Sunday, 24 April 2016

Story 152 - Battlefield

In which the Doctor picks up a very weak signal in the TARDIS. The ship materialises in the English countryside not far from Lake Vortigern. Nearby, a UNIT convoy transporting a nuclear weapon has run into difficulty - crashing into the archaeological dig which Peter Warmsly is conducting beside the lake. This area has a number of associations with the myths of King Arthur. Brigadier Winifred Bambera is on her way to take charge of the convoy. Knights in armour - but carrying laser weapons - begin to land in the surrounding woods. The Doctor and Ace reach the convoy, as the Doctor's signal seems to be coming from the lake at this point. Bambera is not impressed with their out of date passes (of the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw), but her sergeant informs her of the man who used to assist her predecessor - a man who could change his appearance. The Doctor and Ace then travel to the local hotel - the Gore Crow Inn - and here they meet Warmsly and his assistant, Shou Yuing. There is an antique scabbard on the wall, which Warmsly likes to think might have belonged to Excalibur. The Doctor senses some powerful force emanating from it. As Ace gets to know Shou Yuing there is an explosion nearby, and something is thrown through the roof of the pub's brewery. This proves to be one of the Knights. His name is Ancelyn - and he recognises the Doctor as the wizard Merlin. More Knights arrive, led by Mordred. They are enemies of Ancelyn. Mordred also recognises the Doctor as the fabled magician. The Doctor is oblivious to the events they are describing, but pretends to have magical powers to force Mordred to withdraw. He claims that his mother will soon be here, and she is an old enemy of Merlin.

When UNIT HQ in Geneva learn of the Doctor's arrival, they summon Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart to London for a briefing. He has retired to the country, and is married to Doris (who he once knew in his younger days). When Ace asks the Doctor about his role as Merlin, he explains that they are probably referring to events in his own personal future. The reason that the signal in the TARDIS was so weak is because it was calling from another Universe, parallel to our own. Magic is common there. The signal is calling to something in the lake. The Doctor does not want warriors from another dimension fighting their battle here on Earth. That night, in the ruins of nearby Carbury Castle, Mordred summons his mother, Queen Morgaine, to travel over to this world. The area is wracked by storms as she materialises, and the scabbard flies from the wall as though drawn towards the lake. In the morning, the Brigadier is about to arrive in the area when Morgaine shoots down his helicopter with energy bolts from her fingers. His pilot makes for the hotel to call for help, but encounters Mordred and Morgaine. She kills her, in order to drain her mind of knowledge about this world. The Brigadier later meets the Queen and her Knights at the village war memorial. She is impressed by this commemoration of fallen warriors, and announces a brief armistice.

The Doctor and Ace decide to blast a hole in the middle of the excavation using Nitro-9, just where an inscription says to dig. This reveals the entrance to a tunnel, like the inscription made of modern concrete. The Doctor reveals that it was written in his own handwriting. They descend through the tunnel and find themselves in a spaceship which is lying on the bottom of the lake. This contains the body of Arthur, now turned to dust. Ace pulls his sword from a dais, triggering automatic defences. The Doctor is attacked by serpent like energy forms. Ace takes cover in an alcove - but a door slides shut and it fills rapidly with water. She is ejected out into the lake. Warmsly is surprised to see her rise up from the water with Excalibur in hand. The Doctor is rescued by the arrival of the Brigadier. UNIT troops and Morgaine's forces soon begin fighting. The Doctor is given his old car "Bessie" to use, kept in mothballs by the Brigadier. Ace and Shou Yuing are sent to the hotel with the sword and told to remain in a protective chalk circle. Morgaine cannot breach this, so she summons a demon - the Destroyer. He is chained in silver, as even Morgaine fears him. The Destroyer wrecks the hotel and Morgaine seizes the sword, but Ace and her friend have been protected within the circle. A portal remains open between the hotel and the Castle, and so the Doctor, Ace and the Brigadier follow through it. Morgaine unleashes the Destroyer then flees to the site of the convoy, determined to face Arthur in battle once more. The Brigadier shoots and kills the demon with silver bullets. The Doctor goes to the convoy site, now a battlefield. He stops Morgaine detonating the nuclear missile, and tells her that Arthur is dead. She and her son are taken into UNIT custody. Bambera, Ancelyn, the Doctor and Ace are invited to the Brigadier's home for a meal.

