The Doctor and Ace receive a mysterious advertisement for the Psychic Circus, on the planet Segonax, and decide to check it out. Ace isn't happy about it. She is secretly afraid of clowns (it's called coulrophobia), but the Doctor insists on going.
Well, this is one circus that won't put Ace's fears to rest, that's for sure. Before the Doctor and Ace arrive on the scene, we see a clown jester in white face, with a predator's smile, tracking two circus escapees. One dies, the other, the Bellboy, is taken back to his circus cage.
When Ace and the Doctor arrive at the circus, they realize there is something very weird here. There's only three people in the audience, a father, mother and exceedingly creepy little girl. Well, all three are creepy. The Ringmaster is creepy, the clowns are creepy, especially the Chief Clown, who chased down the escapees.
This is one circus where you will just die to take part. And there's a twist.
"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" first aired December 1988-January 1989. This review is for the upcoming August 2012 DVD, which is the first time this show has been released on DVD. It will be one disc of 98 minutes.
I read that an asbestos scare at the BBC studios helped inspire an episode that could be shot outside the studios, such as in a large tent! Otherwise, "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" may have gone the way of "Shada".
Doctor Who performs some magic tricks when it's his turn in the circus spotlight. Sylvester McCoy was coached by "The Great Soprendo", stage name of Geoffrey Durham.
This seems to be a love-it or hate-it episode. I'm in the former camp, and Ian Reddington as the menacing Chief Clown has a big part in that. And I love the scene where they approach the circus, and in the background sky is a big pinkish planet with rings around it.
1. Commentary With actors Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jessica Martin (Mags, one of the circus "acts" and a great character) and Christopher Guard (Bellboy), writer Stephen Wyatt, script editor Andrew Cartmel and composer Mark Ayres. Moderated by Toby Hadoke. At one point, Mark Ayres talks about the difficulty of filming in the outside tent: "Every time a delivery track turned up to unload the beer for the club, we had to stop shooting for a few minutes."
Andrew Cartmel talks about Mags' transformation (spoiler!). Dr. Who's monsters/creatures were too often cheaply done. But for Mags, he said, "...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." ["Survival" was the very last Classic Dr. Who episode, airing in Nov/Dec 1989.]
(Added after my DVD was received and watched:) Everybody agreed that the series title was awful. It was required by John Nathan-Turner, the producer, however, and he had his reasons. Cartmel says, "It's a dark story. But it's a glitzy title. ... It doesn't sound like a science fiction title."
2. "The Show Must Go On: Making the Greatest Show in the Galaxy", a short where members of the cast and crew look back on the making of this story. Sylvester McCoy, unfortunately, does not take part (except in outtakes), but participants include Andrew Cartmel, Sophie Aldred, Alan Wareing (director), Ian Reddington (Chief Clown) and Mike Tucker (visual effects assistant), David Laskey (designer)and John Nathan-Turner (producer) from an archive interview. Reviews I've seen of it thought this extra was very good. Ian Reddington was badly hurt in an accident on the set, and that (unused) scene is shown and discussed.
(added after my DVD was received and watched:) There are so many things that go into making the mood for a show. A lot of them are little, and the audience probably doesn't appreciate them. (Well, we're not supposed to say, "Boy, that music is creepy. We're just supposed to FEEL creepy.) In an example of one of the little things that makes a difference, Wareing talks about the hearse that the Chief Clown drives. "I wanted it to have the electric windows. ... It was important for me that the window just went down to reveal the Chief Clown. I couldn't see him winding them down himself."
Laskey talks about the hippie bus of the Psychic Circus - the original bus they used before everything went wrong. The derelict bus was buried to the wheels in the sand at the quarry. BBC didn't have the money to pull it out after shooting, so they got permission to leave it. Maybe it's still there today.
3. Deleted and Extended Scenes
4. "Lost in the Darkness: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy's Missing Model Shots". Mike Tucker explains the model effects created for the series, but ultimately not used.
5. "The Psychic Circus" (2012). A music video set to a song written by Christopher Guard and featuring vocals by Christopher Guard, Jessica Martin and TP McKenna (who plays The Captain). Keyboards and programming by Mark Ayres. This is rumored to be so bad it's good.
(added after my DVD was received and watched:) - I LIKED it!
There is no escaping us
We are the Psychic Cir-Cus"
6. "Remembrance" Demo. Two scenes from the "Remembrance of the Daleks" series, re-scored by Mark Ayres. He was asked for these demos before he was given the contract for the music of "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy".
7. "Tomorrow's Times - The Seventh Doctor". The on-going series looking at the press coverage of Doctor Who reaches the Sylvester McCoy era. Anneke Wills moderates, and, to put it mildly, the Seventh Doctor was not much appreciated by the British press.
8. "Victoria Wood". Doctor Who sketch from the TV series "Victoria Wood - As Seen on TV". It's a send-up and humorous.
9. Photo Gallery
10. Production Information Subtitles
11. PDF material (DVD ROM): Radio Times listings, Visual effects design blueprints, Storyboard for deleted sequence
13. Coming Soon Trailer
14. Digitally remastered picture and sound quality. You can listen to the show in Dolby digital 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. You also have the option to listen to the score by itself.
15. Easter Egg