Dr Who: Greatest Show in the Galaxy (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros review the final Sylvester McCoy release on DVD
Doctor Who was nearing the end of its 25 season - this anniversary year had seen the good Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) battle with returning enemies in the shape of the Daleks and the Cybermen, but also with thinly-disguised versions of Margaret Thatcher and Bertie Bassett. Things were looking up for a show that had spent several years languishing in the doldrums, and a new sense of optimism was spurring the production team onwards - and for the Doctor and Ace, they faced the combined might of a bunch of robotic clowns and the Gods of Ragnarok!
Intrigued by interstellar junk-mail, the TARDIS materialises on the planet Segonax, where the Doctor and his companion make their way to the Psychic Circus, despite reservations on Ace's part. On the planet Segonax, two people are running away from the Psychic Circus, Flowerchild is killed, but Bellboy is captured by the sinister Chief Clown and is bundled back to the circus. The mysterious establishment attracts all manner of eccentric weirdos, The Doctor and Ace notwithstanding, including the nerdy Whizz Kid (Gian Sammarco), devilish biker Nord (Daniel Peacock) and colonial explorer Captain Cook (T. P. McKenna), along with his mysterious travelling companion, Mags (Jessica Martin).
The Psychic Circus itself is fronted by the Ringmaster (Rico Ross) and seems to exist purely to entertain a single family sitting in the audience. Those that appear in the circus' talent show are invited to perform for the family and their fate is decided in a very brutal manner that is in keeping with the Roman gladiatorial arenas of ancient times.
It has often been said that a crisis often brings out the best in people, and who'd have thought that an asbestos scare at Television Centre would have caused the Doctor Who production team to devise a story that could have been shot on location and in a tent? With the prospect of The Doctor and Ace being faced with something deadlier than the Daleks, producer John Nathan-Turner (wanting to avoid a repeat of the Shada fiasco) sprang into action and a trip to the car park outside the BBC's Elstree studios enabled the interiors to be filmed in a tent, rather than a studio, and helped to give the Psychic Circus a more authentic feel than it would have otherwise had.
There is some rather nice business between Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred in the TARDIS at the start of episode one, with the interplay between the two leads being delightful and the chemistry between them is undeniable. At one point, Ace is seen trying on some bit of clothing, including the Fourth Doctor's scarf and is also seen taking off Mel's jacket, which could be seen as a metaphorical attempt by Aldred to lay the previous companion's spectre to rest once and for all. Speaking of which, aside from a brief appearance in Battlefield, this would be the last time that the console room of the TARDIS would appear in Classic Who; many directors and writers would doubtless find it a creative rock around their necks in creative terms, but there was always a certain sense of comfort to be had by having a scene in the TARDIS at the start of a story, much like having M, Q and Moneypenny send 007 on his way at the start of most James Bond films.
The guest cast for this story is pretty impressive, with veteran T.P. McKenna standing out as Captain Cook, an old colonial archetype who has been everywhere and done everything; McKenna brings sufficient bluster and old-school British pomposity to the role that seems to be an early echo of Redvers Fenn-Cooper from Ghost Light. As well as seemingly being a bold adventurer, Cook is also something of a coward, adhering to the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest by sending those weaker and more gullible than him out to die just so he can delay the inevitable.
Jessica Martin turns in a most intriguing performance as Mags, a being who is seemingly meek and mild on the surface, but harbours a vicious and terrifying secret. On the surface, Martin - until this point was largely known as an impressionist and singer - plays Mags as a victim, the sort of submissive wife who has had seven bells knocked out of her and is now fearful of the perpetrator. What is fascinating is that Martin plays Mags as someone who is not actually fearful of others, but fearful of herself, both of what she can become and what she can do to others - her eighties back-combed hairdo is an interesting hint as to the exact nature of her character. Mags begins to assert herself during episode three and you can see the character growing stronger, but also growing fearful as she finds it harder to keep control. Tantalising little hints are dropped prior to this as to what she will become, but the reveal at the end of episode three is pretty cool. Without wishing to bluntly give away exactly what Mags is, let’s just say that at one point her metamorphic instinct is triggered in a manner similar to that of the long-forgotten Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Fangface. With Mags being a character from another planet and not from Earth, you could say that she is not so much a lycanthrope as a lycanTROPE.
