Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred

1 Disc DVD
See HERE for Extras

July 30 (UK)
Aug 14 (North America)
Aug 16 (Australia)

Review by Cameron K McEwan


I have to be honest, and Seventh Doctor fans may want to stop reading now, this is probably the only story from his three seasons that I would actually willingly watch again. And being the final McCoy story to hit DVD it seems apposite that it should be this four~parter from 1988.

Having said that, I remember, at the time, being slightly horrified by the story – and not in a behind~the~sofa kind of a way. But on return to the tale for its 2000 VHS release (which, incredibly, is as far from now to the home video release as that release was from its initial broadcast) I found much to enjoy despite my primary misgivings (the only time this has happened with a story post~Davison I will add).

And now, in its glorious DVD form, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy plops down like a friend who once punched you in the face (but had good reason to) and has come to visit. Whilst not brilliant, it’s certainly watchable and even has good moments. The pantomime performances, rife in the mid-to-late Eighties, are still over the top, but find a home in this big top (Groan – Ed.). Aldred’s children’s telly “emotions” still jar, as do some of McCoy’s antics, but the ensemble plays it in an almost Brechtian style (in fact, this story could make for a very intriguing stage show).
For some, these performances may be a tad off~putting due to their theatricality but the characters are strong and, more importantly, interesting. I’ll mention just two here, Whizz Kid and Chief Clown. The former – played by a very familiar face at the time, Gian Sammarco – is a neat pastiche of the “stereotypical” Doctor Who fan (that is contemporaneously stereotypical – all Who~fans these days are cool and beautiful) twenty~three years before it was less well handled in The God Complex.
Shockingly prescient, and I’m referring to the bow~tie, one wonders how long it’ll be before we see Matt Smith tootling around on a tiny bicycle? The latter character, played with uncanny creepiness by Ian Reddington, slides through the episodes like an unwelcome memory in the middle of the night; clawing at the mind and keeping you awake. It’s a truly fascinating, captivating and eerie execution and one that stands aside the many great one-off villains in the Whoeouvre. Reddington captured a malevolence not seen in Who for some time, and it’s a great pity that his talents were not utilised to a more horrifying degree (The Master, for example).

It’s also quite a modern portrayal (comparisons could be made with Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight) and, indeed, this yarn revels in being fresh and contemporary. The hip-hop stylings of the Ringmaster (just a year after The Beastie Boys were fighting for their right  to paaaaaartay) whilst not qualitatively representative of the genre (but feeding into Brecht once more) do the trick (and, to my ear, sound just as outrageously home-made as much of the current crop of UK hippity-hop acts do). Junk mail, a daily annoyance we’re all accustomed to online but a fairly new postal issue at that time, gets addressed in a most amusing fashion with a spambot appearing in the TARDIS (which pre~reminded me of The Doctor getting “mail” in The Doctor’s Wife).

Bolstering the modernity is some nifty location work and impressive, if brief, special effects work (the ringed~planet in daylight shot, specifically). And if these touches weren’t enough, there are surprises and twists galore as the Greatest Show rumbles on; each episode throwing up something delightfully unexpected for the viewer to digest and cogitate.

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy is not only the best of a bad bunch, but it stands on its own two tent-poles as a solid and engaging story with colourful characters and equally gregarious actors. Enter in the show without fear, don’t let the clowns put you off*.


Let’s kick off this tremendous selection of extras with the lead feature, The Show Must Go On – a behind~the~scenes “making~of” documentary from regular classic DVD contributor, Chris Chapman. Presented in Big Top fashion, the piece has a most bouncy parade of cast and crew, all effusive (perhaps overly) and, at times, amusingly candid.

The aforementioned Ian Reddington is a particular highlight who seems genuinely pleased not only to have been involved in the show, but to have been so well remembered and appreciated by fans. But more interesting is the events which nearly Shada‘d the entire production.

Greatest Show came so very close to never seeing the light of day and only a miraculously fortuitous chain of events led to its completion – or should I say, one man – John Nathan Turner. Script Editor Andrew Cartmel, Sophie Aldred, Visual Effects Assistant Mick Tucker, designer David Laskey and director Alan Wareing are all on hand to extol the producer’s passion for getting this story finished, delivered and on screen. Clearly, the shadow of Shada (the unfinished Douglas Adams story starring Tom Baker) still hung heavy in the man’s mind. Thankfully, there’s some archive material of JNT to fully illustrate the evidence.

