Carnival of Monsters
|Dates||Jan. 27, 1973 -
Feb. 17, 1973
With Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning.
Written by Robert Holmes. Script-edited by Terrance Dicks.
Directed and Produced by Barry Letts.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Jo land aboard a mysterious cargo liner, trapped inside a portable zoo and caught in an endless repetitive cycle.|
Truly a (Near) Perfect Pertwee by Daniel Coggins 22/3/98
"One has no wish to be consumed by alien monstrosities!"
I first got this story on video a short while ago, and it was my first watching of it. I was amazed by how well it works. One of the reasons for this is that it's double storyline is brilliant. We've got the evil brother of the planet's president and the two carnies who get caught up in his wicked plots for world domination, as well as the Doctor and Jo in the miniscope itself. Jo is at her best in this story, as not only a superb foil to the Doctor but also as a great stand-alone character. You can really see how she has grown up since joining the Doctor, and you can tell that it's almost time for her to move on. The Drashigs are spectacular monsters, one of the series' best "Well, we're on a budget-- but let's do something great anyway" stories.
Possibly the only poor parts of this story are Shirna's headwear (think of those irratating clacker-ball things and you're halfway there), and two faults of the video, a repeating (truly) bit, and the strange theme tune for Episode two (Waah- ooh - noo - zipp -boing - boing - boing - nah - nah - nah -vroom - whoosh). Maybe my favourite bit are the grey-faced aliens, and their long, formal and flowing way of speaking (note the quote above). The baddy is a brilliant sneaky and sly plotter, and the way he convinces the weak one is convincing and marvellous. Worth seeing just for Ian Marter as the Andrews character, possibly his first Doctor Who appearance (were it not for the recent BBC Book The Face of the Enemy). A short summing-up then: a cracker of a story that shines all around.
A Review by Keith Bennett 15/4/98
Doctor Who is always interesting when it presents a "different" type of story, one that veers from traditional alien invasions and running up and down of corridors. Such "different" stories include The Mind Robber, The Greatest Show In The Galaxy and The Carnival Of Monsters, one of Jon Pertwee's best stories.
This is a very entertaining story for several reasons. One is the natives of Inter Minor. The marvellous trio of Pletrace, Orum and most of all, Kalik, played brilliantly by the wonderful Michael Wisher, is a joy to watch with their fussy, political bickering.
But equally entertaining are the adventures the Doctor and Jo have on the ship, with the perfectly cast characters of Major Daly and company offering absorbing viewing as they go through their routines over and over again due to their imprisonment in the Miniscope. These two interwined settings make for a constantly intriguing adventure, but there is one more element that tops it all off.
It must be said, in all fairness, that Doctor Who's "monsters" have normally come across as... well... not quite scary, certainly when looked upon in these days of Jurassic Park ("monsters" as opposed to "aliens" like the Daleks), but with the Drashigs, we have what must be about the best race of monsters in Doctor Who's history. They look different, they're genuinely scary and sound just superb. The CSO doesn't always work so well as the story progresses, but by Doctor Who standards, the Drashings remain definitive viewing.
So does this adventure overall. It's not a faultless work of art, with Vorg twice introducing the Drashings to the Minorians, and the Doctor twice being introduced to Vorg and Shirna for instance, but entertaining, action-filled and highly amusing. Why, that sounds just like Doctor Who.... 7/10
Another Robert Holmes Gem by Michael Hickerson 13/8/98
Carnival of Monsters is one of those stories that I've always considered to be an overlooked classic. Nestled in the middle of the Pertwee era, it features few of the trademarks that made the Pertwee years so fondly remembered--namely it doesn't have the Master, an invasion of Earth, or UNIT.
What it does have is an intriguing alien civilization, an entertaining story, a fascinating alien civilization and some of the best Doctor and Jo moments ever seen.
Carnival is a simple story told well. Holmes uses the idea of the Doctor and Jo being trapped inside a zoo to tell one of the calmer, more character driven pieces of the Pertwee years. Indeed, coming away from the story, you are more likely to remember the blue faced aliens (a superb make-up job!), the moments when the Doctor and Jo bond a bit or the rag-tag vagabonds who own the device. Yes, there are the Drashigs who will feature heavily in the end of the Pertwee era (you get the feeling the production team really loved these monsters!) but overall, its the commitment to characters that really makes the story shine.
One of Holmes's great strengths was creating great supporting casts for the Doctor and his companions. Carnival could be held up as one of the great examples of when this works well. The alien civilization is clearly defined and wonderfully realized. Holmes is able to make the cutaway scenes that don't feature the Doctor and Jo just as absorbing, if not more so than the main action surrounding the Doctor. Part of this has to go to the superlative performance of Michael Wisher, who seems to be flexing his muscles as he gets ready to shine as Davros in season twelve.
