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Review — Greatest Show in the Galaxy

First Published:
Unknown fanzine, co-edited by Bill Edmunds of New Hampshire

Publish Date:
Early 1989

It’s always funny looking back at old reviews to see if the first reaction was completey different to your view now — one only needs to see the original reactions to Deadly Assassin to learn that lesson! Indeed, as I look at the very first line, I shake my head in amusement. And boy is it a point-by-point-oh-so-earnest review (down to the scoring allocation at the end, which are out of 4 per the editors’ request). The Whizzkid would be so proud.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is definitely the most unusual DW story ever. It is this weird twist to the story that makes it so good and stimulating. Despite other aspects being hardly spectacular, with a few exceptions, Greatest Show therefore ranks as McCoy’s second-best story, only behind Remembrance.

Alan Wareing, a new director for Doctor Who, shows great promise. His directing was very imaginative, and gave me a feel for the various scenes. Unlike many stories, there were many scenes I remember by the directing alone: Nord taking out his sandwich, Mags transforming, the Whizzkid arriving at the Physic Circus with a screech of tires. Even the common scene of the TARDIS materializing was revolutionized by having it facing away from the camera. All in all, a very good Who debut for Wareing.

If one wishes to be picky, there is practically no script. It is just an awful lot of meetings with the assorted characters. But because of the nature of this story this is acceptable, as the interactions are fascinating enough to keep us swept up in it. It is only in the last episode that anything really happens. The scene in the TARDIS is great, with things disappearing, Ace deciding Mel’s clothes are a little too small, and intergalactic junk mail that talks back (assuming you don’t want to contest it’s arrival on the TARDIS). The ending, having ‘the magic amulet’ destroy the gods, is rather cliched, but then again how else do you destroy gods? Also, and I realize this is a rather trivial comment, how do Kingpin and Mags think they can keep the Psychic Circus going without any other help, clowns, or even the actual circus? It is impossible to talk of Greatest Show without mentioning Stephen Wyatt, to whom much credit must go for for his creation of another bizarre corner of the Whovinerse.

The acting for this story was marvelous, without exception. McCoy and Aldred continued brilliantly. McCoy’s "NO, MAGS, NO!!!" was totally convincing, and even terrifying. They also had a great back-up cast. When you consider the strange parts, it is all the more commendable. T.P.McKenna, Jessica Martin, Peggy Mount, Gian Sammarco, Ian Reddington, and yes, even Ricco Ross gave inspired and thoroughly believable performances.

The costumes were very good and fitted the atmosphere well, but then again how hard is it to create a clown, gypsy, or ringmaster suit. The gods’ robes looked, as I’m sure was planned, very rocklike, showing their rather simple personality. Nord’s ‘bat ears’ were great!

The sets were very simple but effective. The billowing curtain passages created an eery feeling with the colored lights behind them. The lighting excelled in the creation of these sets, as for example with the heightening of the claustrophobic nature to Bell Boy’s caravan. The domain of the gods was successful in setting the feel to the scenes there, even if it did lack originality.

The incidental music was the biggest disappointment to Greatest Show. It was very much background music, and didn’t complement the scenes well. This was a story that had great potential for music, with the contrast of the happiness of a circus and the underlying desperate fight for survival. Only in the transforming scene and when the Whizz Kid asked the way to the Physic Circus did it really make an impression.

Only one special effect for Greatest Show will be remembered. It is, of course, the one with the circus imploding (OK, just collapsing). While not particularly well done, it is a break from the usual explosion — and a very welcome one at that.

But through all the above it is the weirdness of Meganac and characters that makes Greatest Show such a good story. It will no doubt remain one of the most talked-about story for many years. I shall be most certainly doing just that.


Script: 2.0
Direction: 3.5
Acting: 4.0
Originality: 3.5
Sets: 3.0
Costumes: 3.0
Monsters: 1.5
Special Effects: 1.5
Music: 1.0
Overall: 3.0
TOTAL: 70%

End of Review

Here’s the list of the Doctor Who reviews available here:
Benny Adventure: Beyond the Sun
Benny Adventure: Deadfall
Benny Adventure: Ghost Devices/Mean Streets/Tempest
Benny Adventure: The Sword of Forever
Fanzines: Mag Bag #1
Fanzines: Mag Bag #2
Fanzines: Mag Bag #3
Fanzines: Mag Bag #4
Fanzines: Mag Bag #5
Fanzines: Mag Bag #6
Fanzines: Mag Bag #7
Fanzines: Mag Bag #8
Fanzines: Mag Bag #9
Fanzines: Mag Bag #10
Fanzines: Mag Bag #11
Fanzines: Mag Bag #12
Missing Adventure: Dancing the Code
Missing Adventure: Downtime
Missing Adventure: Invasion of the Cat-People
Missing Adventure: Lords of the Storm
Missing Adventure: Scales of Injustice
Missing Adventure: Shadow of Weng-Chiang
Missing Adventure: System Shock
New Adventure: Bloodheat
New Adventure: Death of Art
New Adventure: Dimension Riders
New Adventure: Eternity Weeps
New Adventure: Falls the Shadow
New Adventure: Legacy
New Adventure: No Future
New Adventure: Sleepy
TV: The Curse of Fenric
TV: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
TV: The Happiness Patrol
TV: Season 25 Review
TV: Season 27 Review (the 2005 return)
TV: The Twin Dilemma
→ Or just head back to the Doctor Who Index

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This page last updated by David J Richardson on Wed, 20 Apr 2005.