Season 25 (Dec 12 - Dec 18)

December 12: Remembrance of the Daleks Parts One & Two
December 13: Remembrance of the Daleks Parts Three & Four
December 14: The Happiness Patrol Parts One & Two
December 15: The Happiness Patrol Part Three / Silver Nemesis Part One
December 16: Silver Nemesis Parts Two & Three
December 17: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Parts One & Two
December 18: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Parts Three & Four

December 12: Remembrance of the Daleks Parts One & Two

Standard and special edition DVDs
It's quite a feat to make it to 25 seasons, and Doctor Who intends to celebrate this achievement.  So much so, in fact, that this opening story isn't even technically the 25th anniversary story and yet feels like it should be.152

While there was a definitely a feeling of renewed energy in season 24, one thing that season lacked was a sense of confidence -- you occasionally got the sense that they didn't quite know who they were making this show for anymore.  That's emphatically not the case for Remembrance of the Daleks, which is absolutely brimming with self-confidence and self-assuredness.  They've decided to make this show in a certain way and they're confident that the audience will come along for the ride.  (That the ratings are still down has more to do with scheduling Doctor Who against Coronation Street, one of the most popular television shows in all of Britain, for the duration of McCoy's tenure as the Doctor (matched with the fact that ratings at this point don't take into account people who record a show to watch it later) than with problems with the show itself.)

Setting this story in the same place and time as "An Unearthly Child" is a good move, as it gives everything a sense of history.  But wisely, writer Ben Aaronovitch doesn't dwell on that history but instead uses it as a backdrop for the actual story he's interested in telling.  There's some stuff about how when the Doctor was first there he left something called the Hand of Omega behind that the Daleks are interested in, but that's about as much understanding as you need to enjoy this.  This is a script that sparkles with wit and energy.  From Ace being confused about pre-decimal coinage to part one's climactic cliffhanger of a Dalek hovering up a flight of stairs, Remembrance of the Daleks is able to tell an exciting tale that's also thoughtfully scripted.  And we get some lovely dialogue exchanges as well: the Doctor's discussion with John in the café late at night is justly lauded, but there's also some sly fun-poking at the previous times Earth has been invaded by aliens:
DOCTOR: What do you make of that?...
ACE: A landing pattern for some kind of spacecraft, isn't it?
DOCTOR: Very good.
ACE: But this is Earth, 1963.  Well, someone would have noticed.  I'd have heard about it.
DOCTOR: Do you remember the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster?  Or the Yetis in the Underground?
ACE: The what?
DOCTOR: Your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched by only its ingenuity when trying to destroy itself.

The other good move that Aaronovitch has made is sidelining Davros.  I like Davros as a character, but he tends to overshadow the stories he's in; here we get someone who might be Davros (the chair looks about right and the voice sounds like a decent match, even if we don't get to see a face) in charge of the Renegade (grey and black) Daleks, but this story isn't about him -- it's about the Daleks.  No direct confrontations between the two Dalek factions yet, but the Daleks we do see are dangerous and powerful.  (Great extermination effect, by the way, with the skeleton of the squaddie briefly visible as he's blasted by the Dalek in the junkyard -- and yes, they've spelled "Foreman" wrong on the junkyard door, but oh well.  McCoy pronounces "Spiridon" wrong too -- ['spi.ɹɪ.dən] instead of ['spaɪ.ɹɪ.dən] -- but there's no need to get worked up about it.)

And while we don't get any real Dalek action yet, other than a few skirmishes, the script tries to mirror the Daleks' fascistic tendencies with some of the people we see: so Ratcliffe was apparently a Nazi sympathizer, while Mike's mother is a racist (judging from the "No Coloureds" sign hanging in the window of her boarding house) -- although, smartly, this sign is the only real indication that she's anything other than a standard old lady.  People, even friendly ones, can be monsters too, the script seems to be saying.

So these two episodes have action, character, and a good deal of intelligence.  If the last two episodes are like this, Doctor Who will have turned out one of its first bona fide classics in some time.

