‘Carnival of Monsters’ (TV)

carnival of monsters dvd


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Drashigs with the Third Doctor and Jo

It’s time to roll up, roll up and see a monster show! Here we are on ‘Carnival of Monsters’, one of my favourite stories from the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’ as well as Season 10. In fact, it would be fair of me to say that Season 10 is my favourite season out of the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’. 🙂

‘Carnival of Monsters’ is a quintessential and quaint ‘Doctor Who’ story at its best. I enjoyed this one for its comedic flair and clever inventiveness. It’s a four-part adventure by Robert Holmes and was directed by the producer Barry Letts. This is a tale that contains a real sense of suspense throughout.

It’s full of excitement and it’s good this story portrays that after the Doctor had his exile on Earth lifted from him by the Time Lords at the end of ‘The Three Doctors’. Jon Pertwee’s Doctor can now travel freely in time and space as what producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks wanted.

In this story, Jon’s Doctor travels with Jo Grant in the TARDIS. He hopes to visit the blue planet of Metabellis III. The planet is something that would get referenced a lot throughout Season 10 as well as Season 11, especially in the final story where Jon’s Doctor meets his end. But that’s another time.

Anyway, the Doctor makes a miscalculation as he and Jo arrive via TARDIS and find themselves on a sailing ship called the SS Bernice in 1926. This of course wasn’t where the Doctor wanted to go. He’s also unconvinced that he and Jo are actually on Earth in the 1920s whereas Jo is convinced they are.

The Doctor and Jo explore the sailing ship and they soon discover that things aren’t what they seem. As the story progresses, it turns out the Doctor and Jo are inside a mini-scope, a clunky machine that is a sort of a ‘peep-show’ as described by Jo or a little zoo housing sentient life-forms to be watched.

Very soon, the Doctor and Jo get caught in mortal peril. After escaping what they think is the outside in some murky deadliest swamps, they come up against some monstrous Drashigs. Can the Doctor and Jo survive and not get eaten by the Drashigs as they attempt to escape out from the miniscope?

I find ‘Carnival of Monsters’ to be a cleverly-written story by Robert Holmes. Robert Holmes has contributed a number of ‘Doctor Who’ stories beforehand including ‘The Krotons’ and the two Auton stories ‘Spearhead From Space’ and ‘Terror of the Autons’. He’d contribute more stories after this one.

The concept of living specimens inside a clunky machine is very inventive. It does reflect how modern society is today with watching live entertainment. Here, the humans and other monsters are inside the miniscope to be displayed for amusement to the onlookers looking at the monitor screen.

It seems that the miniscope can contain any kind of creature including Daleks, Cybermen, Ogrons and Drashigs. I was disappointed we didn’t get to see Daleks inside the miniscope, though it was good we got a cameo of an Ogron and a Cyberman at some points. I wish it was more than Drashigs.

Again, the idea of being inside this miniscope is like being in a zoo where animals are looked at by people. Jo learns about the history of the miniscopes from the Doctor as they were banned by the Time Lords long ago. The two must find a way out of the miniscope to escape back to the real world.

I did enjoy the comedic flavour that was being portrayed both inside the miniscope where we were with the Doctor and Jo as well as the outside where we were on the planet Inter-Minor. It’s comedy that’s not all too silly though. There is drama involved as well as a political subtext that’s so enjoyable.

When ‘Carnival of Monsters’ was originally released on DVD, it was back in 2002. My Dad purchased the original DVD for me when he visited London once. I had a great time watching the story with my parents when I first saw it on DVD. It was complex to get my head around, but I did find it enjoyable.

