Sunday 30 December 2012

TARDIS Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell, by Phil Sandifer

You may have enjoyed reading TARDIS Eruditorum, the blog of Dr Phil Sandifer. The first two volumes of his blog archives are now available in print, covering the First Doctor and Second Doctor eras respectively. We may hope that the next volumes will soon find themselves in print.

TARDIS Eruditorum attempts to chart the development of Doctor Who as a cultural text from An Unearthly Child to the BBC Wales series. I did wonder at one time whether this project was really worthwhile after the very exhaustive About Time, by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles. However, Sandifer offers analysis of the Doctor Who stories that is a good deal more thoughtful and rather less hurried than that of the About Time books.

Sandifer began his Doctor Who project after graduating with his PhD and finding that job opportunities in his chosen field were rather scarce. I can identify with Sandifer, as I also gained a PhD and then found it to have limited currency in the employment market. Thankfully, I found an alternative career working with drug users and alcoholics.

The blog is written in a somewhat intellectual style. Occasionally, Sandifer loses me, but this tends to be when he gets into discussion with fellow intellectuals in the comment section. He also writes from a strongly left of centre position. Sometimes his socialism can be irritating, but I'm happy to read writers who don't share my conservatism.

That you can read the TARDIS Eruditorum blog for free rather raises the question of why one would want to buy a printed copy. I have no regrets about buying the book and plan to buy future volumes. The book contains some great bonus material, including fascinating essays and some reviews of spin-off material not covered on the blog.

In dealing with the Hartnell material, Sandifer charts the appearance in the show of those things that make the series Doctor Who as we know it- the Doctor's need for companions and his discovery that there are monsters that must be fought. He has a lot to say about what he calls the 'Problem of Susan' (named from the interesting but problematic short story by Neil Gaiman). By this he means textual difficulties inherent in Susan's character which ultimately resulted in her complete disappearance from the show. This ties into wider difficulties connected to the sexuality of female companions in Doctor Who.

Sandifer makes a powerful case that there are no pre-Unearthly Child adventures. He argues that the character we see in that first serial is utterly unequipped to be the Doctor. It is only his interaction with Ian and Barbara that make him into the heroic figure we see in later stories. This was argued on the blog, but is given further exploration in an essay on the Doctor's travels before Totters Lane. I tend to agree with Sandifer on this, though this is problematic for me because I view The Infinity Doctors as a pre-Unearthly Child story (and not an Unbound story). I think Sandifer's thesis of an unheroic older Hartnell is not incompatible with him being a bit more adventurous in the days when he was the younger Hartnell Doctor that I believe we see in The Infinity Doctors. Sandifer has not yet covered The Infinity Doctors, so we shall have to wait to see his view of how that story fits into the Doctor Who mythos.

I very much enjoyed Sandifer's discussion of The Web Planet, seeing it not as a disaster, but as one of the high points of the show. He sees in that serial a delightful exploration of just how weird and unearthly Doctor Who can get. He also joins the chorus of those of us who love the much maligned The Gunfighters. He finds much value in the Dalek spin-off material of the Sixties, arguing that it enables us to imagine the grandeur of the Doctor Who universe beyond the confines of the screen.

In an interesting bonus essay, Sandifer considers the question of whether William Hartnell was a bigot. He condemns two stories in particular for their racial subtext, The Ark and The Celestial Toymaker. It's hard to argue with Sandifer's condemnation of the racism of The Celestial Toymaker. He is appalled that the Celestial Toymaker has been re-used several times by Big Finish. I understand his anger, but I also understand why the character has returned. There is a such a strong sense of nostalgia about Michael Gough's Toymaker. He also cuts a very striking visual image. Yes, it might be racist to have a baddie looking like a Chinese Mandarin, but it is an undeniably impressive costume choice.

Maybe it's because I'm a right-wing bastard, but The Ark is very dear to me. I do think that The Ark can be defended against Sandifer's Post-Colonialist criticisms. Sandifer's reading rests upon the assumption that the Monoid's negative qualities are inherent in their nature and are not a result of their treatment by the humans. I think the Monoid tyranny can be seen as generated by the intolerance and stupidity of the Guardians, an hypothesis that the Doctor seems to allude to in that story. Like it or not, The Ark seems to reflect reality to some degree, as colonialism was often replaced by hideously corrupt and brutal dictatorships. I have heard people who once condemned Ian Smith as a racist bigot admit that in hindsight his opposition to majority rule in Rhodesia made sense.

