Carnival of Monsters
It's always interesting to note how for a number of years, the BBC didn't really show many repeats of older Doctor Who stories. It's also interesting that when the time came to show a story to represent its era for the 20th anniversary of the show, the BBC and John Nathan-Turner decided that "Carnival of Monsters" would be the representative from the Pertwee era.
Set in the fourth season of Pertwee's work on the show, "Monsters" has some of the hallmarks that defined the third Doctor's era but it's missing a few crucial ones. It's the first story in which the Doctor is once again given the freedom to wander in time and space, thus eliminating the Earth-bound and exile stories that many fans associated with the Pertwee era. It does have some segments that take place on Earth, but those are confined within the mini-scope itself and they take place in the recent past, not the "present day" of the UNIT stories. The script also doesn't include an alien race bent on world domination or the Master behind the scenes, pulling strings.
It does, however, feature Pertwee and the production team in full command of the series and the show running on all cylinder. "Monsters" is the highlight of the tenth season because it's imaginative little story by one of the series' best writers. It's got tension, alien drama and some rather chilling monsters in the form of the Drashigs. Of course, much of the horror and novelity of the Drashigs is quickly stripped away from the show when later stories began to rely on them too much as the most terrifying thing in the universe.
The concept of the Doctor and Jo caught up inside a miniaturized, electronic zoo is an interesting one and visually, the show does a nice job of having the two crawl around inside the mini-scope. Yes, you'll notice they're crawling through the same set four or five times, but given that its the inside of a circuit, you won't mind as much.
Where the script really excels is the events going on outside the mini-scope. It's the alien world of Inter Minor and it's one of the more fascinatingly glimpses alien worlds in all of Doctor Who. We never venture outside the space port, but the story still gives us glimpses and clues about the world, its inhabitants and the overall society that help make it feel more robust than your standard Doctor Who planet. There are two distinct classes in the world and there is some kind of on-going tension between them. The story doesn't seek to break them down so much as it plays on them for some of the story's tension. There's also one of the first appearances of the famous Robert Holmes double-acts with certain aliens plotting to use the mini-scope to overthrow the government and seize power.
It's one of the more deceptively classic stories in all of "Doctor Who." It's not one that many list in their top ten of all time, but it's still one that is well regarded by fans.
It's clearly undergone a re-assessment in recent years given that it was one of the middle third Doctor stories to hit VHS release but was the second third Doctor story to come out on DVD. It could have been the first had "Spearhead from Space" not recently been remastered and made virtually ready for DVD release as the line was getting started.
It's a fascinating little story that not only is visually well done but also delivers in the storyline. It may not have all the elements we associate with the Pertwee era, but that doesn't make it any less a classic of that era.
Labels: Doctor who, retro tv round-up
posted by Michael Hickerson at 6/17/2010 12:01:00 AM