The Psychic Circus

Posted in Audio by - February 13, 2020
The Psychic Circus

Released February 2020


In 1988’s twenty-fifth anniversary season that saw the return of the Daleks and Cybermen as well as a brutal piece of social commentary, ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ provided a wholly unique and yet vital experience as Doctor Who turned the focus on itself and its public perception after years of mounting pressure and declining ratings. Filled with vibrant characters and settings and featuring an immense threat that highlighted the Seventh Doctor’s scheming nature, it’s perhaps no surprise that this serial has become such a favourite of the era, and Big Finish and original writer Stephen Wyatt now reveal the origins of the Psychic Circus in a sequel from the Doctor’s viewpoint in the aptly-titled ‘The Psychic Circus.’

Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor underwent much more character growth than most incarnations both during and after his televised tenure, his latter episodes hinting at a far darker and manipulative version ready to break through the more overtly comedic exterior he first showcased. It’s fitting then that, just as ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ explored the franchise as a whole, ‘The Psychic Circus’ in many respects celebrates the many facets of this particular version of the Doctor by allowing McCoy to be both light-hearted and menacing in equal measure as the entirety of his lifespan is brought into focus. Doing so does mean that the Doctor is relatively separated from the core narrative of the circus in a manner that at times does seems a little too unfocused and rambling, but the end result as the Doctor comes to realise just who is behind these events that began so innocuously with a robotic advertisement incessantly asking him to verify that he is the owner of the spaceship is a memorable journey that proves just how far the Seventh Doctor has come since his earliest days on screen.

Of course, the cover makes it no secret that James Dreyfus returns here as the earliest known iteration of the Master. In what is only his third appearance in the role following his debut in ‘The Destination Wars’ alongside the First Doctor and his return in ‘The Home Guard’ with the Second, Dreyfus quickly proves again just how menacing and hypnotic his version of the iconic foe can be no matter the setting, a menace heightened all the more effectively by the script’s decision to keep the Master himself a shrouded presence for the majority of the tale and to let the voice itself set up the intrigue behind The Psychic Circus that will eventually lead what began as a noble endeavour to the sordid state of affairs the Doctor and Ace would come to see on screen. Dreyfus and McCoy share an immense chemistry in their brief time together here that perfectly encapsulates the vengeful deviousness of the Master and the complicated relationship that exists between these one-time friends that has again been proven to transcend beyond any one individual performance or pairing as was the case on screen.

Although being familiar with the source material does help to further understand the outcome of this tale of corruptive influence, the strong performances from the supporting cast certainly help ‘The Psychic Circus’ stand on its own merit as well. That these events are so tragic for these well-intentioned dreamers is unsurprising given the known events of the future, but Ian Reddington perfectly plays a lifelong pursuit of becoming a clown with a notable laugh to replace his televised flourish, Sioned Jones wonderfully brings great nuance to her fortune-telling Morgana who can sense the darkness that is yet to come, and Chris Jury and Anna Leong Brophy as a free-spirited couple effectively set the scene for the far greater mystery on this world that supposedly houses a perfect society. While overall ‘The Psychic Circus’ might not be quite as tightly scripted and cohesive as other stories, especially as the Doctor’s journey to truly join the main action takes him so far afield, the strong performances and effective sound design perfectly convey the requisite emotion to make this unexpected celebration of the Seventh Doctor’s long and varied life a wholly enjoyable success as both a prequel and a sequel to a much-loved classic tale.

  • Release Date: 2/2020
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