Appearing in the first couple of episodes is Daniel Peacock as Nord, a motorbike-straddling hellraiser who, as his name suggests, looks like a Nordic god, complete with winged helmet. Peacock brings his usual slightly-restrained rage to the part, staying just the right side of camp, but his casting as was a curious one, as he was a member of The Comic Strip team, and had been in The Young Ones, amongst other things and Doctor Who must have seen a little too pat at the time for someone who was part of the "rock'n'roll" alternative comedy scene.
Gian Sammarco's Whizzkid is a blatant piss-take of the more obsessive members of Doctor Who fandom (despite the writer strenuously denying that this was the case), being portrayed as infuriatingly knowledgeable, nerdy and someone that many members of the general public would like to punch until their knuckles bled. Sammarco was a old-hand at playing intelligent, almost neurotic teenagers, as he had played Adrian Mole in two television series based on the writing of Sue Townsend. If confronted with a bunch of sci-fi hating yobbos, Sammarco's Whizzkid is someone who's vaguely uptight brand of nerdiness would see him having blood streaming from his nose and requiring tape to repair the bridge of his glasses. Like Captain Cook, Whizzkid seems like someone take out of his own time and just dumped into another time and another planet, as his attire seems like something out of the forties or fifties, rather than the late eighties. Even if Stephen Wyatt is adamant about Whizzkid NOT being a parody of a rabid Doctor Who fan, it's almost impossible to dismiss it when, talking about the "Psychic Circus" and it's current fortunes, he says "...although I didn't see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be, but it's still terribly interesting." Yeah, nothing like Doctor Who at all...
Special mention must go to Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown; Reddington manages to lift what was potentially a fairly mundane character off the page and instil a fair amount of depth to him. The memorable theatrical hand gestures are only part of what Reddington did to make the character someone to fear, he also made the Chief Clown almost schizophrenic in nature, showing two distinct sides to his personality, the high-voiced theatrical showman with the rictus grin (very much like Joel Grey's Emcee in Cabaret), and there is the lower-voice, no-nonsense homicidal bastard. Reddington switches between these two personas effortlessly and it's no wonder that he was voted best villian of that season.
Having the advert for the Psychic Circus appearing as unsolicited junk-mail is a fascinating pre-cursor to the advent of spam-email, which is the bane of many people's lives and it is also interesting that The Doctor seems to be testing Ace once again, seemingly for something greater than being a mere companion for those long, tedious temporal and/or intergalactic excursions; this seems to gel with the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan", which would start to blossom fully during the final season, with Ace confronting her past, present and future. Here, The Doctor wants her to tackle her fears, particularly her coulrophobia, as circuses are usually brimming with the creepy, white-faced little bastards. The fear of clowns is understandable - it was the inimitable Lon Chaney who was once quoted as saying "there's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight" and there is certainly truth in those words. The pasty-faced entertainers were further demonised in the late seventies when it became known that US serial-killer John Wayne Gacy used to dress up as Pogo the clown in between bouts of sodomy and strangulation of young boys and men.
Mark Ayres makes his Doctor Who debut in this story, providing some interesting incidental music, which (apart from the necessary spooky mood-generating stuff) helps to emphasise the off-kilter circus-like atmosphere, by having it sound simultaneously pleasant and creepy, continuing the theme that clowns are not always funny. Ayres also effectively weaves the Doctor Who theme now and again, which just adds to the mystery surrounding McCoy's Doctor. Electronic music had pretty much been a constant in Doctor Who since Dudley Simpson left the show toward the end of the Tom Baker era, but it had grown somewhat trite and tinny over the years, but the arrival of this young new composer was truly a breath of fresh Ayres... ahem.
