The Doctor and Mike "Asshole" Yates are still trapped in the basement, but thankfully Asshole is letting the Doctor speak of much more entertaining things, like as he continued his wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey battle against these freakishly aggressive alien wasp bastards in tales of ever-increasing horror and ever-decreasing cutaways to the basement...
Hornets Nest III: The Circus of Doom
"It's fair to say that I had been in trickier situations, but also that I'd been in far more relaxed ones..."
Determined to get on with the plot, the Doctor reveals how he plugged the ballet shoes into the TARDIS so it could track them through time and space to the next part of the story: 1832 in rural England. Unlike the previous two installments, this is much more traditional, with the TARDIS landing somewhere, the Doctor getting out and wandering around meeting people. It's a format this series has been loathe to embrace so far but, thankfully, this is coupled by completely sidelining Richard Franklin's character. Mind you, I'm wondering if it isn't so much Paul Margrs' making the character unlikeable, but Franklin himself. I tried to listen to his monumentally retarded story The Killing Stone (seemingly a kind of "If *I* Had Written Tom Baker's Debut" by Franklin featuring the Delgado Master and a kidney stone that can power his tissue compression eliminator), it shows Yates as exactly the same kind of petty-minded little bastard capable of horrifyingly Chathamesque behavior - like Mike demanding Benton rake down the gravel drive of Mike's house even though he invited Benton round for a party. Frankly, the whole thing stinks of sub-Sparacus characterization and a kind of Pertwee fetish while completely missing the point. It's atrociously written, too.
But enough of this!
Arriving in a deserted rural village and, for once, knowing that there's evil skullduggery afoot, the Doctor checks out the local shop for local people and discovers from Sally the shop girl that everyone's having a lie-in after staying up all previous night at the travelling circus, the Circus of Delights. Only Sally and her incredibly paranoid father missed the show, believing it would be all kinky crap and moral decay. The Doctor boggles at this incredible Mary Whitehouse style reaction to the idea of a bearded woman and a foreign-sounding ringmaster.
Sally freaks out, convinced the Circus is pure nightmare fuel and the Doctor finally decides to leave her to her nervous breakdown while he checks out the circus for himself. The circus folk and animals are all asleep too after the night before and, after admiring the lions and elephants, he bumps into another doctor - Adam Farrow, who's arrived to collect his sister who ran away to join the circus. The Doctor almost pisses himself laughing at this cliche (pausing to confirm a theory I've long held that he was the main character in that comic strip The Stolen TARDIS about how the circus came to Gallifrey... though this means the Doctor's true name is "Plutar"... no wonder he can't tell anyone) as Farrow rants that his sister is too cultured and refined to waste her talents with these filthy gypsies.
The Doctor's good humor takes a battering from Farrow's paranoid xenophobia, reminding us all that rural English villages aren't the place to go for open-minded folk - "I didn't feel offended by him," the Doctor later notes, "I rarely feel offended by anything. It isn't worth the energy." - but he is getting a bit worried about the insects buzzing in the bushes. But then, he's probably right to be.
Returning to the town, the Doctor observes the villagers finally get out of bed and glaring suspiciously at his eccentric and anachronistic outfit before they gossip that they all intend to return to the circus for the rest of the week on the promise of a completely different show every night before it moves on. The show was a huge hit, particularly the ringmaster Antonio known as "the Goblin Man". All this "twittering" (a bit of a pun there, surely?) about pyramids of elephants, cannibal clown funerals and Farrow's bearded sister on the high wire lure Sally from her shop to join the crowds heading to the pitch and the Doctor follows her. He's quickly disturbed that all the returning customers are acting with an incredible lack of decorum and more like a cross between fangirls and soccer hooligans - allowing a couple of monkeys to kidnap some of the townsfolk.
After one of those patented "Doctor and enemy exchange lingering glances across a crowded room but never exchanging a word" scenes with the Goblin Ringmaster, the Doctor is unsurprised to hear the buzz of hornets inside the dwarf's head. As they enter the main tent, the Doctor bumps into Farrow (who's spent all day getting drunk and shouting about chavs) as they take seats above the cages of the lions and tigers. To his own surprise, the Time Lord finds the circus "marvellous" - until the dancing horses arrive, being ridden by the kidnapped townfolk showing inhuman and unexpected gymnastic skills...
