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28 February 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Stephen Wyatt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Lots of fun for the family, at the Greatest Show in the Galaxy!

When a junkmail robot invades the TARDIS, the Doctor gets led down an unnervingly familiar path.

Meanwhile, space beatniks Kingpin and Juniper Berry just want to hitch rides and busk – until a greater purpose calls.

The Doctor’s past and Kingpin’s future are entangled by malevolent forces. The Psychic Circus is just beginning: it may lack clowns, but it already has a Master..."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy seems to be the in thing right now for Big Finish. First we had the return of Mags, then there was Feast of Fear, which riffed on familiar sinister circus imagery, and now we've this, which acts as a prequel to the main attraction itself (and possibly a sequel for the Doctor? It's never quite clear).

In my reviews of the Mags plays, I noted that I think Greatest Show is brilliant but questioned the need to bring Mags back: was there really more to say? Just because you can revisit a past character or story or setting, it doesn't necessarily mean you should. At best, it could do something genuinely novel and worthy and change your perception of the original story for the better. At worst, it can tarnish a good memory. Wherever you fall, you'll probably annoy the fans (as happened with The Last Jedi. Best Star Wars film in years and it was hated on by the fans so much we ended up with The Rise of Skywalker...).

Somewhere in the middle though is arguably the worst reaction of all: "Why?"

I am absolutely in the middle with this release. The cast is very good (Ian Reddington and Chris Jury slip right back in like they've never been away, especially the former who is excellent), the cliffhanger to Part One is pleasingly Doctor Who-ish (the Doctor threatens… to juggle!), Sylvester McCoy is on top form, but… but why? Why does this release exist?

It is nice to have original writer Stephen Wyatt back in the fold, and the script is not necessarily bad, but does The Psychic Circus say something fundamentally new? Not really. We learn why the circus ended up on Segonax and, more notably, a bit about the Chief Clown's origins (turns out he is from, erm, Paradise Towers. I guess Wyatt couldn't help himself). That's about it though, and I'm left wondering: did we need to know any of this? It doesn't take anything away, but it hardly adds much.

Of course, they're not the only people in the spotlight here. Semi-obligatory Gods of Ragnarok cameo aside, there is also the Master to contend with, though his role is so dull and muted you wonder why (that word again).

The most interesting thing of note about the Master here is that it's the incarnation played by James Dreyfus: does he 'count' now? He was first introduced in the box set of David Bradley First Doctor plays, which weren't meant to necessarily be canonical, until perhaps they were and Normal Who Susan met David Bradley Susan and then Bradley's Doctor himself popped up in The Legacy of Time, at which point it was anyone's guess what counts and what doesn't. If Big Finish themselves don't seem to know or care, should we? At all?

As for Dreyfus, he is fine, though I wonder if (and suspect) it will be his last outing in the role? His opinions on Trans politics has, to be polite, not gone down well with a lot of fandom online, and it's telling that here he was not mentioned in the press release for the story when it released, nor is he present in the extras, and the forthcoming Master box set from Big Finish have him conspicuously absent: and this is the set that has apparently remembered that Alex Macqueen exists at long last. You get the impression he wouldn't have even been on the cover if it hadn't been too expensive to change it, but his name is not there on the front.

It again makes this play seem more intriguing than it really is. The fact Wyatt is back, the fact Dreyfus is here, the fact some of the original Greatest Show cast return. Why though?

And that's the problem. Why? It never answers this question and as a listener, I never felt it earned its place. An irrelevant release where the things around it are in disproportion to the things it says. Far from the greatest show in town, let alone the galaxy. Why bother listening to it? I'm not sure I know.


+ The Psychic Circus is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


Comments (1) -

NickD United Kingdom
2/29/2020 7:39:17 AM #

I can’t wait to get this. I love The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and the looks a welcome return to that play area for Doctor Who.

It has a lot to live up to, but I completely trust Big Finish.

PS, The Last Jedi is awful. It’s a terrible middle act in a trilogy and breaks canon and has even for Star Wars some genuinely bad science but it’s just a yawn, badly edited, badly paced and bloated beyond extreme, something I’m glad Doctor Who is not.

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