Case Number 23641


BBC Video // 1973 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // April 8th, 2012

The Charge

Jo Grant: "Did you ever admit that you're wrong?"
The Doctor: "No, that's impossible, too."

Opening Statement

Jo Grant thinks the TARDIS has merely taken her and the Doctor backward in time, but the Doctor's sure they're somewhere in space. Since the popular science-fiction series is called Doctor Who rather than Jo Grant, the Doctor naturally will turn out to be right.

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters puts the time traveler in a different kind of box that defies the logic of size, not to mention a serial that was featured in a "Five Faces of Dr. Who" (Yeah, I know that's not how he's usually called in the show, but the BBC apparently didn't) festival on BBC2 in the 1980s.

Facts of the Case

The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) land on the S.S. Bernice, a ship that disappeared in 1926. There's a sea monster outside, but the people onboard can't remember that for very long. The Doctor and Jo are captured as stowaways, but the people onboard can't remember that for very long, either. Meanwhile, Vorg and Shirna arrive on a planet that isn't very friendly to strangers to put on their monster show; they've got a box, er, miniscope, full of miniaturized bizarre creatures. How are these two stories linked? Hmmm, let's see. That giant hand that just grabbed the TARDIS might be a clue.

The Evidence

Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters is described at various times on commentary tracks as "zany" and "outlandish." I'd describe it as amusingly surreal. There are jokes -- such as when Vorg demonstrates showman patter on the bemused Doctor -- but the episode mainly exhibits an air of weirdness, from the shipboard folks with the short-term memory problem and the giant worm thingies that run amok, to the planet's citizenry who see an opportunity for revolution and the interior clockwork of the miniscope. If you have a weird sense of humor, you'll like it, but I wouldn't call it jokey.

With help from a Robert Holmes script, Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning click perfectly as a team. The Doctor and Jo investigate their strange environment to figure out just what's going on, unraveling a mystery as they unravel the miniscope itself. Our dynamic duo fear disaster -- and the planet's laws -- even as three citizens plot a revolution amid the hoped-for chaos of a hungry worm thingy escape. Not to worry. Though the arrival of the Doctor and Jo sets the story (and resulting chaos) into motion, the Doctor makes sure everything ends well.

As is the case with these "Special Edition" releases, there are many extras to explore:

* Two commentaries dissect the episode: one with producer/director Barry Letts and actress Katy Manning; the other with guest actors Peter Halliday, Cheryl Hall, and Jenny McCracken, story editor Terrance Dicks, and sound effects creator Brian Hodgson. The stories they fondly recall include one about the compass Jon Pertwee lifted during a shoot on a live ship, and a bit about an accidentally suggestive line that was removed to make sure no one was thinking about what the Doctor and Jo might do if left together in a bedroom.

* Pop-up text fills in details such as the history of "lateral thinking" and other appearances by the worm thingies (actually called "drashigs") in Doctor Who. They also provide the Radio Times listings info, which you can find on the DVD-ROM.

* Early edit of Episode 2, clocking in at 30 minutes. We also get the long-lost alternate version of the show's theme, and an amended ending, with slight variation, for the whole serial.

* If you love process shots (called "color separation overlay" or "CSO" here), there's a "CSO Demo," in which the technique puts real-live people into a tiny country home, on the DVD. Carnival of Monsters has quite a few process shots.

* A short featurette on the late Ian Marter, who plays a ship's officer here but was later seen on Doctor Who as Harry Sullivan. Tom Baker makes an appearance to talk about his friend, but time adds to the sadness. Nicholas Courtney and Elizabeth Sladen, who also recall Marter, have recently passed as well.

* A making-of featurette shows the puppetry behind the drashigs, which you'll also see in a segment on visual effects models.

* A behind-the-scenes bit on the Doctor Who control room in action.

* "The A to Z of Gadgets and Gizmos" features twenty-six Doctor Who gadgets, from artificial intelligence (K-9) to the zero cabinet used in regeneration, including such favorites as the sonic screwdriver.

* "Mary Celeste" takes a historical look at sea disappearances, and includes footage of a Dalek attack from earlier in the series' run.

* A photo gallery includes production stills, shots of the commentary recording session, and illustrations from Radio Times.

* "Tardis Cam No. 2" provides 3D modeling of the TARDIS' movement.

* A "Five Faces of Dr. Who" promo features clips from episodes featuring the first four Doctors.

* I also discovered an Easter Egg. It's to the left of the last item on the first Special Features screen of Disc One.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I wasn't too scared by the giant worm thingies, but they look a little more realistic than the Autons, which (the production team kept assuring us) did scare some viewers. Turns out the worms were puppets made with the skulls of dogs, which makes the story behind the worms a bit creepier than the actual creatures. Not to fear, there was no cruelty to animals involved.

On the other hand, Doctor Who's obvious process shots (color separation overlay) make everything less scary. Add that to the generally whimsical look of this story arc, and it's hard to believe your kids'll find anything frightening here.

Closing Statement

Though the worm thingies aren't as scary as the production team would like us believe, the performances are strong and the surreal story is intriguing. Carnival of the Monsters (Special Edition) is good entry point for classic Doctor Who.

The Verdict

Not guilty. Heck, I'm worn out from writing this review. Maybe I'll feel better after some time in the zero cabinet...

Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 80
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentaries
* Trivia Track
* Extended Episode
* Featurettes
* Photo Gallery

* IMDb

* Official Site