Monday, May 3, 2010

Issue #17: The Idiot Box Part II (The Whoniverse)

Before we begin, kindly take a listen to the following bit of music. Listen to the whole thing. To make it really fun, close your eyes while you listen and imagine being around 5 or 6 years old, sitting in front of the television in your living room. It helps if the living room in which you're sitting is circa 1963, and in Great Britain, but it doesn't really matter. Just do your best.



For millions of Britons over the age of 50 or so, that theme brings back lots of memories. And not all of them are good. My friend Vicki recalls that hearing those first notes filled her with terror and sent her hiding under the kitchen table. Another friend, slightly braver, would huddle on the couch peering at the television from behind a blanket pulled over his head.

The show to which that theme belongs is Doctor Who. Launched in 1963 on the BBC, it ran uninterrupted until 1989 before taking a break and reappearing in 2005. It is still on the air today, and is as popular now as it was in its heyday.

In case you aren't familiar with Doctor Who, here is a tidy description courtesy of the invaluable Wikipedia:
The program depicts the adventures of a mysterious, humanoid alien known as the Doctor who travels through time and space in his spacecraft, the TARDIS (an acronym for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which normally appears from the exterior to be a blue 1950s British police box. With his companions, he explores time and space, faces a variety of foes and rights wrongs.
Doesn't it sound exciting? It is. Which is why Doctor Who is considered the most popular sci-fi television show of all time.

What makes Doctor Who especially fun is that the story lines are bizarre, the characters are odd, and the special effects are fabulously low budget (at least in the show's first run).

What has any of this to do with clowns? Let's get right to that. It is not surprising that clowns have made several memorable appearances on Doctor Who. Nor is it surprising that those clowns have been creepy.

The first time Doctor Who encountered mischievous clowns was in 1966 in a story called "The Celestial Toymaker." I should tell you that most Doctor Who stories consist of several episodes, unlike traditional series that either have new, unrelated episodes each week or that carry one story line through an entire season.

"The Celestial Toymaker" consists of four parts: "The Celestial Toyroom," "The Hall of Dolls," "The Dancing Floor," and "The Final Test." Only "The Celestial Toyroom" features clowns prominently, but because I don't wish to leave you hanging I will tell you about the other three bits as well.

"The Celestial Toymaker" features actor William Hartnell as the Doctor. Hartnell was the First Doctor. There have been 11 Doctors to date, and it's a HUGE deal when a new one comes along. We'll talk about that in the next section. All you need to know about that right now is that William Hartnell was the First Doctor. And yes, the number is always capitalized. I didn't do that just for fun.

Something else you need to know is that quite a number of the early Doctor Who episodes have gone missing. This tragedy we can blame almost entirely on Equity, the actors' union, which limited the number of times a television show could be broadcast and the time span in which they could be shown at all. With either the broadcast limit reached or the time span run out, it was felt that there was no need to keep copies of the episodes and so they were erased to make room in the archives for newer programs. All in all, 108 out of 752 episodes are missing.

This is very sad.

The good news is that a number of the lost episodes have been recovered, usually in the form of tapes that were sent to various foreign outlets for broadcast and later found in archives, desk drawers, or personal collections. Others have been unearthed at estate sales and in the attics of former BBC employees who had no idea what they were.

Most recently it was reported that a number of missing early episodes are believed to be in the possession of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, as the country (then Rhodesia) broadcast the first season of the series in its entirety. Unfortunately, Mugabe is not fond of the United Kingdom and has refused to let researchers look for the tapes in the country's television archives. Jackhole. That's Mugabe as a Dalek (the Doctor's oldest and most ruthless enemies) on the right. No, I didn't make it. I stole it from the Sun.

I bring up the issue of the lost episodes because three of them are the first three episodes of "The Celestial Toymaker." But before you rend your garments in despair, let me tell you that all is not lost (See what I did there?) Production stills and audio recordings of the shows exist, and the enterprising folks at the BBC have pieced together some of the lost episodes so that we may once again enjoy them.

This is a bit like listening to radio shows. For those of you too young to remember such things, radios were magic boxes that told stories. This is a picture of me and some of the other kids from the orphanage tuning in to Doctor Who.

Okay, it's not. But radio shows are still awesome. When I was a kid I had a whole series of records (you probably don't know what those are either) of a famous American radio show called Let's Pretend. It ran (under several different names) on CBS Radio from 1928 to 1954. Every week a group of voice actors presented a classic fairy tale. I know, it sounds boring. But it so wasn't.

In the 1970's a bunch of the Let's Pretend shows were issued on records and my mother got them for me. They had freaky cover illustrations that I loved, and I used to listen to them in my room on rainy days. This was totally awesome and so much better than playing video games or shooting smack.