Carnival does what any good Doctor Who story should do--entertain the audience for four episodes. It's the right length to be enjoyable and fun, and Holmes has a good sense of pacing so that you're interested all the way through. The story never drags, mainly because the characters are so nicely realized that it's a joy to watch them.
Demonstrating (Mini)Scope by Christopher Fare 21/1/99
Often overlooked between the celebratory hijinks of The Three Doctors and the space saga that is Frontier In Space, this story is perhaps better than either of them. Certainly it just about wins the title of the most colourful Doctor Who story ever!
The star of the story is the script. Expertly written and constructed by Robert Holmes, the viewer is treated to what at first seem two totally different storylines, one on Inter Minor and the other on the S.S. Bernice. This encourages the viewer to keep watching and when it is all explained, the results are very rewarding. The Drashigs are also a great idea; although they were added at the behest of the production team, they are some of the best monsters featured in Doctor Who; it is obvious that they have been well thought out.
The cast also help to bring this story to life. Every part is expertly played: Tenniel Evans, Jenny McCracken and Ian Marter (suitably dashing) bring to life the somewhat tragic characters on the Bernice; the scenes near the end where Major Daly finally crosses off the date on his calendar, and Claire's half-remembrance of events ("Daddy!") really evoke viewer sympathy.
On the other side, Peter Halliday, Terence Lodge and the always-excellent Michael Wisher are wonderfully officious as the Minorians. Their verbose manner of speech and the hesitant manner in which they deal with Vorg and Shirna perfectly capture the xenophobia of these men, and the scenes of Kalik cajoling Orum into co-operating are deliciously played by Wisher; his Kalik almost (but not quite) bettering Davros.
And then there are the Lurmans and the regulars. Vorg and Shirna are by far the most entertaining of the cast vying for attention, and their antics as they try to appear knowledgeable about the Miniscope and outwit their assessors are memorable. Indeed, Vorg's gunning down of the Drashigs because of his having done the Lurman equivalent of National Service is a great Holmesian concept. And Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning put in sterling efforts here as well. Whereas the rest of the cast appear to be playing their roles in an appropriately good-hearted way, the regulars are sober and serious, lending Carnival of Monsters a weight that would otherwise have been missing.
Credit must also go here to the set designers, who create some highly colourful surroundings and evoke three different areas (S.S. Bernice, Inter Minor and the interior of the Scope) brilliantly.
That said, the story does suffer some problems. Firstly, Jo is trapped in the Scope for all but the last five minutes of the story. This leads the "get captured by Andrews, escape again" syndrome, previously enjoyable, to be done to death. Also, the CSO used to depict the plesiosaurus and the Drashigs emerging from the Scope is not good, although better than some of the story's contemporaries. Overall, this story is extremely enjoyable, and a good example of the scope which the series can cover.
A Review by Lance McKinley 2/7/00
This is my personal favorite Pertwee story. Surprisingly enough, this story has neither UNIT nor the Master, nor is it set on Earth -- which is perhaps why it makes my number 1 spot for the 3rd Doctor. It's a witty, engaging, start-from-scratch story, with no returning bad guys. Like much of Holmes's work, this story is political in the nature of its confrontation between good and evil. The Inter Minorians are analagous to the 18th Century Chinese in their self-presumed superiority and hyperparanoia about alien disease and cultural infiltration. The vaudevillian owners of the Scope provide interesting characters, likeable but forced by the Doctor to face their own questionable ethics as owners of the Scope.
Pertwee is in top form as the Doctor, given the chance to really show how good a Doctor he was, removed from the safety of the TARDIS or UNIT headquarters and made to rely on his wits alone. In addition, the 3rd Doctor's friendship with Jo Grant really shines here, and Jo proves herself a tough and capable companion. When our heros first escape the would-be ocean liner and wander around the inner workings of the Scope, it's a moment of sheer delight in a way that only Doctor Who can be, and literally breaks wide open what could have been a boring story. The initial confrontation between the Doctor and the drashigs is also one of the more memorable sequences from the whole series. Robert Holmes once again demonstrates one of the key ingredients of a Doctor Who classic by providing a strong supporting cast, and delivered to us one of the most engaging, clever, and fun Doctor Who stories ever.
Nothing serious, nothing political by Andrew Wixon 19/11/01
I first saw this nearly twenty years ago (at the time of writing), in the 1981 Five Faces repeat season (something which, along with Tom Baker's regeneration, did more than anything else to make me a fan for life). I thought it was great then, and I still think it's great now.
