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3 December 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 702: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Episode Three

Dear diary,

While I’ve never been actively afraid of clowns, I can certainly see why people can be scared of them. There’s something innately un-nerving about them, isn’t there? Maybe it’s the constant fixed smiles? Truth be told, I’m not sure, but watching this episode if you’re not a clown fan must be an un-nerving experience, because the ones on display here are downright creepy. Led by Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown, our troupe of circus performers manage to walk a nice line in this story - at once being this unstoppable force which has been stalking after the other characters from the opening moments, while also being just that bit useless. Ace has escaped capture by them on more than one occasion now, for example, and they’ve killed the one man who can repair them when they break!

What’s rather nice, though, is that while the clowns certainly fill the role of ‘monster’ for this story - up to now, at least - they’re not the actual threat of the piece. That comes more just in the sense that something is wrong, and the flows are really just a distraction while the Doctor puts all the pieces together. I know where this one is going, and who the true ‘villains’ of the piece are, but I’m rather impressed that we’ve managed to go three episodes with a lot of tension and worry without even revealing them properly yet. The story is absolutely packed to the rafters with elements, and there’s so much to follow that the episodes feel incredibly rich. Of course, the danger of this comes on the flip side - there’s so much going on that it can at times be tricky to actually follow everything that’s happening inside the tent. I can’t remember the last time we had a cast with this many characters each taking ownership of their own strand in the narrative.

Thankfully, all of these characters are without exception being played by rather fantastic performers. I’ve already touched on Ian Reddington’s Chief Clown, with that wonderful hand movement (I’ve been replicating it for a few days now while talking to Emma, and singing the ‘Psychic Circus’ theme tune, too), but then you’ve also got T. P. McKenna who is absolutely perfectly cast as Captain Cook (and who reminds me more and more with each episode of Mark Gatiss), and Jessica Martin making the perfect companion for him, and managing to be actually somewhat scary during her werewolf transformation in today’s cliffhanger. In the first episode, we had Peggy Mount as the stallslady (and you can see exactly why they’ve used her for the part), Daniel Peacock’s Nord, Christopher Guard as Bellboy… I could really list everyone in the cast, because they’re uniformly great in this one. All the ‘making of’ features on the DVD present us with people who’s memories of making this story - despite the troubles that the production ran in to - are only positive, and of a well-oiled team working together to make something in adversity.

I also need to touch on Gian Sammarco as Whizz Kid. It’s one of those things again that you’re just aware of as a Doctor Who fan - that Whizz Kid is meant to be a commentary on Doctor Who fans. I’ve always thought that it’s just something we’ve kind of projected on to the character over the years, but it’s pretty strong on screen, isn’t it? I think it’s more a view on fans of anything, because the same trends do seem to crop up time and time again. Still it’s hard not to listen to a line like this one;

WHIZZ KID

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.

and not compare it to the clip of John Nathan-Turner on Open Air in 1987, when he provided his famous ‘the memory cheats’ remark!

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