Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Serial 66: Carnival of Monsters

Doctor: Jon Pertwee (3rd Doctor)
Companion: Jo Grant

Written by: Robert Holmes
Directed by: Barry Letts

Editor's Note: Hey, guys! Matt here! Just wanted to say it's a huge bummer that I'm not reviewing this one. Because it is awesome. But we can't keep giving Cassandra loads of weak ones, right? RIGHT!? Ah well. Ce'st la. Here she is with some discussion of the awesome Robert Holmes, and stay tuned, cuz the rest of the year is mostly doozyish. Mostly.

Background & Significance: So, the tenth season of anything is a pretty big deal. But especially so for the little sci-fi show called Doctor Who.

As such, since producer Barry Letts wanted to make Season 10 as big a deal as he could on such a tight BBC budget, "Carnival of Monsters" was written with that sort of constraint in mind. Penned by the brilliant Robert Holmes (who, you might have noticed, we kind of fangirl about over here, but with good reason), the action is very distinctly split between two central locations and two guest casts that never meet up, which cuts back on having to pay guest actors for all the days of filming. And he does this without sacrificing story, characterization, or dialogue. Awesome, huh?

This serial is also notable because the Doctor's definitely got his TARDIS back. Free from the constraints and meddling of Time Lords for helping them out in the previous serial "The Three Doctors", he's pretty much got full and complete control again, and can go where he pleases. And it's pretty great.

One can also view this serial in the light of commentary on BBC treatment and perception of the show, through the Vorg/Shirna (classic Holmes duo!) storyline on Inter Minor and the trouble they get up to there. You'll see what I mean as we go.

So let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part 1
We start off on a distant planet, with a cargo shuttle landing and some aging members of the Blue Man Group having a chat. Something about encountering aliens?

Check it out, Santa’s workshop!

Out from the cargo hold and onto the luggage carousel pop two alien visitors, Vorg and Shirna. We’ll be seeing a lot more of them in a little bit. But first, one of the mute worker aliens goes crazy, which prompts one of the Blue Man Group to shoot him with his spinny laser. Apparently this is happening more and more frequently, because they’re going to subject the poor unconscious guy to tests and analysis before “eradicating” him. Intense.

Cut to a ship floating in an ocean somewhere. Hark, I hear the TARDIS!

Jo and the Doctor find themselves in the hold of a ship. The Doctor’s insistent they’re on Metebelis 3. We’ll find out if he’s right in a bit.

Back on the far-away planet of Inter Minor, Vorg and Shirna strip off their space suits to reveal their ridiculous clothing underneath. Turns out they’re traveling showmen, and they’ve got a “carnival of monsters” inside this box-thing. The worker aliens and the Blue Man Group come to see what’s up.

But not before speaking to one another quite clinically about the ridiculousness and inferiority of these first alien visitors. Assholes.

The box-thing starts beeping and Vorg, ever the man of science, does the first thing you should do when your important appliance or electronic device starts making a funny noise: pound on it with your fist. And then kick it a couple of times for good measure.

Of course, Shirna keeps insisting that it’s a systems defect, but what does she know? She’s a woman.

(Spoilers, she’s right. Why? Because she’s a woman. =P)

Meanwhile in the hold of the ship, The Doctor is still insisting that he and Jo are on Metebelis 3. Jo, however, remains skeptical. Probably because there’s the sound of engines. The Doctor goes off to find out where they are; of course The Doctor’s not ready to admit he’s completely wrong, per se. Psh. Typical.

Before he’s able to go too far, though, Jo flips out because something’s moving around in the hold.
Just kidding, they’re chickens. The Doctor greets them like the pimp he is. Then they go above decks and sneak around like ninjas.

They head into one of the cabins just before a group of three people head in after them, fresh from a walk around the deck: an older gentleman, his daughter dressed in some awesome 1920’s garb, and one of the officers on the ship. Also, the officer is TOTALLY Harry Sullivan. Don’t believe me?

The Doctor and Jo attempt to sneak back out of the cabin, but before they’re able to, there’s a roar and a scream from outside. Sea monster? Oh yes.


For some reason Jo and The Doctor try to leave *again* and they get caught. Well, duh.

They make small talk with the Major and his daughter, and are almost convincing enough to get away, when Officer Harry shows up and spoils the party. Way to go, Harry. (He looks really good in that uniform.)