The Let's Pretend shows were mostly wonderful, but occasionally they freaked me out. The one that freaked me out the most was "Faithful John," which is about a king's servant who is so loyal that he allows himself to be turned to stone in order to save the king from death. It's all very gruesome and complicated, and the sound effects terrified me.

I know you will want to experience the terror for yourself, so here is the show in its entirety. And should you want to listen to more Let's Pretend episodes, you can find them here.


Where were we? Right. The missing Doctor Who episodes that have been reconstructed are rather like episodes of Let's Pretend. We hear the audio played over still images, with occasional stage directions thrown in to let us know that, say, the Doctor has run away from one of the clowns who is chasing him with a cleaver.

Okay, that never happens. But there are stage directions from time to time.

Now that you have some idea of what watching "The Celestial Toymaker" is like, we can begin.

Part 1 ("The Celestial Toyroom") opens with the Doctor in the TARDIS with his companions Steven and Dodo. The Doctor always travels with one or more companions. Usually they're pretty women or handsome men. In this case, one of those things is true. I'll let you decide which one. Here is a picture of Steven, Dodo, and the Doctor.

For some reason the Doctor becomes invisible, fading in and out for no apparent reason. This is distressing to Dodo, primarily because she is an overly-anxious person and needs a slap. It is also very handy, as the producers and Hartnell were apparently quarreling over something and they were looking for a clever way to get rid of him if need be.

At any rate, he's going invisible. Then the TARDIS materializes in the court of the Celestial Toymaker, who apparently is an old enemy of the Doctor. He dresses like he's starring in a community theater production of The Mikado, and even though he looks like Timothy Dalton he isn't he's Michael Gough, who you might be more familiar with from his role as Alfred the butler in the Batman movies.

The Toymaker starts things off by taking two clown dolls out of a big dollhouse he has in his room. Magically, the clown dolls grow into life-size clowns, which is creepy. One of them is a boy clown named Joey and the other is a girl clown named Clara. These are very good clown names, and fit them well.

This is what Joey and Clara look like. This is one of the few color stills in existence, so enjoy it.

The gist of "The Celestial Toymaker" is that the Toymaker has set up two challenges--one for the Doctor and one for Steven and Dodo. The Doctor's challenge is to complete a logic game in which he has to move a set of pieces from one part of a board to another without ever putting a larger piece on top of a smaller piece. It's called the Trilogic Game, and it's one of those puzzles designed to test your ability to problem solve, much like the one where you have to get a missionary and two cannibals across a river one at a time without the missionary getting eaten.

Steven and Dodo's challenge is more physical. They have to win a series of games. Each time they win they will be presented with a TARDIS. It may or may not be the real TARDIS, and if it isn't real then they have to play another game until they find the real one. And they have to do all of this before the Doctor completes his logic puzzle. If he finishes before they do--or if he loses--everyone dies.

Got it? Good.

While the Doctor moves his pieces around, Steven and Dodo watch as the clowns set up an obstacle course. The object of the game is for one partner to maneuver his or her blindfolded partner through the obstacle course by yelling out instructions. They have to jump over things and climb things and swing on ropes. It's all very Marine Corp boot camp-ish.

The clowns do very well at the game, with Clara calling out directions to Joey, who sails through with flying colors. But when it's Steven's turn to give it a go, he has a hell of a time. The clowns declare victory, and for a moment it seems things have ended poorly for our heroes.

Then Dodo realizes that Clara and Joey have been cheating, which anyone who knows anything about clowns could have told you would happen. She throws a fit and insists they start over. Clara responds by pulling a boiled egg out of her hair.

Actually, that might have happened earlier. I forget now. But it's worth noting.

Anyway, the game begins again and eventually Steven and Dodo win. Clara and Joey turn back into dolls and a TARDIS appears but it isn't the real one and so things continue.

Because this blog is about clowns I won't go into too much detail about what happens in Parts 2 - 4 of "The Celestial Toymaker." But as you've invested some time in it, you deserve to know how it ends.

In Part 2 ("The Hall of Dolls") Steven and Dodo are shown a set of seven chairs, each one different. They're told that six of the chairs are deadly and one is safe. They don't really know what this means, but they're about to find out.

Also playing the game are a King and Queen from a suit of cards. Why? Because it's weird, that's why. The Joker is playing too, and because jokers are a kind of clown I am including him.

Here he is. Creepy. There's a Knave as well, but he doesn't do much so forget about him.

Everyone tries to get everyone else to sit in the chairs and die, which is all very thrilling. Each chair does something different, but frankly it was all a little tiresome and I don't remember which one did what. I do recall that the King and Queen try to get the Joker to sit in one of the chairs, but he knows they're a couple of lying sneaky-snakes and he says no.

