Come one, come all to the greatest show in the galaxy! Ace (Sophie Aldred) and the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) have traveled to the planet of Segonax to see the Psychic Circus. Unfortunately, all is not as it seems for the circus and no everyone who enters the circus leaves it. When Ace, the Doctor, and a handful of guests learn that they might have to perform for their lives, the Doctor must determine what the Psychic Circus is really hiding.
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was the final serial of the twenty-fifth season of the long running BBC serial. Airing in four parts, the story ran from December 14, 1988 to January 4, 1989. Following Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis, Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was collected as part of The Sylvester McCoy Years as Story #155 (or Story #154 depending on how you count the unaired Tom Baker story Shada).
For the most part Sylvester McCoy Doctor Who episodes are pretty dull. The balance and the writing were pretty poor and McCoy just didn’t have the fun of being the Doctor down. Despite this, I kind of liked Doctor Who: The Great Show in the Galaxy.
What works for me is the weirdness of the serial. There are a lot of parts to the story and the whole concept of a circus that traps people harkens back to things like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes…there is an eeriness to it that works for Doctor Who stories. In this sense, it also feels a lot like the Jon Pertwee story Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (Story #66) which had a similar performance aspect to it.
The casting for this serial also seems a bit better than most. T.P. McKenna had a long career as a character actor and Jessica Martin is fun as Mags. Ricco Ross plays a nice ringmaster with a booming voice. The serial played with fans of the series with Whizz Kid (Gian Sammarco) and things like Ian Reddington as the head of the clowns are also rather terrifying.
What really helps on this serial is the imagery. Circuses are iconic and cheap, but they look good on TV. Doctor Who always was notoriously stingy with their budgets but something minimalistic like this was better than some of the bigger budget stories that look lower budget. Clowns always make for scary and creepy characters and the clown of this serial is no exception. I also think the transformed Mags is rather scary…though the Gods of Ragnarok are less than impressive.
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is one of Sylvester McCoy’s better adventures. The whole project almost got scrapped when the BBC discovered that their studios were filled with asbestos and they have to rework them. Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was followed by Doctor Who: Battlefield (which started the twenty-six and “final” season).