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The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is the fourth and final serial of the 25th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts on BBC1 from 14 December 1988 to 4 January 1989.

151[1]The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who serial
The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (Doctor Who), 1988.png
Ace and the Doctor at the Psychic Circus.
Directed byAlan Wareing
Written byStephen Wyatt
Script editorAndrew Cartmel
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerMark Ayres
Production code7J
SeriesSeason 25
Length4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast14 December 1988 (1988-12-14)
Last broadcast4 January 1989 (1989-01-04)
← Preceded by
Silver Nemesis
Followed by →
Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

The serial is set on the planet Segonax. In the serial, three Gods of Ragnarok force visitors of the Psychic Circus to put on acts for their amusement.


The Seventh Doctor and Ace are invited to the Psychic Circus on the planet Segonax. Aside from others that have been invited, the Circus is surprising empty; a few entertainers and stagehands are present alongside the Ringmaster and Morgana, the ticket seller and fortune teller, and the only audience is a stoic family of three, a father, mother and daughter. They quickly learn that they are expected to perform for the circus, and those that fail to entertain the family are annihilated. Escape is nearly impossible, as the Chief Clown leads a group of mechanical clowns around the wastelands of Segonax to recapture those that escape, aided by numerous kites used for surveillance.

In their arrive, the Doctor and Ace discover the corpse of Flower Child, one of the workers that had attempted to escape along with robot mechanic Bellboy, having been killed by a robotic bus conductor when she took shelter in its bus. Ace takes one of her earrings and pins it to her jacket as a keepsake. The Chief Clown later notices this and demands to know where Ace got it, and she flees into the circus, eventually finding Bellboy secured away. He recognises Flower Child's earring, but his memories have been disrupted when he was captured, but tells Ace he does remember there being more people at the circus. Ace helps to untie him and they take to hiding in a circus caravan, where Ace tries to help Bellboy recover his memory.

The Doctor, meanwhile, has joined with intergalactic explorer Captain Cook and his young female companion Mags, who had also been invited to the circus. They all are told that they will be expected to entertain in the near future by the Ringmaster. Mags joins the Doctor as he explores the circus to try to learn what really is going on. They find a well with a glowing energy source at the bottom, with an eye symbol similar to that on the Chief Clown's kites and Morgana's crystal ball. Just then, they are cornered by Cook along with several mechanical clowns, informing the Doctor is on next. The Doctor escapes encountering a worker named Dead Beat who has a medallion with the same eye symbol.

Eventually, he comes to the same caravan that Ace and Bellboy are hiding in. Ace has been able to help Bellboy restore his memories. In the past, Dead Beat, then known as Kingpin and owner of the Psychic Circus, had come to Segonax in search of a great power; in finding it, the power had driven him mad and caused him to enslave the rest of the circus to that power. The Chief Clown locates the three in the caravan, and Bellboy, feeling responsible for Flower Child's death as he had been forced to construct the robotic bus conductor, offers to sacrifice himself to let the Doctor and Ace escape.

The Doctor and Ace locate Dead Beat, and take him to the well. The Doctor recognises Dead Beat's medallion is missing a piece and believes it in the bus, and thus offers to cover for Ace and Dead Beat to look for it, while he takes his role in the ring. At the main tent, Cook says that the Doctor, he, and Mags are up next. Cook asks for a beam of moonlight to aid in his performance, but this instead reveals Mags to be a werewolf. However, instead of attacking the Doctor, the transformed Mags attacks and kills Cook. The family cheers, entertained by the violent display, and the Doctor and Mags are allowed to go. With no other entertainment, the family orders the Ringmaster and Morgana to perform, but they fail to entertain and are also killed.

The Gods of Ragnarok, on display at a Doctor Who exhibition.

Ace and Dead Beat recover the medallion piece from the bus, and once attached, Dead Beat recovers his Kingpin personality. Kingpin helps to defeat the Chief Clown and his robots before they return to the circus, only to find the Doctor is again been called to entertain the family. The Doctor has determined that the family are really Gods of Ragnarok, who feed on entertainment and kill those who do not satisfy them. The Doctor instructs Ace and Kingpin to throw his medallion, linked to the dimensional portal that the Gods use, into the energy well while he tries to give them time by performing for them. Ace and Kingpin complete this in time just as the Doctor is about to be obliterated; the medallion falls into the ring, as the well was a dimensional portal to it, and the Doctor uses the medallion to reflect the Gods' powers back onto them. The Doctor leaves the main tent as it explodes.

The Doctor regroups with Ace, Mags, and Kingpin. Kingpin and Mags decide to reclaim the circus and take it to a new planet to start it anew, and the Doctor and Ace say their goodbyes.


The character of Whizz Kid was created as a parody of obsessive fans.[2] Sylvester McCoy was coached in the magic tricks he performs in episode 4 by Geoffrey Durham, formerly known as the Great Soprendo.[2] This is the first story to feature music composed by Mark Ayres.

