‘It was your show all along, wasn’t it?’ This one falls apart in the final episode, but it does so quite entertainingly. McCoy’s ability to vamp for the Gods of Ragnarok is a scene that none of the other Doctors (barring, perhaps, Pertwee at his most vaudevillian) could have pulled off quite so well, and even if I don’t really follow what the Gods’ plan is, buy that the Doctor’s been battling them ‘all through time’, understand how Kingpin’s eye medallion is able to destroy them or why they keep shooting at the Doctor when it’s just bouncing back at them (the Emperor Palpatine manoeuvre), it’s all enormous fun to watch.
It sticks in my throat a bit, but I wonder if this wouldn’t have been one of the occasions where a bit of continuity might have been justified: you could substitute the Celestial Toymaker (another entity feeding off others’ creativity that had, apparently, been battling the Doctor through time) for the Gods and add a frisson of fan-service which wouldn’t be inapt in the anniversary series. On the other hand, it wouldn’t really make any more sense of the episode’s plot.
As a sequence of interesting visuals and amusing scenes, the episode works well: the deaths of the Ringmaster and Morgana; the Doctor plunging through a strange dimensional shift into the Gods’ realm; the Chief Clown confounded by a grumpy local; the Captain appalled at being called a bore, and coming back from the dead; the Doctor striding nonchalantly away from the destruction of the circus are all brilliant. It’s less than the sum of its parts, but the parts are good enough for it not to matter much. The Hinchcliffe era couldn’t stick its endings either. More troublesome, for me, is that some of the dialogue is inaudible in the circus ring scenes.
And in the midst of all this, we get Chris Jury doing his “Doctor recovering from post-regenerative trauma” act and teaming up with Mags to form a mirror of the Doctor and Ace. I’m surprised Big Finish haven’t done a series with the two of them wandering the universe righting wrongs. The show hasn’t yet become obsessed by Ace – she’s largely fulfilling a normal companion role (or at least 1970s normal, when Manning, Sladen, Jameson and Ward would carry chunks of the plot), and Aldred’s doing a fantastic job. I really like the moment when she takes the lead in luring the Chief Clown into a trap, and the way she plays Ace’s reaction to his death: the implication is she was trying to stop Bellboy’s killer robot before it could kill the Chief Clown, and failed. The new series would have made this clearer through the direction and staging, but here it’s all in Ace’s response to Mag’s, ‘For a moment I thought you weren’t going to be able to make it stop.’
And that’s another season finished. Contemporary ratings-twitchers might have gladdened to see it ends with the show’s highest audience (6.6 million) since Season 22. Or maybe they just enjoyed the series finally finding the fresh approach JNT has been striving for since Season 18. Personally, I’ve enjoyed Season 25 as much as any other series of the show: I love its ability to move between quirky oddness and big action set pieces, often in the same story, in a way it hasn’t particularly done since 1974. I love this version of the seventh Doctor: eccentric, turn-on-a-penny from silly to sombre, constantly underestimated by his opponents, surprising himself with his own rabbit-out-of-a-hat solutions. The balance between the brightness of Season 24 and the “darkness” of Season 26 feels, to me, just right, and there’s a healthy iconoclasm to the show’s past that wasn’t there a couple of years previously. If they can keep this up we could be heading into the best-ever Doctor Who run.
Next episode: Battlefield