December 13: Remembrance of the Daleks Parts Three & Four

Nope, those first two episodes definitely weren't a fluke; Remembrance of the Daleks handily sets itself up to be a standout tale.  These installments are a little more action-packed, as we get to see some Dalek vs. Dalek battles and some skirmishes with people as well.  And like the first two episodes, there are a lot of intelligent moments throughout; the reveal that that Dalek chair thing wasn't actually Davros but was in fact the sinister little girl who'd been lurking in parts one and two is a nice bit of misdirection, while the Doctor's plan to move the military to Coal Hill School -- and thus away from the Dalek action -- is also well done, even if it turns out he's mistaken as to where the Imperial Daleks plan on landing.

It's also during the Coal Hill segment in part three that we get a conversation between the Doctor and Ace about the Hand of Omega (a Gallifreyan stellar manipulator -- "it's called that because Time Lords have an infinite capacity for pretension," the Doctor tells Ace).  Which wouldn't in itself be terribly noteworthy except for a line muttered offhand by the Doctor at the end: "And didn't we have trouble with the prototype."  It seems Nathan-Turner and Cartmel want to inject some mystery back into the Doctor, like in the old days before we knew he was a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, and so there are going to be some suggestions that he's (all the fans join in now) more than just a Time Lord.  It's not too bad here, although by Silver Nemesis it's going to get a bit irritating.

The Special Weapons Dalek. (Remembrance of the Daleks Part
Four) ©BBC
But like I said, there are some impressive set pieces, like the Daleks destroying Ratcliffe's warehouse doors (in a massive explosion that set off all sorts of car alarms and got the police involved, apparently), and while the Daleks are pretty terrible at hitting each other in their standoff (maybe we should assume they have some sort of projected energy weapon deflector built in), as a child I thought the Special Weapons Dalek was incredibly cool, and now that I'm an adult I find it just as cool.  And the Imperial Dalek shuttlecraft that lands is full-size!  Great job there.  And I like both how they've made the Emperor Dalek look rather like the TV Comic one and how he's revealed to be Davros -- which still gives Davros an appearance in this story without causing him to overwhelm the Daleks themselves.

Remembrance of the Daleks is a stylish, confident production that reinvigorates both the Daleks and the Doctor, as we see him plot against the Daleks in an effort to get them to destroy themselves.  It's fascinating to watch Sylvester McCoy's Doctor quietly and shrewdly maneuver his way through events -- it's a side of the Doctor that we've not really seen before, and one that works a lot better than any attempts to add mystery to the character.  All that and a proto-UNIT group that's just as entertaining.  Remembrance of the Daleks is a gloriously entertaining reaffirmation of the show's principles -- filled with a sense of history (like a 25th anniversary season story should be) but emphatically looking toward the future.  An outright classic.

December 14: The Happiness Patrol Parts One & Two

The first thing that struck me about The Happiness Patrol was how theatrical the sets look.  There are obviously painted backdrops and flats everywhere, and bits of scenery that look like they've been imported in from other productions -- the effect is to make this story look rather artificial, as if to highlight the metaphorical aspects of everything.  This does mean that the impact of the basic idea (a world where happiness, in the form of fake saccharine attitudes, is forced upon people) is greater than it otherwise might have been -- and the design certainly runs with this.  From the cracked pancake makeup on the Happiness Patrol to the costuming on all the Terran Alphans, there's a sense of a regime that's fading but nevertheless desperately holding onto the past.

Now as an American, it's hard for me to really know about how much this story is a comment on Thatcherism, other than what I've read.  And to say that The Happiness Patrol is primarily about Thatcher's approach to government looks like it's a narrow view indeed.  But it certainly seems that there is some Thatcher in this story, particularly in the portrayal of Helen A (and Andrew Cartmel and writer Graeme Curry have both admitted this was in the mix).  But what I find most interesting about Helen A so far is the Doctor's confrontation with her -- there's a bit of a sense that this seems wrong, in a story essentially about a revolution from the ground up, but that's what makes these scenes compelling.  The Doctor bluffs his way into Helen A's rooms, examines her and finds her wanting, and decides to move forward with his revolution, having determined that the problem is indeed at the top ("Population control?" he comments, upon seeing Helen A order an execution.  "... And which member of the population are you controlling today, just for the record?"  "A woman who disappointed me," Helen A replies haughtily.  "And how did she disappoint you, eh?" the Doctor presses.  "Oh, no, no, don't answer, no, no.  She enjoyed the feel of rain upon her face.  Or perhaps her favourite season was the autumn").

