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The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Season Number: Season 25
Story Number: 152
Doctor: Seventh Doctor
Companions: Ace
Enemy: Gods of Ragnarok, Chief Clown, Robot Clowns
Setting: Segonax, The Psychic Circus
Writer: Stephen Wyatt
Director: Alan Wareing
Broadcast: 14th December 1988 - 4th January 1989
Format: 4 25-minute episodes
Previous Story: Silver Nemesis
Following Story: Battlefield
"Deal with me as you dealt with Flowerchild!"

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy was the fourth and final story of the anniversary Season 25.



The Doctor and Ace head for the Psychic Circus on the planet Segonax, where they meet a disparate group of performers and visitors, including a self-centred explorer named Captain Cook, his companion Mags, and a biker known as Nord.

The Circus itself is dominated by the sinister Chief Clown and his deadly troupe of robot clowns, who organise a talent contest in which all visitors take part. The audience consists of just a single strange family - mother, father and daughter - seated at the ringside. Although hindered by the treacherous Cook, the Doctor eventually discovers that the Circus hides a terrible secret: the family are in reality the Gods of Ragnarok, powerful creatures with an insatiable craving for entertainment who invariably destroy those who fail to please them.

With Ace's help, the Doctor ends the Gods' influence on Segonax and returns the Circus to the control of its original owners.



Part 1

Ace and the Doctor discover that junk mail persists into the far future: a small robot that unexpectedly appears in the TARDIS console room proves to be an advertising drone for the Psychic Circus on the planet Segonax. The Doctor is delighted at the chance to see it and bring his companion. Ace, who is frightened of clowns, does not want to go, but the Doctor insists.

Flowerchild and Bellboy, circus performers on the run from the Psychic Circus, are fleeing across Segonax's barren wastes, but they are being tracked by a sinister Chief Clown. The runaways agree to split up, and Flowerchild alone reaches an abandoned bus crewed by a deactivated robot. Inside the bus, she finds an odd box, which she pockets--unaware that the robotic bus conductor has seen her and re-awakened. As the robot attacks and kills her, one of her earrings falls onto the ground...

The TARDIS materialises on Segonax. The only sign of life readily apparent to the travellers is a roadside stand run by a jaded and cynical woman, who warns them off the circus. Disregarding the woman's advice, Ace and the Doctor press on towards the circus.

Meanwhile, the Chief Clown has continued the hunt for Bellboy using some sinister observational kites. Bellboy's luck runs out--the clowns have found him, and promptly bundle him in the back of a car for transportation back to the circus.

As the Doctor and Ace continue down the road, they find other visitors making the trek. A futuristic motorcyclist named Nord impresses Ace, though the feeling is not mutual. Further down the road, Captain Cook and his friend Mags, another pair of interplanetary adventurers, invite the Doctor and Ace for tea at their campsite. Ace and Mags find a deactivated robot nearby; it comes to life and attacks, but Ace manages to defeat it.

Nord arrives at the circus. He seats himself in the audience--near a father, mother, and little girl--and is surprised to find himself selected for the circus' "talent show" segment. He is escorted backstage, where he finds that he and the other contestants in the talent show are to wait... in a cage.

The Doctor, Ace, Mags, and Captain Cook stumble across the abandoned hulk of a bus, where Ace finds and pockets an earring. They are attacked by the same robot that killed Flowerchild--once again, Captain Cook lets the others defuse the threat. Disgusted by Cook's actions, the Doctor and Ace continue solo.

Mags and Captain Cook arrive at the circus after Nord, before the Doctor and Ace... and just in time to see Bellboy dragged into the ring to face punishment for his escape. Mags screams at the sight, but she is quickly silenced with an energy weapon, and she and the Captain are dragged backstage to the cage with the other talent show contestants.

Part 2

Ace and the Doctor arrive at the circus to find it nearly deserted: neither Nord, nor Mags and Captain Cook seem to be present. In fact, the only audience members besides themselves are the mum, dad, and little girl, who are still in attendance and seem not to have left.

Despite Ace's forebodings and the ticket seller's veiled hints, the Doctor again volunteers for the talent show and is delighted to be selected. As he is escorted backstage, the Chief Clown appears and brusquely asks Ace how she came by Flowerchild's earring. Panicked, Ace dashes away into the recesses of the circus. There, in an unused room filled with robot clown parts, she meets the exhausted and battered Bellboy--but she barely has enough time to hide from the Chief Clown, who enters and drags Bellboy away to fix the robots that he apparently created.

