Friday, 18 January 2013

66: Carnival Of Monsters - An Early Metaphor For The Voyeurism Of Television

Written by: Robert Holmes.
Companions: The Doctor, Jo Grant.
Monsters/Villains: Drashigs, Plesiosaurus.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS lands aboard the SS Bernice a cargo ship in the 1926 only to realise they're not quite where they thought they were.
Rating: 8/10.

You can really tell this is written by Robert Holmes. It's a great idea and a great piece of story telling and although Barry Letts hasn't done the best job with the direction, the characters are fully fleshed out and entirely three dimensional. The aims of the story are clearly handled and very ahead of their time.

There are several wonderful levels of deception to be found in this story's first episode. A newly freed Doctor wants to take Jo to one of his favourite planets and thusly sets the TARDIS coordinates to Metabelis III, the famous blue planet of the Acteon Galaxy. Only when the time-ship lands the Doctor and Jo find themselves aboard the SS Bernice, a cargo ship crossing the Indian Ocean in 1926; or so they think. After stealthily exploring the ship they are shocked to see Harry Sullivan!?

Ian Marter as John Andrews not Harry Sullivan.
It's Ian Marter who plays Harry! Of course he isn't Harry at this point, he's playing a character called John Andrews, but he'll go on to be Tom Bakers Doctor's assistant in a few years time. What the Doctor and Jo are actually shocked to see in the ocean is a massive Plesiosaurus from the early Jurassic period. Something fishy is going on here, or should I say dinosaur-y.

Meanwhile we meet three officials of the overly-disease-conscious planet Inter Minor. Pletrac, Kalik and Orum are welcoming the first alien vistors to their planet.

Kalik (played by Michael Wisher), Pletrac (played by
Peter Halliday) and Orum (played by Terence Lodge).
These visitors are Lurmans, a pair of intergalactic travelling players, Vorg and Shirna. But they're not alone they've brought the Scope. The Miniscope is a sort of sideshow attraction which displays the lives of creatures for entertainment. Sounds like a TV. The difference is the creatures are actually miniaturised and kept in secure micro-environments within the device itself. The machine boasts many creatures including, tellurians (humans), Ogrons and Cybermen; who here make their only on screen appearance in whole of the Pertwee Era.

Upon further inspection Jo and the Doctor learn that they aren't on a ship at all and head for the TARDIS, but someone gets there before them.

A Monty Pythonesque cliffhanger. 
The rest of the adventure sees the Doctor and Jo meet the monstrous Drashigs and fight to escape the Scope and return to regular size.

The Drashigs are impressive creatures. They were mad from
the skulls of Dogs to make them look more fearsome and realistic.
The costumes of this one aren't the best. Vorg and Shirna's are particularly unusual.

In 2010 when the stage show Doctor Who Live: The Monsters Are Coming needed inspiration for it's story, Steven Moffat, Will Brenton and Gareth Roberts turned back to The Carnival of Monsters. The show featured prerecorded material by Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, and on stage appearances by many Who monsters and Nigel Planer as Vorgenson son of Vorg, who has created a similar machine called the Minimiser. This transpires to have been a trap set by the Daleks to capture the Doctor.

Nigel Planer as Vorg's son Vorgenson.
The Drashigs also inspired one of my very favourite pieces of Doctor Who Merchandise, the Drashig hand puppet!

What a brilliant idea this story was and ahead of it's time! A story about people being trapped inside a machine for giving entertainment. The original title for the story was Peepshow, which works as a much clearer indicator of the story's true intentions as an early metaphor for the voyeurism of television. The Miniscope takes television to an extreme as we watch real people strive and suffer for mere amusement. It's amazing how ahead Robert Holmes was of his time. He preempted reality TV by two decades. The character of Vorg even acts as a kind of malevolent producer/puppeteer as he adjusts a dial which amplifies the "specimen's" hostility to increase the viewers amusement. The Doctor mentions his part in convincing the Time Lords to ban Miniscopes claiming that they were an insult to sentient life. Despite the Time Lords non-intervention policy the Doctor was successful.

Ooh Doctor, you've changed your tune!
Holmes could clearly see the negative potential that television could have and The Carnival of Monsters is a direct product of that. The Miniscope is really not a millions miles away from Big Brother, I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here or the X-Factor. If only we could do what the Doctor did and get the High Council of Time Lords to ban it!

Carnival of Monsters is leagues ahead of it's time. It's a classy, classic and (apart from the costumes) timeless story.

Join me next time for the epic space opera: The Frontier In Space.

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