Tag Archives: Sylvester McCoy

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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Remembering the Doctor: The Seventh Doctor

It’s Day 7–officially an entire week of recounting my favorite Doctor Who episodes from each Doctor. Naturally enough, we’re covering Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. The Seventh Doctor is another one that is often viewed more harshly due to what is often considered sub-part storylines (again, the BBC was actively trying to kill the show at this point; it didn’t want Doctor Who anymore, but the show simply refused to die), but Seven actually had some pretty great episodes.

One of the greats as well as my favorite Seventh Doctor story is “The Curse of Fenric”. Here we get a chance to see a darker, more conniving side to the Doctor that most people were surprised to see in this frequently clownish incarnation, and we see how utterly ruthless he can be. It’s almost like seeing a vision of what the Valeyard will eventually be.

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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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Some Thoughts on “Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen”

Recently I had the chance to watch Doctor Who: Delta and the Bannermen, a serial from 1987 starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel. I was curious to see this one because of its generally poor reception–this was written during a time when the BBC was actively trying to kill the show so they could use the production money to bring newer, original shows to TV. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but it could have been much better, too.

The story was set in 1959, which would have been perfectly acceptable had they not taken every single stinking opportunity to play 50’s rock and roll music. It was clever the first few times it happened, but by the end I was ready to scream every time 50’s music started to play. The plot, although intriguing, needed to be fleshed out better–what attracted Billy to Delta in the first place? How come Ray is taking her boyfriend’s decision to run off with an alien queen so calmly? Was there really a valid reason for Hawk and Weismuller to be in the story at all other than to provide some rather stale comic relief?

It wasn’t a complete disaster, however. The bit of exposition about bees was fun and educational, but then we found out that the development of bees was a parallel to Delta’s race, the Chimerons–some people might find that cheesy; I thought it was a clever little twist. Sylvester McCoy’s performance showed that his Doctor is truly underrated, and Bonnie Langford proved that Mel Bush really did deserve a better chance to prove her worth as a companion. Sara Griffiths was also enjoyable as the one-storyline-only companion Ray–in fact, she was so popular that she was almost the new full-time companion when Bonnie Langford left the show, but, as we all know, that distinction instead went to Sophie Aldred as the erstwhile Ace.

It’s difficult to decide if I recommend Delta and the Bannermen to the rest of you. If you decide to see it, just remember that you’re not seeing Doctor Who at its best. If you don’t watch it, you’re not really missing anything.

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