes me think if AUDIOGO's release of DOCTOR WHO - GHOST LIGHT (Classic Novels) could have been wholesale improved if Ian Hogg had been replaced by her reading.
With DOCTOR WHO - THE CURSE OF FENRIC not yet released as an audiobook, it would seem that the only candidate for its reader is Sophie Aldred and that would be - and excuse for this - ace.