This four part adventure was written by Ben Aaronovitch, and broadcast between 6th and 27th September, 1989. It is the first story of Season 26 - the final season of the original classic series run. It sees the return of the Brigadier, played by Nicholas Courtney, making his final appearance of the classic series.
It is the only story of the original run which explicitly refers to potential future adventures of the Doctor, rather than simply unseen ones.
It also sees the final outing for the Doctor's "sprightly Edwardian roadster), "Bessie" - now plated "WHO 7".
It was a story based on Arthurian legend that Aaronovitch had first pitched to the production team. However, he then got to have a crack at the Daleks. This was originally intended to be a three-parter, all location story, but he was then asked to bulk it out to four parts. If you listen to the DVD commentary, or watch the added extras, you will know that the writer struggled and was not happy with the finished production. After his excellent Dalek story of the previous season, fans also expected much and were left a little disappointed. There is some noticeable padding, when characters travel from place to place for real discernible reason. It can be rather wordy and short on incident, and the promised battle of the title is rather poorly directed. The stunt work looks exactly like that, with liberal use of trampolines.. There appears to be only about 6 people per side. (This was always the case, but other directors made sure it didn't loom like it).
The music is rubbish as well. Especially naff is the sub-sitcom theme when the girls go off for a drive in "Bessie at the very end".
The director, Michael Kerrigan, did come on board only very late in the day, due to Nicholas Courtney's availability, and professed he did not understand some elements of the script.
Aaronovitch initially intended to kill off the Brigadier in this story, and Courtney was happy to be deaded so long as he went out bravely in a blaze of glory, saving the Doctor's life. The writer then couldn't bring himself to do the deed.
Need I tell the tale of the glass tank? For completism sake I will, though only briefly. For the scene where Ace gets trapped in the water-filled alcove, the makers of the glass sheet had not followed safety guidelines, and it was not strong enough for the volume of water. The glass began to crack, and Sophie Aldred could have been seriously injured if it had given way fully. Sylvester McCoy spotted it starting to give way and called for helping her out in time. You can see the glass start to fracture in the finished programme.
One successful aspect of the production is the realisation of the Destroyer - one of the best creature designs of the whole classic series. The mask, animatronically controlled, was designed and made by Stephen Mansfield and Sue Moore, who began working on the series from Season 24.

