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Big Finish 261.Doctor Who:The Psychic Circus review

As a huge fan of the 7th Doctor story Greatest Show in the Galaxy broadcast in December and January 1986 I really looked forward to hearing this new audio adventure. Its described as a prequel and a sequel. In Greatest Show in the Galaxy story Bellboy, the creator of the robots and kites of the Psychic Circus had his mind broken by the evil that had controlled the circus people. He blamed the people who ran the Circus led mainly by the Chief Clown.

But Bellboy also remembered earlier better times when the circus began with Flowerchild, Panpipe, Juniper Berry and Kingpin. So in this story, we are taken back in time to before the circus arrived at Segonax to see the roots of how the circus came into being.

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…

The 7th Doctor returns to Segonax

Stephen Wyatt treads familiar ground with this story as he revisits some characters we already know. It’s nice also to see that he plays with time, as the same Doctor visits Segonax at two different periods even though it may affect crossing his own timeline. This is the first Sylvester McCoy I’ve personally listened to from Big Finish and although he isn’t a favourite Doctor of mine it really is as if I’ve stepped back in time to Seasons 25 and 26 of classic Who. Sylvester McCoy revels in playing the interested affable Doctor with the touch of the showman. He starts literally learning to juggle lots of balls but using that as a shield to hide his vast intelligence when confronted with old enemies.

As the Doctor has vague memories of his first visit to the circus it is set after Ace leaves and I quite like the fact he is on his own for this adventure as it gives him more interaction with our characters. The junk mail beacon robot becomes his focus into the story becomes his companion of sorts, a mystery to be solved. The robot starts as an annoying salesman personality but then deviates between devious, childlike, pleading and goading until it becomes apparent that the robot is being controlled by a far more powerful malignant influence.

The Psychic Circus from Big Finish
The Psychic Circus from Big Finish

The Master and his masters

I must admit that I didn’t know that the Master was in the story ( I don’t read every synopsis I have to be honest as I’d rather discover things on my own!) I haven’t heard James Dreyfus before and I rather enjoyed his sinister interpretation of the old foe although his involvement felt a bit small league for his character. The early connection with Kingpin and the way the origins of the circus was set in motion had me intrigued initially. However, my interest tailed off a bit like the Master’s motivation for being in the story seems questionable aside from being unable to resist annoying and playing with the Doctor. His involvement with the Gods of Ragnarok could have been expanded upon a bit more and also how the use of the psychic energy created the changes that occurred.

The origins of the Psychic circus

As an origins story, I suppose it is right it starts with Kingpin and Juniper Berry who are the characters who together create the circus. Both free-spirited wanderers dropped off on a planet called Zamyatin which is where their troubles begin. I rather enjoyed Chris Jury resurrecting Kingpin, who in Greatest Show in the Galaxy, seemed rather side-lined for much of the story as Deadbeat. Kingpin is happy to spread the ideals of universal peace and love without worrying too much about the motives of others. So much the global hippie and far more trusting and idealistic than his girlfriend Juniper Berry. He’s a reluctant leader in waiting and I enjoy the way the Master’s influence changes him and affects the direction of the circus and the relationship with Juniper Berry.

We travel the universe with our songs, magic tracks and we like to make people happy – Kingpin

Juniper Berry is a character who is mentioned very briefly by Bellboy in Greatest Show but here she is expanded on to show she is far more intuitive to the reactions of others and grounded than Kingpin. She loves the ideals of peace and love as much as Kingpin and when she tries to persuade Panpipe to be a part of the “collective” circus its meant as a positive gesture, the creation of something good. Her uneasiness at being on Segonax and staying there, however, becomes more palpable as she has “bad vibes”. Her final conversation with Kingpin is a favourite moment of mine. It feels so true of troubled relationships.

Juniper Berry is far more suspicious than Morgana, who also appears in the story. Morgana was the fortune teller in Greatest Show and here sees the success of the circus grow but seems a little wearier as she sees the original aims of the circus become slowly subverted by others. I really liked Morgana, played by Sioned Jones, who has had the empathic gift of foresight since a child. She is looking to belong somewhere, make people happy too and is swept up in the excitement of what the circus could be.

Sioned Jones also plays the Minister of High Seriousness on the planet Zamyatin who is a tyrant of order and when Kingpin in his vernacular inappropriately calls her “hey lady” and “hey babe” it’s not going to end well as both Kingpin and Juniper Berry are sent for retraining as model citizens. I think I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the planet Zamyatin showing the clash of a dictatorship and peaceful universal belonging but the escape from there is all resolved quite efficiently.

The Clown with dreams

Ian Reddington returns as the Chief Clown and he is one of the highlights being brilliantly creepy. He is able to convey here with his voice all the eeriness he originally exhibited visually with the make-up, costume and hand gestures in Greatest Show. The Doctor meets him in a strangely familiar place and the clown is even then totally bonkers because of his desire to be the greatest clown that ever lived. There is a lovely touch with the mention of the poster for the psychic circus when the clown first sees it and then later Juniper Berry. There is something damaged shown in the level of mania and fixation the clown has which Ian Reddington brings hauntingly out. The clown explains why he is as he is but he still gives me the shivers. We see his progression from clown to Chief clown where he is ripe for manipulation as he rises up the ranks and guides the circus folk along a path where all the original values of the circus become twisted.

I don’t want to go on doing the same things. I want to surprise, amuse and yes sometimes scare somebody a little- Chief Clown

The incidental music

The synthesiser beats music by Steve Foxon harks back to the original score by Mark Ayres and is rather marvellous. I wanted to relisten straightaway.

Highlights

The 7th Doctor first meeting the Chief Clown.

The junk mail robot develops a split personality.

The Doctor and Master first meeting.

The neat joining of this story with the tv serial.

If you are a fan of Stephen Wyatt and the Greatest Show in the Galaxy this is a simple treat – 7/10

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