Speaking of Mr Ayres, he was partly responsible for the most toe-curling aspect of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – the rapping! Rap had become very popular by the time this show was written and someone must have thought that it was a good idea to include something that “the kids” were into, but the end result is the equivalent of dad-dancing at a nightclub. Rico Ross (who had so memorably played Frost in Aliens a couple of years earlier), must have gone out and poured himself a BIG drink after all of his rapping scenes were in the can.
The central concept of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy seems to be the death of the hippie ideal; the Psychic Circus was originally created and staffed by hippies (hence characters having names such as Bellboy, Flowerchild, etc) and the place was eventually invaded by malevolence that perverted the main reason for the circus' existence; you could look upon the Gods of Ragnarok as being Charles Manson and members of his Family (possibly Mother being Susan Atkins and Daughter being Lynette Fromme), turning a beautiful idea into their own personal area of death and terror. Either that or you can say that the God of Ragnarok as being the hippies' eventual desire for money that led to the death of their ideal. One of the hippies, Kingpin, was eventually brainwashed into being part of the latter Psychic Circus and eventually became Deadbeat, an apathetic, shambolic pawn of the circus; he eventually regains the inner-strength and helps to defeat those who have twisted the initial purpose of the Psychic Circus with the help of a mystical medallion – now that’s a hippie concept if ever there was one!
Speaking of the Gods of Ragnarok, they are something of a triumph of design over practicality; whilst they look pretty damn cool, there design is such that there was not much they could do with them. They look somewhat resemble Star Trek’s Tholians, with their blank, helmet-like visages, and are almost statue-like, appearing as though they have been sculpted out of granite or marble. Ultimately, all they seem to be capable of doing is just remaining in a seated position, moving their heads slightly and raising one arm – have Character Options thought of issuing the Gods of Ragnarok as a cheap option for their Classic Doctor Who range…?
Even though this story has Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor showing some of his mysterious and manipulative traits (as outlined in the so-called Cartmel Master-plan), he steps in at the last moment to entertain the Gods of Ragnarok in order to buy time for Ace and the forces of good to put their plan into action. McCoy always was someone who thrived on physical comedy and cheap trickery to entertain, and his performance in front of the trio of deities is something that both amuses and entertains in equal measure, as it starts off fairly simply, with sleight of hand tricks and builds every time we return to his antics, which culminate with The Doctor performing a very Houdini-like act, which involves him hanging upside-down and attempting to escape from a straightjacket. Whilst this may seem like self-indulgent stuff from a performer who used to put ferrets down his trousers when with the Ken Campbell Roadshow and be a regular on Tiswas, it works well within the context of the story and allows those who were too young to remember him on Chris Tarrant’s Saturday morning televisual extravaganza (or even Jigsaw) to see just how much of a great physical entertainer he was. Oh, and people from our era (late thirties/early forties) might want to know that entertainer/magician Geoffrey Durham coached Sylv on his magic tricks seen during his turn in the arena - Durham went under the stage name and persona of The Great Soprendo (with cod-European accent, effeminate demeanour and the catchphrase "piff, paff, poof"), until he unexpectedly unmasked himself during a television interview ( Des O'Connor Tonight, if memory serves). Those were the days...
Designer David Laskey pulled out all the stops when it came to creating an environment befitting the Gods of Ragnarok; using the circuses of ancient Rome as his inspiration, Laskey came up with an impressive-looking stone-built coliseum that is pretty convincing, more so when you discover that it was made from polystyrene.
As entertaining as The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is, it is marred somewhat by having either slightly sloppy or downright disappointing cliffhangers; the end of the first episode is easily the weakest, with a very limp climax, which (if you check out the deleted scenes) seems to have been the result of post-production meddling; the cliffhangers of episodes two and three could have been better if they had been tightened a little, especially the end of episode three, which would have been more effective if Mags’ transformation had been shown as a shock reveal, rather than a series of shots that lead to Mags snarling rabidly.
The location work for this story is pretty good - quite possibly the most effective out of all of the Sylvester McCoy era; the surface of the planet Segonax was actually Warmwell Quarry in Dorset. Although Doctor Who used many quarries during it's time, this is one of the better ones, as it offers a hot, desert-like other-worldly quality to it - in fact, it was such a good location to film in that it was revisited for the final story in Doctor Who's run, Survival.
