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Jul 20, 2012

The Seventh Doctor and Ace respond to an invitation to visit the mysterious Psychic Circus on the planet Segonax, despite Ace’s fear of clowns and reluctance to go. Other travellers have arrived on the wasteland world too – the fannish Whizz Kid; the motorcycling maniac Nord; tiresome bore and intergalactic explorer Captain Cook and his young female companion Mags, whom the Captain curiously refers to as a "unique specimen".

But all is not pleasant at the Circus. The Chief Clown travels around the planet's surface in a hearse with his team of mechanical clowns, using some unusual kites to search for and recapture an errant robot repairman named Bellboy, and his companion, Flower Child, who are trying to escape the circus. While hiding onboard a disused hippie bus, Flower Child is killed by something mysterious. It turns out to be a creepy robot conductor, which also attacks the Doctor, Captain, Ace and Mags when they discover the bus. The Doctor disables the killer robot, while Ace finds one of Flower Child’s earrings, and pins it to her jacket as a keepsake. They venture on to the circus tent itself, but Ace hesitates when she hears Mags screaming inside, as she witnesses Bellboy being punished. The Doctor, however, doesn't hear a thing, and persuades her to go in.

Inside, they meet Morgana, the Circus ticket seller and fortune teller, who offers to read the Doctor's fortune, and reveals the Hanged Man Tarot card. The Doctor and Ace both join the audience, noticing that the only other audience members are a small family of three – father, mother, daughter – who observe the central stage with stoic disdain. The Ringmaster soon appears and invites the Doctor to join the entertainment. He agrees and is taken backstage where Nord, the Captain and Mags are also being kept. It appears that audience members are expected to become part of the show. Nord is duped into performing first, and when his act fails to amuse, he is obliterated.

The Chief Clown meanwhile notices the earring pinned to Ace's jacket, and demands to know where she got it. Ace flees deeper into the Circus, and finds Bellboy strapped to a workbench. She hides as the Chief Clown comes in and lets him up to work, then questions him about what is really going on at the Circus. Bellboy sees Flower Child's earring pinned to Ace's jacket, and trusts her, but his memory seems to have been affected by his punishment, and he can only tell her that there used to be more people at the Circus, and then they all disappeared. Ace ventures back to the main entrance, where she sees Morgana and the Ringmaster arguing about the Circus. The Ringmaster does not seem to share Morgana's ethical qualms about the means used to fill the Circus. Their argument is interrupted by the arrival of Whizz Kid, who is ushered into the ring. He too is obliterated when he fails to please the family in the audience.

The Doctor and Mags venture deeper into the Circus, and suddenly find a strange stone archway, which wasn't there before. Mags acts strangely when she sees the moon sign carved on the archway, but the Doctor manages to calm her down. At the end of a tunnel, they find a vast well shaft, with a pulse of energy at its core. A curious eye symbol looks up from the bottom of the well, which is also depicted on the kites that the Chief Clown uses to spy on the circus workers. Morgana also sees the eye at the heart of her crystal ball, which inspires her to pledge her loyalty to the forces that control the Circus and the planet. The Captain then corners the Doctor and Mags with a group of the robotic clowns, and tells the Doctor that he is next in the ring.

Ace has meanwhile encouraged Bellboy to remember more about what went wrong at the Circus. One of the workers, Dead Beat, was once called Kingpin, and had brought them to Segonax in search of a great power, which then drove Dead Beat mad, and enslaved the rest of the Circus. The death of Flower Child was at the hands of a robot Bellboy built himself, and he feels wracked with guilt. When the Chief Clown arrives to recapture him and Ace, Bellboy sets a reprogrammed clown on himself, and it kills him.

The Doctor has meanwhile escaped the Captain, and encountered Dead Beat, and has realised that he is key to the situation. The two of them find Ace, and together they visit the strange well again. Dead Beat has a medallion embossed with the image of the eye, which is missing a piece from its centre, and he and Ace head off to the old bus to try and find it. The Doctor gives them time by giving himself up, and finds himself in the ring with Mags; but Captain Cook is one step ahead. In an effort to ensure a good show and thus save his own skin a little longer, the Captain asks for some simulated moonlight to be beamed into the ring, and Mags begins to transform into a werewolf.

He then tries to set Mags on the Doctor, but, unfortunately for the Captain, her chosen victim is him – but the whole macabre spectacle has delighted the trio in the crowd. The Doctor and a shaken Mags slip away, with the Family demanding more entertainment. The Ringmaster and Morgana are now tested in the ring and killed when they fail to entertain.

Ace and Dead Beat meanwhile destroy the Bus Conductor, and retrieve the missing jewel for the medallion. With the jewel back in place, Dead Beat’s mind is restored, and he becomes Kingpin once more. They return to the Circus – disposing of the Chief Clown and his minions en route – to find the Doctor has become the next person in the ring, having responded to a challenge from the Family. When he enters the ring this time, he realizes that it is a dimensional portal, and that the Family are in fact the Gods of Ragnarok, who feed on entertainment and kill those who do not satisfy them. After an array of tricks and japes he holds off the Gods long enough for Ace and Kingpin to throw the medallion into the well. It reaches the Doctor through the dimensional portal and he uses it to repulse the power of the Gods. Thus it is they themselves who are the next victims of their own power. The Doctor returns to the Psychic Circus as it disintegrates and explodes, and flees with his friends. He and Ace depart while Kingpin and Mags elect to set up a new circus on another planet. As the Doctor and Ace leave, the Doctor quietly comments that he's now not so sure he likes clowns any more than Ace does.