While most great DW stories have their lighter elements it's notoriously difficult to write the series as comedy or comedy-drama. City of Death manages it stunningly well, many other late Baker stories attempt it with variable success, The Romans and The Time Meddler have a go - but I can't think of a single other Pertwee tale that even tries. So it's even more surprising that it succeeds so well.
It didn't seem particularly comical to me when I was *ahem* years old, of course; I just enjoyed Pertwee's dynamism, the entertaining weirdness of the plot, and of course the Drashigs. Most of the jokes depend on you realising the Scope is intended as a satire on TV in general, and perhaps even the series in particular - consider Vorg as a parody of the Doctor (silly outfit, hasn't a clue what he's doing most of the time), Shirna as Jo (a pain in the neck of her supposed employer) and the Scope as the TARDIS (it sort of vaguely resembles the console). But the repetitious nature of life on the Bernice is just funny on a basic level. It is, of course, another wonderful, multi-layered, witty Robert Holmes script, with a neat, not too nasty bad guy (Michael Wisher in proto-Davros mode), plenty of invention and one-liners, and some great cliffhangers.
The realisation of the script is rather superb too. Technically it must have been hugely demanding, given the quantity of essential CSO and model work - but it works really well. Sure, you never forget you're watching special effects, but they're not so shoddy as to be laughable or distracting. The Drashigs are a rare example of a 'large' Who monster that actually works really well (though they're limited conversationalists, probably why they were left as a one-shot).
I suppose I'd better mention a few flaws in the production. You don't see Kalik die, which can be confusing the first time you watch it. And there's a replay of part of episode one in episode two in my copy (Shirna's dance for Pletrac), for no apparent reason - normally this would be a minor concern but it's a serious fault in a story where part of story concerns this kind of bland repetition of events (it makes events on Inter Minor seem somehow similar to the artificial reality of the Scope). Oh well.
A pretty small set of quibbles, you'll agree, for a charming, ingenious and technically accomplished little story. Another of Pertwee's finest hours, courtesy of Robert Holmes.
Holmes you've done it again by Mike Jenkins 10/12/01
It's great to see such a Doug Adams/Monty Python type script in Pertwee's era, a nice chance to get away from those so called realism adventures from Earth. Other good waky scripts from the Pertwee era include Claws of Axos and The Time Monster. This easily the best story that Holmes ever did for the series and the best story of Pertwee's era. It really should have been in season eight, Pertwee's greatest season. The acting is hammy and over the top but it's so tactful and funny that it doesn't really matter. I particularly love Shirna and Vorg who have a very Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy feel about them as does the whole story so I suppose I like it even better then the other two stories I mentioned.
The miniscope idea is quite whimsical indeed as are the cheesy rubbery monsters, even more rubbery then usual and I can't get enough of those Jon Pertwee rivits. They certainley suited him better then that bloody phantom of the opera cape. I can't tell who's sexier Jo or Shirna. With all the whimsy and sexuallity this story seems like Doctor Strangelove in space. Why couldn't Holmes do this kind of thing more? Definetly a top ten favorite. I can't think of anything better to do when you don't want to do anything with the possible exception of reading a Doug Adams masterpiece.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 5/2/02
Colourful characters and settings abound in this clever inventive story from Bob Holmes. The plot stems from a machine that has within it miniature environments with "live" monsters inside, the Doctor lands in the interior of this machine unknowingly, the story progresses from here with events outside of the machine forming an important part of the narrative. The characters, as you would expect from Holmes, are marvelous. They include the showman Vorg, Michael Wisher's conspiring Kalik (his favourite Who part), the formal Pletrac - all consummately played, with astute lines. Letts plain direction was a wise move, the outlandish story is ample. The smart central premise carries the show through - it might not suit everyone's taste but it should hold the attention of most.
Tacky but effective by Tim Roll-Pickering 18/4/02
Carnival of Monsters was made cheaply and it really shows. The entire of Inter Minor is represented only by the arrivals area and so a massive conspiracy to overthrow a President is plotted by two individuals trying to cause a major incident. Many of the sets look cheap, whilst the functionaries look extremely unconvincing and even the Minorians are let down by the various actors' flesh showing through their grey make-up. The story is about a showman and almost appropriately it has the feel of a tacky show piece that could be found in a fairground.