Joining Nick Courtney in the cast we have Jean Marsh as Morgaine. This is her third appearance in the programme, having twice appeared during the Hartnell era (see below). Mordred is Christopher Bowen. Ancelyn is Marcus Gilbert. The new Brigadier is played by Angela Bruce. Peter Warmsly is Z-Cars veteran James Ellis, who almost nearly got to appear in Who in the same story as Courtney and Marsh once before. Shou Yuing is Ling Tai. She had been a Crackerjack hostess (go on - "CRACKERJACK"!), as well as an extra on The Leisure Hive and Warriors of the Deep. Inside the Destroyer is Marek Anton, and we'll get to see what he looks like in two stories' time. Talking of extras, there is someone now quite well known in one sequence - which I'll save for the factoid bit at the end.
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor and his friends have found Ancelyn in the brewery shed when Mordred and his Knights burst in...
  2. In the spaceship, the Doctor is seemingly knocked out by the serpent-like defence mechanisms, as Ace is trapped in a flooding chamber...
  3. Morgaine summons the Destroyer - a drooling, fanged, horned demon...
  4. At the Brigadier's home, the men are left to do the chores, whilst the women take off in "Bessie" on a shopping trip.
"I just do the best I can... Get off my world!"
Overall, a story that promised so much, but in the end fails to deliver. Some good performances, and an excellent creature design. Always good to see the Brigadier still giving it some blood and thunder. The other three stories of this season made the top 80 in the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, whilst this languishes down at no. 159. Part One was the worst season opener of the whole classic series, at only 3.1 million.
Things you might like to know:
  • Had Julian Glover turned down the role of King Richard in The Crusade, Nicholas Courtney would have been offered the part, so could have ended up sharing stories with Jean Marsh three times - twice as siblings.
  • Their first story together, The Daleks' Master Plan, has that Christmas episode - "The Feast of Steven" - wherein the Doctor and his companions run foul of the local constabulary. It had been hoped that this would have been the Z-Cars cast, which would have included Jimmy Ellis, but that series' producer vetoed the idea,
  • Question: Who was the first actor to appear in both the classic series and the new BBC Wales version? 
  • Answer: Well, if you said David Warwick (Kimus in The Pirate Planet and the Chief Constable in Doomsday) then you'd be wrong. There's a fresh-faced extra playing a UNIT soldier in the sequence where the Doctor and Brigadier discuss alien-bashing weaponry. It's Marc (Elton Pope) Warren, from Love & Monsters.
  • So what exactly does UNIT do with Morgaine and Mordred after they have captured them? She can shoot helicopters from the sky with her fingers, remember. Highly unlikely she ended up in Holloway and he in Wormwood Scrubs, isn't it? Personally I suspect that both got sent packing back to their own Universe, now that she knew there was no longer an Arthur to fight against.
  • The UNIT dating controversy comes back with a vengeance here, as a King is mentioned, and there are £5 coins.
  • The DVD for this story includes a Special Edition, with deleted scenes reinstated as well as new VFX. One sequence that they really ought to have left on the cutting room floor is one where the Doctor and Ace are on a spiral stairwell within the spaceship. It is clearly a wrought-iron Victorian staircase, with naff disco lights round the hand-rail.
  • The Arthurian connections now. Well, obviously Arthur himself is in it, although dead, and he's got Excalibur. Ace does the Lady in the Lake bit with the sword. Ancelyn's name derives from Lancelot. Morgaine and Mordred are also present. A popular version of the myth has Arthur and she as both lovers and siblings - which was also something that the original scripts for The Crusade had with Richard and Joanna, until Hartnell objected. If only Bret Vyon and Sara Kingdom were in an incestuous relationship, Jean Marsh would have the full set. 
  • Working titles for the story included "Avalon" and "Storm Over Avallion" - referencing the Isle where Arthur was laid to rest. 
  • Vortigern was a 5th Century warlord from Kent, who gained notoriety for inviting the Saxons into Britain. The ancient chronicles refer to him as a "usurper". He married a Viking princess.
  • Doris, the Brigadier's wife, is played by Carry On star Angela Douglas, She was married to the great British actor Kenneth More (Reach for the Sky, A Night to Remember among many, many others). The character started life as bit of fun in Planet of the Spiders - when clairvoyant Prof. Clegg deduces that a young lady named Doris gave the Brigadier his wristwatch at a hotel in Brighton - which the Brig quickly glosses over. Fandom has tended to accept that she is his second wife, the first being the mother of Kate Stewart.
  • Sophie Aldred has said that she was warned she could contract Weil's Disease from being in the lake where they filmed (Rutland Water). This surprised her, as the Water is a reservoir supplying Birmingham and much of the Midlands.
  • The Gore Crow Hotel was actually a private house. James Ellis did not realise this and wandered around the building, asking the owners how much it cost to stay a night.
  • Ellis bulked out his dialogue with quotations from Mallory. Apparently, if left to his own devices, he would have quoted the whole thing.
  • Which brings us to script editor Andrew Cartmel's "CND scene". It was he who wrote the Doctor's climactic confrontation with Morgaine, arguing over the morality of using nuclear weapons. So caught up in this scene was he that it went on for ages, and had to be paired right back.
  • Sophie Aldred's near miss in the water tank was later used as a Health & Safety training aid to BBC technicians.
  • A BBC strike took place during location filming, so the cast and crew had a day trip to Skegness planned for when it was going to happen.
  • A family out for a drive chose to ignore the "Keep Out - Filming" signs, and ran off the road.
  • A couple of rumours at the time were that Kate Bush was to play Morgaine, and the music would be provided by Hawkwind.
  • Bambera was originally going to be an American.
  • The Destroyer was originally going to start off looking like a handsome man in a sharp suit, then transform into a demon.
  • And Ben Aaronovitch got drunk at a fan pub meeting and told everyone the plot. He would later suffer writer's block and be unable to complete the novelisation. He has since gone on to produce a number of great London-based fantasy novels. Had there been a Season 27, he may well have taken over as script editor.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The new companion is revealed...