Things reach an appropriately explosive climax, as The Doctor walks nonchalantly out of the Psychic Circus as it is self-destructing and the story that Slyv tells about the force of the explosion has passed into legend; it's a credit to Mr McCoy's ability to tune out of what it going on around him and continue what he's doing unperturbed, despite the fiery shenanigans almost leaving him with a wardrobe looking not too dissimilar to the waiters at the end of the Monty Python "Sit on My Face and Tell Me That You Love Me" song.
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy comes to DVD looking better than ever; though it was recorded at at time when one-inch videotape had replaced the two-inch Quadruplex for many BBC shows, it still looks pretty good, but has that characteristic softness inherent in the format. The wobbles that plagued the matte work originally are nowhere to be found, as all of the matte shots are rock-solid. Colours are fairly well-rendered, even if there does appear to be a little noise on some of the more vivid reds. All-in-all, this story looks pretty good on DVD.
We Doctor Who fans really ARE spoiled, aren't we? The Greatest Show in the Galaxy comes in two flavours of feature audio, the original stereo soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, along with an immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 remix by Mr Mark Ayres.
The 5.1 surround track is pretty cool; there are a multitude of pleasing directional effects that serve to enhance the story, especially during the scenes in the Psychic Circus, where having ambient sounds coming from the rear speakers add a sense of depth to the environment, making it the interiors feel larger than they are. There are also some nice low frequencies from the subwoofer, transforming the destruction of the arena during the finale into even more hair-raising experience.
The 2.0 stereo soundtrack is enjoyable enough, being a pretty accurate representation of the audio mix that was originally broadcast.
Audio Commentary: He’s the moderator with the… bugger - not easy to come up with something that rhymes with that particular term. If he was the host of it, things would be much simpler. Still, it’s Tobe Hadoke at the helm for another stream-of-consciousness look at a classic Doctor Who story, and in this case, “classic” is used as much more than a vaguely patronising term for the original series. If you have watched/read anything to do with this particular story, then you will know that the general atmosphere on the show was extremely upbeat and gregarious, so it comes as no surprise that it filters through into this thoroughly entertaining commentary.
Sophie Aldred is always good fun to listen to on any commentary, and this one is no exception. Part of what makes her so engaging it that she was young enough to enjoy her time (and status) on the show without looking at it as “just another job” before the next one. Early on, writer Stephen Wyatt explains that he fought hard to get the TARDIS scenes cut from the show, only for Aldred to counter with her relief that they weren’t, as they were among the few times she got to appear in there at all, save for Dragonfire and Battlefield. It’s reassuring that this comes from a woman introducing herself on the commentary having had: “…the great honour of playing Ace.”
Writer Stephen Wyatt is very interesting to listen to, as he tends to pack his stories with more meat than any number of his peers. When asked if he felt that they were working on a dying show, he uses the opportunity to state his purposes: “I don’t think at that time,” he theorises, “…the feel we had was not that of a series that was dying, it was a series that was coming to life again… the feel making this was a huge excitement of we’re bringing this series back to life. I had much more idea of going back to the sixites myself, of the compromises people start out with, the hippie ideals and what happens when they get out into a world where they have to earn a living.”
Jessica Martin lets on that her collective stage-talents might wow audiences, but they are shelved under duress on the home front; “It’s still within me,” the stage-strutting performer admits, “…but my children, unfortunately, just make me sit down. I’m not allowed to sing in the house, not allowed to dance… hence, I have to go off on tour”, “Defy them!” offers Guard. Those who remember her other work from the time will have a blast when she dusts off her flawless impression of Muriel Grey, brought in to give a flavour of what Mags would have sounded like with the originally-intended Scots accent.
