Friday, April 19, 2013

7J4 - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy 4

I possibly spoke ill of John Nathan-Turner in the previous post, but, really, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is one of his greatest triumphs as a producer. Threatened with cancellation thanks to asbestos removal in BBC Television Centre, JNT rallied the troops and managed to remount the production on the parking lot at BBC Elstree when no other recording situation seemed possible. He even suggested the somewhat bombastic title for this story, and it speaks more that it suggests: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. It reflects Nathan-Turner's great love and passion for the show he was running, even though he longed to leave its glitzy grasp and had been looking for new and different opportunities for years.

The star of this episode though, and the whole story, is Sylvester McCoy. Wonderfully talented enough as he is, he adds magic tricks to his already impressive repertoire here, and there has never been a more iconic image for his Doctor - for any Doctor - than McCoy casually and confidently strolling out of the Psychic Circus tent seconds before it explodes in a massive display of pyrotechnics. It's a stunt that would never, ever be performed today because of the insurance risks involved, but McCoy, always keen to do his own stunts, performs the stunt flawlessly, especially when you consider that, with the set being destroyed by the explosion, the scene could only have been done on a single take.

Much like Stephen Wyatt's other story though, Paradise Towers, I have a hard time deciding whether this story is a creepy pantomime or just pantomime, which is another one of Nathan-Turner's loves. It's also, more or less, the last story of its kind, the small sub-category dubbed by fandom in subsequent years as "oddball stories". Season 26 took on a slightly darker bent, then the franchise got even more dark and grim in the original novels that followed in the 1990s, an approach that carried on through to the new series. I could never say I was a fan of these oddball entries into Who lore, but I appreciate them for what they are - yet another different approach to storytelling that Doctor Who has somehow managed to pull off to remain fresh over the decades. Even in its 25th year on television, it was trying to do something weird and wonderful, and for that, and for many other reasons, this story and the programme that it's a part of is just lovely.


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