Doctor Who #338: Carnival of Monsters Part 3

"Merciful and compassionate?" "One has... twinges."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Feb.10 1973.

IN THIS ONE... The drashigs get loose inside the miniscope.

REVIEW: Ok, I give up. Where's that television metaphor I heard so much about? In reviewers' heads, apparently. Carnival of Monsters has some fun adventure strip gags, but it's really not the meta-textual masterpiece its reputation suggests it is. At least, not yet. The sequences with the Lurmans and Inter Minorians, where that thread is meant to be explored, just turns into a coup d'etat in the making. A well-scripted one, with Kalik allowing things to go pear-shaped so he can blame the president later, but it doesn't really have another level, and often looks like it's just about people standing around the telly. This shift means the Doctor and Jo can once again inhabit the more interesting parts of the episode, and that would be the drashig attack. These creatures are pretty well realized, a certain wetness preventing them from looking plasticky (Jo could do with a little wetness on her legs after she gets stuck in the muddy stream... maybe the Doctor treated her pants with quick-drying chemicals back at UNIT HQ). The Doctor uses the sonic screwdriver to explode marsh gas and keep the monsters at bay, and that looks pretty cool.

But when the drashigs are interacting with anything outside their native environment, things start to go wrong. The CSO just isn't up to par in most cases. The giant hand that keeps them away from the Doctor and Jo can't quite interact with the monsters (you kinda wish Vorg would at least act like he got bitten). There's heavy halo-ing when the drashig gets on the ship (and should Ian Marter's character be throwing dynamite around on a boat?!). And frequently questions of scale (it's possible the Doctor comes across a smaller dead juvenile, but when he walks out of the miniscope, he's much too big - had he been growing for a while and that was a fully-grown adult after all?). The drashig busting out of the deck does look good - thanks to the white sky - but it seems like a missed opportunity for it not to fight the plesiosaur while it's at it.

The Doctor and Jo do manage to escape the spectacle to have a couple of character-driven scenes. The best of these is the "lateral thinking" scene, in which Jo (sincerely) credits the Doctor's brilliance for her own. It's sweet and funny and a measure of how much she idolizes the Doctor. She hits upon something that's escaped him, but she naturally believes he was already knew the answer, but teacher-like, was trying to get it out of her before he revealed it. Cute. We also find out that the Doctor had something to do with banning miniscope technology, an intriguing tidbit about the Doctor's pre-travel days. See Theories for more on that.

THEORIES: The revelation that the Doctor was instrumental in banning the miniscope and in the Time Lords "recalling" them seems to suggest that miniscopes are Time Lord technology. Yes, Vorg says its generator was built by the Eternity Perpetual Company, but that sounds like a Time Lord front, or could be a parts manufacturer used by the Time Lords. The Doctor doesn't recognize the tech initially, but that's probably a matter of scale. The machine is TARDIS-like in that it is bigger on the inside. It's only relatively bigger because it shrinks its occupants, but look at Planet of Giants again, where a TARDIS fault shrinks down the crew. Obviously, this dimension-changing is part of the Time Lords' bag of tricks (also see the Master's tissue compression eliminator). And then there's the time loop the 1926 characters are caught in. We might also ask just how the creatures inside are collected. How about a time scoop (mentioned in multi-Doctor stories)? From there, we don't have far to go to remember the Death Zone where ancient Time Lords liked to pit people and monsters against one another (The Five Doctor). Isn't the miniscope just a furniture version of the same idea? And if there IS a ban on these things, this example slipped between the cracks. Why does the Doctor land inside when he was aiming for Metebelis 3? Could it be just one more Time Lord mission before they really end his exile? Seems like it's a lot more relevant than those on Peladon and Solos, and the story was actually made as part of the previous season's production, i.e. before The Three Doctors and the official end of the exile. Convinced yet?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Big comic book set pieces that kind of get away from the effects budget. While there's some wit to the script, the plot isn't exactly firing on all cylinders.


Matthew Turnage said...

Yes, I never really saw Carnival of Monsters as a television metaphor, at least not to any great extent. The bigger thread seems to me to be the commentary on bureaucracy.

Siskoid said...

Which Holmes more often than not laces in. I thought I was misremembering, but no I can still find those kinds of comments and reviews on the web and printed page (just checked).

Anonymous said...

"Could it be one more Time Lord mission before they really end his exile?"

I like that. I like it a lot.



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