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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Psychic Circus


Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99 (CD), £12.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 78178 871 4 (CD),
978 1 78178 872 1 (download)
Release Date: 31 March 2020

“Lots of fun for the family, at the Greatest Show in the Galaxy!” When a junk mail 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…

This audio drama is both a sequel and a prequel to The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, in that the Time Lord has already experienced the events of that Season 25 adventure, but the circus performers have not. The Psychic Circus reunites several of the contributors to that classic tale: Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Chris Jury as Kingpin/Deadbeat, Ian Reddington as the Chief Clown, and writer Stephen Wyatt. A junk mail robot, the Bus Conductor, Morgana the fortune teller and the Gods of Ragnarok also appear, but are played by different actors, while Bellboy and Flowerchild are mentioned but not heard. I do wonder why Mags and/or Ace could not also have been included as the Time Lord’s companion(s), to add to the reunion. Instead, the junk mail robot acts as a sounding board for the Doctor through much of the narrative. There’s no Ringmaster, either, but instead we have another Master…

Wyatt builds upon the rich backstory that he hinted at in his 1988 serial, during which various characters reminisced about the carefree good old days of the hippy circus, mentioning fascinating sounding former colleagues such as Juniper Berry (here portrayed by Anna Leong Brophy) and Peacepipe (here we have Panpipe and the escapologist Whydini, both played by Andrew James Spooner). Curiously, this follow-up doesn’t take us to the Boriatic Wastes, the Grand Pagoda on Cinethon, or any of the other intriguing places that the Psychic Circus was said to have visited prior to the original four-parter. Instead, we cut from the planet Zamyatin to Segonax, with a brief stopover at Paradise Towers, the setting of Wyatt’s other Doctor Who serial. Zamyatin makes for a suitably Seventh Doctor era creation – a world on which entertainment and enjoyment have been outlawed for being impractical and inefficient.

As with many prequels, the fact that we already know how future events will pan out hampers the possibility of a genuine sense of resolution, but Wyatt still manages to allow the Doctor a level of victory at the end. More serious problems are the fact that the Time Lord is prevented from arriving on Segonax for much of the adventure (of course, the characters in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy cannot remember him having been there before) and some rather underwhelming episode endings. The close of Part One doesn’t make much sense (about three minutes into Part Two might have made a better cut-off point), while the end of the second episode isn’t much of a cliffhanger, since we already know from the cover illustration and the blurb that the Master (James Dreyfus) is in this story (his confrontation with the Doctor three minutes into the third episode would have been more effective). The hero’s lack of direct involvement in the plot invites one to speculate how this prequel might have worked as a Doctor-less spin-off.

Chris Jury and Ian Reddington step back into their roles as Kingpin and the Chief Clown with ease, while Sioned Jones and Andrew James Spooner successfully stand in for Deborah Manship and Dean Hollingsworth as the original Morgana and Bus Conductor. Though Ace is not present, Anna Leong Brophy as Juniper Berry sometimes sounds uncannily like Sophie Aldred. While we’re talking soundalikes, Steve Foxon’s incidental music echoes Mark Ayres’s score for The Greatest Show in places, but also evokes the work of Roger Limb from an earlier era. While juggling, the Doctor hums Ethelbert Nevin’s Narcissus, a popular melody that was also heard in the television serial, though it’s a shame that Big Finish couldn’t use some of the same circus fanfares as before.

While there is much to enjoy in The Psychic Circus, a number of missed opportunities and plot shortcomings mean that this isn’t the greatest audio in the galaxy.


Richard McGinlay

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