I'm afraid I got quite caught up in the Shakespeare Live! programme on BBC 2 tonight - a wonderful production, hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate - so have run out of time to complete my look at Battlefield as promised. It will finally see the light of day tomorrow.
I did manage to see the specially filmed sequence that introduced Pearl Mackie as the new companion - a young lady named Bill. I'm sure everyone went "Who?" when she appeared, as this is her first major TV role.
First impressions? Not entirely favourable, I'm afraid to say. She talks a bit too much, asking too many questions. Hopefully she won't be like this all the time, as I personally found the character annoying.
At least she seems to be a more down to earth character than more recent companions, so won't turn out to be Davros' mother or a new incarnation of Romana / Susan / the Rani.
I shan't write Bill off on the basis of a couple of minutes worth of material, designed to be shown at half-time during a Cup semi-final. I just hope she isn't like this for a whole 12 episodes in 2017.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

New companion & new DWM

Have been rather busy this week, so if you're waiting for my look at Battlefield then you'll have to wait a little bit longer - Saturday evening. I'll also be looking at the following bit of news announced today. The identity of the person who will be playing the new companion is due to be revealed live on BBC One on Saturday, during Half-Time on Match of the Day. That should make it around 6pm GMT.
I don't know about you, but the reveal of someone we've never heard of is unlikely to hold many peoples' attention, so could it be that they've chosen someone already quite well known?
This will be the first time a companion has been announced on live TV - they're normally introduced in a standard press call.
Today the cover for DWM issue 499 was also released.

The cover - a reproduction of the Genesis of the Daleks paperback cover by Chris Achilleos - will be to tie in with the forthcoming exhibition at London's Cartoon Museum. This will feature dozens of original artworks that graced Target book covers. It runs from 28th April to 11th May. I'm planning to go sometime in the final week, as I will be in Scotland when the exhibition opens - advance notice, there won't be any posts between 27th April and 2nd May.

Monday, 18 April 2016

A is for... Aggedor

The Royal Beast of the planet Peladon. These savage creatures once lived on the wild Mount Megeshra, and were hunted to extinction by the nobility of that world as a rite of passage. Their fur would trim regal garments, and their horns adorn helmets. Over time they gained a mythical status, and one of them - Aggedor - became the planet's religious symbol. A temple to Aggedor was set up in the Royal citadel, replete with a huge stone statue of the beast. At the time that Peladon was petitioning to join the Galactic Federation, the High Priest Hepesh found that one of the creatures had survived. He kept it hidden in the secret tunnels beneath the citadel and trained it to do his bidding. Hepesh did not want his world to join the Federation, and he determined to use Aggedor to further his aims. He began by using it to kill the pro-Federation Chancellor Torbis - his own brother.
Aggedor's temple was so sacred that when the Doctor found his way into it by accident he was told that he was sentenced to death for blasphemy. This was after Hepesh had used the King's Champion, Grun, to lure the Doctor into a trap where he was to have been killed by the beast. The Doctor was able to placate it using a form of hypnosis, plus an old Venusian lullaby - the first line of which was "Close your eyes my darling, well three of them at least...". In the original Venusian it ran "Klokleda partha menin klatch, haroon, haroon, haroon...". The tune is similar to "God rest ye merry gentlemen".
When Hepesh's forces tried to mount a coup, the Doctor brought Aggedor to the throne room to show that the beast was real and no legend. Hepesh ordered it to kill the Doctor, but he had been cruel to it and so it killed the High Priest instead.
Fifty years later, the Doctor returned to Peladon. The spirit of Aggedor was once more causing death and destruction throughout the land. This was seen as a sign of disfavour against the Federation. Aggedor's image would appear from nowhere and strike down anyone who collaborated with the aliens.
Entering the temple of Aggedor was no longer worthy of a death sentence. The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith were thrown into a pit beneath the temple by High Priest (and Chancellor) Ortron to face Aggedor's judgement. The Doctor used the same hypnosis technique (and song) to once again quieten the creature, which remembered him.
The Doctor later learned that the Ice Warriors, and a corrupt Earth engineer named Eckersley, were using a heat ray weapon coupled with the statue of Aggedor from the temple to cause the deaths.
After the Ice Warriors had been defeated, Eckersley abducted the Queen, Thalira, and tried to escape to a shuttle craft with her as hostage. The Doctor freed Aggedor from its pit and used it to hunt them. The creature killed Eckersley, but he managed to fatally wound it as he died.
It must be assumed that the beasts are now totally extinct.

