Doc and Jo must escape giant graboids inside a jukebox while bureaucrats plot to put a pair of interstellar carnies out of business
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The Doctor and Jo Grant take the TARDIS out for the first spin in a long time without Time Lord control. Alas, forgetting how the blasted thing works, the Doctor materialises them aboard the SS Bernice, which famously disappeared in 1926. And when a plesiosaurus makes a sudden appearance, it becomes clear to them that all is not as it seems.
Meanwhile, two inter-stellar carnies have just arrived on the planet Inter Minor with a so-called Miniscope containing myriad abducted beings, miniaturised and living out eternity in time loops within. Are the two stories connected? Watch and/or listen to find out!
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This serial seemed a bit off to me, when it opened up with a futuristic Amazon sorting facility getting ready for Christmas season with the same wrapped presents. The three line supervisors/tribal members, were incompetent idiots. Did they evolve from the sensorites? But wait, all is good when you have Willy Wonka and his caring dancing assistant and a miniscope. Or, was the crazy dressed man really Harry Mudd from Star Trek? I liked the concept of the Dr and Joe trapped in a zoo with other creatures and species. The story didn’t really make sense, given the fact that the people on the boat kept repeating everything as though they were in a time loop. If the Dr and Jo were just trapped like the others, since he did not keep reliving the same scene, nor should the boat people. I also grew tired watching the Dr and Ms. Grant walking around in the circuit board over the same props, over, and over and over. This episode seems more fitting for a Lost in Space episode with Dr. Smith not our Dr. Thankfully this was only a 4 part serial. The story would have been more complete if the ship’s crew did not live in a time loop. I also wanted to see the actual counsel and more about the reason behind a rebellion. For finally having received a new dematerializing unit from the Time Lords, he should have landed elsewhere. Overall, it is not the story I would pack in a bag of 100, if I knew I was going to be stranded on an island.
Robert, the OBX Pirate from the USA, a Dr, but not a Time Lord.
Loved this serial!… It had everything; time-based mystery, curious alien civilisations, interesting supporting characters, big monsters and scheming villains.
I usually try not to watch more than one episode a day, but had to binge out as I was gripped and entertained throughout and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
Some of the effects were a little ropey and, although great effort was made to present us with a fantastically quirky and original alien culture, I still get the impression that their entire home planet consisted of nothing more than a holding bay, a warehouse, three officials and a handful of underlings constantly on the verge of strike (another controversial topic of the era).
I feel that the more successfully realised alien environments in Who are those that parody elements of our own culture, and its this feature in particular that sets the programme aside from other sci-fi.
The first episode ending is among one of the best; completely unexpected and highly effective. We’re also treated briefly to the only appearance of a Cyberman in Pertwee’s era.
Great to see a wonderful performance by future Who companion (and author) Ian Marter, as well as other familiar faces from Hi-De-Hi and Citizen Smith.
This was a cleverly-written serial and possibly years ahead of its time, with the main focus on voyeurism as entertainment and reality TV.
I’m unlikely to ever give a perfect score for anything (unless it’s a fit bird), but this serial is as good as it gets.
This is the one with a bunch of very interesting characters, all of whom have almost nothing interesting to do. It’s got a plot to overthrow a government climaxing with a revolution that never actually happens.
The aliens and creatures are actually quite interesting, yet some never speak, some simply stand around, and some are so close to being humans from Earth that one wonders why they weren’t simply…humans from Earth.
The makeup and costumes are standouts, and the set designs are beautiful too. Yet again the curved, sloping alien planet we are treated to in the first 20 shots is never capitalized on in such detail again.
Rewrites? Improvements? We could expand the whole revolution and discontented class sub-plot. Instead of just talking about it, we could have actually seen it. Another idea be to see more environments within the miniscope, and have them clash more. However in this case I don’t think either of these would have been the best choice. The simplest answer here is the best one. They should have cut everything but the main plot and made this a straight forward two-part story. See Peter Davision’s, “The Awakening” as a perfect analogous example.
