Posted in Audio by - May 06, 2019

Released August 2011

Originally released as a digital download exclusive to readers of Doctor Who Magazine issue 419 in March 2010, ‘Freakshow’ by Mark Morris was later released as the final of three stories included in The Companion Chronicles: The Specials box set. Although The Companion Chronicles was originally intended to serve as a vehicle through which to revisit and explore the eras of the first four Doctors, ‘Freakshow’ features Fifth Doctor companion Turlough narrating the events of a recent adventure and a strange traveling show in 1905 Arizona into an evidence pod.

Whereas the previous bonus story ‘The Mists of Time’ somewhat awkwardly announced with its framing device that it was narration to be told in the fashion of a story, ‘Freakshow’ much more quickly and determinedly allows Turlough to simply relay the events that befell him at Thaddeus P Winklemeyer’s carnival of bizarre creatures. While the fact that the creatures are in actuality alien is hardly a surprising development, it’s the setting within the Old West and the fact that this story takes place following ‘Enlightenment’ at a time when Tegan is still inherently distrustful of Turlough given his recent affiliation with the Black Guardian that give this an extra layering due to how little both aspects have been explored in the audio medium. Indeed, the evocative and descriptive prose brings out the unique beauty and relentlessness of the desert to grand effect, especially as Turlough must make a grueling trek across its seemingly unending lengths. The subtle sound design that adds nuance to the setting also helps to develop the exotic collection of creatures, and ‘Freakshow’ on a foundational level is all the stronger for it.

Strangely, the actual villainous motivation is somewhat muddled and has little to do with the actual freakshow except to use it as a smokescreen of sorts. Winklemeyer has an undeniable talent for getting people to hang on to his every flourished word and pay him the utmost attention, and the prospect of passing off the aliens as deformed humans whom he can cure with his elixir of life is an intriguing premise. However, the fact that he is telepathically projecting an image of the individuals being healed and that he instead is trying to encourage the spread and ingestion of his substance for more nefarious means make his plan seem unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome compared to the much more direct methods assuredly available to someone like him. Still, Toby Longworth gives a beguiling and appropriately menacing performance as the traveling American showman, and it’s in large part because of his vocal stylings that the plot remains so engrossing even when the pacing slows and the resolution relies a bit too much on a previously-undisclosed extension of power that takes away some of the narrative impact.

As expected given his superb performance in ‘Ringpullworld,’ Mark Strickson excels not only with recapturing the unique mannerisms of Turlough but also with allowing further exploration of the often-tense relationships that existed aboard the TARDIS at this time. While it’s unfortunate that Longworth and Strickson don’t share more direct interactions and that Turlough is somewhat sidelined at the climax, there is no doubt that Strickson remains a captivating narrator whose versatility and energy simply don’t disappoint. ‘Freakshow’ is ultimately a fairly generic Doctor Who story that doesn’t take too many risks, but two strong central performances and an evocative setting and sound design make this a uniquely satisfying instalment in its own right and more than serves its introductory purpose for the range as originally intended.

  • Release Date: 8/2011
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