Played by Nick Hobbs. Appearances: The Curse of Peladon (1972) and The Monster of Peladon (1974).

A is for... Agamemnon

The leader of the Greek forces which besieged the city of Troy. Like Odysseus, he was also skeptical about the Doctor's claims to be Zeus. He was determined to see the 10 year campaign through to its conclusion - which could only be victory for the Greeks. He was irritated by his brother Menalaus' equivocations - even though the Spartan ruler's wife, Helen, had started the whole enterprise. Agamemnon scoffed when the Doctor told him that his wife was being unfaithful to him back home in Mycenae.

Played by Francis de Wolff. Appearances: The Myth Makers (1965).

  • Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, was indeed being unfaithful to him. When he got back home from the Trojan War he was promptly murdered in his bath by her and her lover, who then seized the throne.
  • Take a look at the image below. No, not a rare colour photo from this story - and Sid James definitely never featured in The Myth Makers. This is from Carry On Cleo (1964) - and you can see that Francis de Wolff is wearing the exact same piece of costume as in the Doctor Who story...

A is for... Adric

Travelling companion to the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Adric was born in the pocket universe of E-Space, on the planet Alzarius - one of the colony of stranded Terradonians whose Starliner had crashed there. Adric's parents died when he was a child, and he only had his older brother Varsh for family. He was a precocious youth, gaining a badge for mathematical excellence from the community. Varsh and some friends rebelled against the Starliner society, and set themselves up as Outlers, living in a cave on a hillside overlooking their old home. Adric was desperate to join them. When the Outlers failed to steal enough river fruits Adric chose to prove himself by obtaining more. This coincided with a period called Mistfall, which the Terradonians feared. The air would turn toxic, so everyone retreated into the Starliner which was then sealed up. Adric witnessed the death of one of the Deciders who ruled their society. Decider Draith was puled into the lake as the mists rose. The boy then stumbled into the TARDIS, where he met the Doctor, Romana and K9. They were surprised when an injury to his knee healed in only an hour or so.
The Doctor later discovered that Adric's people were not from Terradon at all, but were the product of Alzarius' bizarre evolutionary processes. Adric proved to be light-fingered, stealing an image converter for the Doctor, as his own one did not work in E-Space. He allowed his brother and the other Outlers to attempt to steal the TARDIS, and then abandoned Romana in the cave when she was attacked by giant spiders. Later, he saw his brother killed at the hands of the Marshmen.
When the Doctor and Romana left Alzarius, they did not realise that Adric had stowed away on board. When he emerged from hiding, he tricked K9 into letting him go. On the planet ruled by Vampires, Adric was selected to become one of the Chosen Ones - a servant to the Great Vampire which was about to be resurrected. Adric seemed to ally himself against the Doctor and Romana, but later claimed that this was a ruse.