Of course, this sudden appearance in Helen A's office to pass judgement on her and then leave again just as quickly highlights one of the problems that's going to start reoccurring a lot in this final phase of the original series.  There's a sense that the scripts have been filmed without any real regard for length and then the video has been subsequently edited down to fit into the running time.  And so the Doctor jumps from location to location as the story needs him to, some of the extra character moments have been removed (notably, Earl Sigma is grinning vacantly at the start of part two, presumably because he's tried some of the Kandy Man's special candy, but then is freed from the Doctor as if nothing happened; later, upon tasting some crystallized sugar in the pipes under Terra Alpha, he comments, "Not good.  But I have tasted the real thing," which is not something we see in the broadcast version), and everything has been stripped down so that the story makes sense.  Some of the character scenes are retained (such as the Doctor's convincing the two snipers to throw their guns away just by talking to them -- "Look me in the eye, pull the trigger, end my life," he tells them at one point), but in general these scenes are gone in favor of keeping things moving.  The DVD says there are 23 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, which obviously includes footage that was transmitted (hence "extended") but nevertheless gives you some idea of how much material had to be cut.

A late '80s Bertie Bassett pin. (Image taken
from eBay UK)
So we've got a delightfully anarchic Doctor, intent on overthrowing a corrupt regime, and we see the fake facade, full of empty platitudes and gestures rather than genuine emotion, that this regime has created.  As I said, there's a theatrical feel that works here.  But then they go and throw in the Kandy Man, who looks an awful lot like candy manufacturer Bassett's mascot Bertie (there's certainly enough of a resemblance that Bassett's complained to the BBC after transmission -- check out the picture if you don't believe me) but is revealed to be a psychopathic killer.  In some ways the Kandy Man is completely at odds with what the rest of this story appears to be trying to achieve -- it's hard to figure out where a walking talking confection fits into the metaphor; surely the use of candy as an execution method is pointed enough without making the executioner himself actual candy -- but in other ways this story just wouldn't be the same without the character.  It's such an outrageous decision (and the Kandy Man's voice often sounds like a grating shriek, which somehow ends up making the Kandy Man even more outrageous than the design alone would suggest) that you can't help but admire it on some level.  That doesn't hold quite as true for the native Terra Alphans living in the pipes though -- the masks are very obviously masks -- although that might also be because their plot function isn't clear yet.  Helen A's pet Fifi has some really impressive animatronics though.

These are thus two episodes that are filled with interesting moments and fantastic acting (Sheila Hancock as Helen A is obviously good, but I adore Harold Innocent as the Kandy Man's partner (in more ways than one, it seems), Gilbert M), moving at an often breakneck pace.  One wonders how the Doctor is going to topple this government in the final episode.

December 15: The Happiness Patrol Part Three / Silver Nemesis Part One

The Doctor and Ace confront the Kandy Man in the Kandy Kitchen.
(The Happiness Patrol Part Three) ©BBC
And so, in a single night, the Doctor topples the Terra Alphan government, bringing an end to Helen A's policies and disappearances.  It's interesting how the Doctor goes about it; the way he both saves the protesting factory workers and gets the Happiness Patrol to turn on each other in Forum Square is rather inspired, and while his performance feels incredibly forced as he taunts the Patrol ("They can't shoot me because they see before them a happy man!"), one wonders if that's the point -- that even obviously fake jollity is still acceptable enough, so long as the facade is still there.

This episode really just shows us the result of all the things the Doctor has put into motion; the factory workers start revolting and taking over other factories, the Happiness Patrol seems to be ineffectual, and even Helen A contemplates fleeing the planet -- only to be thwarted by her husband Joseph C and Gilbert M having taken the presidential shuttle and left before she could.  And the Kandy Man meets his end in his own pipes when the native Alphans turn on the fondant surprise.  But the crucial moment for this story is when Helen A discovers the dying Fifi outside as she leaves (after a confrontation with the Doctor: "I'll go somewhere else," she tells him.  "I'll find somewhere where there is no sadness.  A place where people know how to enjoy themselves. ... A place where people are strong, where they hold back the tears.  A place where people pull themselves together") and bursts into tears.  Helen A, it seems, finally realizes that happiness is nothing without sadness.

