Doctor Who – Freakshow

The Companion Chronicles ‘Freakshow’

Written by Mark Morriss, directed by Lisa Bowerman
Released: March 3, 2010
Special release

“My name is Vislor Turlough and this is my testimony.”

Turlough is angry. No one trusts him, despite his denial of the Black Guardian and the gift of enlightenment. When the TARDIS lands, he leaves in a fit of anger and frustration. In dusty plains of Arizona, Turlough finds a strange adventure, one that he might not live to tell anyone about. A traveling freakshow arrives in town just as he does, promising not just a wondrous display of oddities, but an elixir that fixes all ailments. But just where did Thaddeus P. Winklemeyer obtain his freaks? Not from Earth, that’s for sure. Turlough recognizes one of the ‘freaks’ as a Sythaks, enormous and deadly snake-like creatures from a planet near his home on Trion. But can Turlough use his wits to outsmart Winklemeyer or will he end up as another attraction in the freakshow?

The 1980’s was an experimental decade for Doctor Who. Producer John Nathan-Turner experimented with several new ideas, almost scatter-shot, as the 20 year-old program re-invented itself for a new audience. One of the ideas that JNT came up with was a young red-haired school boy named Turlough who would fall under the control of the Black Guardian and seek to kill the Doctor.

An alien from the planet Trion, Turlough was hiding out as a school boy on 20th Century England. He was watched over by a Trion schoolmaster and tried his best to fit in, but in the end he got bored and rebellious, stealing a vintage car belonging to one of the teachers and nearly dying when he drove it off the road. In a limbo-like reality, he was given a proposition by the Black Guardian, the embodiment of all evil in the universe. If Turlough agreed to serve him, he would get the young boy off of Earth. All he had to do was kill one person, the Doctor. A clever and tactful young lad, Turlough would appeal to the Doctor’s sensibilities and secret himself on board the craft, waiting for the ideal moment to strike.

Of course there were problems with this idea that script editor Eric Saward ran up against almost immediately. Turlough obviously could not kill the Doctor, and after he vowed to change his ways, where would the character go? Luckily a talented actor named Mark Strickson was cast on the part and he brought so much vitality and energy to the role that he made the enigmatic and shifty Turlough one of the more popular companions of the era. On screen, sadly, Turlough did not get much to do after his three-part story was resolved. There are whole episodes during the 21st season where he has absolutely no lines at all!

Luckily, Big Finish found a wonderful script by Mark Morris that not only utilizes Mark Strickson’a abilities but also fills in a void between Enlightenment when Turlough betrays his dark master the Black Guardian and the following stories where he turns a new leaf.

(Turlough image by illusionarymind)

Freakshow is a special release from Big Finish, and was heard by only a select few until it was released as part of a box set of companion stories along with The Three Companions and The Mists of Time. Set just after Enlightenment, Freakshow features Turlough at his most frustrated and unappreciated. The Doctor is silently judgmental and Tegan is abrasively belittling in her treatment of him. It seems that once again he just doesn’t fit in. When the TARDIS lands, he barely cares where they have arrived, he just needs some air. Wandering into the desert, he almost drops dead of dehydration until a local shows pity and takes him into a saloon.

Weaving a rich tale of bandits and a near-escape from danger, he is lauded with warm beer and his story grows more extravagant with each glass. But Turlough isn’t the focus of attention for long. Soon a caravan arrives with a colorful showman, Thaddeus P. Winklemeyer, at the reigns. He shows off his fraekshow one attraction at a time; the Fish Boy, the Wild Man of Borneo, the Porcupine, the Mimic and more. But when one of the attractions proves to be familiar to Turlough, a pair of Sythaks from Palliox, the young Trion gets suspicious.

But Winklemeyer isn’t just a showman, he is a medicine man as well! Along with his wild show, he brings the elixir of life, a weird fluid that instantly heals each of the freaks, transforming them into mere humans again. When Turlough attempts to see through what he is sure must be an illusion, he experiences intense pain brought on by a mental attack.

The entire affair is not what it seems.

Turlough attempts to discover the reality behind the sideshow front and is almost immediately captured by the Sythaks, controlled by Winklemeyer via a unique alien flute-like instrument. Thrown into a cage with the Wild Man of Borneo, Turlough thinks his number is up.

The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan on board the TARDIS

A colorful and exciting adventure, Freakshow takes listeners back to the era of the Fifth Doctor, the most flawed and human of all the incarnations to date. Far from all-powerful as later incarnations proved to be, this Doctor thrived on using his smarts and a large bit of cunning and bravery. Facing a circus of monsters all under the mental control of the villainous Winklemeyer, the Doctor finds a compatriot in Turlough who tries his best to help free the incarcerated aliens and protect the small nearby town.

Hilariously, Tegan is not much help at all, and most of the time asks silly questions and grumbles at both the Doctor and Turlough as well. Even when she is being supportive, the Doctor interrupts Tegan, assuming that she is striking out at him instead. A mouth on legs indeed. Poor Tegan.

This story is a lot of fun and also uses Strickson so well that I’m eager for more (The Emerald Tiger sits in my car ready to be played). The Fifth Doctor’s era strikes me as a very difficult era to write for due to the interconnected stories that ran through the three year period, the abundance of companions and the lack of any strong direction from the producer for the series as a whole. I maintain that Davison truly found his footing in his final season, so it’s a real treat that so many talented writers are fleshing out this period for the fans.

Freakshow was released as part of the Companion Chronicles Special Box Set available directly from Big Finish.

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