Sandifer feels so strongly about The Celestial Toymaker and The Ark that he wants to exclude them from the canon of Doctor Who stories. This is unsurprising, as he has argued on his blog against the idea of a 'Whoniverse,' that is, a single unified fictional universe in which all Doctor Who stories take place. He seems to favour instead a canon in the artistic sense of an anthology of recognised texts. This is not my philosophy. Seeing Doctor Who as a unified fictional universe is an important part of how I consume and enjoy Doctor Who. I prefer a canon that is inclusive of as many texts as possible, including more problematic material like that of the Sixties TV Comic. This raises the question of what I would do with Doctor Who stories that contain racism or sexism. For me the answer to that is to regard such texts as unrealiable narrations of the events. Every story is true, but the details may not be accurate. Racially problematic materials can be seen in the same way as zips on the Silurian costumes or Ace remembering Paradise Towers.

For me, the most welcome addition in the book was the essay on whether Doctor Who is the name of the titular character. Yet I was irritated by one statement. Sandifer says "The problem is that there are no dedicated fans advocating for his name being Doctor Who." I am a dedicated fan and I have argued on this blog that his name really is Doctor Who. Maybe I should start referring to the character as such, though this could cause confusion as to whether I am referring to the character or the show.

His glorious essay on The Chase has to be read to be believed. Who could imagine that this silly story was about deconstructing the narrative essence of Doctor Who? That's much more interesting than saying it's 'silly but fun.'

I would heartily recommend Doctor Who fans to buy this book and also the second volume that is now available.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

The Snowmen

*Spoiler alert*

Watching The Snowmen made me realize what a shallow Doctor Who fan I am. After watching most of the story with distaste, I suddenly got excited when I found out that the Great Intelligence was back. Of course, it is difficult to see how this story fits in with the continuity for The Abominable Snowmen, but I'm sure there is solution if you have time to think of one.

Reading other reviews, it seems that The Snowmen has gone down very well and I've seen little criticism of it voiced. I may well find myself being a lonely voice in saying I couldn't stand it.

Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman looks set to be the most annoying companion ever. I hated every minute of her onscreen presence. I can't see why other reviewers seem to like her. In the role of both Victorian governess and tavern wench, Coleman is utterly unconvincing. She is just playing on overdone cliches. She is a walking Victorian trope for a theme park version of the Victorian era. Added to this, Clara is even more poorly characterised than other Moffat characters. A posh governess who moonlights as a low-life barmaid? Why? Once again, it looks like we are going to get a big mystery story arc about Clara's identity. Didn't we have enough of that with River Song?

Likewise, Dr Simeon, the human villain has no real identifiable motivation. He was just lonely and unhappy as a child, so he aided an evil alien entity. Richard E Grant's performance is as dull as his voice acting was in Scream of the Shalka. He acts very cold and menacing, but he brings no subtlety or depth to the character. Thankfully, Ian McKellan's vocal performance as the Great Intelligence is a good deal better.

The monstrous snowmen looked alright, if a little cartoonish, but their concept seemed a little too similar to the Weeping Angels and the Silence. This only adds to the sense that this story is a collection of Moffat set-pieces.

The Snowmen also sees the return of Vastra and Jenny, along with Strax the friendly Sontaran. I don't like any of these characters. They feel contrived and none has been given a strong enough background for them to make any real sense within Doctor Who continuity. I didn't care for the topical bombshell of gay marriage being dropped into this story either. That was really not necessary.

I'm getting a bit tired of the routine of the Doctor becoming cold, uncaring and reclusive following the departure of a companion. It's getting tedious and seems to throw out the development of the Doctor's character over the course of the show. In any case, this attempt to give the story a dark and angsty edge is rather undermined by the excessive and rather overdone humour of the story. If Moffat wanted to give us serious drama, he really should have trimmed away some of the gags here.

I mentioned earlier my childish thrill at the return of the Great Intelligence. One can't help feeling reminded of the return of old baddies like Omega and the Sea Devils in the 80s. With its re-use of characters, its heavy exposition and heavy reliance on previous stories, The Snowmen is very much reminiscent of the continuity-obsessed excesses of 80s Doctor Who.

I'll admit that this story is a good deal better than the last two Christmas specials, yet that is hardly good ground to build on. I don't hold out any hope for much improvement in the next season.

Saturday 22 December 2012

The Krotons

"The hoy brains hiv bin kiptured!"

I am sure I am not the only fan who watches The Krotons and finds himself wanting to say everything in a Kroton voice. The Krotons' mock South African accents have me in stiches for a good deal of this serial. In the unlikely event of their ever returning to the televised show, I do hope they don't change this detail!