Back on Inter Minor, a higher up member of the Blue Man Group (you can tell because of his swanky cape with weird quilted shoulder pads) shows up to complain about the worker alien who’d gone berserk earlier.

And then stuff gets tricky because Robert Holmes is awesome and likes to intercut, so now we’re back with the Doctor and Officer Harry with the stick up his ass. He leads them away to one of the smaller passenger cabins and locks them in there until the captain is at his leisure to see them. But the Doctor notices something peculiar on the floor in the hallway just outside.

He asks about it, but Officer Harry can’t see it, and gets all bad tempered and locks them in the room. I still can’t get over how good he looks. I’m a sucker for a man in uniform.

The Doctor makes all these high-handed statements like the metal plate outside in the hallway being blocked from Officer Harry’s consciousness, and how everything is clearer because we now know the name of the ship is the SS Bernice. But he’s the Doctor, so that’s okay. He’s allowed to pull sh*t out of the air like this. And Pertwee’s really good. Lookit his silly thinking face.

Ah, but the Doctor’s convinced that the metal disc out there is not made of a metal found on earth. That’s interesting. And then he goes on to explain that the SS Bernice vanished before it could reach India on exactly the same day the Doctor and Jo have landed there. Well, that’s convenient. Maybe it got eaten by sea monsters and we’re about to find out?

The Doctor examines the lock and Jo asks if he can bust them out with the Sonic Screwdriver, but he says that only works on electronic locks. Boy, did that get retconned.

Oh, but it’s okay, because Jo randomly has a huge key ring with tons of skeleton keys on it.

And she looks kinda crazy right there. Go with it!

We’re back on Inter Minor, where the newly arrived Blue Man tries to make sense of Vorg and Shirna. They travel from planet to planet with this weird machine? But why?

They’re entertainers, insists Shirna. But the Blue Man Group have no concept of this word (or fun), and Shirna decides to dance around for them to some jazzy music.

The Blue Man Group hold a conference. I was right about them hating fun, because amusement is prohibited on this planet. What a bunch of squares. But President Zarb (Pronounced “Zob”. Like kneel before Zob! … Didn’t get it? No? Sigh. Okay. Nevermind then.) is considering lifting this ban because that’s probably why all the worker aliens are going crazy. Careful there, buddy. You could have a worker’s revolution on your hands.

On the basis that their profession encourages amusement, two of the three rule that Vorg and Shirna are to be denied entrance visas.

I also just want to point out that the dialogue between these guys is impeccable. Their deliveries as well. They’re snooty and methodical, awkward yet smooth talking at the same time, and it’s quite fascinating to watch them go at it.

Meanwhile, it becomes a little more obvious that Vorg is a con man, and good at what he does, because he hands the quilted-cape Blue Man a cassette tape, insisting it’s from President Zarb himself. Blue Man gets all excited and wanders off to play it while Shirna calls Vorg on what he’s done.

On the ship, the Doctor and Jo have busted out of the room and are inspecting the metal panel. The Doctor conveniently has the equipment needed to get the thing open on the TARDIS, but there’s just one small problem: getting there and back.

We’re back with Officer Harry and the Major and his daughter, but hmm, this is odd. We’ve definitely seen this scene before. Talk of curried chicken and finishing books and turns about the deck? Yeah, pretty sure we saw this already.

Oh good, it’s not just me having déjà vu, The Doctor and Jo have noticed it as well. The Doctor has this theory about everyone having been programmed to repeat the same behavior patterns over and over again.

Even our dear friend the plesiosaurus, Doctor? Well, we’re about to find out. How? With our first youtube, of course. This one will take us all the way to the end of the episode, and there’s a great twist.

Part 2
So this giant hand comes reaching from out of nowhere and grabs the TARDIS (see? This is what happens when you don’t watch the youtubes. You miss out on greatness like that). The Doctor and Jo try to theorize where the hand came from, how the deck swings open, before the Doctor gets all man-of-actiony and goes off on a quest to find the TARDIS. I love it when he does that.

Back with Vorg and Shirna, we find something the Doctor’s looking for.

D’awww, Tiny Model TARDIS is so cute and tiny.

Even though he just took it out of the machine, Vorg puts it back inside somewhere. Uhhhh oh. That could be problematic in the future.

The Doctor and Jo are sneaking around on deck again, and they spy Officer Harry and the Major’s daughter. He is oh-so dashing. I’m pretty sure I like him better here than as actual Harry. I blame the outfit.