Antonio the Goblin Man changes tactics and this time ASKS for a volunteer, and of course it's Sally that emerges from the audience for the next act. The Doctor instantly spots she's been hypnotized, and since Antonio knows all about her sneaking away from her father, it's not exactly difficult to suspect who did the hypnotizing. As this Papa Lazarou shit continues apace, Sally's initiation rite consists of being engulfed by wasps that belch out of Antonio's every orifice. With the rest of the audience agog, the horrified Doctor dives into the fray.
"I don't dance, I don't care to make a spectacle of myself," the Doctor sneers, showing we share similar feelings about certain Moffat episodes. Antonio reveals that the hornets intend to suck all the evil emotions in poor Sally, bluntly reminding the Doctor how little he knows about his recurring enemy in this series. Then, some super-strong hornet-fueled clowns grab the Doctor and drag him over towards a stuffed lion also animated by the hornets, much to the enjoyment of the audience. The Doctor is then humiliated as his head is forced into the lifeless lion's mouth, just to remind him how powerless he is this time. Antonio gloats that this near-miss of death is a catharsis the Time Lord really should enjoy...
But, even circuses run by hyperintelligent alien wasps need toilet breaks and in the interlude the Doctor grabs Sally and busts out of the tent, telling her to find someone NOT hypnotized and get help. Farrow saunters up at this point, still drunk, and reveals that those pensioners doing cartwheels on ponies are dead and their crumpled, wasp-infested corpses stuffed in a wheelbarrow during intermission. The Doctor agrees to help Farrow get his bearded sister out of this madhouse. Alas, his sister is sick of Farrow as we are, and refuses to quit the circus on the say so of the hornets' ancient enemy the Doctor ("Ancient? ME?! Cheek!").
After listening to the bearded lady rant how absolutely and completely magnificent she is in every possible way, the Doctor calls her an idiot for basing her career plan on mind-controlling insects - what's more, we all know she'll come to a particularly nasty end, since she's wearing a familiar set of ballet shoes which will one day end up in a jar of formaldahyde... along with her severed feet. The Doctor, of course, has great fun telling her this: "THIS I HAVE SEEN!" he roars at her, convincing both Farrow siblings he is completely barmy. Eventually the Doctor and Farrow bugger off before the bearded lady summons the clowns to beat them up, Rodney-King-style.
Retreating to Farrow's surgery in the village, the Doctor spends the rest of the night explaining the plot to Farrow, who turns out to be so boring the Doctor is the one who dozes off before morning. Alas, it seems that Sally and countless others disappeared during the night thanks to the hornets' influence, intending to turn each villager into hosts for the wasps and spread across the Earth. Farrow, finally understanding all this time travel business, begs the Doctor to cheat history and save his hirsuite sister. But the Doctor refuses point blank with the same bluntness he will one day use to justify such interference in Waters of Mars while simultaneously considering just a course of action. Ooh, you couldn't make up coincidences like that, could you?
Heading back to circus, the duo have to get past a gaggle of irritiating old bats who can't make their minds up whether to be frantic over missing friends and family or get all the gossip from the Doctor about how it is to work in the circus. Arriving at the encampment, the Doctor storms into Antonio's distinctive golden-painted caravan, finds the ruddy midget in bed in his extra-small bed and instantly hypnotizes him in five seconds flat. Full fist there, Doc.
Antonio reveals he was an unloved Venetian dwarf before he teamed up with the hornets and used their psychic powers for fun and profit, and thus immediately hunted down everyone who ever insulted his stature and burnt out their brains. The moral of the story is to never bully a 13-year-old person of reduced height unless you're SURE such bullying won't attract emo-vampire alien bugs who will possess said 13-year-old and inspire him to go on a serial killing rampage on revenge. But the Doctor is gobsmacked when Antonio recalls, one night on the canals of Venice, watching a blue box materialize out of thin air, unleashing the hornets upon the Earth.
The realization that this is all - in every possible way and sense - his fault floors the Doctor almost as much as when the hornets emerge from Antonio, leaving him an empty, brain-dead husk. The bugs attack the Doctor, who flees the caravan, only to be instantly captured by the clowns the moment he steps outside and is flung into a cage with Farrow, Sally and the old bats from the village! Gosh, it's exciting! Now in a particularly foul mood and no longer interested in mollycoddling these stupid apes, the Doctor breaks out of the cage, sends the ladies back to the village while he and Farrow stay in the deserted circus to face their destiny - or, at least, his sister's...
His sister is, at present, trying to strangle Sally for daring to try and flee the establishment. Realizing the bearded lady is now lost, the Doctor sparks a huge punch-up and in the confusion Sally escapes with her life while the beard lady escapes onto the high wire, and the Doctor must follow. "I've never been keen on heights," he sighs, in a funny aneurysm moment if ever I've heard one. With all the insects now concentrated in their hirsuite host, all the clowns and circus folk are now free from their infestation. But not dead. Well... um, good?