The first couple times I watched The Happiness Patrol I didn't really like it, but this is a story that really grows on you.  The bizarre costumes and situations can be jarring the first time (not to mention the Kandy Man), but as you grow accustomed to them, the allegorical, angry side of this story is revealed.  And make no mistake: this is an angry story (in a way that a similar allegorical tale, Vengeance on Varos, wasn't), which makes no pretense of supporting or understanding this enforced happiness.  Happiness will indeed prevail, but not in the version we see on Terra Alpha.  It's a bizarre premise, to be sure, but it's one in which the characters all act how we might expect real people would act in a situation like this.  The more one watches The Happiness Patrol and absorbs its message, the better it gets.

But now it's time, at last, for Doctor Who's official 25th anniversary story -- Silver Nemesis, part one of which was broadcast on 23 November (the only anniversary story of the original run to get a broadcast on the actual anniversary day).  It's not a bad opening episode, even if it doesn't seem terribly anniversary-ish, but it is a little disjointed.  We have groups of people in different locations and time zones who are converging on 1988 Windsor, all to get some sort of special statue that's super-powerful when it reaches critical mass -- South American Nazis, a 17th-century villainess, and some blokes with guns wearing silver earmuffs.  This disjointed feel is present throughout the piece, as the Doctor moves from 1988 to 1638 just to explain some bits of the plot to Ace, and the end result of this constant switching between times and places is cosmopolitan (as Doctor Who usually isn't so open in scope in a single serial) but also unfocused.

Still, there are some good moments in this ("You mean the world's going to end and you've forgotten about it?"  "I've been busy", Leslie French, the bit with the Queen) as well as some daft moments (why does the Doctor think talking to the Queen is the best way to go about dealing with this sort of threat, and how exactly does Lady Peinforte travel into the future?153).  But the goodwill engendered so far means that Silver Nemesis is erring on the positive side, and even gags like the aforementioned Queen bits aren't too wide of the mark.  Plus we get to see Sylvester McCoy wearing a fez and wielding a mop (see 2010's "The Big Bang" if the significance of this eludes you) -- a coincidence to be sure, but an entertaining one all the same.  And we get a great cliffhanger reveal, as a spaceship flies in to reveal newly redesigned, gleaming silver Cybermen...

December 16: Silver Nemesis Parts Two & Three

The Cyber-Leader with his troops. (Silver Nemesis Part
Two) ©BBC
Part two continues the generally pleasant feeling established by part one, but this episode doesn't feel quite so choppy.  There are still some abrupt cuts and such (such as another trip back to 1638, this time for no good reason whatsoever), but in general it hangs together.  And as with the first episode, there are some good moments and some not-so-good moments.  I actually sort of enjoy the skinhead stuff, but I'm not at all sure why they're in this story to begin with.  The stuff with the Cyber-ship (both its arrival and the scene of Ace blowing it up) is executed well, though, and there's something marvelous about the Doctor blocking the Cybermen's signal with jazz.  Lady Peinforte and Richard also fare well here, with just the right amount of menace.  (If you're interested, you can spot writer Kevin Clarke in one of their scenes -- he's the only pedestrian at roughly 5'40" to actually react to two people walking down the street in 17th-century dress.)  Richard is in fact one of the highlights of the entire serial, giving us a common man's viewpoint after finding himself 350 years in the future, and he's tremendously watchable as a result.  And meanwhile the cliffhanger, with the huge Cyber-fleet revealed, is also pretty good.