Eventually there are only two chairs left and Dodo decides she has to sit in one of them to see which one is the safe one. She has a 50/50 chance, but things take a turn for the worse when she sits in her chosen chair and freezes.

Now something happens that doesn't sit well with me. She's supposed to be dead. I mean, everyone else who sat in a chair died, or at least disappeared or turned into a doll or whatever. Fair's fair, and if you ask me that should be the end of Dodo.

But it isn't.

Totally flauting the rules of the game, Steven goes all he-man and pulls Dodo out of the chair, saving her. That's nice for her and everything, but I hate it when people in stories get to bend the laws simply because they want to.

Anyway, now they know which chair is the safe one and Steven sits in it. Another TARDIS appears and of course it's not the real one either, which is not really all that shocking because we know there are two more episodes to go.

That brings us to Part 3 ("The Dancing Floor"). Even though there are no clowns in it, this is the most entertaining episode, mostly because it's completely stupid. Steven and Dodo find themselves in the kitchen of the dollhouse, where they encounter a solider (Sgt. Rugg) and a cook (Mrs. Wiggs).

Sgt. Rugg and Mrs. Wiggs challenge Steven and Dodo to a game in which they try to find a key hidden somewhere in the kitchen. This results in everyone throwing things around and breaking dishes and so on, until eventually Dodo finds the key hidden in a pie and she and Steven use it to go through a locked door into another room, where they find three ballerina dolls waiting for them.

The next bit involves Steven and Dodo having to dance through the ballerinas before getting basically hugged to death by them. This part is not worth going into, so suffice it to say that Steven and Dodo manage this quite easily by first dancing with the dolls and then switching partners so that they're dancing with each other and yes I know that sounds lame and it is.

And there's another fake TARDIS, which brings us to Part 4 and the end.

Part 4 ("The Final Test") is the only surviving part of "The Celestial Toymaker." Frankly, though, after enjoying the first three parts as more or less radio broadcasts, watching the fourth part is kind of a letdown.

But watch we do. "The Final Test" features a weird schoolboy named Cyril, who is even weirder because he's played by a grown man.

Cyril challenges Steven and Dodo to what is essentially a dice game. A player rolls a die and advances that many squares. Whoever reaches the end first wins.

Normally this would be very dull, but things are livened up a bit by the fact that the spaces between the squares are electrified, and if you fall off you die.

And naturally Cyril is a cheater. But his naughtiness comes back to haunt him when he's tripped up by one of his own booby traps and falls off the board, electrocuting himself and ending up looking like this.

So the game is over, the Doctor has completed his puzzle, and everyone is reunited. Only the Toymaker isn't about to let them get away, and the Doctor is forced to use cunning to outsmart him. This involves impersonating the Toymaker's voice and doing some other stuff that causes the Toymaker's world to disappear. But Steven and Dodo and the Doctor are safe inside the TARDIS when this happens, so they're fine.

I wish Clara and Joey had been in more of "The Celestial Toymaker." They're weirdly appealing, as if you know they're filled with evil but you still want them to hang around because they make you laugh.

Now skip ahead 22 years to 1988. No one knows it yet, but Doctor Who will be ending its historic run in a little under a year. In the meantime the Doctor has regenerated six times. Say what? See, the Doctor doesn't die. But eventually he becomes worn out and his body regenerates into a new one. This also conveniently happens whenever an actor playing the Doctor decides he's had enough or the BBC decides he's had enough.

This is what regeneration looks like. In this case the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) regenerates into the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Baker had been fired from the show, so the figure on the floor of the TARDIS is actually McCoy in a very bad wig.

Sylvester McCoy, is a very different Doctor than was William Hartnell. For one thing, he's in color. For another, he carries an umbrella the handle of which is shaped like a question mark.

The Doctor's current companion is a girl called Ace. That's her on the left there. As you might gather, she's a little bit butch. She loves to fix things, and she never met a bomber jacket she didn't like. She's also one of the most popular companions.

The episode we're interested in is called "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy." It centers around the Psychic Circus, which as its name suggests is a thrilling attraction located on the planet Saganax.

The Doctor and Ace are toddling about the universe in the TARDIS when they receive a piece of junk mail (in the form of an adorable little robot) inviting them to come see the Psychic Circus. As they have nothing else to do, the Doctor thinks this will be enormously fun. Ace--who announces that she hates circuses, and especially clowns, isn't so keen on it. But of course she goes.

I should tell you that the planet Saganax is very dusty. As in it's a desert. Which means that there's sand blowing around all the time. You'll be able to see as much in the pictures taken from the show. Sorry about that.