‘Carnival of Monsters’ was re-released again as a 2-disc Special Edition DVD in 2011 and was a part of the ‘Revisitations 2’ DVD box set (along with ‘The Seeds of Death’ with Patrick Troughton and ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ with Peter Davison). The new DVD contained the original DVD special features as well as some additional ones. 🙂

Now of course, the story has been re-released as part of the Season 10 Blu-ray box set. I’ve had the original DVD cover of ‘Carnival of Monsters’ signed by Katy Manning at the ‘Cardiff Film and Comic Con’ in March 2014. I enjoyed chatting to Katy about this story since she has fond memories of it. 😀

One of the delights of seeing Katy at the ‘Cardiff Film and Comic Con’ in March 2014 was that she did the chicken noises for me by whispering them in my ear. I had no idea Katy did chicken noises in ‘Episode One’ of the story. I’m honoured to have heard Katy do chicken noises at a Cardiff event. 😀

Katy Manning is absolutely brilliant as Jo Grant in this adventure. I found Jo to be so wide eyed and full of curiosity throughout. I like how Jo and the Doctor share a real close bond with each other. They’ve been together for a long time at U.N.I.T. and she’s happy and laughs when she’s with him.

I liked Jo’s reaction when she becomes horrified at seeing the Drashig rising up out from the swamps at the end of ‘Episode Two’ of the story. I enjoyed it when she got easily frustrated with the SS Bernice characters going in a loop and I did like it when she used skeleton keys to get out of a room.

Jon Pertwee is equally great to watch as the Doctor in this adventure. I liked it when he and Jo worked out what was going on with the SS Bernice and why everything seemed out of place. The Doctor of course gets to enjoy a proper adventure without any Time Lords’ interfering for a change.

I like how the Doctor reveals to Jo where they are in ‘Episode Three’ and gives her the history about the mini-scopes. ‘Carnival of Monsters’ is a great story to showcase Jon’s Doctor being the action hero, especially when on a ship at sea and tackling Drashigs in the swamps with a sonic screwdriver.

The story’s guest cast is pretty and very good. There were some faces I recognised from other ‘Doctor Who’ and ones who are a highlight and very memorable for me. It was interesting to see the various groups of characters featured in the tale and how they connect with each other throughout.

On the SS Bernice, there’s Tenniel Evans as Major Daly. Apparently Tenniel Evans worked with Jon Pertwee in the BBC radio comedy series ‘The Navy Lark’. He recommended Jon Pertwee to play the Doctor after Patrick Troughton left. I liked Major Daly’s character who seems a pleasant chap indeed.

There’s Jenny McCracken as Clare, Major Daly’s daughter. Clare is a sweet 1920s girls who loves her daddy dearly and forms a romantic connection to Lt. John Andrews. I liked the scene where Jo asks Clare about how long she and the others have been on SS Bernice and there’s a hint she remembers.

And there’s Ian Marter as Lt. John Andrews. Ian Marter would later go on to play Harry Sullivan, the Fourth Doctor’s companion in Season 12. It’s amazing to see Ian Marter in a different role before he played Harry. Then again, Freema Agyeman and Karen Gillan had similar ‘Doctor Who’ careers like Ian.

I greatly enjoyed the SS Bernice scenes set in the 1920s with the nostalgic music in the background. For a while, I had hoped we were going to have an adventure all take place on the SS Bernice with the Doctor and Jo. It’s interesting how things didn’t turn out as they seemed as the story progressed.

Outside the mini-scope, there are the two show-people presenting the show with the mini-scope. They’re Leslie Dwyer as Vorg and Cheryl Hall as Shirna. These are Lurmans who have come to the planet Inter-Minor to entertain the inhabitants there. They have this pretty bizarre dress sense here.

Shirna is Vorg’s glamorous assistant. She is somewhat skimpy in her outside and has baubles dangling out from her head. Shirna does come across as cleverer than Vorg, especially when she senses things don’t go their way when performing the show with the Doctor and Jo in the miniscope.

Vorg is a like a showman from the circus and carnival days of the 1920s and such. When disaster happens with the miniscope, he tries to cover it up in front of his audience. It turns out he’s not so technically gifted and knowledge about them miniscope since he won it by a gambling trick he made.

I recall showing ‘Carnival of Monsters’ to my best mate from school Stephen. When he saw this, he couldn’t take Vorg seriously. He found him ridiculous in the get-up he wore. I admit the costumes are absurd, but Vorg and Shrina are great fun to watch and I do like how they help the Doctor in this.

The audience that Vorg and Shirna put a show on for are three deadpan characters of the planet Inter-Minor. They are Chancellor Pletrac; Kalik and Orum. These three Inter-Minor officials form a tribunal as they suspect Vorg and Shirna are spies sent to ruin their ways of life on their rigid planet.