When the TARDIS left E-Space, leaving Romana and K9 behind, Adric continued to travel with the Doctor in Normal Space. He attempted to study the Doctor's diaries, and rapidly learned a great deal from the ship's data banks. On Traken he first met the future companion Nyssa, with whom he formed a bond. Together they tried to destroy the Melkur when it took control over the planet's controlling force - the Source. It was Adric who identified that the Melkur was really a disguised TARDIS. Adric was looking forward to a visit to the Doctor's homeworld when the Doctor changed his plans and decided to fix the TARDIS chameleon circuit instead. This involved a trip to present day England, where Australian Air Hostess Tegan Jovanka blundered aboard, and then a visit to the planet of Logopolis, where Adric was pleased to be reunited with Nyssa. Adric helped the Logopolitan Monitor to save the Doctor when the Master interfered with the Block Transfer Computations - resulting in the ship shrinking. The mysterious Watcher took Adric and Nyssa outside of the Universe when the Master's tamperings began to spread an entropy field.
Adric was present when the Doctor fell from a radio telescope at the Pharos Project on Earth, causing him to regenerate into his Fifth incarnation.
The Master then kidnapped Adric and used his mathematical skills to try to destroy the TARDIS in the Big Bang, and later he was employed to create a whole fake township on Castrovalva, which proved to be an elaborate trap.
Whilst he got on well with Nyssa, Adric did not take to Tegan, and the dynamic in the TARDIS with a new Doctor led to Adric feeling side-lined. He also made a few errors of judgement - allying himself with people who opposed the Doctor.
On the planet Deva Loka, Adric panicked and ran off in an armoured exploration vehicle - inadvertently stopping the Mara-possessed Aris from carrying out an attack on the human colonists' base. Adric's ability to pretend to ally himself with Hindle allowed him to remain at large and try to help free the Doctor and scientist Todd.
Soon, Adric announced that he wanted to travel back home into E-Space, to find the Starliner people. The Doctor was furious with him, as the journey would be extremely hazardous. He would later say that he was not really serious about this - just wanting to prove to the Doctor that the trip was possible. The TARDIS crew then became caught up in a Cyberman plot to wipe out a conference on 26th Century Earth. Adric was left aboard a bomb-laden freighter that was on a collision course with the planet, its systems over-ridden by a Cyberman logic device. Adric attempted to unlock this - causing the freighter to hurtle back in time some 65 million years. Its collision would be the cause of the destruction of the dinosaurs - and hence the rise of humankind.
Adric was able to escape but elected not to, so that he could finish his work. A dying Cyberman prevented him from succeeding, and he perished in the crash. In his final moments, he clutched his brother's belt for comfort. The Doctor used Adric's gold-rimmed star badge to destroy the Cyber-Leader.
Soon after, the Master, harnessing the power of the Xeraphin, used an image of Adric to try to get Nyssa and Tegan to turn back from entering his domain in prehistoric Earth.
The Fifth Doctor felt guilt at the boy's death until the end of his incarnation. Adric's name was the last word he uttered.

Played by Matthew Waterhouse. Appearances: Full Circle (1980) to Earthshock (1982). Cameos in Time-Flight (1982) and The Caves of Androzani (1984).

  • An interesting concept for a companion whose potential was squandered by subsequent writers. Waterhouse was not the most experienced actor, but a lot of the bad reputation both actor and character had suffered over the years is not always deserved.
  • The character has been resurrected on audio, played by Waterhouse, for stories set between Castrovalva and Earthshock. The Big Finish version of Nyssa has her name her son after him. Matthew now lives in the US and is a writer.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Story 151 - The Greatest Show In The Galaxy

In which the Doctor and Ace receive junk-mail in the TARDIS. A small robot appears in the console room and plugs itself into the scanner to show an advert for the Psychic Circus - "the Greatest Show in the Galaxy". Ace isn't too keen to visit, as she finds clowns creepy. The Doctor pushes her into agreeing and they travel to the planet Segonax. They meet a woman selling food by the roadside, and she tells them that they are some distance from the Big Top. A biker named Nord materialises nearby, and refuses to give them a lift, so they set off on foot. On the way, they come across a campsite beside a lake. A huge robot is partially buried here, being excavated by the explorer Captain Cook and his assistant Mags. They also decline to give them a lift. Elsewhere, a young couple are being hunted by a pair of clowns driving a hearse. They are using kites with cameras to track them. The young man, Bellboy, allows himself to be caught so that his companion, Flowerchild, can escape. She reaches the wreck of an old bus, but is killed by a robot Bus Conductor. The Doctor and Ace finally reach the Circus, and find that it is not as entertaining as they were led to believe. The audience seems to comprise of three people only - a man, woman and child. When Nord fails to impress them in the ring, he is destroyed.