The insects gloat that this is all the Doctor's fault and - just to screw with him that extra little bit - they decide to make her dive off the tripwire and die since "corpses complain less" about being possessed. Returning to the ground level, the Doctor gets evil looks from all concerned since he's the cause of this death, and the Doctor forces himself to walk away, knowing the devastated Farrow will collect his sister's corpse - not realizing it is the new nest of the hornets - and ultimately her severed legs will end up in a seaside musuem and cause the events of the series so far. Even if Farrow doesn't, the hornets can easy get the dead body to dance to safety. The Doctor meanwhile collects Antonio's body to try and ensure as few hornets as possible are left in 1832, the Goblin Man's mummified corpse turned into a novelty garden gnome at the Time Lord's cottage.
At this point the story goes downhill as Asshole returns, chirpy as ever and seemingly unable to wrap his brain around the concept this wasn't a happy ending. "So the gnome was a real man, Antonio the Ringmaster?" he deduces cunningly, seemingly unaware the Doctor told him this fact. I mean, a second earlier. I mean, COME ON! "You're right, these stories of yours are getting positively darker," Asshole adds, as if trying to get his own dialogue by scavenging random words used earlier in the scene. He's certainly not paid enough attention to get the fact the Bearded Lady was doomed, or how upset the Doctor is about her ultimate fate. Has he REALLY been listening to the story we heard? I mean, it's like this bridging material was done by someone totally unaware of what the narrative was going to say.
"You know me very well," the Doctor sighs when Asshole makes his next inuitive leap that the Time Lord 'felt responsible' for the highwire incident. I'm not sure whether to critique Tom Baker for a one-note performance, but the fact he's rhyming every line with a resigned "Well done, Baldrick" is completely believable. He's probably pining for that intellectual giant Harry Sullivan. Oh, if only Ian Marter were still alive, it would be brilliant and not half as agonizingly tedious.
Asshole assumes that Antonio was lying about the TARDIS releasing the hornets in Venice, despite having no reason to do and no evidence so far the hornets even know that the Doctor travels inside a blue box. "I'd hypnotized him, remember?" sobs the Doctor in despair at this stupidity, leading Asshole to realize there is ANOTHER story to tell! No shit, Sherlock! "I sense another tale in the offing," he adds.
SHUT UP YOU UTTER MORON!!
As Asshole leaps to the conclusion that - since they are under siege from the hornets - that he might SOMEHOW come into contact with the bugs they've been discussing all night, the Doctor agrees to tell one more story, which will keep the idiot quiet until dawn at least where hopefully he can die horribly at the stings of the hornets. "I might as well gather all the intelligence I can." I'm crying as I hear this, I really am. Oh god, where's Jym de Natale when you need him!?
What the fuck? Asshole's just burst into tears! "What's wrong with a nice happy ending?" he wails as the Doctor reveals the next story, set circa 832 AD, is the freakiest of the lot. When the Doctor tries to cheer him up by pointing out it's nearly Christmas (... my god, he's RIGHT!) Asshole all but screams, "I IMAGINE WE'LL ENDURE A GOOD DEAL OF HORROR IN THE MEANTIME!?!" (Obviously Asshole wasn't paying attention to the Sycorax, Rachnoss and SS Titanic, going against part one where he notes he's heard a lot about the Tenth Doctor's exploits... but then, this is an Asshole with the attention span of a used teabag).
And on that note the story ends.
I really enjoyed it. Getting the Doctor to act like the Doctor instead of Tom Baker (travelling through time and battling zombie monsters instead of hanging around holiday destinations flirting with women of all ages) works in every respect, with Baker sounding more like the Doctor - though mainly in the narration rather than the 'live scenes'. Circuses are just plain creepy, and its straightforward format allows the big twist it's all the Doctor's fault. This is a big thing, stopping it from being Dr Who on holiday fighting wasps into something personal, stopping it being a laughing matter and introducing some (god help me) gravitas. The Time Lord's enthusiasm and confidence is tempered and he's no longer treating it all with the frippery of "All you evil mind-controlling insects are all the same!". That'd be OK for one story, but five in a row would get boring and predictable which is, as we know, the one thing Tom Baker would NEVER tolerate.
I'm looking forward to the next story but, as the Doctor sadly notes, after that we're stuck with Richard Franklin's character full time and that's something I find myself dreading a HELL of a lot more than being turned into a walking wasp nest...