Doctor Who – The Carnival of Monsters Review (or ‘It Could Have Been So Much Better’)

Try as I might, I just can’t excited about The Carnival of Monsters; or at least, I can’t get as excited as I think I’m supposed to get.

For whatever reason, the Carnival of Monsters has been released twice on DVD, including a two-disk Special Edition. You’d expect that Special Editions would be reserved for ‘classics’ like Caves of Androzani, Pyramids of Mars etc, but apparently not. Either that or everyone else just thinks that it’s one of the best and I’m going against the grain.

Cheap doesn’t even begin to describe that mask

Maybe it’s because it’s written by Robert Holmes and people just assume that it’s quality. Those people are obviously forgetting the Krotons and the Mysterious Planet.

In any case, I seem to be less enthused, so on with the review…

Doctor Who – The Carnival of Monsters Review: What’s This One About?

The Doctor – with his exile on Earth lifted by the Time Lords – is out and about on his travels again, and he lands the TARDIS inside an illegal Miniscope, which is a sort of Flea Circus containing the likes of humans, Cybermen and Drashigs.

Like all good Gentlemen, the Doctor takes his coat off before beating the crap out of someone.

The Miniscope is owned by Vorg – an intergalactic travelling showman – who has arrived on the planet Inter Minor trying to find work alongside his assistant Shirna, but has been held in immigration by politicians on the planet.

While the politicians on Inter Minor try to use the contents of the Miniscope to attempt a coup to overthrow the government, the Doctor must escape from the machine and send the creatures trapped inside back to their proper places in the universe.

Thoughts – The Inter Minor Stuff

There are a few problems with the Carnival of Monsters, most of which surround what’s going on on Inter Minor.

In terms of the actual plot, the stuff that happens there just isn’t interesting. You’ve got three actors – two of whom are fairly distinguished Who actors in Michael Wisher and Peter Halliday – involved in tedious discussion about immigration policy that nobody could possibly care about. Meanwhile Vorg and Shirna just sit about and discuss their previous travels.

And while they are all successfully managing to bore us, everything there looks really cheap. I mean really cheap.

What are the actors wearing?! The natives are either dressed up in flaking grey makeup and bald caps that wouldn’t fool anyone, or the worst looking masks seen in Dr Who so far. Vorg meanwhile is wearing an outfit that screams ‘Kids TV’ and Shirna is wearing an outfit that – to be blunt – would simply not be worn by a lady of her shape on TV in 2012, however chauvinistic that might sound.

With all the subtlety of a brick to the face, the costume department emphasise the difference in nature between the inhabitants of Inter Minor and Vorg & Shirna. Just look at those costumes…

So these scenes both look crap and are boring, and they are sadly topped off by mostly poor acting. Peter Halliday is very panto, David Graham is being typical David Graham (i.e. mediocre in every part other than Davros), Terrence Lodge is just deeply miscast in a TV show made for anyone above the age of 6 and the the standard of ‘acting’ from the extras leaves a lot to be desired.

In fairness though, both Leslie Dwyer (Vorg) and Cheryl Hall (Shirna) are ok. They do appear to be trying to take it seriously, and while Dwyer looks like he’s struggling to overcome a hangover most of the time, Hall’s enthusiasm gets the best out of them both.


I’ve said it before and I’m not the only one; give the BBC a period piece and they’ll do a great job. So in the Miniscope, a lot of the action takes place on a slow-boat to India in the early part of the 20th century, so it both looks better and has a higher standard of acting.

The likes of Ian Marter and Tenniel Evans are good in their roles and work well against Jon Pertwee and an unusually decent Katy Manning. The scenes where The Doctor attempts to both talk and fight his way out of the stowaway situation is well presented and amusing, sticking the strengths of everyone involved.

To be fair as well, the scenes with the Doctor and Jo moving around the inside of the Miniscope’s circuits look ok too.

The Drashigslook rubbish though, like superimposed sock puppets.

It’s the Chewit Monster’s ugly half-brother

How It Could Have Been Better

I know I’m reviewing the show as it is, but I can’t help but watch it and think of a few ways to have made it a lot better.

Moving away from the quality of acting, makeup and sets and concentrating on the bigger picture, I would consider the linear nature of the writing to be the real issue here. It’s maybe a bit much to ask for non-linear narrative in 1970s Doctor Who, but if they’d kept the Inter Minor scenes completely out of Episode One until the cliffhanger where the hand comes in and picks up the TARDIS it would have been one of the great ‘WTF’ moments in Doctor Who history.

As it happens because we know that the story is taking place primarily on an alien planet, it’s not a surprise to find out that the Doctor & Jo aren’t really on Earth and are instead in the machine that has been on display since almost the first scene, and that weakens the whole story.

In a way I suppose what followed could still have been mediocre at best, but much like the Space Museum, we’d at least have got a brilliant first episode out of it.

And here’s Ian Marter being attacked by a sock-puppet

On a similar note, the cliffhanger with the Drashigs was also poor because we’d already been told they were there, and so them appearing had no shock value.

And then there’s the Cybermen. Why show them briefly and not use them? Give the people what they want. Imagine if the cliffhanger to the second episode was the Doctor stumbling across the Cybermen and not knowing what the hell was going on. That would have been great.

In fact, thinking about it, I would have maybe kept the alien planet scenes out of it almost until Episode 4 when the Doctor emerged from the Miniscope. How good would that have been?

But sadly that’s not what we got, and because of that, I just don’t think the Carnival of Monsters is that good and certainly not worthy of the hype it seems to receive.

Doctor Who – Carnival of Monsters Review: Final Thoughts

So there you are; not even any Random Observations section on this one. There really isn’t anything else left to say.

It’s pretty straight forward to analyse the Carnival of Monsters. The period stuff looks good and is acted well, the alien stuff is the opposite. The writing was flawed, despite this being a story written from the hand of ‘God’.

It’s not bad, but it’s very plain, and it could have been so much better.

As I say, it’s just not worthy of the hype it gets. There are worse stories, but there are a hell of a lot of better ones out there too.

5 Responses to Doctor Who – The Carnival of Monsters Review (or ‘It Could Have Been So Much Better’)

  1. cjmoseley says:

    Reblogged this on CJ Moseley's Blog and commented:
    Carnival of Monsters…
    Ignore the immigration plot if you like, it was good social commentary on Britain in the seventies, and in some ways is valid today. However it is a clunky narrative device that can detract from the period piece aspects.
    Fondly remembered as a good third Doctor story without UNIT…

  2. sgmilne says:

    Yeah, I was aware of the background behind that plot but it just wasn’t at the forefront of my thoughts while writing the review.

    It was, as you say, clunky, and it could have been much better.

  3. Zaphod says:

    I agree with you. I don’t like it and when I watched it last year I was annoyed with the damn story. There are large chunks of the story that simply do not make sense.
    Who put the metal panel in the ship? The humans can’t see it, only the Doctor.
    Why does it lead into the Miniscope and not into the hold or engine room?
    When the Drashig crashes through the bulkhead of the ship why doesn’t the Indian Ocean pour through as well?
    How does the ship finally stay afloat when it is returned to its own time considering that the above mentioned hole is still there?
    Why isn’t Vorg’s hand miniaturized when he puts his hand into the Miniscope in order to remove the TARDIS?
    If the people on the ship initially keep repeating certain actions and scenes, like the first appearance of the Drashig, then how do they manage to have a constant supply of whisky and food?
    What is Tenniell Evens’ character doing with a Thompson sub-machine gun? Is he a bootlegger working for Al Capone in Prohibition era Chicago?
    It makes no sense.

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