There is a lot more to watching Doctor Who than simply enjoying silly-looking monsters, but sometimes this can be a big part of it. For me, The Krotons is a story where that basic enjoyment of silly monsters really kicks in. The Krotons are one of the silliest looking monster races ever to appear in Doctor Who. I love the way they prod and pinch Jamie with their little pincers! Nevertheless, the Krotons, despite their ridiculous appearance, are quite an imaginatively conceived alien race. They are grown from crystalline matter, which rather sets them apart. They are also very cruel and brutal, despite their silliness. This is why their return in Lawrence Miles' novel Alien Bodies worked so well. Miles was able to capture perfectly the tension between the silly appearance of the Krotons and their disturbingly violent nature. The scene in Alien Bodies where a Kroton is destroying a Dalek is a very memorable and haunting moment.

The Krotons might seem a forgettable story if not for two important facts. Firstly, it is the first Doctor Who story to be written by Robert Holmes and secondly, it features the first appearance of Philip Madoc. As a Robert Holmes script, The Krotons comes across as rather unremarkable. It certainly lacks the wit and exuberance of his later work. Some of the ideas in this story would later find their way into Mysterious Planet. Philip Madoc's appearance here has all the charm and quality of his later appearances. He injects layers of depth into his performance that are entirely lacking from the other members of the guest cast. In particular, its fascinating to watch how he reacts to the dawning realisation that it is safe to go into the wasteland.

The snake-like electronic probe is an impressive effect. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the visual designs are a good deal less impressive. The Kroton's ship is supposed to be grown from chrystalline matter, yet it looks like any old metal spaceship. It really ought to look like Omega's palace in The Three Doctors. The model shot of the Gond's village also fails to match up with the interior sets.

The regulars are on top form here and the script offers some great material for the Doctor and Zoe. We have some priceless moments between the two of them, such as their rivalry in the Hall of Learning and their pretend bickering in the Krotons' ship. Jamie is good, but he suffers for having been separated from the Doctor and Zoe.

My big problem with this serial is that the planet is too much like a typical poorly realised world. Like so many Star Trek episodes, this is a planet with a population of ten people all living within one square mile. Remarkably, the much hated Dominators actually does a much better job of realising an alien world. An easily missed piece of dialogue in The Dominators mentions fires, floods and earthquakes. For all its apparent dullness, there are natural disasters on Dulkis. It is a planet where things happen. The Krotons does not give any sense of what life is like for the Gonds beyond the story.

Monday 17 December 2012

The Daleks: The Destroyers (Big Finish Lost Story)

The Destroyers was an unmade pilot episode for Terry Nation's dream of a Dalek TV series. It was produced as an audio by Big Finish, with Jean Marsh starring as Sara Kingdom and the narrator. It is included in the Second Doctor Lost Stories box set.

Given that this story features no deceased Doctor, we might have expected it to be produced as a standard full-cast audio drama. However, Big Finish opted not to do this, as they wanted to keep it as faithful as possible to Terry Nation's very visual imaginings. This audio therefore combines a full cast with narration based on Terry Nation's stage directions. These stage directions are really well written and dripping with melodrama. This is a decision that really makes sense.

This is in every way a Terry Nation story. That means that we get a rather dull and unimaginative plot that is essentially a collection of his action set pieces. We simply get the characters moving between one peril and another. All of the Terry Nation tropes are present- a jungle, carnivorous plants, tough macho types, monsters and caves. The characters lack any real depth.

I had expected Sara Kingdom to be a bit of a Mary Sue in this (plenty of people have noticed the similarity of her name to the writers), but her vulnerable side is very much on display. That ought to be a good thing, though Nation possibly overdoes this; I would expect a Space Security Service agent to come across as a little bit tougher than she appears in this. Interestingly, Sara is given a new brother. She seems a good deal more affectionate towards this brother than she was to Brett Vyonn! One gets the impression that Nation had no interest in tying this story to Doctor Who continuity.

Jean Marsh does a great job of playing both Sara Kingdom and narrating the story. She makes these two roles distinct by using two quite different voices. She puts a good deal of expression into her reading of Nation's stage directions. It makes a massive contrast with Frazer Hines' bland and slightly sarcastic narration on the BBC soundtracks.

