The true villains of ‘The Greatest Show In The Galaxy’ are the Gods of Ragnarok. Appearing to be a family consisting of a father, mother and little girl wearing the fashions of the 1950s they exist in several dimensions. Once the Doctor is able to pierce their veil their true forms are revealed, masked stone figures in robes.
Just who were these gods? What was their nature and what was their relationship with the Doctor? These questions raise plenty of opportunities for adventures in your own campaign.
These beings were powerful, able to kill or shatter minds. Within their dark circus they could control the environment. They seemed to have a psychic ability, able to lure people to them.
Their main motivation was to be entertained, although most people failed to do the job. It would seem that they gained more satisfaction from killing. For example Nord is able to entertain the gods with his strong-man act but is then deliberately set-up for failure when he is then asked to tell a joke. Flustered he is soon despatched.
If the gods had truly wished to be entertained one would imagine that they would keep performers around. It could be that making the circus owners constantly find new victims under threat of death was the true entertainment, as was making their captives squabble about who was going into the ring.
The Doctor accuses the gods of lacking imagination. This traits could suggest that they are related the Eternals, who had a similar failing. This would also explain their quirk of taking on the forms of humans within the circus.
If they are Eternals it is puzzling why they seem to be confined to Segonax. Only through the use of swirling portal and medallion were they able to interact with normal space. Were they trapped and if so who had put them there?
Examining what exactly Ragnarok is might give us more insight into these gods. Ragnarok was a part of Norse mythology, describing future events that would bring an end to the Norse gods.
According to that mythology a shaman seeress provides Odin with a vision of the future. Could Morgana be a reference to this character, with her psychic ability?
The seeress says that something will sate itself on the life-blood of fated men, painting their homes with with crimson gore. This could be a reference to vampires and the fated men could be Time Lords, their blood staining Gallifrey. The fated men could also be people who are important to the web of time.
The sun becomes black, making the weather treacherous. This would suggest a change to the fundamental nature of the universe. This could refer to the Black Sun time war that took place in the comic stories written by Alan Moore.
The seeress continues, making reference to the hound Garmr, chained within a cave. Eventually it breaks it chains and runs free. Mag’s werewolf nature could link her to Garmr but in the next season the Doctor would encounter Fenric, associated with wolves and shattered chains.
The world is filled with strife with brother killing brother. No man will have mercy on another. This could apply to the Time War or a global conflict such as World War III. It also could apply to events at the circus, as the performers turn on each other.
Next the realm of the Gods comes under attack. The wolf Fenrir swallows Odin whole. Again Fenrir could be represented by either Mags or Fenric. It is said that Fenrir’s sons swallow the sun and the stars, plunging the sky into darkness. This could be the inspiration featuring the off-spring of Fenric, threatening the universe.
The mighty serpent Jormungandr spreads venom throughout the air and the sea. another tie to ‘The Curse of Fenric’. Were these events that the Doctor averted? At this point in time were they still a potential future?
The sky shatters and Surtr, a fire giant emerges with an army. The shattering of the sky could represent an invasion from space or from another dimension. Ultimately Surtr causes the Earth to burn. Could this be a reference to the events of ‘The Poison Sky’? In which case does Surtr represent the Sontarans?
Despite all of this destruction the Earth does survive Ragnarok, transformed with its share of bad and good places. Some of the gods and their children survive and even humanity is able to repopulate itself.
This is important as Ragnarok isn’t the end but a transformation, something that Doctor Who is familiar with. Like the Time War the universe has been changed but life still goes on.
What then do the gods of Ragnarok represent? Since the myth refers to events that are to happen it could be that they are from the future. Could they be a species that takes the place of the Eternals or Time Lords, travelling before the traumatic events have reshaped the universe? Could they be trapped because their time hasn’t come yet?
Could the events of Ragnarok already have occurred? In which case the gods could be survivors from an older universe. This would be in keeping with many other powerful beings from before time, such as in ‘The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit’.
It might also be that these gods are the engineers of Ragnarok. By fighting them the Doctor could hold back the terrible events that would costs thousands of lives and end the rule of the current gods (The Time Lords?).
The Doctor proclaims that he has fought the Gods of Ragnarok all through time. This appears to be the first meeting with this trio of gods so are there more such gods. As we’ve seen Fenric is a good candidate as a God of Ragnarok. The Family from ‘Human Nature/Family of Blood’ could also fit.
If the Gods of Ragnarok exist in multiple dimensions and times then they could be spread through out existence. Only a time traveller like the Doctor would be able to deal with them, repulsing their invasion of our reality.
This could be the source of many missing adventures focusing on past Doctors. They also make a good powerful opponent for any group of PCs. Defeating them in one time zone doesn’t mean that the characters won’t encounter them again somewhere else.
When creating such adventures their motives here should be examined. Despite their great power they had no desire to be worshipped or to conquer the universe. In the big picture they killed very few people, as it didn’t seem as if a larger number of people were coming to the circus.
Part of this is that the gods, by virtue of being immortal and all power don’t want for much. They desire only that which they can’t produce themself, the imagination and interactions of mortal beings.
PCs have no hope of dealing with them using violence. Instead they must rely on outthinking the gods. They may be very intelligent, able to guess that the Doctor is playing for time, but they lack the insight to anticipate future actions.