Cue the Doctor Who theme music.
Sue: Is this 5.1 surround sound?
Me: Yes, it is.
Sue: Excellent. Good old Mark Ayres. I just hope he keeps Keff low in the mix.
Sue: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy? Are they taking the piss? Especially after the last one. I’m still annoyed about that.
Before I begin, and to save time later: Sue has never seen Lovejoy; she didn’t watch EastEnders when Tricky Dicky was in it; she’s never heard of Jessica Martin; and she’s never sat through an episode of Red Dwarf. Oh wait, that’s not Danny John-Jules. But most annoying of all, especially given her deep love of carpentry and home improvements, she doesn’t remember the ‘Do It All’ adverts from the eighties. This is very disappointing.
Sue: Is this the first use of hip-hop in Doctor Who? I bet you like this. You love scratching.
Meanwhile, in the TARDIS.
Sue: Is Ace wearing Tom Baker’s scarf? I really miss that scarf. You would have thought they’d let Tom keep it though, wouldn’t you?
Funnily enough, Mel’s top from Paradise Towers didn’t make the same impression on her. Anyway, a robot delivering junk mail has managed to penetrate the TARDIS.
Sue: Eh? How is that even possible? That’s bollocks for a start!
The junk bot taunts Ace into visiting something called the Psychic Circus.
Ace: I’m not scared of anything.
Sue: Yes you are. You’re scared of clowns. Anyone can see that. I don’t blame her, though. Who in their right mind likes clowns?
On the planet Segonax, a young couple named Flowerchild and Bellboy are on the run.
Me: I had a massive crush on Dee Sadler when I was 19.
Sue: You do know that you’re not supposed to tell your wife about stuff like that, don’t you?
The couple are pursued by a hearse driven by a clown.
Sue: (Singing) Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky…
That reminds me, Sue hasn’t mentioned the incidental music yet. This is a good sign.
The Doctor and Ace arrive on Segonax and head directly to a concession stand.
Sue: He’s famous.
Sue: Are you sure?
Me: It’s Peggy Mount. You must know who Peggy Mount is.
Sue: Sort of. Wasn’t she the person they called when they couldn’t get anyone from the Carry On… films?
The Doctor and Ace end up eating some disgusting fruit.
Sue: It’s like a round on The Amazing Race. Once they’ve eaten the fruit, they’ll get their next clue.
Flowerchild arrives at a painted bus on the outskirts of the circus.
Sue: Has a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar gone horribly wrong?
Sue may not know who Peggy Mount is, but that doesn’t stop her from adoring the actress.
Stallslady: Everyone of them who’s up to no good goes there. We locals wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Sue: She’s brilliant. I could listen to her all day.
The Doctor and Ace begin their long walk to the circus, and they almost get run over by a hearse in the process.
Sue: How the **** did they not hear that car coming?
Me: I think the car is silent.
Sue: Okay, but that doesn’t explain why THEY CAN’T SEE IT!
I change the subject before Sue can get bogged down in a rant about shoddy peripheral vision in Doctor Who.
Me: I vividly remember watching this episode in German, once.
Me: Not long after I moved in with you, after you’ve gone to bed, I found a German channel on your cable box. They were playing this episode in German.
Sue: You were waiting for porn to come on, weren’t you? That was on the Italian channel, you idiot. Wait, what am I saying? This is your porn, isn’t it? So that’s what you were doing downstairs by your self all those years – you were watching Doctor Who in German. Brilliant.
Sue still hasn’t mentioned the incidental music yet. This is a very good sign.
Nord the Vandal rides up to the Psychic Circus on his trike.
Sue: That doesn’t look bad at all. Where is it?
Sue: No, I mean where is it really?
Me: Wait for the extras. There’s an interesting story behind this.
Sue: I was hoping for an interesting story in front of it.
The Doctor and Ace stumble across Captain Cook and Mags. I forgot to mention that Sue has no idea who TP McKenna is. Yes, I know, but what can you do?
Sue: He’s a bit like the Doctor, and she’s a bit like his companion.
Me: Interesting, isn’t it?
Sue: Not really.
Ace and Mags accidentally activate a robot that has been buried under the sand.
Sue: This robot is an abysmal shot. Hang on, why hasn’t Ace brought any Nitro whatsit with her? What if the Doctor wants her to blow shit up?
Poor Flowerchild is dead.
Sue: She didn’t last very long. Good.
I wipe away a solitary tear.
The four explorers reach the painted bus, where they are set upon by a robotic bus conductor.