This is by no means a great story. It is basically a Doctorless version of all the Nation-by-numbers that we have seen. Yet I am glad that Big Finish made this. It gives us a brief glimpse into a series that never was. The retro Sixties style theme tune is great too.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Prison in Space (Big Finish Lost Story)

Prison in Space is an unmade story by Dick Sharples that was considered for Season 6. It was adapted as an audio by Simon Guerrier and included in the Big Finish Second Doctor box set. It was narrated by Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, with additional voice acting from Susan Brown as Chairman Babs.

In the second volume of TARDIS Eruditorium, Philip Sandifer includes a bonus essay on Prison in Space. He argues that this story is sexist garbage that was very sensibly rejected. He suggests that the decision by Big Finish to recreate it was unwise and in rather poor taste. As reactionary as I am, I think Dr Phil is absolutely right. This story is an appalling piece of sexist trash and I cannot think of any way in which it could be justified. Which goes to show that Doctor Who fans like me will buy anything.

This story is about a future in which feminists have taken over the world and made men into second class citizens. Rebellious men are locked up in the space prison. Call me politically correct if you like, but in a world where millions of women are the victims of domestic and sexual violence, the whole story just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. While I disagree with the ideology of Feminism and hold pretty conservative views about society, I think joking about crazy feminists is just a way to ignore the realities of real injustices against women.

I wondered if the plot would be adapted a little to make it more palatable, but there was no evidence of this. I don't even detect any hint of irony in this production. Having Jamie give Zoe a spanking to teach her a woman's place is not funny; it is completely tasteless and a slap in the face of everything which Doctor Who is about.

The tragedy is that Prison in Space is actually a really great production. The adaption is very well crafted and uses descriptions that work on the imagination beautifully. Wendy and Frazer give great vocal performances with a lovely immitation of Patrick Troughton. It's just a shame these strong production values are wasted on such a worthless story.

Friday 7 December 2012

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance, by Morris Farhi (Big Finish Lost Story)

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is the second story in the Big Finish First Doctor box set. It is an unused story that has been adapted as a talking book by Nigel Robinson. It is narrated by Carole Ann Ford, with additional voice acting by John Dorney and Helen Goldwyn.

Don't you just love that title, The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance? It sounds so beautiful, so elegant and rather mystical. It's a title that really captures the feel of the story. This is definitely a story about beauty, about love, but it is a story with a gentle sadness and a sense of tragedy to it. It is simply plotted, but it is both effectively realized and imaginatively conceived.

This story is a good deal shorter than most Doctor Who stories. It also has a strikingly different narrative structure to other stories at the time. While other First Doctor stories have the TARDIS crew exploring a new world at the beginning, this story is set after the crew have already got to know the new world and are thinking of leaving. We also see the Doctor departing from conventions of the time and giving a very proud guided tour of his ship.

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance is about a perfect world in which people live in perfect aesthetic harmony. Yet these people are only able to fall in love once. Unrequited love inevitably leads to a tragic death. One of the inhabitants of this world has the misfortune to fall in love with Barbara, who is unable to return his affection. It has something of a fairy tale quality (by which I don't mean Matt Smith pretending to be Mary Poppins! That Moffat stuff has nothing to do with proper fairy tales). This is a far cry from the science fiction of later stories. The story is also very heavy in metaphor, which reminds me a little of the Seventh Doctor era.

Carole Ann Ford does a marvellous job of evoking Jacqueline Hill and conceiving Barbara. Yet she is also able to re-create the energy and immature passion of Susan. I love the way she leaps to the conclusion that Barbara must stay or else. John Dorney is very good as Rhythm, although if you listen to this after Farewell, Great Macedon, you will inevitable be reminded of Alexander the Great.

This beautiful but bittersweet little story is the perfect follow-up to the grand epic tragedy of Farewell, Great Macedon.

Monday 3 December 2012

Farewell, Great Macedon, by Morris Farhi (Big Finish Lost Story)

Farewell, Great Macedon is an audio story based on an unused script that was written at the time Marco Polo was broadcast. It is narrated by William Russell and Carole Anne Ford, with additional voice acting from John Dorney as Alexander the Great. This story was included in Big Finish's First Doctor box set. This script has been adapted by Nigel Robinson, a wise choice given the many Target novelizations he has written.

I am amazed at the ambition and vision of Big Finish in setting out to create a six-part Hartnell historical in the absence of the lead actor himself. Farewell, Great Macedon is a triumph in its success in capturing the feel and tone of this genre. Listening to it feels so much like the sensation of listening to the reconstruction of a wiped serial, except without the pain of staring at unmoving photos.