Beyond the limited money spent on the show, Carnival of Monsters has quite a few things going for it. As a triple assault upon bureaucracy, xenophobia and keeping animals for fun it works extremely well, getting all the messages across strongly. There's a great deal of wit in the scripts, allowing for some hilarious moments between the characters, whilst at the same time there's often a strong sense of mystery and then terror as the reality behind the bizarre succession of events is gradually revealed.
There are several examples of the so-called 'Holmesian double acts' in this story, ranging from Kalik and Orum to Vorg and Shirna to the Doctor and Jo. This provides for much exposition of the story, as well as allowing for some wonderful humour such as the bickering between the two Lurmans.
The Drashigs are little more than savage animals but are nevertheless exceptionally fearsome in many scenes. What lets them down is the mixture of film and videotape in scenes such as the one where a Drashig smashes its way into the interior of the Scope on film with the contrast to the videotaped sequences of the Doctor and Jo fleeing being all too clear. Equally the CSO is weak in places as the shots do not always match up. Fortunately not too much is used of it and so many of the scenes work well without relying on the effectiveness of such video tricks.
Above all Carnival of Monsters is a good story that would probably have benefited from having been made in black and white and on film, but otherwise holds up exceptionally well today. 8/10
A Review by Terrence Keenan 22/5/02
I'll get this out of the way and say of less said of the CSO in this story, the better.
Moving forward, Carnival of Monsters is a fun tale, touching on some favorite Bob Holmes topics -- local politics and the realm of the hustler -- while never losing sight of its job to entertain the audience over four episodes.
The real stars of this story are the members of the Inter-Minor governing triad and the Lurmans, Vorg and Shirna. Vorg and Shirna are a classic Bob Holmes double act, with Shirna actually getting the majority of the best lines. Bob Holmes also uses this duo to take some pointed shots at television and entertainment in general. The Minorans -- Kalik, Orum and Pletrac -- are very polite and very xenophobic, an intriguing combination that goes against the normal stereotype of DW alien races. Kalik's scheming is wonderfully done, with his motives kept in the dark long enough to keep the viewer guessing. Orum is Kalik's yes-man and Pletrac waffles back and forth, a ruler who is unsure how to rule.
The regulars are much better here than in The Three Doctors. Pertwee is rock-solid, as always, and Katy finally gets to show that Jo is much more than a dumb, simpering blonde.
It's a fun story with some good lines and better acting. Worth checking out.
A Review by Gareth McG 18/8/02
This was an interesting one. Voted a lowly 60th in the comprehensive DWM poll, even lower on the Dynamic Rankings website and yet without one bad review on this site. It was enough to arouse my curiosity and you'll be happy to hear that I wasn't disappointed. What really keeps this story afloat is that there are so many different things going on and that's reflected by a whole host of separate sets/locations. The Doctor and Jo go from being aboard a ship in 1926 (the S.S. Bernice), to the inner workings of the mini-scope, to a load of caves, to some wonderful looking marshes where upon they encounter the deadly Drashigs. Meanwhile the scope is being operated from the planet Inter Minor by a couple of entertainers who have received a very hostile reception from their intentionally dull hosts.
It is of course The Drashigs who provide the most instantly memorable moments in this show. Robert Holmes amusingly christened them out of an anagram of dishrags firmly believing that that's what they'd end up resembling. The great man's lack of faith in the BBC effects department was well and truly misplaced on this occasion though because the Drashigs are wonderfully realised salivating carnivores who look and sound fantastically frightening. It's just a pity they are done a disservice by the dodgy CSO later in the story
But lets get back to the S.S. Bernice, which plays on the mysterious disappearance of the crew on the legendary Marie Celeste and suggests that they were the victims of a mini-scope experiment (a sort of remote control operated by twisted minds). The crew - although bizarrely not the Doctor and Jo - are repeating their actions without realising it and are having Jekyll & Hyde mood swings. It raises all sorts of interesting analogies with our own little planet because in all reality humans are as guilty as Vorg and Shirna for the way they treat innocent zoo, farm and circus animals. Furthermore, hard as we might try to avoid it, we ourselves are forever pawns to marketing men and society in general just like the characters on the ship are pawns to the scope. To take another slant it's also interesting to contemplate that our creator has something of a warped sense of humour and has manufactured a freak show for his own amusement - Irvine Welsh's sidesplitting portrayal of God in The Acid House screenplay is worth seeking out to get the idea. The Doctor himself hilariously blows up while being referred to as a zoo animal: "Would you kindly stop referring to me as the creature sir or I may well become exceedingly hostile". There are some great moments aboard the ship thanks mostly to a very strong set of actors. Pertwee has injected some much-needed humour into the role compared to his early days and I love his aggravated reaction of "On the contrary sir" when Daly taunts him for being a poor sea traveller. The moustached Daly plays the role of the grand old English traveller marvellously, forever laughing things off in his slightly flushed, intoxicated state. With some credit due to the costume department his niece Claire also evokes the period very well and Ian Marter shows how much promise went unfulfilled when he would become a regular a few years later. But for me it's the addition of the lovely Katy that makes any Pertwee story really special. Asides from being attractive in just about every sense, there's chemistry between her and Jon that has rarely, if ever, been bettered in the show's history. A delightful scene between them occurs on the ship in the first episode when Jo asks The Doctor if he ever admits to being wrong to which a smiling Pertwee responds "No that's impossible".