All right, so the Doctor and Ace decide to go to the circus. In the meantime, a couple of people are trying to get away from the circus. Their names are Bellboy and Flowerchild. Yes, that's what I said. Bellboy is dressed like a, well, bellboy and Flowerchild is dressed like a [fill in the blank].

That's right. When we see them they look very tired, as if they've been running for some time. We don't know why, and we don't know where they're going, but it's all terribly dramatic.

It will be a while before we know where they're trying to go, but in the meantime we find out who's chasing them.

This is who.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Seriously, how creepy is that? Clowns in a limo. No wonder Bellboy and Flowerchild are running. Who wouldn't?

Oh, and there are these kites flying around with eyes painted on them, and apparently the kites can see you and tell the clowns where you are. So yeah, it can get worse.

Bellboy and Flowerchild split up, and Bellboy is shortly thereafter captured by the clowns. They want to know where Flowerchild is, and he mumbles something unintelligible  in reply and one of the clowns is all, "For her sake I hope she didn't" and we have no idea what they're talking about.

Now the Doctor and Ace land on Saganax and run into a person selling fruit. I say person because for the longest time I thought it was an ugly man in drag, which British people seem to think is absolutely hysterical (See: Benny Hill and the plays of Shakespeare). Here's a picture.

Am I wrong to have wondered?

The fruit woman is very opinionated, and she tells the Doctor that she's tired of all the riffraff coming to see the Psychic Circus. The Doctor and Ace eat some nasty looking fruit to convince her that they're good churchgoing folk, and then a man drives up on a motorcycle and he's wearing a headpiece almost exactly like the one Cher wears on the cover of her Take Me Home album.

Again, am I wrong? No, I am not. They could be twins.

The biker's name is Nord. Just Nord. Which is something else he has in common with Cher. Unlike Cher, however, he's not very nice. When the Doctor asks him for some directions he responds with, "Get lost, or I'll do something horrible to your ears."

Then he heads off to the Psychic Circus.

Meanwhile, Flowerchild has arrived at what appears to Furthur, the bus Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters drove across America in 1964 when they tried to get everyone to drop acid. It's painted all over with peace signs and happy children and birds or whatever.


Here are the two buses. Furthur is on the top. I know, you can't really see the other bus. Remember the dust? Right. But trust me, they look exactly alike. Well, close enough.

Flowerchild goes into the bus and comes back out with a box, which seems to make her really, really excited. Unfortunately for her, she gets killed about five seconds later when someone comes up behind her and
squashes her. Oh, and she loses an earring.

Since Nord/Cher was no help, the Doctor and Ace decide to walk the rest of the way to the Psychic Circus. They chat a bit, and the Doctor mentions offhand that he senses something evil, and then the clowns in the limo almost run them over. So he was right.

When they come around the bend the Doctor and Ace are surprised to see a man who looks to be some kind of explorer. Which he is. His name is Captain Cook, and he's tramped far and wide across the galaxy.

So what is he doing on Saganax? Just hanging out.

Hanging out with him is a woman called Mags. She's a wee bit odd looking, which you totally can't see in this picture. But there are better ones coming.

The Doctor and Captain Cook sit down to have some tea and chat while Mags and Ace dig in the sand. Mags has uncovered something large, which we discover is a robot when it comes to life and almost kills her. This is very invigorating and suggests that Things Are Beginning to Happen.

Eventually they all agree to travel on together and start walking. Eventually they come across the magic bus and of course decide to go inside. There's nothing terribly interesting there, but all of a sudden we hear an odd voice say, "Tickets, please." Then a robot conductor emerges from the rear of the bus in a menacing way and we realize that it was he who throttled Flowerchild.

Here he is. He's kind of jolly, really, and would be nice to have around if he wasn't, you know, murderous. He advances on the hapless group, singling out the Doctor. But just as he's about to do some damage the Doctor stops him by requesting a ticket.

This is very entertaining. Fortunately for you I have provided a lovely video clip below so that you might experience it for yourself.  See if you can figure out exactly what kind of ticket the Doctor orders.

Did you get it? Here it is: "I'd like a there and back off-peak weekend rate super saver senior citizen bi-monthly season with optional luggage facilities, a free cup of coffee in a plastic glass, a crocodile sandwich, and make it snappy you pathetic moron."

The request overloads the conductor's circuitry and everyone escapes. Then Ace finds the earring Flowerchild dropped and pins it to her jacket like one of those jackdaws that collects shiny things for its nest in order to attract a mate. And now for some reason that I can't remember because I watched this like a month ago, Captain Cook and Mags go off on their own in a Jeep to find the Psychic Circus and the Doctor and Ace are left to walk there.