Christopher Guard is questioned about the proliferation of his extended family during the 1980s, with prominent appearances by Lesley Dunlop (long-term partner), Dominic Guard (brother) and Sharon Duce (sister-in-law); “From the moment I did mine,” comes Guard to the defence of any claims of nepotism, “…they all kept giving John (Nathan-Turner) a nudge, and he went ‘Oh, OK,’ so we all got a turn.” When asked if he creamed 15% off of their wages for an agents’ fee, he cagily answers: “I don’t discuss money…”
Talk of the ponderous origins of The Whizzkid are explored, including his rabid enthusiasm with the Psychic Circus. Wyatt points out that certain areas of fandom have taken umbrage with this particular character: “Some people see certain analogies to fans of Doctor Who,“ he notes in a bemused fashion, “I really don’t understand why, but they have.” At that point, Hadoke teases that The Whizzkid doesn’t look like any fan he’s ever met, and Aldred asks if any of them were upset about it. Leave it to Mr Hadoke to get the killer last line in, with a particularly cutting: “Doctor Who fans spend their whole lives getting upset, that‘s why they‘re Doctor Who fans…”
Composer Mark Ayres’ contributions are always entertaining, as they extend far beyond merely how he came with the themes and motifs. One of the tasks for this project was putting music over the top of extraneous noise when filming in the car-park at the studio, causing many headaches; “Every time a delivery track turned up to unload the beer for the club,“ he recalls, “we had to stop shooting for a few minutes.” We’re sure that there is no truth to Hadoke’s quip that Ayres steps out for episode three because the music is awful in it. Mr Ayres also defends the rapping scenes, with the excuse that everything in the Psychic Circus has become a bit seedy and third-rate and this is relfected in a number of ways, including the music - good save, Mr A! ;)
Script Editor Andrew Cartmel strolls in for the last two instalments, and while he can be very critical of the product made during his time on the show, he is genuinely impressed by Mags’ transformation, creatures being one particular element which Doctor Who often got wrong; “I think that the effects,“ he gushes, “…the makeup and the costume is fantastic. Jessica does a great job with it. It’s genuinely scary, it’s a proper monster, and so often our monsters didn’t work, and this is exactly how we should have done the Cheetah People in Survival. It’s the way we wanted to do them, instead of the teddy-bears they turned out. If we’d done them like this, it would have been magnificent.”
As said before, this is a fun experience, and all the more for Hadoke’s expert nudging of the participants to get the best out of them, whilst gently correcting any information which has gotten mixed up over the years. It’s all just a shame that Sylv couldn’t have been in there with them, but we’ve all come to expect a certain lack of participation on his part. It’s no bother, as this is a riot regardless of any empty chairs. Hadoke beat us to the “greatest commentary in the galaxy” line, but there’s no shame being beaten to the punch by a professional wise-arse. Excellent stuff, once again.
The Show Must Go On: If ever there was a Doctor Who story which unified its participants in the premise, it would have to be this one - clowns are creepy. This was the very idea which Script Editor Andrew Cartmel collaborated for the second time with Stephen Wyatt to bring such fears into space. With such dynamite material, there was one reservation: “John [Nathan-Turner] had the title The Greatest Show in the Galaxy which both Stephen and I thought was terrible,” notes Cartmel, “But John cut us a lot of slack, and he was giving us a lot of freedom creatively… so let John have his title, which I still think is a terrible title.”
The whole concept finds strong reactions from most participants, from Sophie Aldred chorusing with others the universal fear of clowns, and her finding them rather unsettling. Director Alan Wareing is one who bucked the trend, seeing their fear-potential in spite of not being personally frightened of them: “I knew that they would be a good edge to the story,” he remembers with relish. Lifelong circus fan David Laskey found himself in an ideal job as a designer for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, finding his love for the Big Top an outlet, choosing to base said creepy harlequins on those from Gerry Cottle’s famous circus.
