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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”

Despite what the title suggests, “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” is not a documentary about Doctor Who. Rather, it’s a serial from 1988 starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. The Doctor and Ace receive an invitation to visit the Psychic Circus, renowned for being the greatest traveling circus in the galaxy (although I didn’t notice anything particularly psychic about it) only to discover that it’s become a nightmarish entertainment arena where you can die if the audience does not like your performance. Getting out alive will be easier said than done, and it doesn’t help that there are other performers who are only interested in saving themselves instead of working together to ensure they can all go free.

There were several things I liked about this episode–for one thing, I thought Mags was a unique and intriguing character, and I would have liked to see her become a companion (note to self: check Big Finish audio dramas to see if the Doctor ever meets her again). I also really liked the twist about the creepy family beings the Gods of Ragnarok. However, here’s where we get into the things I didn’t like about the episode–the Gods of Ragnarok were really fascinating, but we didn’t see them until close to the end. I wanted to know more about them, how many times the Doctor has faced them before–on the whole, it felt like a waste of a good villain.

Unfortunately, “Greatest Show” was made in the era when the BBC was actively trying to kill Doctor Who, and some of the “Why won’t this show just die already!?” mentality was coming through. The biggest thing was tonal dissonances; it would be dark and creepy one minute, and the next, we’d have the Doctor making groan-inducing puns. I have no problems with Doctor Who, classic or new, combining horror and comedy, but the transition between the two was so jarring in this case that it almost made the episode seem as if it had a personality disorder.

That being said, “Greatest Show” still had its high points, and I would still recommend it for people to watch. However, this may be more of an experienced Whovian episode than someone who’s still new to it all–I wouldn’t want a newbie to watch it and then brush off Doctor Who as being dumb.

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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: Paradise Towers”

Late 80’s Doctor Who is a curious creature. It’s full of stories that had good premises but didn’t always have the execution to back it up. Part of it was due to the budget restrictions that always plagued the show (Colin Baker once commented that the special effects budget for one Star Wars movie would have paid for an entire season’s worth of special effects for Doctor Who), but it’s important to remember that this was a time when the BBC was actively trying to kill the show. So when watching some of the 80’s serials, you have to try to avoid being too critical with them; you usually have to look past the flaws in production and/or acting and see what they were trying to do with the story.

This is the case with “Paradise Towers”, a serial from 1987 starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel. Mel fancies going for a swim, and as the Doctor has jettisoned the TARDIS swimming pool, he offers to take Mel to Paradise Towers, which is supposed to have one of the nicest pools around. When they arrive, however, they find a broken-down, gang-ridden apartment complex instead of the luxurious Towers they were expecting. The Towers are run by the Nazi-like Caretakers (the Chief Caretaker even sports a little Hitler-style mustache); the Kangs (the all-girl gangs) try to stay one step ahead of them, and the Rezzies (the residents, which include a couple of cannibalistic old ladies) are often caught in the middle of their struggles. But a new threat is arising and threatening all of them, and the Doctor and Mel must convince these three warring classes to put aside their differences and work together for the preservation of the Towers…

…which, in theory, sounds like an intriguing premise. If the infamous “Vengeance on Varos” proved anything, it’s that Doctor Who could still do depressing, dystopian futures really well in spite of all of the other problems the show was facing. However, the heavy 80’s feel to it, especially with the Kangs’ hair, fashion, and slang, seemed a bit embarrassing for the show. I understood the culture they were trying to portray, but it came across a bit contrived.

I couldn’t do a post on “Paradise Towers” without mentioning Pex, the once-cowardly soldier who gave his life to protect the other inhabitants of the Towers. One of the things the Doctor always likes to do is to take someone who thinks he is a nobody and prove that he is really a somebody, and I think Pex’s story arc reflects that aspect very well. Pex never would have died a hero if the Doctor and Mel hadn’t believed in him and given him confidence, and I like to think that ties in with the fact that the Doctor and his companions, whoever they are, spread hope wherever they travel.

Final conclusion: you may have to look past the 80’s–erhm–specialness of this one, folks, but if you manage that, you’ll find an enjoyable installment of classic Who.

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