The Doctor chases the alien hornets back to a traveling circus in 1812, where they have “recruited” new circus performers from the local populace by possessing their bodies. This includes a woman who, under the hornets’ control, becomes a high-wire performer whose cursed dance shoes will someday be inherited by Ernestina Stott. The Doctor discovers that the hornets have made their nest in the ringmaster of this circus, but when he confronts the aliens this time, he discovers that they not only resent his interference in their plan to take control of humanity, but they also grudgingly credit the Time Lord for making their conquest possible in the first place…
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Susie Riddell (Sally), Michael Maloney (Farrow), Jilly Bond (Francesca), Stephen Thorne (Antonio)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Things improve even more in this third installment of the Hornets’ Nest cycle, which has a foreboding atmosphere from the outset and a creepy setting to match. Like the previous Hornets’ Nest adventures, it has its moments of overbaked ham (this time courtesy of both Mr. Baker and Mr. Franklin), but Paul Magrs’ script arrives right on target.
It’s hard to go wrong with the basic premise of a sinister traveling circus (just ask Ray Bradbury), and this story takes full advantage of the whole millieu of imagery that you’d expect, from creepy clowns to the cliffhanger-worthy moment of the Doctor being forced to stick his head in a lion’s waiting mouth – something that I could actually see happening alongside many other iconic cliffhanger moments in Baker’s tenure on TV. Baker is on increasingly fine form here, with fewer detours into indulgent silliness (though they’re still there). The script offers less indulgence too, to give credit where it is due: things are gradually becoming more serious, and when we learn how the alien hornets came to infest the future ringmaster of this circus, it’s a moment that’s both dramatically satisfying – in a kind of classical Greek tragedy way – with its inevitability, and also horrifying in its shock value. That Baker plays this crucial scene deadly serious helps matters immensely, for it reveals that the grim events taking place can be blamed at least partly on the Doctor himself.
If Magrs and Baker can arrive on the same page with the next installment, it may justify the entire Hornets’ Nest cycle. Circus Of Doom leaves me stoked enough to immediately move on to that next installment.