Now another character is introduced. His name is Whizz Kid. He's a nerdy teenage boy who has come all across the galaxy to see the Psychic Circus. He arrives on a bicycle looking like this.

The actor playing Whizz Kid is Gian Sammarco. In 1988 he was fresh off of starring in the Adrian Mole movies based on the popular novels by Sue Townsend. He seemed poised to be Daniel Radcliffe two years before Radcliffe was even born.

This is Gian in 2001, the last time anyone photographed him. He gave up acting in 1990 and went to school to become a psychiatric nurse. Presumably he still is.

I'm not saying that working with clowns on Doctor Who did him in or anything. But I'm also not saying it didn't.

Anyway, the Whizz Kid is now in the picture. He doesn't have much to do with this story, and I bring him up only because . . . well, I don't know why really except that I feel a bit sad for him now being a shuffly-hidey kind of person.

Here's all you really need to know--the Psychic Circus is not a fun place. Yes, there are clowns. A lot of clowns. And there's a Ringmaster, who delivers all of his speeches in rap. With an American accent. And he's black.

I'm not sure what the writers were trying to say with this. I probably don't want to know.

Whatever it is, the Ringmaster is bad news. See, when he brings you into the ring you're expected to perform. And just who are you performing for?

This family. Just them. There's no one else in the tent. And after you perform they score you.

If you get a good score--like a 9--you get to perform again. But if you get a poor score--like a 0--you die.

It takes a while for this to become apparent, and there are several long and fairly tedious scenes in which various people are forced to perform for the family, including the Whizz Kid and Nord.

Neither receives good scores.

So who is this family? We'll get to that. First the Doctor is captured by clowns and thrown into a cage with Captain Cook and Mags. The Captain doesn't seem very concerned about their situation, and we find out that this is because he's a horrible person who back stabs everyone to save his own skin.

However, he also has some delicious lines. My favorite is delivered when--in commenting on the Psychic Circus--he says, "Number one rule of the intergalactic explorer, Doctor. If you hear someone talking about good vibes and letting it all hang out, run a mile."

He says this before he and Mags are put into the cage, and it's in response to something said by a woman called Morgana, who is a gypsy fortuneteller and who runs the ticket booth for the Psychic Circus. And what she said was, "No problem. All of us around here believe in letting our feelings hang out. There is no point in getting uptight now, is there?"

This tells you everything you really need to know about the Psychic Circus. It was started by a group of merry free-love types who wanted to bring joy to the universe. They were all very Flower Power/Make Love Not War/Turn On, Tune In, and they wanted to buy the world a Coke.

(If you don't get that reference you are under 40 and missed some of the greatest television of all time. Watch the video to the left immediately.)

So the Psychic Circus started out all cool and groovy. But somewhere along the line something went wrong and the Psychic Circus became a torture chamber. But why?

We'll get to that. Right now there's a lot of running around. Ace runs around trying to find a way out. A bunch of clowns run around being creepy. Eventually the Doctor and Mags escape and run around trying to figure out just what the hell is going on.

Here's what they all find out.

Ace finds Bellboy, who has been punished by the Chief Clown. It turns out most of the clowns are robots, and Bellboy is the one who built them. He's the one who tells Ace that the Psychic Circus used to be fun. He also remembers that there were members named Juniper Berry and Peace Pipe, which is nice but irrelevant.

The Doctor and Mags find this weird pit filled with blue light and a giant eye. The Doctor says that's where whatever controls the Psychic Circus lives, but he doesn't know how to get down there.

The clowns find Ace. They take her away. The Chief Clown threatens Bellboy, but Bellboy commits suicide by having his clown robots kill him.

I should have mentioned that from time to time a weird fellow called Deadbeat has been shuffling around. Now we find out that his name is really Kingpin and that he was the leader of the Psychic Circus before something bad happened to him. Also, he wears this medallion that seems to be important.

Doctor Who sees Kingpin holding the medallion and staring into Morgana's crystal ball, and  somehow it occurs to him that when Flowerchild was killed she was probably looking for something hidden in the bus. He sends Ace and Kingpin to find it.

What else? Well, the Doctor allows himself to be captured by the clowns and he, Captain Cook, and Mags are all forced to go into the center ring because the weird family is bored. That's when Captain Cook acts like a douche again and asks the clowns to turn a blue light on Mags. Why? Because it turns out she's a werewolf. The light makes her go nuts because it looks like a moon, and she turns into Patty Smyth from Scandal's "The Warrior" video.

This is very thrilling, and the weird family loves it. It's less fun for the Doctor, who runs around trying not to get bit by Mags, who is determined to keep shootin' at his walls of heartache--bang, bang. Eventually she turns on Captain Cook and bites him, though, so it's all good.

