Carnival of Monsters ****

Ingenious story with the Doctor and Jo aboard a cargo ship and fleeing omnivorous Drashigs, while trapped inside a Miniscope peepshow...

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Doctor Who story guide
Mark Braxton
Mark Braxton
Carnival of Monsters ****

Season 10 – Story 66

"Jo, have you ever seen any small boys collecting sea creatures and putting them into a rock pool?" - the Doctor

Storyline
The Tardis transports the Doctor and Jo to a cargo ship apparently on the Indian Ocean in 1926. In fact they have landed within the compression field of a banned Miniscope, which has miniaturised them. The peepshow-style device, containing alien species in different habitats, is owned by Lurman entertainers Vorg and Shirna, who are seeking their fortune on Inter Minor. A power struggle on the planet, and ferocious Drashig creatures who escape the Scope, jeopardise the Doctor's efforts to put things right…

First transmissions
Episode 1 - Saturday 27 January 1973
Episode 2 - Saturday 3 February 1973
Episode 3 - Saturday 10 February 1973
Episode 4 - Saturday 17 February 1973

Production
Location filming: May 1972 at Tillingham Marshes and Carwoods quarry in Asheldham, Essex; RFA Robert Dundas on the River Medway, Kent
Filming: date at Ealing Studios
Studio recording: June 1972 in TC4, July 1972 in TC6

Cast
Doctor Who - Jon Pertwee
Jo Grant - Katy Manning
Major Daly - Tenniel Evans
Claire Daly - Jenny McCracken
John Andrews - Ian Marter
Vorg - Leslie Dwyer
Shirna - Cheryl Hall
Pletrac - Peter Halliday
Kalik - Michael Wisher
Orum - Terence Lodge
Captain - Andrew Staines
Functionary - Stuart Fell

Crew
Writer - Robert Holmes
Incidental music - Dudley Simpson
Designer - Roger Liminton
Script editor - Terrance Dicks
Producer/director - Barry Letts

RT Review by Mark Braxton
After a couple of early stumbles, writer Robert Holmes is now well into his stride. His fan-pleasing soup of What the Butler Saw, political squabbling, Christie-ish mystery and monsters unleashed bubbles with invention from the get-go. The premise is ingenious, conceptually akin to something Douglas Adams might have dashed off after a light nap. And the opening overs induce pleasurable perplexity in the viewer.

What relationship can there possibly be between a grey conveyor-belt world, omnivorous swamp dragons and "topping" sundowners, we wonder. Although Holmes pieces it together a little too briskly, the discipline of his writing is a thing of wonder. He apportions an even amount of time and importance to the disparate groups, and gives each a distinct flavour: our affectionately bantering heroes, the pathologically bureaucratic Minorians and the sniping travelling players.

The vivid bits of character history aren't in any sense necessary, but they are very crisply done. Holmes was indeed baron of the back story!

Inspired casting boosts the writer's stirling efforts further. Clownishly attired Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall make a lovely double act, prefiguring their sitcom success (he as gloomy Mr Partridge in Hi-De-Hi!, she as Wolfie's girlfriend in Citizen Smith). Michael Wisher enlivens his scheming Commissioner Kalik with the same snidey cadences and unnerving stillness that will make Davros the show's supreme villain. I like the way that, when a grunting Functionary rebels in a hilariously non-specific way, Kalik just shoots him with a tuning fork.

It's also nice to see Ian Marter limbering up for his role as companion Harry Sullivan, even if his up-tight Andrews here is little more than a stuffed shirt.

Whether he's working on an amusing, Dan Dare-ish level (Wallarians, Zarb…) or an altogether more serious and contemplative one ("inferior races", the "flies to wanton boys" scenario), Holmes seems equally adept.

As is so often the way with classic Who, the ambitious script puts significant strain on the effects department. The gaping, blindly belligerent Drashigs are magnificently realised in their marshy realm, exploding from the water or crawling like caterpillars. But out of the scope, their CSO-rendered, real-time versions look - like the puppet plesiosaur that harries the Bernice - hokey in the extreme.

And perhaps the term "carnival" would wilt under Trades Description scrutiny. Humans, Drashigs and a fuzzy, blink-and-you'll-miss-him Cyberman are all we get to see of the Scope's menagerie. Even if you add a Time Lord, a few grey faces and some piggish, seemingly unfinished rubber masks, you're still pushing it.

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. If Holmes asked too much of his production team, at least he was furnishing us with rich, imagination-kindling fare. Fantastic in scope, you might say.

- - -

What Katy did next…
“That was fantastic. Jon and I loved that, being inside that machine, and working with fantastic actors across the board. 

“We were filming at Romney Marshes and they put me on a raft so it looked like I was sinking in the mud. There were two camera set-ups. They took my glasses away before my bit and they left me to film the other set-up. I was forgotten about and by the time they came back I was going blub, blub... Such a weird feeling – all that mud creeping up.” 
(Talking to RT, April 2012)


Radio Times archive material

RT billings

Designer Roger Liminton spoke about his work on the series in the 1973 Doctor Who Tenth Anniversary Special, photographed with a set model for this story. [Available on BBC DVD]

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