Backstage in the cage, the Doctor is reunited with Captain Cook, Mags, and Nord. Captain Cook explains that their lives are at stake in the talent competition: they must perform to stay alive. He tricks Nord into performing next, to the Doctor's displeasure.

After Nord's performance ends in his failure and subsequent death, a young man arrives at the circus. Whizz Kid is a great fan of the circus and of Captain Cook, and has travelled to enter the talent show. He is escorted backstage by the ringmaster, where they find the cage empty except for Captain Cook: the Doctor and Mags, observed by circus janitor Deadbeat, have escaped.

Ace isn't so lucky--she has been recaptured by the Chief Clown. Playing on her phobias, he imprisons her in the room used to repair the robot clowns.

While wandering in some strange stone corridors adjoining the circus tents, the Doctor and Mags have encountered a large pit. Peering in, the Doctor is startled to see an enormous alien eye at the bottom of the pit... but he cannot investigate further, as Captain Cook and several clowns have arrived to take him directly to the circus ring for his performance.

Part 3

Ace, imprisoned and being menaced by ill-functioning clowns, faces her fears and defeats the clowns. In doing so, she finds that Bellboy is also being kept in the room. He reminisces sadly on the fate of the Psychic Circus: once a light-hearted and merry band of free spirits roaming the galaxy, their ideals became twisted and corrupted once they settled on Segonax. He is now a prisoner of the robot clowns he himself made; Flowerchild made the kites that hunted her to death. He gives Ace a present: a remote control for a large-scale android he built on Segonax.

Whizz Kid takes his turn in the circus ring. When, star-struck, he fails to entertain the audience, he is promptly killed.

The Doctor, who managed to slip away from his captors when Mags staged a distraction, meets Deadbeat and finds an unexpected spark of sanity in the man. He leads the Doctor through the tangle of tent corridors... and to the room where Ace and Bellboy are being held. Bellboy, his memory jogged, recognizes Deadbeat as Kingpin, the Circus' former leader. In despair as he realises the extent of what he and the other circus performers have lost, Bellboy sends away the Doctor, Ace, and Kingpin, and orders his robots to kill him as they killed Flowerchild.

Ace, Kingpin, and the Doctor make their way back to the pit with the mysterious eye. There, Kingpin shows them that the eye is connected with a mirrored eye medallion that he wears. But the medallion is incomplete: its eye sigil lacks an eyeball. The Doctor and Ace realise that the missing piece must have been what Flowerchild died trying to retrieve from the abandoned bus. The Doctor sends Ace and Kingpin to fetch it, while he stalls for time by taking his turn in the ring--a desperate attempt to placate whatever in the circus is relentlessly demanding entertainment.

Back in the cage with Mags and Captain Cook, the Doctor suggests that all three of them enter the ring together, lengthening their survival time if they work together. The Captain initially agrees, but once in the ring, asks for a crescent-moon-shaped spotlight, and stands by as Mags begins a ferocious transformation... smugly informing the Doctor that he really should have deduced that Mags is a werewolf.

Part 4

The audience is not amused by the spectacle of Mags attacking the Doctor as Captain Cook and other circus performers watch, and claim the lives of all but Mags and the Doctor. Mags re-transforms into a girl, and the Doctor quickly briefs her on the plan and sends her to find Ace and Kingpin. Meanwhile, he will prepare for his performance.

Ace and Kingpin have reached the abandoned bus. Ace is attacked by the conductor-robot, but Kingpin suddenly remembers how to defeat it--permanently. The two retrieve the missing piece of the medallion and head back towards the circus.

Mags meets them on the way, but she is being pursued by the Clowns' sinister car. The three realize that they must evade or defeat it, and Ace hatches a plan.

The Doctor confronts his adversaries: the three audience members, who are the Gods of Ragnarok. Extradimensional beings who feed on entertainment, they have now brought the Doctor to their home dimension, from which no escape is possible. The Doctor declares that he is not afraid of them, and begins a series of conjuring tricks.

