Cool Things About “Carnival of Monsters”
(And 18 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 429
1. The ship’s cargo includes large parcels wrapped in silver paper and red ribbon. Christmas has apparently come early to Inter Minor.
2. Barry Letts has actually apologised for the Functionary extras’ masks.
3. Though the reason he gives for why they look like that-- that they were mass-produced rather than custom-tailored to each actor-- is particularly apt given the anti-capitalist theme of the story.
4. Unfortunately the bald caps on Pletrac, Kalik and Orum are also lamentably obvious.
5. The first episode opens with an eccentric middle-aged man arriving on an alien planet with a magic box and a blonde dolly-bird who complains that interstellar travel isn’t living up to his promises. Yes, it’s Vorg and Shirna.
6. And the fact that they first appear on a sort of assembly line/conveyor belt, like factory products, suggests a slightly postmodern take on the programme itself.
7. However, we’ll take a pass on the implications of the fact that they’ve arrived to fleece a group of what they view as morons out of their money, while being treated with disdain by a group of snobbish bureaucrats.
8. Vorg can’t control the Miniscope, either, though he pretends that he can.
9. In the 1990s, the YTV network in Canada used to advertise Doctor Who and The Muppet Show by superimposing Pertwee’s lines about chickens being the intelligent life on the planet over footage of Gonzo and Camilla. This probably confused some viewers.
10. The SS Bernice sequences open with an eccentric Colonialist middle-aged man on a journey through time and space with a pretty dolly bird and Ian Marter, facing down a Chromakey prehistoric monster. Yes, it’s Major Daly, Claire and Andrews.
11. And the fact that they appear at the height of the British Empire, bossing about anonymous native servants and blithely upholding a conservative, monarchical system, suggests yet another postmodern take on the programme itself.
12. To say nothing of the fact that they repeat the same actions, with very little variation, over and over.
13. And the Doctor and Jo spend all their time on the ship running down corridors, being captured, and escaping.
14. Just to underline the connections between all these sequences, Shirna does a quick Charleston when we next switch back to Inter Minor.
15. The Doctor fails to remove his pinky ring before boxing with Andrews, which is irresponsible to say the least; if he connected, he could do him a serious injury with that.
16. The fantastic bit of technology with the endorsement from the Great Zarb on it is a cassette tape. We may laugh now, but think of how people will view CDs in thirty years’ time.
17. The first actual indication that there’s any connection between all of these sequences comes in Episode 2, when Vorg holds up the TARDIS that he’s pulled out of the Miniscope mechanism. If you don’t know what the story’s about, Episode 1 is very confusing indeed.
18. “Scientists have been amazed at the remarkable similarity between [humans] and our own dominant lifeform...” Vorg, as the postmodernism-meter goes through the roof.
19. Despite the Doctor and Jo’s metaphors involving sea-life, the closest parallel for the people in the Miniscope is arguably the common children’s misconception that there are real little people in the TV (see also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).
20. Indeed, when Vorg pumps up the aggression in the Scope, one could say that there is too much violence on the box.
21. During the Bernice scenes, Major Daly pours and consumes a whiskey. One has to ask how many times he can run through the sequence before collapsing in an alcoholic stupor.
22. At that, it’s worth asking how the SS Bernice passengers manage to keep up the cycle without sleep. There’s the implication in Andrews’ invitation of Daly to dinner that they’re being fed, but where is the food coming from?
23. Also, why don’t they age? It could be argued that they’re caught in a time loop, but the fact that the Doctor and Jo aren’t affected by said loop, and that the passengers’ actions do vary slightly with each iteration, suggests not.
24. Although, getting back to the main TV metaphor for the Miniscope, it suggests that the actors aren’t above doing a bit of improv when the script fails them.
25. Peculiarly, the SS Bernice sequences are actually more realistic-looking than the ones on Inter Minor.
26. The sound of the Lascar’s bullet in Episode 2 comes a full second after the report of the gun. That’s a mighty slow bullet.