In contrast events on Inter Minor are less satisfying. Politics is something that I wish just about every form of entertainment would steer clear of and this Doctor Who story is no exception. While most people applaud Michael Wisher's Kalik as the stand out in this show, I could quite gladly have done without him and his fellow Inter Minorians. The three are difficult to distinguish physically for a start (even if this was intended as another piece of subtle humour from Mr. Holmes). The consolation however is that this is actually an amusing satire on the self-serving, boring, paranoid, egotistical world of politics. Like John Major in Spitting Image years later, the Inter Minorians are grey in colour reflecting how mind-numbingly boring they are and the spiel between The Doctor and Pletrac is highly reminiscent of an M.P. in conversation with Jeremy Paxman at his best (or his worst depending on your point of view). You're just waiting for Pertwee to blurt out the immortal line "Answer the question".
Better to concentrate on the entertainers, Vorg and Shirna, who are creating all the hassle for Pletrac and his crew. Shirna is definitely up there in the list of "top 10 best looking birds" on Doctor Who bringing as she does a bit of Carry On seediness into the fold with her English accent, fine figure and skimpy uniform. But most interesting of all is that the pair, along with the scope are very obviously intended as mirror images of The Doctor, his companion and the TARDIS and it's interesting to contemplate how they would have fared together against the likes of the Daleks and The Ice Warriors. Indeed the story itself could have been elevated in status had it sacrificed the Inter Minorians completely to expand upon the characterisation of Vorg, Shirna and the scope.
All in all then a very worthwhile adventure. It may not merit a place in Doctor Who's premier division but it's not far off and certainly deserves to be classed a "forgotten gem". In fact the DVD cover blurb puts it perfectly upon noting that Carnival of Monsters is "one of those quaint little stories that Doctor Who does so well". Overall I'm glad that curiosity got the better of me.
Fanarley Lacarney! by Joe Ford 11/9/02
Robert Holmes has written better scripts for Doctor Who but after this little gem he never quite wrote anything so absurdly amusing again. It just goes to the show, whilst being an ideal drama writer he is equally adept at comedy. There are so many little moments that made me chuckle on first viewing and keeps me going back to watch it again and again. And now I can watch it all on my shiny new DVD. Delicious.
I'm not sure what impresses me more, the characters or the ideas, but both are superb. Renowned for his double acts, he plants more into this story than anything else he wrote. I absolutely adore the three grey faced Inter Minons and their beaurocratic politics. Micheal Wisher is of course utterly perfect in his role of the sceming Kalik, he has such a flair for this sort of quick fire witty dialouge its a shame he was later reduced to bit parts (Planet of Evil). But Terrance Lodge's Orum is just that bit funnier being both a coward and a suck up... every time he agrees with Kalik and offers him a little smile of obedience I crack up! And nobody could fault the great Peter Halliday who was exceptional in every role he had in the series.
On the SS Bernice things are just as good. Major Daley is my favourite character of this piece because he reminds me so much of my Grandad! Loud, brash, very British (and a little racist) and funny, his scenes with Pertwee just sparkle. I just love Ian Marter to pieces and it is obvious from his performance here why Barry Letts was so keen to get him back on the show.
Which leaves Vorg, Shirna, The Doctor and Jo. The former two are another marvellous pair, Vorg being particularly funny with his increasing lies and bafflement as to what the hell is going on! His 'carnival lingo' scene is priceless. Shirna is as cynical as they come but with a good heart... the 'we are entertainers...' bit is great. This pair have the most outrageous gear to ever appear on Who and look all the better for it. I especially enjoyed my partner's hysterical reaction to Shirna's head beads (he wants one!).
The Curse of Peladon is my favourite story for the Doctor-Jo interaction but this one come an extremely close second. With all these wonderful characters it's easy to forget our two protagonists but Holmes' gives them unusually sparkling dialouge and scenes... especially good are the loops on the ship and the discussion about the 'peepshow'. Jo in particular comes across as being resourceful and fun. Very refreshing.
