After the successful (yet confusing) second season and the release of Jacqueline Rayner's novel The Glass Prison, a third season of the Bernice Summerfield series began in early 2002. Starting this season off was Paul Ebbs' surreal tale, The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy (the story's title being a clear nod to the 1988 Doctor Who serial, The Greatest
Show in the Galaxy).
In my view The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy may qualify as the most bizarre release in the range to date. The premise is rather simple - Benny travels to the planet Baladroon, where, ostensibly, she’s going to exhume its famed Latrines – but the planet is home to the Gigamarket, the so called greatest shop in the galaxy, and she’s more interested in how many shoes she can buy with Adrian Wall’s swiped credit chip.
Ebbs seems determined to delight in throwing in as many concepts as possible to create a bizarre, off-the-wall story in vein of some of Dave Stone's works. However, it is this imbalance in the story which results in there being a broadly comedic first twenty minutes before an extremely sudden shift into drama which really disrupts the flow of the story. Further, this release didn't deal with the implications of what happened to Benny in her last appearance prior to this adventure, in The Glass Prison, where she gave birth to her half-Killoran/half-human son, Peter. Luckily for us though, the next release would pick up the loose ends and deal with the implications.
Lisa Bowerman brightens the story up with a lively performance. Benny’s unexplored fetish for shoes borders on the obsessional, but Bowerman makes it believable through her convincing and confident display. David Benson's Gigamarket Executive Keelor really shines as the character proceeds to show Benny around on her arrival and provides an interesting outlet for the humour, yet also demonstrates a more vulnerable side when strange things begin happening. Big Finish mainstay Toby Longworth also brings a villainous angle to the role and certainly makes the most of Joggon’s unusual tendencies! What’s more, Steven Wickham makes his very first appearance as Benny’s porter, Joseph (who later appeared in the 2003 Doctor Who story The Dark Flame). It’s not an auspicious debut into Benny’s audio world for a character whose roots go right back to the novel of Oh No It Isn’t! as the time anomalies ensure that he's malfunctioning throughout the story, giving Wickham little to do except make silly noises. A downright shame, really.
On the whole, The Greatest Shop In The Galaxy is a bizarre and muddled story, which only occasionally shows flashes of inspiration. Nevertheless, it stands as something unique as there isn’t anything quite like it, but whether or not this is a good thing rather depends on the listener’s own sensibility to the strangeness of Ebbs’ world. If you prefer the bizarre and the muddled, then The Greatest Shop in the Galaxy is right up your alley.