It was intriguing to see these three characters and how the political situation was occurring on Inter-Minor. I’ve had to re-watch this story a number of times to understand it even though some details are vague. These three grey men take the Vorg and Shirna situation very seriously and without humour.

Peter Halliday guest stars as Chancellor Pletrac in the adventure. I’ve seen Peter Halliday before as he played Packer in ‘The Invasion’ and did the Silurian voices for ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’. Pletrac is the highest Inter-Minor authority. He does gets easily agitated and highly strung in this tale.

Michael Wisher guest stars as Kalik, who is the brother of President Zarb on Inter-Minor. This is one of many roles Michael Wisher’s performed in ‘Doctor Who’ and he would go on to play Davros in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. Kalik has this agenda and soon seeks to use the miniscope for his advantage.

And Terence Lodge guest stars as Orum, an associate of Kalik who seems to side with him at every opportunity in the story. Terence Lodge was in ‘Doctor Who’ before in the story ‘The Macra Terror’ and would later appear in ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Orum too gets nervous regarding Kalik’s scheming.

The main monsters of course are the deadly Drashigs! I like the Drashigs as I found them pretty impressive. They’re vicious carnivores that live in swamps and have this pretty unearthly, howling scream. They have this insatiable appetite as they can eat anything that’s metal or flesh when about.

The Drashigs can make a good entrance when crashing through a wall. I like the way the Drashigs show their teeth and when they slither towards the Doctor and Jo in pursuit. They haven’t been on TV for a while, but they’ve been in the Big Finish audio story ‘Planet of the Drashigs’ with Tom Baker.

They’ve also been in an audio adventure with River Song apparently. I myself have written my own sequel to ‘Carnival of Monsters’ called ‘City of Monsters’! As well as Drashigs, Ogrons, Autons, robots and dinosaurs, the story also has the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Billy and an older Jo. Please check it out! 😀

The original DVD special features were as follows. There were extended and deleted scenes from the story and the Delaware opening and closing titles that became part of an early edit of ‘Episode Two’ featured on the 2-disc Special Edition DVD. There was also behind-the-scenes studio footage; visual effects footage; ‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ trailer and the director’s amended ending to ‘Episode Four’. There was also an Easter Egg which was the cleaning opening titles of the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’. There was a CSO demo by producer/director Barry Letts; a ‘TARDIS-Cam No. 2’ CGI model sequence; a mono sound audio mix option for the story; a DVD audio commentary with Katy Manning and producer/director Barry Letts and a DVD audio commentary with Peter Halliday; Cheryl Hall; Jenny McCracken; sound designer Brian Hodgson and script editor Terrance Dicks, moderated by Toby Hadoke. There was an info-text commentary option to enjoy and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story. There was also a ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘Planet of the Spiders’ with Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney, Richard Franklin and John Levene.

There was the ‘Destroy All Monsters!’ making-of documentary; the ‘On Target with Ian Marter’ documentary; ‘The A-Z of Gadgets and Gizmos’ guide to ‘Doctor Who’ and the ‘Mary Celeste’ documentary. There was also a photo gallery of the story.

On Disc 2 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 10’ Blu-ray, the early edit of ‘Episode Two’; the behind-the-scenes studio footage; the visual effects footage; the director’s amending ending to ‘Episode Four’;  the CSO demo; the mono sound audio mix option for the story; the two DVD audio commentaries, the ‘Destroy All Monsters!’ making-of documentary and the ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF can be found on there. The info-text commentary option and the photo gallery for ‘Carnival of Monsters’ have been updated for 2019 on the Blu-ray.

The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘Carnival of Monsters’ with Katy Manning (Jo Grant); Richard Franklin (Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sgt. Benton) as well as new series producer Phil Collinson; new series writer Joy Wilkinson and new series writer Pete McTighe. There are also BBC trailers and continuity announcements for ‘Carnival of Monsters’. There’s also the ‘coming soon’ DVD trailer for ‘Dalek War’ (‘Frontier In Space’ and ‘Planet of the Daleks’) with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning (taken from ‘The Keys of Marinus’ DVD).