A young fan of both the Captain and the Psychic Circus arrives - Whizz Kid. He is also killed in the ring. The Doctor, Ace and Mags escape. They are hunted by the Chief Clown, who is humanoid, and the rest of the clowns, which are robots. Ace finds herself in the robotics laboratory where she finds Bellboy. He had been tortured mentally by the audience members, and is now a broken man. He tells Ace something of the history of the Circus - how it had once been fun to be part of. Everything changed when they set up on Segonax, and the Circus has been twisted into something evil. Bellboy elects to kill himself, ordering his own robot creations to destroy him. The Doctor and Mags meet another Circus employee, a simple young man named Deadbeat, who acts as the janitor. He was once known as Kingpin, and was the leader of the troupe until his mind was broken. He tells them that there is something vital hidden on the old tour bus. The Doctor and Mags are captured and forced into the ring. Ace goes off with Deadbeat to locate the tour bus. Captain Cook uses lighting effects to make Mags transform into a werewolf, as she comes from a lycanthropic race on the planet Vulpana.

Instead of killing the Doctor, she turns on the Captain and kills him instead. The audience still want entertainment, and start to kill other members of the Circus troupe - including the Ringmaster and the fortune teller Morgana. The Doctor has noticed some ancient stones around the Circus, and realises that it is set up on some ruined structure. A deep pit has a glowing eye at its bottom. The Doctor deduces that this is a portal to another dimension. He decides to enter it, to buy Ace and Deadbeat time to collect what is hidden in the bus. This proves to be an amulet with the same eye motif. They are attacked by the Bus Conductor but manage to destroy it. The Doctor finds himself in an amphitheatre, facing the three Gods of Ragnarok. He entertains them with a number of magic tricks. The Gods reanimate Cook's cadaver to try to stop Ace, Mags and Deadbeat, but they are able to throw the amulet into the pit for the Doctor. He uses this to deflect the Gods' destructive energies back on themselves, and they are destroyed. All flee the Big Top before it explodes. The Chief Clown pursues them, but he is killed by the huge robot that was buried by the lake. Mags decides to help Deadbeat - now Kingpin once again - to set up a new circus.

This four part adventure was written by Stephen Wyatt, and was broadcast between 14th December, 1988, and 4th January, 1989. It marks the conclusion of Season 25.
Wyatt had previously written Paradise Towers for the previous season, and was commissioned to write another story before that was even transmitted. This will be his final commission for the programme.
Draft scripts for The Happiness Patrol had featured various people being destroyed for failing auditions, and this was removed as it formed a key part of Wyatt's story.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had come up with the story title. Many fans have seen veiled criticism of fandom in the story - especially in the character of Whizz Kid, who is a bit of an anorak when it comes to Captain Cook and the Psychic Circus. Cook is an explorer who travels across the Universe - but who turns out to be an absolute bore. The Circus is described as having been great once, but is not as good as it used to be. JNT hated it when fans claimed Doctor Who was not as good as it used to be. He usually countered with the phrase "the memory cheats". It should be remembered that JNT expected this to be his final season, so perhaps felt that he could go out with a little stab at the fans who he had once embraced but who had since tried to get him sacked.
Need we mention asbestos, and how this almost never got made? I suppose so. Asbestos was found at the BBC TV Centre, so studios had to be closed down whilst it was removed. This caused the cancellation of a number of shows. All the location work was in the can for The Greatest Show... when it suddenly looked like the studio sections would have to be cancelled. JNT would have remembered Shada, and how that had seen his predecessor leaving on a negative note.
The first idea was to hire a Big Top and film in a field somewhere, but this would not be permitted as it would need to be done on BBC property. The production was moved to a large marquee which had been set up in the car park at BBC Elstree. This caused all sorts of problems due to frequent deliveries and the Heathrow flight path.

