Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy DVD Review: A Serviceable Children’s Adventure

Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction television series featuring The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey whose adventures see him travel through time and space. Over the years, different actors have starred in the role, and to compensate for the realities of the television business Time Lords were given the ingenious ability to regenerate their bodies when they die.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is the 155th story of the Doctor, first broadcast in four parts on December 14, 1988 through January 4. 1989, on BBC 1. “Part One” finds the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his tomboyish teenage companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) from 20th Century London going to the planet Segonax to attend the Psychic Circus after a promotional robot materializes within the TARDIS and advertises the event.

Even though Ace has an aversion to clowns, the Doctor is eager to go, though it seems rather odd what little concern he shows regarding the robot accessing the TARDIS. Before they arrive on Segonax, the story moves to the planet as a young couple, Bellboy (Christopher Guard) and Flower Child, are pursued by a group of clowns, most of them robots. Bellboy is captured and Flower Child is exterminated.

Soon after touching down, The Doctor and Ace meet fellow circus enthusiasts, an old explorer named Captain Cook (T.P. McKenna), and his female companion Mags (Jessica Martin), who he refers to as “a specimen.” Once they all make their way under the big top, they soon realize they weren’t invited to be entertained the circus, but were tricked into becoming the entertainment for a family of three. If the family is unsatisfied, the performer is put to death. Naturally, things at the circus aren’t what they appear.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy appears geared more towards children, like Doctor Who was under the First Doctor. The new characters don’t have much depth, as revealed by many of their names being descriptions. After the interesting set up of a circus luring people to participate, the plot was resolved rather easily. Though brave and intelligent when need be, McCoy’s performance comes across most natural when he gets to be humorous, like when the Doctor stalls for time doing magic tricks. The program is certainly a product of its time as the rapping Ringmaster dates the piece.

Classic Who fans should enjoy the Easter egg at the beginning of “Part One” when Ace briefly wears a familiar scarf. The Doctor claims to have fought the villains throughout time, yet I found no record of his encountering them before this episode.

The disc has quite a bit of extras to enjoy though unfortunately McCoy doesn’t take part in them. There’s a commentary track with cast and crew members Aldred, Martin, Guard, and writer Stephen Wyatt, script editor Andrew Cartmel, and composer Mark Ayres. “The Show Must Go On” (30 min) is a making-of about the episode with cast and crew minus McCoy interviewed. This program almost didn’t air because after the locations shots were recorded, the BBC studios were shut down due to asbestos, but they were able to set up at other facilities.

There are “Deleted and Extended Scenes” (11 min), including missing model shots seen in “Lost in the Darkness” (2 min). “The Psychic Circus (4 min)” is a fake ad for the circus. “Remembrance ‘Demo’” (4 min) shows the work composer Mark Ayres was asked to create for Remembrance of the Daleks: “Part One” before getting the job.

”Tomorrow’s Times – The Seventh Doctor” (14 min) appears part of a longer documentary that examines the media’s reaction to Doctor Who. This segment is obviously focused on McCoy’s run. I would love to know where the rest are located, if already released. “Victoria Wood Sketch” is a Who spoof from the sketch show Victoria Wood As Seen On TV where Wood played the voice of the villain Crayola. There’s also a Photo Gallery, Info Text, PDF Materials, and a promo for the upcoming First Doctor release, Planet of Giants.

Falling well short of the great heights the program has achieved, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is a serviceable children’s adventure. Adult fans who choose to skip it won’t miss much.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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