Sue: This is a bit weird. Nicely directed, though.
The Doctor bamboozles the robot:
The Doctor: I’d like a there-and-back off-peak weekend break supersaver senior citizen bimonthly season with optional added facilities a free cup of coffee in a plastic glass a crocodile sandwich and make it snappy, you mechanic moron!
Sue: I love it when the Doctor does that.
The Doctor and Ace confer.
Sue: One thing that I’ve noticed about these two is that they have a lot of down time together. They sit around and chat things through. I really like that.
Ace is terrified.
Sue: What’s that all about? That’s not like Ace at all. Her character is all over the place.
The Whizzkid arrives on Segonax.
Sue: What the **** is Adrian Mole doing here?
Me: Well spotted.
Sue: I was joking. Is it really Adrian Mole? Bloody hell, so it is.
Bellboy is thrown back into the circus ring.
Sue: If this is supposed to be Britain’s Got Talent, he just got three Xs.
Outside the Big Top, Ace can hear Bellboy screaming.
The Doctor: I can’t hear anything.
Sue: Ace’s hearing is better than yours because she’s a lot younger than you. That’s a scientific fact, that.
The episode ends with the Doctor asking Ace if she wants to enter the circus or not.
Sue: What a weird cliffhanger. Actually, the whole thing is weird. Very weird. It reminds me of The League of Gentlemen. I’m not sure if I like it or not. The locations are nice.
When the Doctor and Ace purchase their tickets to the circus, a fortune-teller shows them a Tarot card – the Hanged Man.
Sue: People assume that that card is bad, but it isn’t. It could mean anything. I’m surprised they didn’t go with the Death card; that’s an even bigger cliché.
The fortune-teller tries to warn our heroes off, but the Chief Clown intervenes.
Sue: You don’t see them pull focus in Doctor Who every day. The director is trying his best.
The Doctor and Ace take their seats in the darkness.
Sue: This place is a Health and Safety nightmare. I’m surprised they haven’t been shut down already.
The Ringmaster introduces the next act.
Sue: I really like the songs. You don’t get enough singing in Doctor Who. It reminds me of The Gunslingers.
The Chief Clown wants to know how Ace got her hands on Flowerchild’s earring.
Sue: His performance is insane. He’s well over the top but he’s freaking me out at the same time. Look at him!
The Doctor is locked in a cell with Captain Cook, Mags and Nord.
Sue: It’s gone from being X-Factor to being Big Brother.
Captain Cook cons Nord into performing in the ring before him.
Me: (Singing) How do Do It All do it what they do it for? Won’t somebody tell? If only we knew it, how Do It All do it…
Sue: No. Doesn’t ring a bell. Sorry.
Ace is on the loose in the circus tent. She cuts a hole in the material so she can avoid the clowns pursuing her. Sue still hasn’t mentioned the incidental music yet… Oh, wait.
Sue: Keffing hell!
Me: It’s not Keff!
Sue: This bit is a bit Keff. It’s Keffish.
Me: It’s Mark Ayres.
Sue: Is it? I thought he just mixed this. Oh.
Me: You haven’t mentioned the music until now.
Sue: I haven’t noticed it. That’s good.
Me: I know.
Sue: I’ll pay more attention to it from now on.
A man named Deadbeat pushes a broom round the outside of the cage.
Sue: There are lots of interesting characters in this story. I don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s definitely getting better.
Whizzkid arrives at the circus. He is very excited.
Whizzkid: I know all about the Psychic Circus. In fact, I’m your greatest fan.
Sue: Hang on a minute… Is this show supposed to be about Doctor Who? Is it trying to be meta?
Me: Yes. It’s the 25th anniversary year. The show has gone all self-reflective.
Sue: So is the ringmaster supposed to be John Nathan-Turner cracking his whip?
The Chief Clown chains Bellboy to a workbench.
Sue: That’s a lovely bench. And a very nice tenon saw, too.
Nord’s performance is judged by a family audience.
Sue: (in her best Len Goodman) “SEV-EN!” So, are these supposed to be the audience who score Doctor Who?
Me: The Appreciation Index? Yes.
Sue: How very meta.
But when Nord’s comedy routine goes down like a lead balloon, his score takes a turn for the worse.
Sue: Oh dear. It’s all gone a bit Silver Nemesis.
Nord is killed for his troubles.
Sue: This is years ahead of its time. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror.
Whizzkid takes his seat in the big top.