The Groundhog Day phenomena is incredibly hard to pull off without becoming boring. In this venture I actually feel they were successful, and for that I really applaud this story. Ultimately though, I have yet to watch this serial without nodding off at some point. Carnival of Monsters is certainly not the best thrill ride in the park. 2.1
I remember not liking this story much when I first saw it. It felt slow and uneventful, and the cheap sets, bad alien costumes and garish outfits made it look like late-80s Who at its worst.
But upon rewatching it, I rather enjoyed it. The idea of two parallel stories, with the viewer initially not knowing how they join together, is a good one, and the early scenes on the SS Bernice look great (although this makes the Inter Minor sets look even naffer). The acting is good throughout, and the Drashigs don’t look half as bad as I remembered (at least in their own environment). And I loved seeing future companion Ian Marter boxing with the Doctor. Plus we get Robert Holmes’ usual witty dialogue and entertaining double acts in the Vorg-Shirna and Kalik-Orum pairings.
One problem I still have with it: hasn’t the Doctor changed history, with the SS Bernice no longer missing? He doesn’t seem too concerned about it if he has. And based on the start of episode 1, I was expecting the Doctor to free the Functionaries, but instead he just ignores them. In fact, all the intrigue on Inter Minor goes nowhere.
All in all, it’s far from the best story ever, but the great script and cast make it an entertaining diversion, although I would have expected the production team to try something a bit more ambitious for Pertwee’s first proper trip in the TARDIS. I’ll give it 3 out of 5.
This serial is a colourful adventure tale, in which an aging vagabond with flouncy hair and a pronounced fashion sense, arrives in a somewhat hostile alien environment with his young female companion, to entertain and enlighten the local population, ultimately saving the day with a hand tool.
It also features The Doctor falling down a lot, Jo Grant being dismissed and ignored like an old stick in the mud, Ian Marter as a sailor again for the very first time, and some sexually aggressive slugs traipsing around the confines of a Space TV.
By doing so much more, with a significant amount of less, Holmes & Letts deliver, in my opinion, one of the strongest Third Doctor serials. The parallels between Vorg/Shirna and The Doctor/Jo and the caricature of The Big Bad Corporation of Grey Men attempting to control and direct what the people will be entertained by is easily recognizable, yet the story itself also works on a much simpler level. Time, and relative dimensions, whether inner or outer space is apparent, has an infinite sandbox in which one may play. One must take the time to truly appreciate the analogy that is so expertly displayed for us simple Functionaries.
There is so much that works in this serial that taking issue the with problems such as make-up and production design, kind of feels like a game of “Find the Yarrow Seed under the Magum Pod”; possibly amusing, yet ultimately, fruitless.
THIS is Classic Doctor Who at its best. 4.2/5
Carnival of Monsters was my first Pertwee story, seeing as it once was available on Netflix. I enjoyed it, but it seems the fandom has gone and underrated it. I don’t see why that is so.
Sure, it’s not on the level of other great Doctor Who stories from this season, but it’s a gem nonetheless. I’m sure that cliffhanger from episode one caught everyone by surprise, and the Drashigs are well done (even though you can clearly tell they’re models, especially when they get out of the Miniscope).
The costumes are great in this serial, especially for the showman Vorg and his assistant, Shirma. The color is a stark contrast to the greys of the planet they are on. And that world’s inhabitants are just quite ugly looking. Definitely alien here.
Robert Holmes once more delivers a great script, with perfect moments such as the bits inside the Miniscope in the realm of the Drashigs. And once more Pertwee and Manning put on a great performance. Aside from being a complete color example (as many color tapes were lost in the 1980’s), I can see why they chose this story for “The Five Faces of Doctor Who” event on BBC 2 in 1983.