Ian Reddington really immersed himself in the role of Chief Clown, and it’s fascinating to hear him going into an aching amount of detail on how he planned out the character, giving it numerous levels rather than being just some dick in makeup possessed of cheap tricks. He seemed to really bond with Aldred, with everyone ferried down to Dorset by coach, you‘ll get to know those around you! Tales of parties and sing-songs are divulged, and one of the most amusing anecdotes has be how everybody wanted to have a go on the souped-up motorbikes during filming, with only the privileged few getting the chance to do so, especially Aldred and Reddington. Naturally, the tomboy-ish companion was able to get a ride, and proudly notes that she: “…acquitted herself rather well” on it!
Aldred is clearly impressed with Visual Effects Assistant Mike Tucker’s abilities with explosives, with the destruction of The Bus Conductor being the favourite. The man with the detonator remembers that when it came time to send it to Robo-Heaven, “…all the sand in a six metre circle around the Bus Conductor jumped about three feet in the air. There was absolutely nothing left of him whatsoever.” The bang was so big that it ruined any chance of the costumer taking the clothes on it back to the BBC Costume Department!
The darkest days for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy aren’t shied away from, specifically when the cast and crew came back from a really happy, productive location shoot only to find the show about to be shelved due to an asbestos scare at the BBC. JN-T himself pops up in an archive interview to explain the events, where he was adamant that he: “…Didn’t want to see The Greatest Show in the Galaxy go down the pan the way Shada had done.” It’s at this point that Mike Tucker comes across as a pretty cool guy, being a man able to produce impressive bangs and have a really affinity for the project being shot. He tells that to have had the show abandoned: “…would have been a tragedy, because I think it’s one of the stories that really starts to nail Sylvester as the Seventh Doctor properly."
There is some great outtake to be found during this documentary, including that of McCoy swearing during a scene when he gets distracted by someone outside the set talking. It’s amazing how his accent snaps back to a much thicker Scots one when he gets annoyed! Reddington’s tale of being smacked on the head by dropping gate is thoughtfully illustrated by the very clip, making you appreciate just how much damaged it did him when it happened. Just wait for his rather amusing coda to the incident…
It all ends with tributes to JN-T, and the firm guidance he had over the show, allowing The Greatest Show in the Galaxy to be made in the face of almost insurmountable odds. There is a lot to be enjoyed here, with it being on of the few stories where those involved are all universally happy with both the end results and their time on it. You’re going to love the priceless pictures of the cast of Doctor Who and Allo Allo meeting, all in full costume! It’s another winning look at times gone by, and something to make you smile.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: Presumably taken from 71 edits of the episodes, we get about ten minutes (included tops & tails) of deleted footage, and all of perfect quality. Most of the dropped material is that of decent character stuff, with Bellboy sharing some really nice moments with Ace. We won’t blow all the surprises, but it’s a really nice compilation, and all topped off with Sylv mucking around when one of the jugglers messes up during a take.
Lost in the Darkness: Visual Effects Assistant Mike Tucker hosts this brief look at a couple of unused model effects shots. Originally intended to open the story, they showed the “Junk-Mail“ robot flying towards the TARDIS before getting onboard. The footage is excellent, using the hyper-real approach favoured by the then-current Star Cops, but they were judged to aesthetically dark for Doctor Who and rejected for that reason. This is worth two minutes of your time!
The Psychic Circus: Now this is a real oddity, and one where its very existence is built on a love for The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Those smitten with it have clubbed together to make a music video to accompany a song written by Christopher Guard and featuring vocals by three of the cast, namely Christopher Guard, Jessica Martin and TP McKenna. All put together by Doctor Who maestro Mark Ayres, this is so much fun, it should come with an on-the-spot fine! Groovy eighties pop meets the theme to Jim’ll Fix It, and one of the few of its ilk to not be an excruciating experience for anyone listening. Hell, just think of it as an anti- Who Is The Doctor! The song is toe-tapping, the video a perfect montage of footage from the show and specially-shot graphics, with your choice of stereo or a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. A little gem!