The ideas are just astonishing. The Miniscope, the Drashigs, the clever politics on Inter Minor... it's all very imaginative and appeals to the child in me. What I love is how the story starts with the two settings gorgeously depicted very quickly giving the impression of a very simple story. But then the mysteries pile on and on... and we end up in The Miniscope's works and then in the Marshes... with clever little details like the agression switch and 'who wants to pay good credit bars to see a blob in a snowstorm?' By the last episode I was stunned by the complexity of the story but how dangerously engaging and fun it was and never for a moment confusing. Like I said, a phenomenal script.
Barry Letts was always fond of the kitschy approach (just take a look at Terror of the Autons!) so he is the perfect director for this sort of far out story. Some of his work is wonderful (the exterior ship scenes are exquisitely shot and could come from any big budget movie of the time!) and other moments are a little embarassing (mostly FX problems with the Plasiosaurus and the Drashig coming out of the ship. However, any scene with the Drashigs smashing through things is instantly cool and their emergence from the marshes is a very memorable moment. Letts is always good at motivating his actors (Autons also had some fine performances) and he truly gets some gold from his cast.
I tell you why I am so fond of this story. It has all the ingredients of great Doctor Who. A fantastic script with solid concepts and sparkling dialouge. Excellent performances from all the cast. A story with lots of mysteries that are all resolved satisfactorily. Lots of 'corrr wow!' moments. And the odd duff bit.
A Review by Paul Williams 7/5/03
This is something of an oddity. There are moments of sheer genius and, sadly more frequently, scenes which are both boring and pointless. Most of these occur on the ship and it is strange that the Doctor willingly changes history by restoring it to the Indian ocean. The boat's inhabitants are so dull that it is hard to see why Vorg thought they could entertain anybody. Further the whole notion of them going through the same scene argues against the entertainment value of the scope. Would you pay to watch the same two minutes again and again? Even if it did involve a dinosaur popping its head in and out of the sea.
Robert Holmes had a gift for writing con-men like Vorg but he usually made them allies, rather than adversaries of the Doctor. Episode four might have benefited more from Vorg trying to protect his livestock and livelihood. However, as was usual in the Pertwee era, the politicians were most affected by the Doctor's wrath. Here we have the ultimate civil servants with Pletrac being particulary good.
The real let-down was the ending. The Drashigs break out of the scope, Vorg manages to fix the gun and kill them after they have disposed of the traitor. All over in less than ten seconds. In later eras this story would probably have been an episode shorter and better for it.
A Review by Paul Rees 28/6/03
Carnival of Monsters is, in my opinion, one of the most consistently underrated of Pertwee's stories.
Central to the story is the idea of the 'miniscope' , which is simply wonderful. I remember reading the novelisation of this story as a child and being entranced by the concept. The actual programme doesn't disappoint either: the sets of the SS Bernice are very well done, and the cast give sterling performances. It is a shame that we don't see a few more of the miniscope's 'worlds', but I suppose that the expense mitigated against that possibility. The monsters of the piece, the Drashigs, are pretty effective when seen in isolation, although they lose some of this effectiveness when seen 'attacking' their hapless prey.
Vorg and Shirna provide some nicely judged comic relief without going over the top, and the inhabitants of Inter Minor are also very amusing. The opening sequence - featuring the 'functionaries' operating as baggage handlers - must be one of the most surreal in the series' history. I'm also particularly fond of the ending of episode 1, which must have been truly shocking to watch at the time. One of Doctor Who's greatest 'What the...?' moments.
It is nice to have a story where there is not a clearly identifiable enemy as such. For the first half, Vorg and Shirna effectively fulfil this role through their use of the miniscope, and in the latter stages the focus shifts to Kalik and Orum (although their plan to depose the President by setting loose the drashigs does seem to be a little odd to say the least). Also rather odd is the fact that Vorg just happens to have the spare part for the eliminator gun with him, thus enabling him to avert the threat of devastation - an amazing coincidence, to be sure.
But then, narrative realism isn't really what Carnival is about. If, on the other hand, you're after great characterisation, ingenious plot devices and witty Doctor/companion interaction - well, in that case you've come to the right place. 9/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 22/9/03
Carnival Of Monsters is an entertaining yarn complete with many of Robert Holmes trademarks. The story itself isn`t too challenging - basically its a tale of goldfish in a bowl (the bowl being the scope) and its repercussions on those outside it. What you get is great characterisation, impressive monsters, effectively realised in the Drashigs and some great moments (the chickens scene springs to mind), ably supported by a stellar cast who seem to be enjoying themselves. A definite highlight of the Pertwee era.