Overall, I don’t see why this story is underrated. I think it’s pretty great. Not one of Holmes’ best, but still good nonetheless. 3.4/5
I have very fond memories of “The Five Faces of Doctor Who”; it was my first taste of Who back when (play on words purely unintentional) I was knee-high to a grasshopper. This almost certainly influenced my high score for the serial as it was the first time I had seen it since 1983 and, although I barely remember the story, it was probably at this point that I became a fan of the show (the black & white serials that preceded it serving as foreplay).
For anyone who may be interested, the BBC event was aired on consecutive weekday late-afternoons over a period of weeks, attempting to generate interest prior to Peter Davison’s debut as the Fifth Doctor… and it certainly worked on me! If memory serves me correctly, the running order was “An Unearthly Child”, followed by “The Krotons”, “Carnival of Monsters” and finishing with “Genesis of the Daleks”… I’m pretty sure “The Three Doctors” was in there somewhere too, although I seem to also remember seeing a re-run of “Keeper of Traken” and “Logopolis” at around the same time. I’m sure I also remember watching “The Curse of Peladon”… bearing in mind that repeats of classic Doctor Who serials on TV was an incredibly rare occurrence until UK Gold came along in the early ‘nineties.
Showman Vorg and his assistant, Shirna, landed on the planet Inter Minor in a cargo ship with their miniscope. Despite the president’s wishes, officials in the cargo bay, didn’t welcome them. One official shot a functionary who literally got above himself by climbing to a forbidden catwalk. The unconscious worker was taken away and analyzed, before disposal. Meanwhile, the Doctor intended to take Jo to Metebelis Three, the famous blue planet of the Acteon Group, but landed in the hold of the SS Bernice as it sailed the Indian Ocean a day away from Bombay in 1926. While making these discoveries, Jo believed they were on Earth, but the Doctor explained the ship was a nautical mystery since it vanished and the bright, sunny evening everyone was enjoying should have been pitch dark on Earth’s southern hemisphere. The dinosaur that rose from the water convinced Jo things were not what they seemed. Passengers and a young officer, Andrews, then caught them, believed they were stowaways, and locked them in a cabin. On the way to their prison, they noticed a mysterious, metal plate on the deck, but Andrews did not. The Doctor said he needed something from the TARDIS to shift it, and, after escaping, they both realized events were transpiring in exactly the way they had aboard the ship prior to the pair’s capture. Vorg and Shirna were about to be deported when Vorg produced a document signed by “the Great Zarb,” a wrestler, claiming President Zarb had invited them to the planet. Shirna pointed out a flashing light on the scope and refused to let Vorg ignore it. He found and removed the TARDIS from inside seconds after the Doctor emerged with the tool he needed.
Vorg quickly replaced the tiny TARDIS since he and Shirna’s arrival and the scope had drawn interest from customs officials and functionaries. He explained a variety of life forms, including Ogrons and humans, could be observed in the scope, which was capable of altering their mood. Demonstrating briefly, he caused the Doctor and Andrews to fight before Scooby Dooing ensued until Vorg turned off the agitating effect. Immediately, the evening aboard ship began anew as the Doctor and Jo sneaked to the metal plate, slid it aside, and dropped into the scope’s workings. As they searched for a way out, Vorg alarmed his paranoid audience, revealing all the scope’s inhabitants were alive. Another customs official announced Vorg’s credentials from “President Zarb” were forged and sent for the eradicator to destroy the scope, according to regulations. Functionaries fired the weapon, which damaged the scope without destroying it. Vorg poked at his contraption with tools, nearly impaling the Doctor and Jo, whom Shirna didn’t recognize. The officials were dismayed the scope survived the blast from the eradicator and worried it might contain a transmitter despite Vorg’s protests. To reassure the officials, he produced the TARDIS, explaining it was the reason for the fault. After the Doctor’s craft grew to normal size, Vorg boasted nothing could escape the scope as the Doctor and Jo broke into the swampy habitat of fierce, carnivorous drashigs, which soon rose from the water to menace them.