There is a sense of inevitable sadness in listening to William Russell and Carole Ann Ford perform with the absence of William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill. Yet they do so quite admirably. The presence of the Hartnell Doctor seems to fill this whole work, not just through Russell's delightful imitation of Hartnell, but also through the way the dialogue captures his eccentricity. His dismissal of the suggestion that the TARDIS crew are in heaven because he does not know the way there is lovely. The moment where he walks enthusiastically over hot coals is very memorable. I laughed my head off when the Doctor shows a little half-heartedness at the notion of sacrificing himself for Ian.

Perhaps the story struggles to capture Barbara as effectively as it does the First Doctor. Carole Ann Ford tries hard to imitate Jacqueline Hill, but she is not so easily impersonated as Hartnell. Yet despite her manifest absence, Barbara has some wonderful moments throughout the story. Her knowledge of history makes her place in this story a tragic one. Knowing full well that the death of Alexander is imminent, she cannot bear to remain in Babylon.

John Dorney is suitably impressive as Alexander of Macedon. While he is portrayed as a man given to wine and strong in his temper, he is also portrayed as visionary and a humanist who longs to unite mankind in peace and brotherhood. His death is presented as a tragedy. Perhaps the story makes a little too much of this tragedy. Alexander created the largest empire known to the ancient near east. It is remarkable that he achieved so much, rather than that he did not achieve more. Furthermore, Alexander made a lasting impact on history through the spread of Hellenistic civilization.

I did find one moment in the story irritating from an historical point of view. This was when Ian offered a rather simple argument against slavery and Alexander and two of his generals offer agreement. Really? There whole society was built around the idea that their is a fundamental difference between freemen and slaves and they just drop it after hearing one argument from a foreigner? I was disappointed at the writer's failure to empathize with those he is writing about.

The plotting of this story, even by the standards of the Hartnell era is a little simplistic. The TARDIS crew arrive, meet Alexander, murders happen and the team find themselves accused. There is a certain sense of deja vu in hearing the regulars get accused of another murder and this is made worse by the fact that we see it coming from the first episode. I also find it hard to believe that so much lengthy dialogue would be included in a televised story, particularly the huge chunks of speech we get at the end. Yet this does not all detract from the beauty and nobility of the story and its dialogue. This is historical Doctor Who done beautifully.

What is especially fascinating is how the story deals with history and whether it can be changed. Following the lead of The Aztecs, Farewell, Great Macedon states in no uncertain terms that history can never be changed. Yet surprisingly, this does not deter the Doctor from interfering. The Doctor feels a sense of duty to help Alexander, even knowing that it is pointless if history decrees his death. I think this is a very elegant approach and helps to explain how time works in Doctor Who. It has often been pointed out that the Doctor does not seem to afraid to meddle in future human history or on alien worlds. But is he really working against the history of those events? We need not assume that if the Doctor cannot change history, he should be deterred from getting involved in it. If his interventions work toward the flow of history, so much the better, if his interventions fail, it does not matter; he cannot alter the course of history. If he cannot change history, he can do no harm by interfering.

This story is a worthy recreation of a lost era.

Sunday 2 December 2012

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

You're not only a scoundrel and a meddling fool, but you're also a crushing bore!

Greatest Show in the Galaxy is a story that feels utterly removed from anything that has gone before in Doctor Who. There are similarities with Warrior's Gate, Kinda and Paradise Towers, but Greatest Show in the Galaxy is quite unique in its approach to storytelling and in it's visual effect.

The Psychic Circus may not be the most impressive looking big top, but this story has a visual look that captures the eye delightfully and makes vibrant use of colour. There are many symbolic flourishes, such as the mystical eye symbols and the hearse and funereal outfits used by the clowns when they go out hunting. The costume work is among the best of the era, even if we have to forgive the less inspiring werewolf effect on Mags.

The plot structure of this story is very unusual and in places it feels a little awkward, yet the sense of uncertainty means that it does not fail to induce excitement and tension. A lot in this story does not make a lot of sense. However, it is quite different from Ghost Light. Ghost Light was confusing on the first viewing, but everything in that story can be pieced together if one makes the effort to watch it several times and listen to the dialogue carefully. Greatest Show in the Galaxy offers no explanations. The reader is left to interpret the significance of much of it.

It's fascinating how so much of the Sylvester McCoy era makes use of a metaphorical depth in its storytelling. We have all that stuff about 'undercurrents' in Curse of Fenric, the power of life in Delta and the Bannermen and Survival's cryptic theme of menstruation. However, it is Greatest Show that really goes to town on metaphor. None of the characters feel like real people, but more like archetypes. Much fan discussion of the story has centred on what the individual characters represent. Do the Gods of Ragnorak represent BBC executives or the public? Does Captain Cook represent the show's past or Star Trek?