Sadly, it all falls apart in part three.  Suddenly it turns out that the Doctor is in fact using the validium to set a trap for the Cybermen, but all the other villains obligingly wait their turn before charging in after Nemesis.  The subplot with de Flores and Karl borders on incoherent in the broadcast version (their motivations are clearer in the extended VHS version -- a version which curiously didn't make the transfer over to DVD, even though Battlefield and The Curse of Fenric both did (in improved versions, even)), and apparently Kevin Clarke's decided to turn Lady Peinforte into a raving lunatic, even though she seemed to be in complete control of her faculties when we last saw her in part two.  There's also the completely superfluous stuff with Mrs. Remington (a "celebrity" cameo, although you can be forgiven for not having any idea who she is -- Dolores Gray was apparently better known for theatrical work than anything else), which does go on a bit without contributing anything whatsoever to the plot.  This might have been acceptable in a four-part version, but this is another story with 22 minutes of deleted and extended scenes and so anything as unnecessary as that sequence should have been cut down to the bone.

This is also the episode with the incredibly daft idea that throwing gold coins at Cybermen is fatal to them, which means we get an action sequence of Ace running around with a slingshot, taking down Cyberman after Cyberman with a handful of change.  The gold arrowheads were ludicrous enough, but this is just risible.  And each group of villains, as previously noted, waits their turn before being defeated: first de Flores and Karl, then Lady Peinforte, and finally the Cyber-Leader.  The Peinforte stuff also involves a threat about revealing the Doctor's secrets, revealing things about "Gallifrey ... the old time, the time of chaos" -- which is frankly taking this idea of reintroducing mystery into the character too far too soon.  It feels clunky, and while bringing up the "Doctor who?" question isn't bad, the rest is just awkward.

But anyway, the whole thing ends with the Doctor tricking the Cyber-Leader into believing that the Nemesis statue is under the Cybermen's control and then using it to blow up the Cyber-fleet.  "Just like you nailed the Daleks," Ace remarks, which just makes one wonder why a story so similar to Remembrance of the Daleks (the Doctor uses an ancient Gallifreyan artifact to destroy the plans of an old foe) was allowed to make it to full production in the first place.  The ending music is nice though.

They went through all sorts of hoops to ensure that Silver Nemesis would be broadcast on Doctor Who's 25th anniversary (including rearranging the running order when they learned that coverage of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul was going to delay transmission of the season by a month), but you have to wonder why they bothered.  Other than the constant silver references and Nemesis's 25-year orbit, there's nothing about this to suggest that this is an anniversary story, and worryingly, the final result is barely worth the effort.  It's a pale shadow of Remembrance of the Daleks, rendered perfunctory and occasionally jarringly choppy by the three-part format.  It just about manages to hold together for the duration, but upon reflection it's ultimately disappointing on a number of levels (scripting, design, publicity -- even some of the acting).  This is easily the weakest tale of season 25.

December 17: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Parts One & Two

Ah, is there anything more late '80s than the rapping Ringmaster who opens this story?  People occasionally level accusations of racism over this (since the Ringmaster is the only person who raps in this story and is also the only person who's black), but I think that's overstating the case.  Insensitive, certainly, but as of its time as casting white actors as Oriental characters and taping their eyes back in the '60s (which is obviously racist, but at least we know better now).  And besides, it looks more like they're just trying to come up with a more hip interpretation of a Ringmaster than one might see in a traditional circus, and this is the decision they've settled on.

The rest of this story is quite involving.  The Doctor and Ace don't even make it to the Psychic Circus until the start of part two, but that's okay, because it gives us a chance to get a feel for this place and the rules it's operating under.  The locals (well, the Stallslady, at least) evidently don't like the Circus because of the people it attracts, while something very sinister appears to be going on at the Circus itself, what with the two employees fleeing (chased by a clown driving a hearse) and the fact that they have to trap patrons in order to make them perform in the ring.  (Lousy first cliffhanger, by the way: they could have stopped ten seconds earlier, on Mags's silent scream, but instead the actual cliffhanger is the Doctor saying to Ace, in a peeved tone, "Well, are we going in or aren't we?"  Yeah, that's the thing you want to end on for a week...)

