Review of Doctor Who ‘Carnival of Monsters’ (Series 10)

Neela Debnath

doctor 5 final 300x225 Review of Doctor Who ‘Carnival of Monsters’ (Series 10)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be writing a review focusing on one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

By 1973 Doctor Who had been on the air for a decade and was going as strong as ever. To mark the milestone there was an anniversary special entitled The Three Doctors which saw the first Doctor (William Hartnell) and the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) join forces with the third Doctor and current incarnation at the time (Jon Pertwee). The serial was broadcast from December 1972 to January 1973 and was the first serial of series 10.

The Three Doctors was followed by Carnival of Monsters which featured the Doctor and Jo Grant (Katy Manning) landing on a seemingly ordinary ship in the middle of the sea. Grant is convinced that they are still on earth however appearances can be deceptive, particularly when it comes to Tardis time travel with the Doctor at the helm.

In reality the Doctor and his companion have accidentally travelled into a miniscope, a sideshow attraction which miniaturizes and stores different life forms that can be controlled and observed through a screen. The miniscope belongs to Vorg (Leslie Dwyer) and Shirna (Cheryl Hall), a pair of carnival performers who have arrived on the planet Inter Minor to provide entertainment to its over-worked inhabitants. The lack of leisure has led to violence so to remedy this problem the president has invited Vorg and Shirna to put on a show. While the duo try to prepare a performance they are being hindered by some of the higher level bureaucrats on the planet who are plotting a rebellion.

Carnival of Monsters is a story within a story, there is the story inside the miniscope and one going on outside and it is a while before a link is established between the two. It is a well-crafted plot that keeps the audience guessing for quite a while and this suspense serves as the driving force behind the serial.

The miniscope is a brilliant plot device because it puts the Doctor in several different settings and allows him to interact with different characters and creatures that he would not usually be able to meet in the course of one serial. In some ways it is like several adventures rolled into one.

Part of the intrigue is that all of the characters that the audience encounters, bar Grant and the Doctor, seem untrustworthy. At times it seems that Vorg and Shirna are the antagonists but in the end they are mere simpletons. The real villains of the serial are the Minorians seeking to lead a rebellion against the ruling president. The plot strand involving the rebellion and the inhabitants of Inter Minor is very interesting and has enough scope to create a serial in itself however this story sits on the side lines instead of taking centre stage.

In relation to performances Pertwee is on form as usual, in this series his outfit has been toned down a bit to an olive green jacket and a brown overcoat which gives him a Sherlock Holmes look. Nevertheless, the flamboyant ruffled shirt is still present and he is even mistaken for a carnival man by Vorg due to his theatrical attire.

At last Grant has got some spunk, it’s taken a while but she is no longer a shy and timid blonde waif. Manning is great in showing this new side to her character and she makes it real. In Carnival of Monsters Grant really challenges the Doctor and says to him: “Do you ever admit that you’re wrong?” to which he states that it is “impossible”. She also questions his ability to fly the Tardis and it’s clear that there has been a shift in her character.

During her time with the Doctor she has matured into a self-assured young woman, taking her cue from him. She is getting smarter and more confident, having seen things on her adventures with him and becoming streetwise. The Doctor does not suffer fools gladly and if someone is hindering him he will not put up with them for very long.

Although the special effects are dated the sense of terror is not completely lost because the Drashigs, the monsters of this serial, are such hideous-looking creatures. There is still something frightening about them. For contemporary audiences to enjoy this serial it is worth suspending disbelief and appreciating it simply because the story is an interesting one.

Overall the serial is a mixture of period drama, fantasy and science fiction that takes the audience on several small adventures. The strength of this story lies in the elaborate plot which feels quite innovative and fresh.

For more information about the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’

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DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • Andy S

    As good as Nu-Who is, when compared to the classic series at it’s peak, it doesn’t hold a candle to it (FX being the obvious exception). Condensed into 45 minute chunks (allowing the show to be more easily sold overseas), what little plot there is often un-engaging and simplistic, bare bones with dialog reduced as dull exposition, all told at a frantic pace and often relying on the deus-ex-machine of the sonic screwdriver to extract the characters from a tight corner (the Doctor once used the SS to make a squad of advancing Cybermen to go in the wrong direction). The show is pompous and wrapped up in it’s own self importance, and constantly reminds the viewer of that.

    Compare this to original Who at it’s best, which takes it’s time to tell a story, is whimsical, packed with delightful character moments and frequently relies upon the skill and charisma of the cast to make the, sometimes risible, material work. It’s an altogether more charming, fun experience that’s only really let down by it’s production values. Even the clunkers, of which there are many, particularly in the 80’s, are still strangely watchable because of this.

    Nu-Who, however, has wonderful special effects, the beautiful Karen Gillan and a quirky Matt Smith who, lacking the charisma and maturity of his predecessors, still manages to produce a watchable and interesting character.

  • rabbitlug

    I agree, I feel the same, though I have kept quiet about my feelings as I was not sure whether the show had changed, or I had grown up.

    As a kid, I thought Tom Baker was the best Dr, for his voice as much as acting.

  • Andy S

    I think it’s down to the show changing as I can still rewatch and enjoy classic Who. I don’t find the new material has the same rewatchability, as it seems to have more of a US sci-fi drama vibe to it with a Doctor Who theme often added as an afterthought, with too much emphasis on the female companion as the central protagonist.

    I agree with you about Tom Baker – he was the man!

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