Meanwhile, Ace and Kingpin are back at the bus and they find the box Flowerchild was looking for. Inside is an eye. Not a real one. A glass one. And it fits perfectly into the indentation in Kingpin's medallion. He's so excited by this that he fails to notice the robot conductor (who has been repaired) coming up behind Ace.

The conductor tries to squash Ace's head, which we know he is very good at, but eventually Kingpin remembers that there's a switch under the conductor's hat and that if Ace pushes it the conductor will blow up.

Which she does, and which he does.

Now we're almost done. The weird family tells the Chief Clown that they're bored and want more entertainment, or else they'll do something he won't like. So what does he do? He sacrifices the Ringmaster and Morgana by pushing them into big wicker baskets and making them disappear.

Now the Doctor uses the recently-deceased Morgana's crystal ball to communicate with whatever powers are in the shiny blue eye pit. This results in some kind of cosmic LSD trip and the Doctor is transported into the pit.

There he finds himself standing before three stone statues. Only they aren't statues--they're the Gods of Ragnarok!

Who? Sigh. The Gods of Ragnarok. Don't you know anything? The Gods of Ragnarok are Old Ones, beings who existed before time. Etc, etc, etc. The point is, they're powerful and mean and their names are Raag, Nah, and Rok. This is very clever.

If you see a similarity between the Gods of Raganrok and the weird family in the center ring, you've been paying attention. See, the Gods of Ragnarok decided to use the Psychic Circus for their own amusement, forcing the creators of the circus to find acts for them. Doctor Who takes exception to this and taunts the Gods by doing silly magic tricks.

This gives Ace and Kingpin and Mags (who has gone to find them) time to get the eye back to the circus. But now the Chief Clown wants the eye and so there's a lot of drama, including the dead Captain Cook coming back to life and being a bully. But eventually Kingpin throws the medallion into the pit and Doctor Who uses it to repel the lasers the Gods of Ragnarok shoot from their eyes. The pit is destroyed, the Gods crumble, and the Psychic Circus disappears in a big cloud of fuchsia colored dust, taking all the evil clowns with it.

Then Kingpin and Mags decide to start another circus and everyone is happy. The end.

I've mentioned the Doctor's companions several times. Well, arguably the most popular companion of all time is Sarah Jane Smith. Played by Elisabeth Sladen, Sarah Jane's first appearance was in 1973's The Time Warrior serial with Third Doctor Jon Pertwee. She continued as a companion to the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and has also appeared alongside the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the Eleventh (and current) Doctor (Matt Smith). All in all, Sarah Jane was featured in 18 stories over four seasons of the original series run and in four episodes of the revived series.

In 1981 the BBC produced a pilot for the first Doctor Who spinoff series, called K-9 and Company. It starred K-9, the robotic dog companion to the Fourth Doctor, and Sarah Jane. Sadly, it was not picked up as a series and the single episode was broadcast only once as a Christmas special.

Sarah Jane returned in 2007, however, in her very own show, The Sarah Jane Adventures. Aimed squarely at the tween set, the show centers around Sarah Jane and a trio of teens who help her solve intergalactic mysteries. It's just like Charlie's Angels, but without the Angels or Charlie. And nobody in The Sarah Jane Adventures has ever had to go undercover in a women's prison. Yet.

The Sarah Jane Adventures episode in which we are interested is the second episode of the second season. It's called "The Day of the Clown," and it aired in October of 2008.

Considering that The Sarah Jane Adventures is for kids, the clown in this episode is pretty freaking creepy. His name is Odd Bob, and he looks like this.

What's that? Now that you mention it, he does look a bit like Pennywise from Stephen King's It. And like Pennywise, Odd Bob likes to hand out red balloons. But before you go yelling "Copycat!" consider that there really aren't a whole lot of things you can do with a creepy clown, especially on a kids' show.

At the beginning of "The Day of the Clown" Sarah Jane's son Luke--who she adopted at the end of season one--is all moody because his friend Gloria has moved away. You know, because people are always leaving him and all he wants is a little stability in his life. I mean for crying out loud, he's being raised by a single mother. We all know how unreliable they are. Sheesh.

Anyway, Luke is kind of pouty. But things begin to look up when Luke and his friend Clyde arrive at school and run into a new girl. Her name is Rani, and she's cute. Maybe not as cute as Maria, at least not to Luke, but Clyde totally puts the moves on her. Only Rani doesn't have time for boys so she's all, "You're not so hot, aight?"

Everyone goes to homeroom and are surprised when their teacher introduces the new head of the school, whose name is Mr. Chandra. Under normal circumstances Rani would be very interested in this, but because Odd Bob is staring in the window at her she kind of can't think about anything else.