Our two friends from the Blue Man Group circle Vorg and Shirna like weird little vultures until they ask what exactly the machine does. Allow Vorg to demonstrate, dear chaps.

(More outfits I can’t get over? Theirs. So delightfully outrageous. I love it.)

He turns the thing on and we happen to see Officer Harry and his pretty lady on the screen, having the conversation we just witnessed. Well, that’s nifty. Vorg makes up all this bullsh*t about them being Tellurians and whatever, but we all know they’re human and Vorg has no idea what he’s talking about. But he totally sells it. And it is awesome.

He shows off a few more creatures in his collection, like Ogrons (who totally show up in another Pertwee serial down the line and my mind just exploded while rewatching this. Awesome.) and Drashigs. Who are apparently the most ferocious, evil, and scary creatures in the universe.

Shirna spots one, and there’s an image on the screen that… well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. (Don’t you hate that?)

These guys are not amused.

Vorg then goes on to explain his interesting little machine. The images on the screen are not merely recordings, but actual projections of what’s going on inside. Pretty awesome, no? That means tiny Doctor and Jo are running around in there somewhere. The thought makes me teehee.

Meanwhile, our dear friend the plesiosaurus is attacking the ship again. Jo and the Doctor try to sneak by and get back into the hold (again! I don’t even know why this time. Sure you’re not on a loop too, Doctor?) but the Major notices them and starts asking questions. The Doctor notes that the man has no memory of their previous encounter.

Vorg fiddles with a dial on the machine that supposedly makes everyone start behaving abnormally aggressive and manly. Officer Harry follows through with that promise, which makes the Doctor and Jo go “huh what?”

And then Officer Harry and the Doctor get into a boxing match! AND IT IS AWESOME.

The Doctor totally K.O.’s Harry for a second and he and Jo run off, but big manly man Harry starts shooting his gun and sh*t gets real. They make for the big metal plate in the floor and almost manage to get it open, but they get captured. Again! Because if you haven’t noticed by now, that’s what happens on Doctor Who.

Harry’s all ready and eager to shoot the Doctor in the face, but fortunately Vorg turns the dial down and makes everything normal and happy again.

Shirna notices that Jo and the Doctor are new in the exhibit, just as they manage to get the metal plate open and down into the unknown they go.

The Doctor technobabbles and admires the “vintage” circuitry while they wander around. He’s so cute and happy.

Blue Man with the cape comes rushing back in and declares the tape a forgery. Uh-oh. Busted.

And then one of the other guys goes and tattles on Vorg and the fact that his machine has a bunch of tiny live critters running around inside it. Caped Blue Man loses his sh*t because they’ve been imported without the proper license. Hahaha, I love that these guys are obsessed with bureaucracy. Ah well, since they’ve failed to comply with standards, the specimens and the machine will have to be utterly destroyed.

Blue Man Group calls for a detachment of eradicators and departs while Shirna calls Vorg on his mistakes and wishes she’d never left her dance company. Vorg mocks her by dancing around. There’s lots of witty repartee, which I love.

The eradicator squad is back with his huge laser gun on a tripod. They shoot!

Inside the machine, tiny Doctor and Jo are crawling around, trying to escape the heat from the laser beam. But it’s strange, because the miniscope remains mostly undamaged. Oh, so the eradicator only works on organic molecules? Nice one.

Even though the Blue Man Group’s sure that the life inside the machine is all gone now, we cut away to Jo and the Doctor recuperating from the heat, still very much alive. Sweet deal.

Check it out! Cyberman!

The screen on the miniscope is kinda fuzzy and staticky now, but everything inside seems to be all right.

Now I need to give names to the three Blue Men, because stuff with them starts to get real interesting from here on out. The guy with the cape is Pletrac, the highly opinionated and outspoken one is Kalik, and Kalik’s doofy sidekick is Orum. Got that? Okay. Good. Stay with me.

So the three of them find out that the specimens inside the miniscope are still alive, and Kalik starts railing against the current administration and President Zarb for being fools. Pletrac admonishes Kalik for saying such things, even if he is the President’s brother. Oh, that’s interesting. Kalik’s convinced that Vorg and Shirna are spies, and since the army’s been disbanded they’ve just demonstrated the inefficiency of their only defense: the Eradicator. Sh*t, son.

The Doctor and Jo are still wandering around inside the machine til the Doctor finds an air duct and Jo astutely notes that it probably leads to the outside. And then all of a sudden this giant metal pointy thing tries to stab at them.