Peachy Pertwee by Jonathan Martin 9/5/04
Wow! A Pertwee story that's actually real Doctor Who! The best stories of his era after season 7 are (mostly) the ones where he's away from UNIT and the middle aged mum's paradise of "cute" characters like the Brigadier and Mike Yates and (sometimes) the Master.
Besides Jo, we've got a whole new loveable bunch of characters to please mumsy, but woe and behold, this time they're fun for all the family!
Campness everywhere in this story, which was slightly surprising to me, since I had read the Target novel several times before actually viewing it, and I was taking characters like Kalik somewhat seriously.
Jumpin' Jivin' JP wanders through the wackiness with his usual slightly pompous severity, but it works wonders for the humour here... with scenes like greeting the chicken, and him snapping "On the contrary sir" to Major Daly's "poor traveler" theory is easily one of his funniest moments.
Jo is... ok. I still fail to understand how people find her particularly attractive though, I'd take Shirna over her any day; though she seems to have an attraction to silly old blokes in funny costumes - bit like Jo in that way really.
One minor complaint in regards to the scene where the "agrometer" is turned up, and they start fighting - it's not quite as interesting or funny as it could've been, as we see JP waving his arms around in an undignified way every second episode - just imagine if it was Pat Troughton in that scene, getting into the fisticuffs!
It would've worked better with a "loveometer" or some such, but I guess that was always somewhat unlikely.
Certainly one of the slightly underrated Holmes tales, much better than Ark in Space, that's for sure! One certainly sees oneself sitting back with one's cup of tea after a hard days work, and enjoying this carnival a few more times...
A Haiku by Finn Clark Updated 3/5/20
The coolest, oddest
Pertwee story, with Robert
Holmes on mighty form.
"One has no desire to be devoured by alien monstrosities, even in the name of political progress." by Terrence Kennan 5/11/06
It's quite underrated, innit?
It's probably not the first story you think of when you think of John Pertwee, or Robert Holmes, but it also seems to be a story that most fans enjoy, regardless of what they think of the Pertwee era in general.
It's the rare bird in Pertwee-land that isn't concerned about alien invasions, UNIT, the Master, or any of the other totems of the Big Nose era, like Venusian whatever. There's also no big threat to the universe, either. Like Lawrence Miles and Tat Wood say in About Time, volume 3, Carnival of Monsters is "more concerned with drama and comedy." And it's that, along with a multilayered, satirical script, weird but fun characters, and some smart direction which makes Carnival stand out.
The Bob Holmes that fandom knows of really makes his first appearance here. Holmes wants to show us that petty bureaucrats make far more sinister fellows than any blowhard megalomaniac with a conquest wish. Most of us are fortunate to not to have to deal with blowhard megalomaniacs in our lives. But we've all dealt with bureaucrats in our time. We've met weasels like Kalik, Pletrac and Orum in our lives. They connect with us in a way that most Who villains in any time rarely do, without some contrived sympathetic back-story or whatnot.
Holmes seems to be more interested in giving TV (and Doctor Who in particular) a tweaking. Carnival of Monsters would fall under the category of postmodern, especially since the coming of the self-aware storytelling styles of the Scream movies. Such lines as "The Drashigs are great favorites with the children", "Who's going to pay good credits for a blob in a snowstorm?" and others still work as well today as they did back in 1972. Most of Vorg's pitches about the Miniscope are all about TV.
The other big Holmes trait, the double acts, makes its appearance here. Similar to The Ribos Operation, there are three of them: Vorg and Shirna; the Inter-Minoran bureaucrat trio; and the Doctor and Jo. And, as usual with Holmes, each part of the double act gets to play straight man and comic. They not only help move the story along, but each group helps expand the character and the world the story takes place in. So, not only do humor and drama mix together in pleasant ways, we also get drawn into the world without ever leaving the small sets. Carnival of Monsters always feels much bigger than it looks onscreen.
I could tell you in a simple summing up of how good Carnival of Monsters is, but if you want to understand why it so good, just ask the BBC. There's a reason Carnival of Monsters was included in the "Five Faces of Doctor Who" repeats of 1981 and that it came out on DVD sooner than other acknowledged Pertwee "classics". Anyhoo, watch it yourself, and you'll feel better for doing so.
A Review by Brian May 9/6/08
Carnival of Monsters has aged very well. It's one of Robert Holmes's finest scripts and, seeing he was one of the programme's best writers, that's more than a glowing endorsement. The story has layers of razor-sharp humour, with a multitude of satiric targets: xenophobia, paranoia, bureaucracy and a very cluey look at television viewing and how entertainment is defined, some twenty years before it became fashionable to do so.