Back at home, Sarah Jane visits the new neighbors who are moving into the house vacated by Maria's family. Well, she visits with the mother, who is the only one home. Her name is Mrs. Chandra, which will probably rings some bells. She's very happy to meet Sarah Jane, and mentions that her daughter and Luke should meet. She doesn't know that they already totally have, so don't start calling her dumb or anything.

The clown is causing more mischief at school. Now Clyde sees Odd Bob's reflection in a trophy case. He chases the clown and ends up in the boys' bathroom, which would be an excellent beginning to a joke but it isn't. Odd Bob does, however, stick his hand out of a mirror and offer Clyde a balloon. This is a relief, as there are so many other things a creepy clown might offer a handsome young man in a bathroom that would be far worse.

Now we will move along quickly, because this is the part of the story where they try to figure out what's going on and it kind of drags. Clyde tells Luke about the clown moments before Odd Bob makes another appearance. Rani tells the boys not to accept a balloon from Odd Bob because something bad will happen. She also tells them that she's been seeing Odd Bob everywhere for a few days. And a little while later she tells them that Mr. Chandra is her dad, which we already knew because if there are more than two Indian people in a television show they must be related. Unless you're actually in India, in which case they all dance and sing.

Luke and Sarah Jane and Clyde talk about the clown and what be up wit' it. They wonder if it could be connected to the recent disappearance of a boy in town. That's a good thought, so they track down the boy's footy (that's soccer in British talk) playing friends and ask if anything weird had happened before the boy's disappearance.

One of the boys says that a day or so before the disappearance they ran into a creepy clown who was handing out tickets to something. That "something" turns out to be Spellman's Magical Museum of the Circus. And naturally Sarah Jane and the gang have to go there.

Sarah Jane and Clyde go first. There they meet a man named Elijah Spellman, who dresses like a ringmaster and is creepy. They also see a lot of clowns and we find out that clowns make Sarah Jane's skin crawl. Yes, she actually says this, so it's true.

As Spellman is blathering on about the history of clowns, Clyde sees a painting of a clown that resembles the one he saw. It doesn't really, but go with it. At least it's the same colors as Odd Bob.

The painting Clyde is looking at is of the Piped Piper. You remember him. He's the one who drove all the rats out of Hamelin and then when the people wouldn't pay him stole their children and sealed them up in a mountain. Well, he's back.

A little side trip. Those familiar with Doctor Who might recall that in TV Comic issues 705-709, published in 1965, there was a story called "Challenge of the Piper." In this story the First Doctor and his companions John and Gillian travel to the world of the Pied Piper, where all of his child victims are being kept prisoner. The Doctor of course outwits the Piper and leads the children home.

But that was then, and this is now.

Now Luke and Rani show up at the museum because Rani somehow got hold of the missing kid's school notebook and found pictures of a scary clown drawn on the outside and a ticket to the museum on the inside. Also, she herself had been given a ticket to the museum, which you think she might have mentioned earlier when it became clear she was being harassed by a clown.

Spellman/Odd Bob/The Piper doesn't want Sarah Jane and her minions to leave, so he gets all magicky and seals the doors. Also, the clowns come to life. But Sarah Jane has a sonic lipstick that will help.

What? I haven't mentioned the sonic lipstick? Sorry. See, Doctor Who has this device--the sonic screwdriver--that he uses to get out of pretty much any sticky wicket. Of course when Sarah Jane got her own show she needed her own sonic screwdriver. Only everyone knows tools are for boys, so the Doctor gave her a sonic lipstick instead. This proves that the United Kingdom is sexist. However, if you want your very own sonic lipstick you can get one, and that's kind of spiffy.

The sonic lipstick only partly works. Now things look bad. But then someone's cell phone rings. This disturbs Odd Bob's concentration or short circuits his powers or something, and the doors fly open. This is a relief, as there's a whole second hour of show and something needs to happen.

What happens is that Sarah Jane is forced to reveal her secret identity to Rani, which is not something she wanted to do because No One is Supposed to Know. But now that Rani knows that Sarah Jane and Luke and Clyde hunt aliens, she's all for it. She especially likes their clubhouse, which is really Sarah Jane's attic. But then Sarah Jane has to be a drag by telling Rani that there are rules for being in their little gang. Here they are.

1. We look out for each other.
2. We respect all life, no matter what planet it's from.
3. We tell no one what we do.

These are pretty simple rules (although one could argue that Sarah Jane isn't so good about keeping #3) so Rani says that, chuh, of course she can keep a secret and hey, what's that talking computer thing? and Clyde or Luke (I forget now) says check this out, this is Mr. Smith the talking computer.