Remembrance Demo: What we have here are a couple of sequences from Remembrance of the Daleks, but have been given a musical makeover by Mr Mark “Magic-Fingers” Ayres. Asked to do this as a test for taking over musical duties during the run, his efforts have been synchronised with the footage for the first time here, you lucky people! The new material really works well, and we’ll leave it to others as to which would have better served the story…
Tomorrow’s Times – The Seventh Doctor: The on-going series looking at the press coverage of Doctor Who reaches the Sylvester McCoy era. Presented by Anneke Wills, the scene is set early on when she opens by saying that McCoy’s tenure saw: “…the most sustained period of hostility from newspaper critics.” It wastes no time with a quote is taken from Jacquie Stephens, a critic we have the utmost contempt for. This is the woman that after watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon declared that once the Green Destiny had been stolen, the characters should “get a life” and “move on” rather than regaining the sword and their peoples’ honour. Pleb. We are also “treated” to piece of snide by Janet Street-Porter - boy, they must have been reading from our hate-list on this one! With some trepidation comes a notorious review from The Daily Mail, courtesy of a depressingly noble source: Andrew Beech, coordinator of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, saying that it: “…was slowly but surely being killed” by the glitzy approach being favoured at the time.
There are some positive clippings, including nice words about Silver Nemesisall shows, but the downward spiral and losing battle against Coronation Street fills out the rest, with the inevitable cancellation of Slyv and Sophie Aldred’s contracts rounding it out. It’s a nice collection, but we feel there are a few glaring omissions, ones we still have in a drawer somewhere. How about the one which read “Doc’s Too Diddy To Duff-Up Daleks”? Or the somewhat homophobic piece from Charles Catchpole which noted that McCoy will spend the whole time: “…Munching muesli and wondering what shade of pink to paint the TARDIS”? This is another slick package, and one which can effectively be viewed as a closer to the original run, gauging public mood for the show and just what went wrong. It covers dark days, and perfectly refreshes the memories of those of us discovering the ultimate fate of our beloved show in an era when newspapers were the place your found out bout it first. Excellent stuff.
Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV: Disliking her anyway, we can only view this for the sake of completion. It’s a very broad spoof of Doctor Who, satirising an era over fifteen years earlier whilst using imagery from ten years before. Cutting edge stuff, wasn’t it? It might be looked upon as groundbreaking, as it was about a decade later that French and Saunders began making a career of lazy, self-indulgent, irrelevant pop-culture parodies. Actually, they did a skit of their own that same year - it was so hilarious it wasn’t even broadcast. Jim Broadbent plays The Doctor prior to Curse of the Fatal Death, and has little to do. Discover the magic for yourselves, kids.
Information Subtitles: The collation and storing of facts is a serious business, sharply divided into two camps, those that treat it as the robotic excretion of gathered information, usually the stuff which has been “recorded for training purposes” and other is a rather unique minority, where the input collected is screened for relevancy and expertly turned into a fun, informative experience. Governmental is the former. Doctor Who Information Subtitles are the latter. You’ve guessed it: we are treated to another bolt of achingly researched entertainment which raises the game on any story it graces, so break out your specs, kids, when you embark on the greatest trivia track in the galaxy.
The amount of detail here goes far beyond merely jaw-dropping - it’s absolutely incredible. Every single alteration between the various drafts/outlines/treatments are faithfully recorded here, giving the uninitiated a whole new perspective on the story, and a tantalising look at what could have been. What about a love triangle between the Ringmaster, The Box-Office Lady and the Chief Clown? There’s probably an internet site practically begging for photos like that! Know who The Mighty Blob is? You would have, if he hadn’t have been replaced by Adrian Mole, but you’ll find out here. Did you know that Holly de Jong (Newt’s mother in Aliens) auditioned for the role of Morgana? You certainly will now!
With its tongue ever-firmly planted in its cheek, it tracks the career of Nord’s helmet, branching out from the world of Doctor Who for recruitment into such shows as The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Eastenders and the awful Vic and Bob remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). You won’t need to guess just how many takes it took to get the juggling scene to look flawless, not relying merely on the outtake on the deleted scenes to figure it out. It certainly caught our collective attention when JN-T read the script and loved the “barker”, being the term for a ringmaster. It obviously helped his appreciation that the flamboyant producer also referred to Doctor Who fans as “barkers”, being a verbal contraction of barking-mad. Did you know that? Would you have strung him up from the rafters at a convention if you did?