On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there are also production documents; scripts and studio floor plan and design drawings of the story. You need a special Blu-ray computer drive for that. The ‘TARDIS-Cam No. 2’ CGI model sequence; ‘The A-Z of Gadgets and Gizmos’ guide to ‘Doctor Who’ and the ‘Mary Celeste’ documentary aren’t included on the ‘Carnival of Monsters’ disc for the Season 10 Blu-ray. ‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ trailer is now included on the ‘Logopolis’ Blu-ray disc for the Season 18 Blu-ray box set. The cleaning opening titles of the Jon Pertwee era of ‘Doctor Who’ has been updated into cleaning opening and closing titles and can be found on ‘The Three Doctors’ Blu-ray disc. And the ‘On Target with Ian Marter’ documentary can be found on ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ Blu-ray disc.

‘Carnival of Monsters’ is a pretty amazing ‘Doctor Who’ story from the Jon Pertwee era. I enjoy watching it every time I see it and it’s great to have it as part of the Season 10 Blu-ray box set! It’s cleverly well-written by Robert Holmes and is well-directed by Barry Letts who makes it look superb.

The story is full of fun and humour and is wonderfully delectable as a classic ‘Doctor Who’ story with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, Katy Manning’s Jo Grant and the monstrous Drashigs. I’m pleased I had the chance to write a sequel based on that classic adventure for my ‘Fifth Doctor by Tim Bradley’ series.

‘Carnival of Monsters’ rating – 9/10

The previous story

For the Third Doctor was

  • ‘The Heralds of Destruction’ (Comic)

For Jo was

  • ‘The Heralds of Destruction’ (Comic)
The next story

For the Third Doctor is

  • ‘The Suns of Caresh’ (Book)

For Jo is

  • ‘The Suns of Caresh’ (Book)
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4 thoughts on “‘Carnival of Monsters’ (TV)

  1. Tim Bradley Post author

    You’re right there, Simon. This story is a classic and it’s great Robert Holmes wrote this wonderful story that was fun and entertaining at the same time with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning in it.

    Thanks for your comments. Tim. 🙂


  2. Williams Fan 92

    Great review Tim.

    This story was yet another classic from Robert Holmes. Pertwee and Manning once again shined as the Doctor and Jo. The Drashigs were fun to watch and I liked the screeching sound they made. I enjoyed most of the guest cast as well. Cheryll Hall as Shirna stood out for me. I best know her for appearing in the BBC sitcom ‘Citizen Smith’ with Robert Lindsay. It was also surreal to see Terrence Lodge after he played Medok in ‘The Macra Terror’, Michael Wisher before he played Davros in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and of course Ian Marter before he played Harry Sullivan in that story as well as the rest of Season 12, ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and ‘The Android Invasion’. The ending was quite wholesome in my opinion.

    I’m sure I’ll enjoy ‘City of Monsters’ when I get around to reading it. It will be interesting to see how Nyssa and Billy interact with Jo in that story as well as in ‘The Robots of Lonmar’ with her, Victoria and Ace.

    It’s surreal that we are sharing the ‘Logopolis’ discussion on the 40th anniversary of ‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ which ‘Logopolis’, ‘Carnival of Monsters’ and ‘The Three Doctors’ were all part of. I still have a backlog of DW stuff to share my thoughts on including the Big Finish audios ‘Iterations of I’, ‘The English Way of Death’ and ‘Storm Warning’. I’ve almost finished ‘The Claws of Axos’ audiobook so I will be sharing my thoughts on that next week and I will comment on ‘The Daemons’ around the end of this month. Tomorrow I will be sharing my thoughts on ‘State of Decay’.

    Take care, WF92.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi WF92,

      Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘Carnival of Monsters’. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the story. Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are great together in this story and the guest cast are very good, well-supported by Robert Holmes’ writing.

      I hope you’ll get to enjoy ‘City of Monsters’ and ‘The Robots of Lonmar’. I had a fun time writing those adventures. Yes, it will be 40 years since ‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ season would have been transmitted on BBC Two. I just realised that. 😀 I look forward to hearing your thoughts on other stories I’ve reviewed once you’re able to share them.

      Many thanks for your comments.

      Tim 🙂

      Liked by 1 person


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