They feed the ticket Rani has into Mr. Smith, who prints out a whole bunch of stuff about some child murders from 1932, the Pied Piper, and a meteorite that landed on Earth around the time all this weirdness began.

As it happens (and this is an amazing stroke of good fortune) Sarah Jane just happens to be friends with the director of the institute where the surviving piece of that meteorite is kept. Can you believe that?

She goes to look at it. Actually, she goes to break a piece off of it so that Mr. Smith can analyze it. And guess--just guess--who shows up to put a scare into her? No, not Carrot Top. Odd Bob.

What freaks out Sarah Jane the most is that Odd Bob knows exactly why she's afraid of clowns. When she was a little girl she woke up one night during a terrible storm and saw the clown marionette in her room come to life. Which of course the writers of The Sarah Jane Adventures did not steal from Poltergeist because plagiarism is bad, mkay? And guess who made that marionette come to life? Eeeeeeeeeeeeek! Odd Bob was watching Sarah Jane when she was sleeping!

What freaks me out the most is that Odd Bob suddenly has a Southern accent, but I'll let that go.

Odd Bob has told Sarah Jane that he's going to do something really awful. This is why while Luke and Clyde and Rani are at school hundreds of red balloons fall from the sky. And when the students pick the balloons up, they all go into a trance and start marching toward Spellman's Magical Museum of the Circus. You know, like rats. Or the children of Hamelin.

Sarah Jane has to work quickly now, because there are some things a sonic lipstick simply can't fix. She shoves the bit of asteroid into Mr. Smith, who analyzes it and says that Odd Bob is an alien life form that preys on people's fears. Specifically, in 1283 a meteorite crashed into the Weserbergland Mountains. Trapped in the meteorite was an evil entity, which broke free and became the Piped Piper. It's been on a rampage ever since, and has now taken on the form of Odd Bob.

But as for how to defeat Odd Bob, Mr. Smith is about as helpful as the sonic lipstick on that matter and has no clue what to do.

Then Sarah Jane remembers the incident with the cell phone. She tells Mr. Smith to ring every single cell phone number in the area. He does, every kid's cell phone jingles, and it breaks the Piper's spell. The children are saved! Unfortunately, it also gives every kid a pretty good argument to use against their parents for why they should be allowed to have cell phones. "But, Mom! What if I get magicked by the Pied Piper! Zomg!"

Oh, and there's one other problem. Luke has been taken by Odd Bob and imprisoned in a mirror. Sarah Jane goes to find him, and Rani and Clyde manage to sneak into the museum even though Odd Bob has locked the doors.

And it's a good thing they did, because Odd Bob is in no mood to be trifled with. As he explains, all of the children he's ever taken are trapped in between dimensions. He could bring them back, but then no one would be a afraid of him anymore and he would die because his existence is fueled by fear. This is a good point, well made, and you can hardly fault him for trying to stay alive.

But Sarah Jane wants her son back and Clyde wants his best friend back and Rani is just pissed off that Odd Bob has been stalking her, so Clyde gets all clever and thinks of a way to drain Odd Bob's energy--by telling jokes. You know, because if they laugh then they won't be afraid and Odd Bob will be destroyed.

Here are some of the many, many jokes Clyde rattles off in the next 90 seconds.

Q: Where do you find a dog with no legs?
A: Right where you left him.

Q: What's invisible and smells like carrots?
A: Bunny farts.

As one of my dogs is missing a leg, I find that first joke to be in incredibly poor taste and I am offended. All right, I'm not. It's pretty funny.

The jokes make Sarah Jane and Rani laugh, and eventually Odd Bob gets all glowy and explodes. I hate to bring this up, but this is exactly what happened to Pennywise in It, and as the writers already went too close to that line once you would think they might come up with something different. But they didn't.

With Odd Bob gone, Luke reappears and everyone is delirious with joy. Sarah Jane makes Rani an official member of the team, and Clyde reveals that he has a crush on Dawn French, which is weird because Dawn French is 53 and I don't know how he would know about her.

Dawn French, if you don't know, is one half of French & Saunders (Jennifer Saunders being the other half), one of the funniest comedy duos of all time. Most people know Saunders better because she starred as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous alongside Joanna Lumley, but Dawn French will make you wet your pants just as well.

Fun Fact: Dawn French has a starring role in another creepy clownfest that we'll be looking at in a later column. Stay tuned for that.

Until then, here is my favorite French & Saunders skit. It's called "Muriel and Maddie."



Ratings (out of 5):


"The Celestial Toymaker"







"The Greatest Show in the Galaxy"







"The Day of the Clown"


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