Sadly, however, there’s nothing from McCoy. Even more tragic is the lack of Whizz Kid, Gian Sammarco. Given his reclusive lifestyle and complete abandonment of acting, it’s not surprising. Frustrating, though, for the viewer not to have the full story from all the main players (especially as his character was, and still is, such an intriguing one). Nevertheless, another top~notch docco, informing and amusing in equal measure with anecdotes aplenty (and even one involving the cast of “sitcom”, ‘Allo ‘Allo).

One of my very favourite series on the classic DVDs is Tomorrow’s Times and this installment sees the turn of the Seventh Doctor to get the press treatment, presented by Anneke Wills (Sixties companion, Polly). Here we see just how interest on the show quickly fell from McCoy’s appointment to a couple of years later. As a piece of reference material, this featurette is unmissable.

Further reference materials can be found in the form of the Deleted and Extended Scenes and Lost in the Darkness – a brilliant collection of unused model effects shots originally intended for the story. Similarly there’s two scenes from Remembrance of the Daleks re-scored by Greatest Show composer, Mark Ayres; again interesting but not essential.

The commentary features Sophie Aldred, Jessica Martin (Mags), Christopher Guard (Bellboy), writer Stephen Wyatt, script editor Andrew Cartmel and composer Mark Ayres with various people popping in and out for the odd episode her and there. It’s a lively affair with everyone pitching in delightfully (though, for me, with too much reverance for the story – it’s not as good as they seem to think it is). As ususal there’s some crossover with the main docco  and superb production notes (courtesy of Richard Bignell) but not to its detriment. Oddly, considering its age, the commentary is moderated by Toby Hadoke, which I found slightly unnecessary as the subjects don’t seem to need guidance whatsoever.

Fleshing out these special features is the curious “music” video The Psychic Circus, featuring vocals by Christopher Guard, Jessica Martin and TP McKenna. I felt like I was back in The Eighties watching Max Headroom… (not necessarily a bad thing). For completion there’s also a Doctor Who sketch from Victoria Wood – As Seen on TV which completely failed to elicit a laugh from me (and I’m a fan of Wood, it should be noted).

Lastly, I have to give mention to the exceptional Photo Gallery on this release. I feel that it’s somewhat overlooked on the DVDs but each time I’m always impressed with the images unveiled for our attention – and to keep forever. Here, we’re treated to a longer~than~usual collection featuring some personal pictures alongside the normal official images. It’s a wonderfully candid array, some included here, and I thoroughly encourage you to indulge (if you weren’t already planning to). Full marks to the research involved and the kindness of those sharing their memories with us – very much appreciated. 

The Greatest Show In The Galaxy is most definitely not the greatest “show”, it’s not even one of the best but this DVD is jammed-packed with enough quality to qualify the story’s boastful title. The Seventh Doctor adventure is worth a revisit, for sure, and I would proffer that the extras will be even more rewarding for the extras~hungry.

Thanks to BBC Worldwide


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  1. Sorry you're not that big of a McCoy fan. I have mixed feelings about his era myself, but generally found more to like than dislike. To each their own, I suppose. "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" is my favorite from his era. Some of it hasn't aged well, but most of it holds up pretty well, and shows the true potential of the 7th Doctor /Ace team that was never fully realized.

  2. Glad to see that you like "The Greatest Show in the Glaxy", one of the best of the McCoy era. Too bad you don't care for the rest, though-Season 26 is near perfect, IMO, and Remembrance of the Daleks is one of the best ever (even made the Top 20 in the DWM 200th Episode poll). Admittedly, Season 24 is one of the worst (though I've always had a soft spot for Paradise Towers as its one of the first I'd ever watched and find it to be camp fun). Oh well, to each their own…

  3. I don't know why this made such a lasting impression on me, but ever since I learned of it coming out on DVD I've been anxiously waiting. Mags is the highlight for me, again I don't know why. I loved McCoy and to me this is the most entertaining one he did.

  4. I have been looking forward to this since I learned of its release. With Mags being my favorite character I think this is probably the most entertaining of the McCoy era.

  5. I've ordered this having waited over 20 years to once again see the first Doctor Who story that actually frightened the life out of me. I thought this was such a great, sinister story and the one character that stood out was Mags. Cannot wait to re-watch when it arrives.
    The Gem in the 7th Doctor's rough.


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