While much of the theme is left uncertain and for viewers to puzzle out for themselves, the story most definitely raises a question about the values of the Sixties. The Circus people are hippies who have betrayed what they once stood for and sold out. One suspects that the targets here are individuals like Richard Branson and George Lucas, figures who rose up from the counter-culture to become commercial masterminds. Doctor Who is itself a product of the Sixties and the story throw open the question- has Doctor Who gone wrong? Has it become pointlessly violent like Nord, or obsessed with its past like Captain Cook? Is it hopelessly out of touch, like Whizzkid?

Captain Cook the Intergalactic Explorer is a brilliantly conceived character in that he represents a kind of pseudo-Doctor. He is a restless explorer with a boundless curiosity. He travels with a punky young woman who has a dangerous side. He is also a figure with somewhat colonial leanings, reflecting the Doctor's Edwardian tendencies. The Seventh Doctor would eventually take to wearing a safari suit himself in the New Adventure novels. With his obsession with past adventures, the Captain is Doctor Who gone wrong, sadly like too much of 80s Doctor Who (though the Whizzkids of fandom probably have an inflated view of much of 70s Doctor Who). T.K. McKenna brings him to life marvelously, though this unfortunately makes it a disappointment that he dies. It would have been nice to have seen a return from him. My favorite moment in the story has to be the look on the Captain's face when the Doctor calls him a 'crushing bore.' He looks so surprised and so furious.

Captain Cook's companion, Mags, is equally fascinating. She clearly disagrees with the Capatain's methods, but she sticks around with him and takes his orders. It's never altogether clear what Mags thinks of him. I can't help thinking that they are probably sleeping together. If the Captain represents slavish obsession with continuity, then Mags represents Doctor Who's capacity to terrify. The show has always aimed to scare and thus her character survives. It is noticeable that Mags is dressed like a Goth. As the Seventh Doctor era shifted into the New Adventure era, Doctor Who would develop close ties with the Goth subculture.

There have always been elements of Doctor Who that lie more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction- the Land of Fiction, the Celestial Toymaker and the Mara. Yet it is in the Seventh Doctor era, that the show makes a conscious shift to include overtly supernatural elements. Greatest Show is very much a story that is more fantasy than science fiction. The only real technological element here are the robots. We get no explanation as to how the kites work or how the ringmaster and Morganna disappear. Likewise the Gods of Rrrragnorrrak seem to be real gods. There is no suggestion that they are just aliens like Sutekh (even if they look a bit like him). According to All-Consuming Fire and Millennial Rites, they are Old Ones, powerful beings from a primordial pre-universe.

Sylvester McCoy gives a really great performance in this story. It is here that we really see the 'Dark Doctor' coming to life more than ever before. He appears to manipulate Ace into going to the circus, he seems to have an unstated agenda and he clearly knows a lot more about what is going on than he is letting on. We get a definite sense that what we are seeing is only a part of some larger cosmic game that the Doctor is playing. The Doctor's statement that he has been battling the Gods of Ragnorak throughout time and space is interesting. It is very similar to the way that we meet Fenric in the next season, a villain who turns out to be the Doctor's worst enemy, even though we had never heard of him before. This certainly throws a lot of mystery about the Doctor's activity. However, it could be that the Doctor is referring to Great Old Ones in general, and so would include encounters with the Great Intelligence (Yog-Sothoth) and the Animus (Lloigor). Though it was actually a mistake, this serial gives us the most inconic image of the Seventh Doctor ever, when he calmly walks away from the exploding circus. This image does so much better at demonstrating the presence and power of the Doctor than any rant by Matt Smith about how impressive he is and how scared the monsters ought to be of him.

We are treated to a lovely score by Mark Ayres. I found the rapping a bit annoying at first, but it grew on me. It sort of adds to the surreal atmosphere of the circus. A mention must go to the Chief Clown, played by Ian Reddington. Every moment that he appears onscreen is a pleasure, with his expressive hand gestures and his two distinct modes of speaking. I love the nervous tremor in his voice, when he is speaking without the clown persona.

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is a fantastic example of how Doctor Who can triumph over a troubled production. It is not perfect and is not the greatest Seventh Doctor story, yet it has a brilliance that seems to defy categories and draws the viewer into an unearthly and surreal world of its own.