And then the Eye of Sauron is watching them!

Oh, just kidding, it’s Vorg taking a peek into the machine. And then Kalik holds him at gunpoint, demanding to know where the transmitter is. Because of course they’ve been sending signals full of valuable information on Inter Minor. Nah, but he’s just an easy-going con man. Give a brother some slack, Kalik.

Poking around inside the miniscope, Orum finds Tiny TARDIS… Which then grows back into regular TARDIS and freaks everybody out in the process.

Kalik is totally a warmonger and is convinced that the TARDIS is the forerunner for some Tellurian invasion waiting to spread horror and germ warfare on Inter Minor, playing on everybody’s fears. But Vorg insists there’s no way anything can escape the machine.

Cut to the Doctor, filing his way out of the machine.

They leave the cave they’ve found themselves in and go out onto the marsh, doin’ some ‘splorin’. Which sets off an alert on the scope, and our friends on Inter Minor tune in just in time to see the Doctor and Jo meet their first Drashig.

Part 3

We’ll start off with a youtube, so you can see some Inter Minor happenings, Jo and the Doctor tooling around on the marsh, and some Drashig lovin’.

Why the pool of swamp-gas-ridden water that Jo’s stuck in doesn’t also explode, I’ll never know. It’s cool though.

They escape back into the inner circuitry of the miniscope, and the Doctor figures out what they’re stuck in. Jo gets upset at the fact that they’re all stuck inside running about while some giant creatures just sit up there and watch them. Of course, the Doctor is quick to point out the fact that keeping an ant farm or goldfish in a bowl is no different. Ah, Doctor, pointing out perspectives.

The Doctor’s all mad because he and the other Time Lords banned miniscopes a while ago, but this one must have escaped the scourge. But there’s no time to ruminate on that now, the Drashigs are on the move and still following the scent!

Poor bureaucratically-minded Pletrac is more and more distraught at what’s going on, because he’s starting to bend the rules. He wants to deport Vorg, Shirna, and the miniscope with them, but Kalik insists that it needs to be destroyed, as the law dictates. He must be up to something cuz he sends Pletrac away to go get special permission from the President and then totally smirks.

Jo and the Doctor are busy running for their goddamn lives away from the Drashig. The miniscope makes a beeping noise again, alerting Vorg and Shirna that something’s wrong. Because she’s awesome, Shirna figures out what’s going on first: the Drashigs are loose inside the machine! They’ve escaped from their circuit! Oh noes! She tells Kalik and Orum what’s up when they come over to investigate all the rumpus.

Ohhhhh but Kalik is very very clever. He knew the Drashigs would follow Jo and the Doctor, no matter where they went. He and Orum have a little chat about it, and there’s some total bromanceage going on.

By leading the Drashigs out onto the face of the planet, Kalik hopes to spark a revolution, taking down the current administration and instating himself as new leader where he can then wage war against whoever he pleases.

The Doctor and Jo are in a bit of a tight spot: they can’t go on anymore because there’s this crazy drop, and Drashigs are following. The Doctor proposes “lateral thinking”, and they decide to go back to the SS Bernice to get some rope. Lucky for them, there’s a way back not too far away, and they wind up in the hold again. Quite unluckily, they spot Jo and lead her off, leaving the Doctor alone.

Youtube time!

Whilst all this nonsense is happening, Kalik and Orum sabotage the Eradicator so the Drashigs are sure to attack the city and wreak havoc, the blame falling on President Zarb. Yeah, let's release Drashigs on the city. Awesome. This plan is foolproof.

After Officer Harry tossed dynamite into the hold, Shirna notices the dials on the miniscope are going out of control, and the power is dropping. Vorg says he could probably fix it, but he’s gone and lost the handbook.

The Doctor takes his rope and lowers himself into the abyss. Meanwhile, the environment on the ship must have reset itself, because they “discover” Jo again and can’t remember what just happened (which is a shame, because it was quite awesome).

And then Tiny Leprechaun Doctor staggers out of the miniscope like a drunk!

Part 4

So the Doctor’s out of the miniscope, and, just like the TARDIS, grows from cute and tiny to normal size.

Pletrac FREAKS OUT and orders the Eradicator units to shoot the Doctor. But of course, the thing’s been sabotaged, so it wouldn’t work anyway, but Kalik steps in and stops the proceedings in time for the Doctor to regain his senses and deliver some verbal pimp slappage all around. Awww yeah.