There's also a feeling of hippy sensibilities being overwhelmed by more mundane responsibilities present throughout these two episodes.  The abandoned bus, painted with all sorts of psychedelic colors and patterns, but in a crude, homemade sort of way, is a symbol of that, and the clothes everyone's wearing adds to this feeling.  (Bellboy, for instance, sort of looks like he's wearing an elaborate bellboy costume, but also looks like he's wearing one of the Beatles' jackets from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.)  It also shows up in the dialogue.  "We were really into personal expression and the Circus gave us a chance to develop ourselves by expressing our individual skills," Morgana tells the Doctor, while the conversation between Morgana and the Ringmaster points out how the Circus has changed:
MORGANA: It wasn't always like this, was it?  Not before we came to this dreadful place.  We used to have fun.  We were free spirits then.
RINGMASTER: We are now.
MORGANA: You think so?  It feels more like we're part of a machine.
RINGMASTER: Look, we're not leaving, if that's what you mean.
MORGANA: We must!
RINGMASTER: You keep saying that, but you haven't gone, have you?
MORGANA: I tried, but–
RINGMASTER: Listen, just as long as they keep on coming, and they will, no doubt of that, we are a success.  Don't you understand?  An intergalactic success.  Now, the others, they couldn't take the pace, that's all.  Bellboy, Deadbeat, Flowerchild, the rest.  Don't you understand?  They wanted to live in the past, the old lazy way.  Not us.  We'll make the Psychic Circus known everywhere.

And of course we meet some of the other people heading to the Circus: a ruffian named Nord, a nerd called the Whizzkid, and an explorer named Captain Cook with his "specimen" Mags.  Captain Cook is a boring blowhard, but he also seems to be much more devious and underhanded than you might otherwise expect -- he's only ever thinking of himself.  Mags is a lot nicer, even if she seems to have some sort of secret.  Still, it makes for an interesting menagerie of characters.

I should also mention the look of thing.  The ring itself is rather small, but there seem to be lots of tent corridors, all lit and shot atmospherically (on account of their shooting in a bunch of tents erected in a parking lot, as there was an asbestos scare in the studios during production).  It looks fabulous, and I like the way it all seems to go on forever.  There are also hints of some other power holding sway over the Psychic Circus, as the Doctor and Mags find a strange well that seems to have been around for a very long time, with some sort of eye inside.  Not that they have time to find out more, as in the second cliffhanger Captain Cook has led the Circus's clowns to the Doctor and Mags, so that they'll go into the ring before he does...

December 18: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Parts Three & Four

The Captain and Mags. (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Part Three) ©BBC
One of the impressive things about this story that I didn't mention last time is how good the characterization is.  You really get a sense of who these people are -- Bellboy, who's upset that it's stopped being fun; Morgana, who wants to leave but can't; Deadbeat, whose mind has been fractured by whatever he saw in that well; the Chief Clown, who is a willing partner in the Psychic Circus's killings... everyone is clearly defined, and wonderfully, everyone is well acted. Even characters like the Captain, who's designed to be rather stuffy and tedious, come through better on the other side.  (Incidentally, one of the best bits was something I'd never noticed before: when the Captain begins to launch into another one of his anecdotes while he, the Doctor, and Mags are in the ring, the Doctor interrupts with, "Captain Cook! ... You're not only a scoundrel and a meddling fool, but you're also a crushing bore."  A comment to which one of the robot clowns behind the Captain reacts by placing a shocked hand over its mouth, which genuinely made me laugh.)

It's been suggested that you can read this story as a comment on Doctor Who (so Captain Cook is Star Trek, as someone else who's been all over the galaxy, the Whizzkid is a parody of more obsessive fans ("Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be, but I'm still terribly interested"), the Gods of Rrrrrrrrragnarrrrrrrrok are the BBC...), and while that's true -- and some of the dialogue points in that direction -- there's a more interesting way of reading The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.  It's a story about the fading of '60s idealism, and how compromises had to be made as the hippies grew up and settled down.  But whereas The Happiness Patrol was angry in its exploration of its themes, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is more melancholy; it's not (necessarily) saying that it's a bad thing that the counterculture movement moved on, but that it's sad how that innocence was often exploited by less scrupulous people.  "It was to have been my masterpiece," Bellboy tells Ace about a robot he made, "but like everything else, it was... it was abused and went wrong.  We had such high ideals when we started.  We shared everything and we enjoyed making people happy."  And then later: "They took everything that was bright and good about what we had, and buried it where it will never be found again."