They fled the swampy habitat with what literally was a huge helping hand from Vorg. Outside, officials determined, in the light of their failure to destroy the machine, procedure necessitated acquiring special powers to get rid of it and its owners. Resting among the machine’s circuits, the Doctor realized he and Jo were inside an electronic device like an ant farm or a zoo. They ran when drashigs broke out of the swamp to pursue them through the machine’s circuitry. Outside, Vorg and Shirna realized what was happening and two customs officials imagined the drashigs’ escape from the machine might cause an incident that could trigger a coup. The Doctor and Jo arrived at a sheer drop and Jo suggested getting rope from the ship upon which the TARDIS landed to descend. Aboard SS Bernice, they hid from Andrews, who spotted and captured Jo. A drashig promptly crashed through a wall into the hold to be shot dead by the the crew on the Captain’s orders before Scooby Dooing ensued. The Doctor climbed down the shaft as Jo resumed the endlessly repeating evening aboard ship. Outside, Shirna noticed the scope was overheating, threatening everyone inside, as Vorg tried to fix it without a clue how. Meanwhile, the Doctor stumbled from the base of the machine.
Customs officials ordered the Doctor eradicated, but another objected, citing regulations. The three-alien tribunal argued while Vorg and Shirna marveled and the Doctor grew to normal size. He interrogated the tribunal, chewed out everyone in sight, and proposed re-entering the scope to rescue Jo. Also, he had been instrumental in outlawing miniscopes. The tribunal members planning the coup had sabotaged the eradicator and planned to frame Vorg. As the tribunal argued, the Doctor learned Vorg won the scope and diagnosed the damage. He used the TARDIS to power a machine with two levers, which incorporated a vital part Vorg found. Deciding he didn’t have time to argue further with the tribunal, he told Vorg throwing the second switch would return everyone inside the scope to where they belonged, threw the first switch, and vanished. Meanwhile, the functionaries operating the eradicator were dismissed and the conspirators decided to release drashigs from behind a quivering panel at the scope’s base. Inside, the Doctor and Jo found one another and hurried through the failing machine’s interior. Outside, Vorg and Shirna tried to leave, but were ordered to await transport. Vorg worked on both the scope and the damaged eradicator until drashigs emerged and attacked. Vorg killed the monsters and threw the second switch on the Doctor’s machine seconds before the scope blew up. As the Doctor and Jo stepped into the TARDIS, Vorg was describing the drashig attack. Before it dematerialized, he began playing the old shell game with a customs official.
Watching “Carnival of Monsters”, one tends to focus more on the Doctor inside the scope, than the political intrigue playing out in the space port. Script Editor Terrance Dicks’ theory the show’s main protagonist, its star, is the most interesting character onscreen may explain this natural emphasis. Nevertheless, functionaries merely grunting without speaking, together with the formal, largely deadpan delivery of lines by strange looking customs officials may also undermine a potentially fascinating, political plot. On the other hand, the locals’ portrayal contrasts beautifully with both con man, entertainer Vorg and his attractive assistant, Shirna, who was more than just a pretty face. Everyone’s reaction to the Doctor’s moral outrage after he emerged from the scope was priceless and Jon Pertwee’s natural authority helped make that scene a highlight of the serial. Writer Robert Holmes incorporated nuggets of continuity into his script as well, putting Ogrons and Cybermen in the scope. Our brief glimpse of the second Doctor’s primary adversaries after the scope was attacked is their only appearance in the Pertwee era. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. Seeing the TARDIS travel through time and space again was a tremendous treat. Despite the silliness of the Doctor’s attempt to communicate with the first creature he and Jo encountered, a chicken, the scene demonstrated his belief not everything is as it appears. More importantly, it called his TARDIS piloting skills into question once again. The return of this fantastic trope from DOCTOR WHO’s past augers well for its future and viewers continued enjoyment of the title character’s adventures.