Vorg is convinced the Doctor’s a showman like him (must be the fancy clothes, eh?) and attempts to talk to him in some kinda carnie lingo which sounds pretty cool. The Doctor doesn’t get it, but they seem to be hitting it off pretty well until Vorg refers to his collection as “livestock”. Uhhhhh oh. Shouldn’ta done that.

The Doctor gets righteously angry and he’s gonna shut them down. Oh, but the miniscope is already on its way to shutting itself down, the power’s failing and the life support systems are hitting critical.

Back on the ship, Jo’s being a creeper and watching these guys stand WAY too close together.

Kalik and Orum discuss what should happen if their plot is discovered. Kalik suggests putting the missing part of the Eradicator into Vorg and Shirna’s luggage, so they can be the scapegoats if anything goes wrong. Good plan, man.

The Doctor’s still tinkering with the scope, trying to figure out a way to rescue everything inside, including Jo. Vorg and Shirna notice one of the outer panels wiggling; the Drashigs have reached the outer hold! They try to book it out of there unnoticed, but they’re caught by Pletrac.

Jo, meanwhile, sneaks into the hold, but of course gets caught and locked into one of the cabins again. Lucky for her, she’s got her skeleton keys handy.

The Doctor tries to ask Vorg about the particulars of the machine, but he has no clue. Shirna finally says that Vorg won it off someone, and the Doctor tells Vorg to go look for a small disc, which probably has all the instructions on it. He plans on hooking up the TARDIS to the machine to keep the life support systems going long enough to get Jo out and send everything back where they came from.

Kalik and Orum are ironing out the last of Kalik’s plans for using the Drashigs to spark revolution. I continue to love their dialogue. (“One has no wish to be devoured by alien monstrosities, even in the cause of political progress!”)

The Doctor has rigged up some sort of circuit with switches and hooked it up to the miniscope and TARDIS. He intends to go back into the scope, but Pletrac will have none of that. Oh well, too late, Vorg’s flipped the Phase One switch. Pletrac shoots the circuit with his spinny laser gun thing. Now they’ll never get the Doctor out in time!

The Doctor’s been successfully shrinkified, Jo’s escaped from her cabin, and they’re able to meet up. Yay!

While Vorg and Shirna are trying to fix the Doctor’s circuit machine thing, Kalik lets the Drashigs out to play and all hell breaks loose both inside and outside of the miniscope; the power levels are down to critical, which is making the temperature intolerably hot inside, and now there’s a Drashig.

Luckily, Vorg has just managed to find the missing piece to the Eradicator, and uses it on the Drashigs. But I’m pretty sure they ate a few people before then. Mwahahaha.

The scope’s power supply is completely gone, but Shirna convinces Vorg to try throwing the second switch anyway, and he saves the day and sends everything back where they came from and the Doctor and Jo land in the room and are embiggened and the scope is destroyed.

We get a wrap-up with the crew on the SS Bernice, back in their proper time, and it seems like the Major’s daughter is on the verge of remembering when it dies down again. Which is probably just as well, her brain would have exploded.

Vorg then proceeds to con Pletrac out of some money with some sleight of hand tricks while the Doctor and Jo slink off into the TARDIS for another adventure.

Final Thoughts: I had a ton of fun with this serial.

And I mean, really, what's not to love? The story, the characters, the dialogue (oh, the dialogue!)... everything works as a cohesive whole and results in a perfectly awesome and quite charming Doctor Who adventure. And really, considering the fact that they revisited the idea almost forty years later for a very successful traveling stage show, well... it's hard to deny the awesome.

I don't think this was Pertwee's best performance ever, but he's always at the top of his game usually, and I love seeing a good old fashioned Doctor/Companion adventure with him and Jo. They just work so well together, and the more I see them, the more I adore them. And this definitely helped cement that even more, with them sneaking around on the ship and running away from Drashigs and breaking out of cabins. All in all, great great fun.

Next Time!: Fourth Doctor! Sarah Jane! Brainwashing and torture! Sontarans! And a two episode serial! Matt's back next Tuesday for "The Sontaran Experiment!"


  1. A fantastic story. Its nice to get a sneak view of Ian Marter too!

    Carnival of Monsters is very different to other Pertwee stories. I think if you changed the Doctor and companion, it would not look altogether out of place in surreal Season 25.

  2. I loved the part where Jo says (goes to look up exact line), "Outside there are people and creatures just looking at us for kicks?" Yep. We are so amused by your constant peril.