As you'd expect from Holmes, the characters are excellent. There are two sets of his famous double acts: Orum and Kalik; Vorg and Shirna. The rapport between Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning is excellent and you can tell they're relishing their lines. In episode four we get to see the third Doctor as we've never seen him before: befuddled. His bemused reaction to Vorg's palare is terrific, as is his overall sense of exasperation at the rigidity of Inter Minorian politics. Among the gems of character humour we have Orum and Kalik's cliquey conspiring. Then there's Pletrac's inflexibility, and it's hilarious that when he tries to bend the rules, the other two trap him by means of his own bureaucratic mindset! For laugh-out-loud funny, there's the priceless "live terminal" moment with Vorg and Shirna.
All the acting is fantastic, with every piece of casting being spot on. It's difficult to nominate a "best performance", but, if forced to, I'd single out Leslie Dwyer as runner-up and Michael Wisher as the winner. Indeed, in Kalik you see a foreshadowing of Wisher's stellar portrayal of Davros in a couple of years' time. Dudley Simpson's music is very good, especially the quasi-carnival theme. The sets inside the MiniScope are wonderful and the Drashigs are excellently designed monsters, done justice by clever camera angles. The moments prior to their appearance, with the Doctor and Jo standing in the marshes, are some of the most atmospheric and suspenseful of the Pertwee years. There wasn't much of this outside season seven, but here it's brimming with tension. We viewers know the Drashigs will soon appear; we're aware they're fearsome monsters, but haven't yet seen them in full. And when we do, it's a great cliffhanger: while those for episodes one and three are also pretty amazing.
There's not much else to say. A bit of dodgy CSO aside, nothing out of the ordinary for the era, Carnival of Monsters is near perfect. A class act! 9.5/10
A Review by Michael Hickerson 26/8/10
It's always interesting to note how, for a number of years, the BBC didn't really show many repeats of older Doctor Who stories. It's also interesting that when the time came to show a story to represent its era for the 20th anniversary of the show, the BBC and John Nathan-Turner decided that Carnival of Monsters would be the representative from the Pertwee era.
Set in the fourth season of Pertwee's work on the show, Monsters has some of the hallmarks that defined the third Doctor's era but it's missing a few crucial ones. It's the first story in which the Doctor is once again given the freedom to wander in time and space, thus eliminating the Earthbound and exile stories that many fans associated with the Pertwee era. It does have some segments that take place on Earth, but those are confined within the miniscope itself and they take place in the recent past, not the "present day" of the UNIT stories. The script also doesn't include an alien race bent on world domination or the Master behind the scenes, pulling strings.
It does, however, feature Pertwee and the production team in full command of the series and the show running on all cylinder. Monsters is the highlight of the tenth season because it's imaginative little story by one of the series' best writers. It's got tension, alien drama and some rather chilling monsters in the form of the Drashigs. Of course, much of the horror and novelity of the Drashigs is quickly stripped away from the show when later stories began to rely on them too much as the most terrifying thing in the universe.
The concept of the Doctor and Jo caught up inside a miniaturized, electronic zoo is an interesting one and, visually, the show does a nice job of having the two crawl around inside the miniscope. Yes, you'll notice they're crawling through the same set four or five times, but given that it's the inside of a circuit, you won't mind as much.
Where the script really excels is the events going on outside the miniscope. It's the alien world of Inter Minor and it's one of the more fascinatingly glimpses alien worlds in all of Doctor Who. We never venture outside the space port, but the story still gives us glimpses and clues about the world, its inhabitants and the overall society that help make it feel more robust than your standard Doctor Who planet. There are two distinct classes in the world and there is some kind of ongoing tension between them. The story doesn't seek to break them down so much as it plays on them for some of the story's tension. There's also one of the first appearances of the famous Robert Holmes double acts with certain aliens plotting to use the miniscope to overthrow the government and seize power.
It's one of the more deceptively classic stories in all of Doctor Who. It's not one that many list in their top ten of all time, but it's still one that is well regarded by fans.
It's clearly undergone a re-assessment in recent years, given that it was one of the middle third Doctor stories to hit VHS release but was the second third Doctor story to come out on DVD. It could have been the first had Spearhead from Space not recently been remastered and made virtually ready for DVD release as the line was getting started.
It's a fascinating little story that not only is visually well done but also delivers in the storyline. It may not have all the elements we associate with the Pertwee era, but that doesn't make it any less a classic of that era.