Sue: This is basically you in 1988, isn’t it? I’m so glad I didn’t meet you then. You only looked a bit like him when I met you.
The Whizzkid is chosen to perform in the talent show.
Mum: I hope he’s better than the last one.
Sue: I bet that’s a reference to Colin Baker.
Me: Really? I thought that was all the clowns running around.
The Doctor escapes from his cell with the help of some juggling clubs.
The Doctor: Join the club, Captain?
Sue: McCoy does puns really well. If he didn’t look like Mr Bean, he would have been a good James Bond.
The Chief Clown sends his robots after Ace.
Sue: Clowns are so much scarier than green plastic wobbly rubbish. I bet this scared a few children for life.
When Ace is captured, she is thrown into a workshop full of immobilised clowns.
Sue: That’s scary. I wouldn’t want to be trapped in there with them. They are so gonna move.
Of course they do.
Sue: It’s like the first episode of the new series, the one with Rose in the shop.
The Doctor and Mags journey beneath the circus and they find a gaping abyss.
Sue: That looks good. Well done.
The Doctor drops a club into it and an eye appears out of the mist.
Sue: Told you. It’s definitely Big Brother now.
Me: Everybody else says JR Tolkien, but not you.
The episode concludes when Captain Cook catches up with the Doctor. And he’s brought some clowns with him.
Sue: Who put him in charge? These cliffhangers are very weak. But I’m starting to get into it.
Me: You still haven’t mentioned the music yet.
Sue: It must be good, then. Actually, it sounds like the stuff you listen to all the time. Tangerine Dream electro bollocks. But as far as electro bollocks goes, it’s alright.
Sue: I’ve just realised who that woman is.
Me: Jessica Martin?
Sue: Yeah, she played Mary the punk in EastEnders.
Ace is threatened by robotic clowns.
Sue: This should have been the cliffhanger. This is very effective, even if it does look like R2-D2 has gone a bit mental.
But what does the audience think?
Sue: I don’t think much of this, Father.
Me: Nothing’s happening, is it?
Sue: Not that I can see.
Nicol: Mum, Mum!
Sue: What is it?
Nicol: I’m bored.
Me: There’s no point in going on, dear. We’re all bored.
Sorry, I went a bit meta there for a second. It must be catching.
The Doctor pours scorn on a poster advertising the Psychic Circus.
The Doctor: Fun for all the family? I don’t know how they’ve got the nerve.
Sue: Exactly. NOT FOR KIDS!
Ace and Bellboy are locked up together.
Sue: I like him. He reminds me of Jamie. But good.
Bellboy tells Ace that he built a giant robot with lasers for eyes.
Bellboy: It was to have been my masterpiece, but like everything else it was abused and went wrong.
Sue: Yeah, it’s a nightmare when someone abuses your killer robot.
The Doctor runs into Deadbeat in a corridor made from tents.
Sue: It looks like they’re both on their on way to a wedding.
Meanwhile, Whizzkid is reminiscing about the good old days of the Psychic Circus.
Whizzkid: Although I never got to see the early days, I know it’s not as good as it used to be, but I’m still terribly interested.
Sue: He is so right.
Me: The production team were taking the piss out the fans. You do get that, don’t you?
Sue: It’s a bit silly having a go at the only people left watching, isn’t it? Funny, though.
Although Captain Cook is Whizzkid’s hero, the explorer doesn’t treat the boy very nicely.
Sue: What a Benton.
Me: He’s killed it now.
The Whizzkid is the next contestant in the ring.
Whizzkid: This is the most exciting day of my life. My dream come true. I’m standing in the ring of the Psychic Circus!
Sue: This is how our friend John Paul must have felt when he appeared in an episode of Doctor Who. This is so meta.
The Chief Clown gives Bellboy a slap for letting Ace escape.
Sue: What a ****. He’s horrible.
Bellboy commits suicide by turning the clown robots on himself.
Sue: Eh? Why doesn’t he just set them on the bad guy?
The Chief Clown looks worried, concerned and a little bit frightened. But on his way out the door, his mask slips back into place once more.
Sue: It’s a great performance. He’d easily give the Joker a run for his money.
The Doctor returns to Captain Cook and Mags in their cage. He tells them they should work together to escape.
Sue: Are they going to form a band?
The Ringmaster introduces them:
Ringmaster: Now welcome, folks, to not one act but three, to the Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the Galaxy, the Galaxy!
Sue: He wasn’t given a lot of time to work on that rhyme. Bless him.