The Chief Clown and his robot minions bid farewell to the Ringmaster
and Morgana. (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy Part Four) ©BBC
In this sense The Greatest Show in the Galaxy succeeds by presenting its theme in a slightly askew way and then exploring it -- making it allegorical rather than a straightforward analysis.  And because it's allegorical, it can have its cake and eat it too: the Doctor might not be able to defeat the capitalist usurping of counterculture imagery in real life, but here he can confront the Gods of Ragnarok (who, fittingly, aren't "interested in beginnings; you're only interested in endings").  They represent the audience, always wanting more -- and note how they're dressed like a typical family in the Psychic Circus -- and becoming angry when their continual quest for entertainment is arrested in some way.  (Representing, perhaps, the public's desire for '60s innocence and psychedelia, repackaged in safe, consumable bundles.  Well, maybe; if we take seriously the suggestion about the theme as being loss of innocence, then the Gods are somewhat difficult to fit into the pattern.  Unless you want to see them as the system that takes everything in, uses it up, and then demands more, but even that's a bit of a stretch, and it doesn't quite match up with the craving for entertainment.  Proof, if nothing else, that this story is operating on multiple levels.)  And since the Gods lack imagination, they can't entertain themselves.  The final confrontation between the Doctor and the Gods is interesting because all the Gods care about is entertainment, and while the Doctor gives them what they want for a while, he decides to leave while he's on top.  "I have fed you enough, Gods of Ragnarok," the Doctor declares, "and you found what I have to offer indigestible.  So I have taken myself off the menu.  La commedia è finita!"154  And when they turn their ire against him (in the form of lightning bolts), he reflects them back at them, causing them to destroy themselves (in what's a rather nice scene of collapsing masonry and such), while he casually walks away from the exploding circus.155

The thing that really makes this story work is all the levels it's operating on.  It can be viewed as a simple tale about the Doctor saving a circus from the evil they unleashed.  It can also be viewed allegorically, as I've just described.  But the thing is, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy works from all these viewpoints -- there's something for everyone; even if you're just looking to be scared, there are lots of creepy clowns to fit the bill.  And it's a tribute to everyone involved that this is as successful as it is -- there's hardly a wrong line or move in the entire piece.  Considering the pressures the production was under (the relocation of the studio scenes mentioned last time), the fact that this comes out as well as it does is impressive.  As season 25 began a strong note, so it ends on one as well: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is a triumph of script, direction, acting, and design.

This means that season 25 gives us a show that's finally back firmly on its feet again.  There were moves in this direction last season, but they were often marred by uncertain presentation and delivery -- there's none of that here.  Season 25 is brimming with energy and self-confidence, and it's also willing to take risks, comfortable in the knowledge that the audience that's still left will come along with them.  It's somewhat difficult to imagine another season with stories as widely different from each other as these four -- but the thing that binds them together, other than the superficial qualities, is that they're almost all about something.  The writers (all new, with the exception of Greatest Show's Stephen Wyatt, who wrote Paradise Towers last season -- but that's still pretty new) have decided to use Doctor Who as a platform for ideas that they can explore, rather than just to write something to fill the time slot.  (In fact, it's worth nothing that the only story that doesn't seem to be also working on a separate level is also the least successful story of the season.)  This gives these stories an added impetus, and happily, the people working on these scripts are on the same page, contributing to the highly successful realization of it all on screen.  Season 25 has Doctor Who back on form again -- now, whether anyone's still watching is a separate problem...


152 This feeling gets more acute when you get to the actual 25th anniversary tale, Silver Nemesis, which, other than featuring a handful of cameos (in long shot, so it's not like you can tell anyway) and a plot that revolves around 25-year periods being important, feels like it could have been shown at any old time.  In the days before Internet, when PBS was showing these without any extra fanfare, my father refused to believe that Remembrance of the Daleks wasn't the genuine 25th anniversary story and that Silver Nemesis was.  It's not hard to see his point.
153 Actually, this second point will be explained in The Curse of Fenric -- although, as this isn't Moffat-era Who, this looks more like a lame attempt to explain a problem after the fact rather than a preplanned clue.
154 In case you're unaware, this is the final line of Pagliacci.
155 The story goes that they told McCoy that there would be a small explosion as he walked away.  He apparently wasn't expecting the much larger explosion that actually happened, but to his credit gave no reaction until the take was complete.