Ace, Kingpin, and Mags have reached the old robot in the desert, the one Ace and Mags had previously defeated. They crouch behind it as the clowns approach, taunting them--but Ace uses Bellboy's device to control the robot, and the clowns are incapacitated. The friends dash to the clowns' car and head back to the circus, which they find strangely deserted. They see Captain Cook's body, laid out in state, but can't find the Doctor--which Kingpin thinks might be because he is trapped in the Dark Circus, accessible through the stone labyrinth.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is indifferently successful in entertaining the Gods of Ragnarok: he is still alive, but the Gods declare that they are running out of patience.

Kingpin, Mags, and Ace reach the pit in the stone labyrinth, but Kingpin cannot bring himself to use the medallion. As Mags and Ace attempt to talk him into it, he is suddenly pushed aside--by Captain Cook, who was feigning death. Cook claims the medallion, but Ace rushes him and knocks it into the pit... where it re-materialises by the Doctor's feet. The Captain blunders into the pit after it, while the three travellers flee into Segonax's wastes.

The Gods attempt to kill the Doctor, but he is able to deflect their weapons with the medallion, and the arena he is in begins to crumble. He mock-bows to the dying Gods and calmly walks out of the arena, back into the Psychic Circus back on Segonax, which disintegrates as he leaves it, and joins his friends as they watch the destruction from a safe distance.

Kingpin declares that he will re-start the circus and bring it back to its lighthearted roots. Mags opts to join him; she is initially uncertain that she can control her changes, but the Doctor assures her that she can. Kingpin invites the Doctor and Ace to join and explore the galaxy, but they have galaxies of their own to explore...




  • Mags is a werewolf-like alien.
  • The Doctor knows the Gods of Ragnarok, and says he has fought them "all through time".
  • Ace tries on the Fourth Doctor's scarf and Mel's blue and white polka dot jacket.
  • The Doctor entertains the Gods of Ragnarok with sleight-of-hand conjuring tricks.

Foods and Beverages

The Doctor's Items

  • The Doctor produces a variety of items as part of his magic show, including a scarf, a length of rope, and an egg.


  • Captain Cook spends much time remembering planets he has visited including; Lelex (the natives are Monopods), Dioscuros, Inphitus (where the Galvanic Catastrophods are 'not what they were'), Leophantos, the baleful plains of Grolon, Fagiros (where the Architrave of Batgeld showed Cook his collection of early Ganglion pottery), the Bay of Paranoia on Golobus, the gold mines of Katakiki and Periboea. He also visited Vulpana where he met Mags, he recommends the frozen pits of Overod, says that Boromeo has 'bouncing Upas trees' and Anagonia 'singing squids', and shares the Doctor's love of tea from the Groz valley on Melogophon.
  • Various posters state that the Psychic circus has visited Othrys, the Boriatic wastes, Marpesia and the grand pagoda on Cinethon.

Story Notes

  • An asbestos scare at the BBC studios prompted the idea of a story that could be shot outside the studios: inside a large tent and out of doors.
  • This story was originally a three-parter but was expanded, at the request of the producers, to four.
  • Ben Aaronovitch suggested the character that became Captain Cook.
  • Whizz Kid, the fan character, was a deliberate parody of Doctor Who fans.
  • Sylvester McCoy was coached in magic by Geoffrey Durham, otherwise known as the Great Soprendo, for the sleight-of-hand and other magic trick scenes.


  • Part 1 - 5.0 million viewers
  • Part 2 - 5.3 million viewers
  • Part 3 - 4.8 million viewers
  • Part 4 - 6.6 million viewers


to be added

Filming Locations

This story was technically filmed entirely on location, although the main location was the car park of a studio.

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • This story was originally intended to be transmitted before The Happiness Patrol. When the broadcast order was changed, two continuity errors were introduced:



DVD, Video and Other Releases


A soundtrack album of Mark Ayres' score was released by Silva Screen Records on FILMCD 114.


Main article: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (novelisation)

See also

External Links

  • BBC - Doctor Who - The Classic Series - Episode Guide: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide - Detailed Synopsis - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
  • Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel) - A Brief History of Time (Travel): The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
  • The Locations Guide to Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Story Locations - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Season 25
Remembrance of the Daleks  • The Happiness Patrol  • Silver Nemesis  • The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

This article uses material from the "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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