But Captain Cook has other ideas and he makes Mags transform herself into a wolf.
Sue: It’s just a sodding gobo! You can’t turn a werewolf with just a coloured light, can you? That’s mental.
The episode concludes on a close-up of the Doctor as Mags goes feral on his ass.
Sue: Finish on the scary werewolf, you idiots. Don’t finish on Mr Bean! That’s rubbish!
The audience is lapping it up…
Sue: It must be Britain’s Got Talent. They love dog acts on Britain’s Got Talent.
Meanwhile, Ace and Deadbeat arrives at the hippy bus.
Sue: So what part of Doctor Who does the bus conductor represent?
Me: God knows. Don’t worry about it.
Sue: Maybe he’s the bloke who sells all the merchandise?
The Doctor rounds on Captain Cook.
The Doctor: You’re not only a scoundrel and a meddling fool, but you’re also a crushing bore!
Sue: A subtle reference to Jon Pertwee, there.
Speaking of which, when the Doctor swings on a rope:
Sue: Pertwee would have loved that. It’s very nicely lit this scene. The director is doing his best.
Mags kills Captain Cook.
Sue: Brilliant! That’s what Jo Grant should have done to the Doctor when he nicked her sandwiches.
Ace is attacked by the bus conductor.
Deadbeat: Bellboy put a button that said ‘Request Stop’. Press it!
Sue: Why don’t you get off your arse and press it yourself? She’s busy!
The Doctor opens a pathway which leads to the Dark Circus.
Sue: I can remember when that video effect was cutting edge. We had to ban students from using it.
In the Dark Circus, the Doctor confronts the Gods of Rrrrrrrrragnarok.
Mum: When you no longer entertain us, you die.
Sue: Or you get cancelled. It’s the same thing, really.
The Doctor puts on a show.
Sue: Is Sylvester McCoy doing all these tricks himself? He’s very clever, isn’t he?
Me: He used to put ferrets down his trousers.
Sue: Professionally or just for pleasure?
Me: A bit of both, I think.
Sue: He’s very good. I’d put him through to the next round.
The Gods are not amused, so they make it rain.
Sue: At last! The Doctor is using his umbrella for what it was designed for, rather than using it to grab Ace by the neck. I hate it when he does that to her.
A little later, the Doctor finds himself hanging upside down…
Me: The Hanged Man. Remember?
Sue: Oh yeah. Very good. A bit literal but good.
The Gods raise their stone hands.
Sue: I thought they were going to high-five each other. Phew. I like the design of the rock Gods.
The Doctor throws a slab of metal into the air, where it is transformed into a sword.
Sue: Zelda! It’s even got the Zelda sound-effect. They’ll be showering him in gold coins next.
The Gods bring Captain Cook back to life.
Sue: This must be a reference to the time they brought the first Doctor back, even though William Hartnell was dead.
The Doctor directs the Gods of Ragnarok’s energy back at them.
Sue: This is just like Zelda. You know at the end of the level when you have to beat the evil boss.
The Dark Circus begins to collapse.
Sue: It’s just like the end of The Wall. But with less singing. It looks pretty good, actually.
The Doctor leaves the circus tent seconds before it explodes.
Sue: Wow. He didn’t even flinch. I’m impressed. You’d never see Matt Smith that close to an explosion.
Thankfully, there’s enough time for a quick scene with Peggy Mount.
Stallslady: It’s what I’ve always said. No consideration for those of us that live here.
Sue: They should have given her her own spin-off. She’s brilliant.
Ace suspects that the Doctor isn’t as innocent as he seems.
Ace: It was your show all along, wasn’t it?
Sue: He’s a crafty sod, isn’t he? I like it, though.
Sue: It took me a while to get into it, but I really liked the last episode. It was hovering around a 6 or a 7 but it really picked up at the end. I can appreciate what they were trying to do – I bet it wasn’t easy doing postmodernism for a family audience in the 1980s. And some of the performances were great. There’s something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on – but I think it deserves:
We watched the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD. This made Sue very angry:
Sue: That is outrageous!
Me: What’s wrong?
Sue: Keff McCulloch won the Best Music category! And Mark came last! Who the **** voted in this thing? Just Keff McCulloch?
It’s not all bad news, though. At least Sue knows they filmed the story in Dorset, that Ian Reddington seems like a thoroughly nice bloke, and that the producer pulled out all the stops to get the damn thing finished.
Sue: I’m impressed. And it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say anything positive about John Nathan-Turner.