27. The interior of the Miniscope looks like some kind of interactive science museum, circa 1972.
28. Vorg’s previous stops, he claims, included the planet Daemos. Since this has been established in “The Daemons” as the name of the home planet of the eponymous race, one can’t help but picture a group of furry-legged, goat-horned giants peering suspiciously at the Miniscope before pointing out to Vorg that they invented human civilisation, so it’s hardly something new and exciting.
29. When Jo suggests that the “giants” who imprisoned them are the ones trying to kill them, the Doctor says “why should they, Jo? We’ve done them no harm.” He’s somewhat naively forgetting his own rockpool/aquarium metaphor from before; aquarium-keepers regularly remove or destroy invasive species which try to move in with their tropical fish.
30. The Doctor’s assumption that there is an airduct system in which the air is brought in to the Miniscope from outside fails to take into account that there may be some kind of internal oxygen recycling system. He’s pretty unimaginative this serial.
31. It has to be said, though, that Holmes is good at keeping track of which information the people in both settings would have, and how they would act on it.
32. In the infamous Girl Illustrated feature, Katy Manning apparently implied that she found sinking into the mud in this story an erotic experience. We can’t actually think of anything to say which would make this funnier than it already is.
33. What is it with Robert Holmes and methane jokes? See also “The Power of Kroll” and his attempt to name the methane-atmosphere planet in his Blake’s 7 episode “Orbit,” “Turdus.”
34. The Drashigs have six eyes, but still navigate mainly by scent. Ain’t evolution a bitch?
35. Two of the trio of Drashigs menacing the Doctor and Jo appear to be, ahem, more interested in each other than in them, given the way they’re entwining their tongues.
36. What breaks the cycle within the Miniscope is when the participants become aware of the fourth wall, as it were, and realise they’re trapped in an artificial routine.
37. This idea would be Recycled for “Meglos’” Chronic Hysteresis sequence.
38. Jo interprets “lateral thinking” to mean “literal thinking.”
39. Vorg’s blithe assertion that once the Drashigs have eaten the Doctor and Jo, everything will return to normal, is optimistic to say the least. What’s to stop the Drashigs then picking up the scent of Major Daly et al. from the SS Bernice and going after them, and going on from there to consume everything else organic in the Scope?
40. The SS Bernice is portrayed throughout as being a set within the Miniscope, since the Doctor and Jo can go in and out of it via hatchways leading into the Miniscope’s interior. However, if that’s the case and the humans are simply creatures in an artificial environment, how is it that the whole SS Bernice disappeared from 1926?
41. For that matter, why do we see the whole ship disappear from inside the Scope at the end of the story?
42. And, if it is the actual ship, considering that it’s now got artificial shafts all over it and bloody great Drashig holes in the hull, why doesn’t it promptly sink when returned to its own time and place?
43. The environments that the Drashig and SS Bernice are found in also don’t return to their original time and place, suggesting again that these were constructed specifically for the Miniscope.
44. It’s somewhat appropriate that in this story the Doctor is continually saved from peril by the unwitting actions of a group of selfish civil servants whose goal is simply to get one up on each other. Sort of deus ex bureau, one supposes.
45. Vorg attempts to talk to the Doctor using Polari, asserting that this is the carnival language of Tellurians. He forgets, however, that it’s also the language of quite another group of Tellurians, and thus that he may well be giving the impression that he’s chatting the Doctor up.
46. Had she not been rescued, Jo could conceivably have been drawn into the repeating scenario on the SS Bernice, continually hiding, being captured and escaping while still being aware that she was simply acting out a routine. There’s yet another metaphor for drama and self-awareness in here somewhere.
47. And, also in the postmodern-self-referential-lines department: “Doctor, I think we're going round in circles. I'm sure we've been this way before.” “No, no, no. All these shafts look very much alike.” (of course, it turns out that it is the same shaft after all, putting in yet another layer of postmodern self-referentialness).
48. Vorg’s snack is a banana dyed green, starting a trend to be later followed by Sil with his green peach slices.
49. The Doctor is ideologically opposed to zoos; however, he doesn’t appear to have similar concerns about gambling.
50. It has to be said: this is yet another story which relies for its denouement on the TARDIS’ technology being compatible with technology from a completely different time and place. See also “50 Things About Pyramids of Mars.”