A top notch cast in evidence. Principle guest artist is T P McKenna, as Captain Cook. JNT had wanted him on the show for ages. Best known for comedy roles and impressions, as Mags we have Jessica Martin. The Chief Clown is Ian Reddington, who would go on to find fame as one of Eastenders' villainous characters - Tricky Dicky, the dodgy market supervisor. Famed for his portrayal of Adrian Mole at the time was Gian Sammarco. He is Whizz Kid. He would give up acting soon after, and become a mental health professional.
The Ringmaster is Ricco Ross, who featured in Aliens. Nord is Daniel Peacock, again best known for comedy roles. Deadbeat is Chris Jury (Lovejoy). Bellboy is Christopher Guard. Both his wife and brother had already appeared on the show in the past few years. The stall lady is Peggy Mount - yet another actor best known for comedic roles.
Episode endings are:
  1. Bellboy is in the ring, being tortured, as Ace and the Doctor arrive outside the Big Top - oblivious as to what they are about to encounter within...
  2. The Doctor and Mags have found the pit with the glowing eye at its base. Captain Cook comes up behind them with a party of robot clowns, and informs them that they are next to go into the ring...
  3. As the Captain uses lighting effects to simulate moonlight, Mags turns into a ravenous werewolf...
  4. Mags and Kingpin have decided to try to set up another circus, whilst the Doctor and Ace head off back to the TARDIS...

Overall, not a bad little story at all. It was 108th in the DWM 50th Anniversary Poll - up from 119th in the Mighty 200 one, so people liked it. Some lovely visual effects, creepy clowns (especially the Chief) and a good cast.
Things you might like to know:
  • As previously mentioned, this story was supposed to be earlier in the run of Season 25 - in second place. This has lead to a couple of (fairly minor) continuity mistakes. Ace picks up and wears Flowerchilds' earring in this story - but is seen wearing it on her jacket in the previous story. Also, at the beginning she is looking for her rucksack in the TARDIS - which she lost when she blew up the Cybership, also in the last story.
  • There is no on screen explanation for the Doctor's vanishing juggling ball. In reality, it was caught in a net by someone at the top of the set.
  • About to become the theme for Season 26, the Doctor is forcing Ace to confront her fears - in this case her Coulrophobia. That's a fear of clowns. It will later transpire that Sarah Jane Smith suffers from the same condition. This new aspect to the Doctor / Ace relationship would have been more explicit if it wasn't that some TARDIS scenes were cut. The Doctor would have been shown to have dropped the forcefield to deliberately allow the advertising robot to materialise in the ship.
  • Some VFX shots were filmed of the robot approaching the TARDIS but the lighting was too low and they were dropped.
  • VFX magic - the Big Top was never set up on location (only the vestibule). What we see in that image at the top of this post is a foreground model that did make it to the quarry.
  • This story was really featured in the DWM partwork The Complete History. I was rather surprised that this failed to mention Ian Reddington's accident, when the metal cage door fell on his head and damaged his teeth. It's on the DVD release extras.
  • If Mags comes from a planet named Vulpana, why does she not turn into a werefox?
  • As written, Mags was originally going to have a strong Glaswegian accent.
  • Ricco Ross's rap marks a rare example of a piece of music written for the show that isn't incidental - in that the Doctor and company actually hear it themselves and not just us at home straining to catch the dialogue that is being drowned out. A couple of earlier examples include the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, and King John's bloodthirsty song in The King's Demons. We should mention that this story is the first to be scored by Mark Ayres, who has done so much to preserve vintage Doctor Who audio and sound effects. As well as performing with the Radiophonic Workshop members, he has become their archivist. Well done Mark.
  • Talking of music, the cast composed a song called The Psychic Circus whilst on location, which Ayres wanted released as a single. You can hear it on the DVD for this story.
  • Sylvester McCoy was a dab hand at illusions, thanks to his time with the Ken Campbell Roadshow, but for this story he was coached in the magic tricks by Geoffrey Durham - aka The Great Soprendo, and husband to Victoria Wood. Previously John Bennett had been coached for Li H'sen Chang's performances in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • At one point during recording at Elstree the fire alarm went off. The Fire Brigade turned up to find the cast of both Doctor Who and wartime comedy 'Allo 'Allo assembled to greet them.
  • This is the last time we get a full-on TARDIS interior scene in the Classic Series. Something will be cobbled together and kept deliberately dark for a very brief sequence in the next story.
  • At six words, this story has the longest title of any in the Classic Series. It remained so until the 2011 Christmas Special.