Once you have gorged yourselves on more information that the human brain can retain in an month, you’ll be left with the inescapable conclusion: in a war of words between the two rival factions of fact-gatherers, there is no question as to which party would walk away victorious. One is a barrister, wielding incisive information with wit and passion, and out to win over everyone sitting in judgement. The other is a pro-bono lawyer just short of retirement, happy just to show up, do the minimum and get paid for it. The Information Subtitles are one of the key highlights of the Doctor Who releases, and the extra we always make a mad dash for once the disc pops through the letterbox. Now if only they could get us a Squonk…
Photo Gallery: Once again, the archives have been raided to bring you the world of Doctor Who in still-life form, and it’s a damn good selection this time around. They’re always impressive, but with a much more broad range to them, it collection is ever better than ever. There are some particularly nice stills of McCoy and Aldred, with Sylv clearly enjoying the experience of being around performing folk again, allowing others the strain of putting ferrets down their trousers instead of him.
Some of the shots aren’t very common in a Doctor Who photo gallery, including a few of the cast and crew sitting around a commissary eating lunch, with Slyv eating some kind of custard-based dessert. You also get a good look pretty good look at everyone at work in the mixing booth, and might that be Mr Mark Ayres hard at work there?
You name it, they’re here: blueprints for various sets, props and costumes. You might well get the most exploded view of the TARDIS Console Room, which hammers home more than ever that it’s only plywood and plastic glued together in an artistic way. View at your own risk. All set to Mr Ayres’ creepy stab at Thunder and Blazes, this is dynamite. Light the fuse and enjoy from a safe distance.
Isolated Music Score: Speaking of Mr Ayres’ excellent work, you have opportunity to listen to it without the impediment of all that talking stuff the actors do over it. The more you listen, the more you appreciate just how much a good composer understands the entire process of the visual medium, knowing when to enhance and when to play-down what is occurring at any one time. His score to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is a textbook example of how to do it right, all the while providing a quality of music which stands proudly on its own when separated from the screen. It demands a listen, and we recommend you make time for it. All the convenience of buying the CD without actually paying for it!
PDF Materials: The Radio Times listings are here to be enjoyed once again, and how can you not love them when they give a synopses like: “Ace thinks clowns are creepy… she’s right”? You’ll be in mini-raptures as nostalgia envelopes you once more, like an Ewok-skin blanket. Best of all is a little note attached to the bottom of one of the listings reading: “New from BBC Videos: Doctor Who in Terror of the Zygons and The Talons of Wang-Chiang”
But wait! You also get a copy of the storyboards for the deleted Junk-Mail Robot sequence, along with the blueprints for said machinery. It’s always great when they give you more than just the listings, and this really put smiles on our faces. Thanks to Mike Tucker, indeed!
Coming Soon Trailer: Being one of the last complete stories we got around to watching, Planet of Giants is pretty fun stuff, and a real format-breaker for the series. This trailer gets you in the mood for it, and make you wonder when it will be OK to mention the surprise being readied for its release…
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is one of the highpoints of the McCoy's tenure as The Doctor; the compelling plot, coupled with great performances from all concerned and lovely location work make for a very entertaining story. The extras on this disc are very interesting, including a most entertaining audio commentary and (possible revisitations aside) this is the final DVD release from the Sylvester McCoy era. What better way to sign off his tenure with an appropriate quote...
"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea's asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice and somewhere else the tea is getting cold.
Come on, Ace, we've got work to do!"
Come on, Ace, we've got work to do!"
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 30th July 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0
Extras: Audio Commentary, The Show Must Go On, Model Effects, The Psychic Circus, Deleted & Extended Scenes, 'Remembrance' Demos, Tomorrow's Times, Victoria Wood Sketch, Information Subtitles, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Materials
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alan Wareing
Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Jessica Martin, TP McKenna, Rico Ross, Daniel Peacock
Length: 0 minutes
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