Owing to the discovery of asbestos at the BBC, which led to the temporary closure of various television studios, this story nearly met the same fate as that of the uncompleted Shada - that of being cancelled after the location work had been completed. However, a tent was erected in the car park of BBC Elstree Centre, where the crew completed all sequences previously scheduled for the studio.[citation needed]

Cast notesEdit

Director Alan Wareing provides the voice for the third God of Ragnarok in Part Four. Dean Hollingsworth as the Bus Conductor is credited for Part Three, but does not appear. Jessica Martin who plays Mags in this episode, briefly returns in "Voyage of the Damned" (2007) voicing Queen Elizabeth II. Ian Reddington, the Chief Clown, later played Nobody No-One in the audio play A Death in the Family. Harry Peacock, the brother of Daniel Peacock, who plays Nord the Vandal in this serial, later appeared in the 2008 episodes "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead" as Proper Dave.

Broadcast and ReceptionEdit

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [3]
1"Part One"24:2314 December 1988 (1988-12-14)5.0
2"Part Two"24:2021 December 1988 (1988-12-21)5.3
3"Part Three"24:3028 December 1988 (1988-12-28)4.9
4"Part Four"24:244 January 1989 (1989-01-04)6.6

The last episode of the story received the highest viewing figure of Sylvester McCoy's time in Doctor Who - 6.6 million against Coronation Street.[4]

Reviewing The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, Tat Wood described it as "a story with so much going right" and a sign of how he believed the show had improved since its mid-1980s period.[4] Noting how difficult the story had been to film, he stated "it was worth it. This is everything Doctor Who should be."[4] Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping said "The ideas in this, one of the most iconic stories, are very imaginative and the direction is psychedelic."[5]

In his 2015 book Unofficial Doctor Who: The Big Book of Lists, author Cameron K. McEwan wrote: "While certainly not underappreciated by Sylvester McCoy fans (all twelve of them), those who are less impressed with the Seventh Doctor's run will find much to enjoy in this four-parter." McEwan concluded "... the highlight is most definitely Ian Reddington's role as Chief Clown. A superb performance and, still to this day, one of Who's finest villains."[6]

Commercial releasesEdit

In printEdit

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
AuthorStephen Wyatt
Cover artistAlister Pearson
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
21 December 1989

A novelisation of this serial, written by Stephen Wyatt, was published by Target Books in December 1989, the same month the final episode of the original Doctor Who series was broadcast.

Home mediaEdit

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was released on VHS in January 2000. The Region 2 DVD release was on 30 July 2012, completing the DVD releases of Seventh Doctor stories.[7] This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in Issue 113 on 1 May 2013.

An unabridged reading of the Target novelisation was released on 1 August 2013 by BBC audiobooks and read by Sophie Aldred.

Soundtrack releaseEdit

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Soundtrack album by
LabelSilva Screen
Mark Ayres chronology
Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who: Ghost Light
Doctor Who soundtrack chronology
Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who: Ghost Light

Music from this story by Mark Ayres was released on CD in 1992 by Silva Screen Records.[8][9][10]

Track listingEdit

  1. Introduction: 'Doctor Who'
  2. The Psychic Rap
  3. Invitation to Segonax
  4. Bellboy and Flowerchild
  5. A Warning
  6. Fellow Explorers
  7. The Robot Attacks
  8. Something Sinister
  9. 'Welcome, One and All!'
  10. The Circus Ring
  11. Deadbeat
  12. Eavesdropping
  13. 'Let Me Entertain You'/Stone Archway
  14. The Well
  15. Powers on the Move
  16. Sifting Dreams
  17. Survival of the Fittest
  18. Bellboy's Sacrifice
  19. Plans
  20. The Werewolf/'Request Stop'
  21. The Gods of Ragnarok
  22. Playing for Time
  23. Entry of the Psychic Clowns
  24. Liberty Who
  25. Psychic Carnvial
  26. Coda: Kingpin's New Circus
  27. Epilogue: 'Doctor Who'

An edited suite of music from the story was also released on the series 50th Anniversary album from Silva Screen.


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the four segments of The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories and also counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this story as number 155. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ a b "BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - Details".
  3. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Wood, Tat (2007). About Time 6: Seasons 22 to 26 and TV Movie. Illinois: Mad Norwegian Press. pp. 274–90. ISBN 0975944657.
  5. ^ "BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - Details".
  6. ^ McEwan, Cameron K. (2015). Unofficial Doctor Who: The Big Book of Lists. Race Point Publishing. p. 152. ISBN 1631060422.
  7. ^ "DVD Update: Summer Schedule". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  8. ^ Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (CD Booklet). Silva Screen. 1992. FILMCD 114.
  9. ^ Ayres, Mark. "Mark Ayres - Doctor Who Incidental Music". Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2008. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. ^ "Millennium Effect". Retrieved 5 October 2008.

External linksEdit

Target novelisationEdit