Category: Doctor Who

Doctor Who episode 686: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – Part Three (28/12/1988)

‘Things are beginning to get out of control quicker than I expected.’ Appropriately for an anniversary story, this is nostalgic with Bellboy and Whizz Kid both eulogising a past that was better than the present. But while Whizz Kid is just going by rote like a good DWB reader, Bellboy is speaking from experience, and Deadbeat’s turn back into Kingpin implies that things can be good again if they stop making it for the impossible-to-please fans in the ring. I wonder if there’s a subtext?

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Doctor Who episode 685: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – Part Two (21/12/1988)

‘Now welcome folks, we’ve got a brand-new act. He’s a real find and no doubt that’s a fact. He’ll entertain you, he’ll make you stare, and our great new act is seated over there!’ Inevitably there are echoes of Paradise Towers. Nord is another take on Pex (with Padawan dreadlocks), the muscle-oaf; Mags looks and acts like a Kang; there’s something evil lurking in the basement, spreading its baleful influence through the once-happy travellers, and there’s a general air of something good having been spoiled, a pervasive sickness that infests every part of the Psychic Circus.

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Doctor Who episode 684: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy – Part One (14/12/1988)

‘He can’t help being a pompous, selfish, self-satisfied meddler.’ I’ve frequently pointed out one of the best things about Doctor Who is the way it puts things that don’t belong together side by side to generate memorable images and stories. Here, it’s a clown in an undertaker’s costume. It might be a reference to Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video, but it’s also a perfect encapsulation of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.

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Doctor Who episode 683: Silver Nemesis – Part Three (7/12/1988)

‘Doctor who? Have you never wondered where he came from, who he is?’ Lady Peinforte knows the Doctor’s secrets, of Gallifrey and the old time. So, a mysterious time-travelling woman of questionable morals who knows the Doctor, and likes to pick up handsome young men as she searches for ancient, hidden artefacts: Peinforte is clearly the final incarnation of River Song. Her threats are empty, in the end, because (implausibly but brilliantly) the CyberLeader isn’t interested, and so it’s just a shaggy-dog tale. The Doctor’s dark past doesn’t matter, it is irrelevant to who the character is.

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Doctor Who episode 681: Silver Nemesis – Part One (23/11/1988)

‘This may qualify as the worst miscalculation since life crawled out of the seas on this sad planet.’ The new series of Doctor Who begins here, with an episode that opens like it was written by Steven Moffat or Chris Chibnall. It jumps between global locations and times like The Pandorica Opens or Once, Upon Time as we’re introduced in quick succession to De Flores in 1988 South America, Lady Peinforte in 1638 Windsor, and the Doctor and Ace enjoying the jazz stylings of Courtney Pine. As it unfolds, the Doctor nips between locations like he’s walking between rooms – something that’s previously only really happened in City of Death. It’s dizzying, relentlessly bombarding us with images like the Doctor with a fez and mop, a meteor crash-landing in a post-industrial wasteland, Walkman-wearing assassins taking pot-shots, and Queen Elizabeth II taking the dogs for a walk.

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Doctor Who episode 680: The Happiness Patrol – Part Three (16/11/1988)

‘Everything’s beginning to fall into place.’ Oddly prescient, this, given Thatcher’s own astonishingly rapid betrayal and defenestration by her own people following the Poll Tax riots. As the Killjoys march on the capital and the ‘drones’ in the factories she’s built turn against her, Helen A is brought down by dissent in the Happiness Patrol ranks before she’s savaged by her own dead sheep of a husband. ‘A little local difficulty’ quickly turns terminal. All political lives end in failure.

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Doctor Who episode 679: The Happiness Patrol – Part Two (9/11/1988)

‘I am what I am.’ So, yes, it has got a gay subtext. ‘Night-time’s when they come out,’ says Priscilla P of the Killjoys, with a delighted shudder, and Susan Q “comes out” to Ace. Generally, though, I think it’s just wrapped into a broader sideswipe against Conservative politics (the workers are forbidden to enter the city, the Killjoys go on protest marches). I suppose Helen A having ‘controlled the population down by 17 per cent’ might be a comment on AIDS but probably isn’t. I’ve seen criticism that no-one on the Happiness Patrol actually smiles or seems to be happy, but for me that seems to be the point: no-one in power ever thinks the rules apply to them.

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Doctor Who episode 677: Remembrance of the Daleks – Part Four (26/10/1988)

‘I can do anything I like.’ It features the Doctor’s most complete victory over the Daleks since 1967, the most spectacular (and toy-free) Dalek-on-Dalek battle (including the hugely memorable Special Weapons Dalek), and some of the best practical effects the show’s ever done (the landing of a full-size Dalek shuttle). However, it ends at a funeral and a doubtful Doctor unable to reassure Ace that they’ve done good. This makes some sense of the obscure title: Remembrance Day comes with the implication “never again”, and of terrible and unconscionable sacrifices made for future generations to live in peace.

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