First broadcast 27/1 – 17/2/1973 starring Jon Pertwee
Like many people of my age, this was perhaps the first introduction to the Jon Pertwee era through the BBC Two series, The Five Faces of Doctor Who (where stories from each Doctor were broadcast in the lead up to The Fifth Doctor’s tenure). It’s a great, if slightly misleading, introduction to The Third Doctor with miniaturisation, monsters, mystery, time loops and civil unrest all taking place in a fantastical story.
As a child, the colourful nature of Carnival (in terms of plot, characters and direction) captivated me (with some aspects of the tale going over my head – which I’ll come to later) and it really is an old-fashioned style of story – The Doctor and companion turn up somewhere and get into trouble. Simple. It’s that simplicity that I love in so many Doctor Who adventures. There’s no world-saving, there’s no Earth doom, just a mystery to be solved and their own lives to be gotten away with.
Behind this “simplicity” is Who ledge, Robert Holmes. And his well-used trope of odd double-acts is instantly recognisable with such twosomes as the traveling carnival show people, Vorg and Shirna, and the two Minorians, Kalik and Orum. There’s a Shakespearian style to the latter of those characters, and in part their performances, as their scheming and machinations take place with almost stage-whisper aplomb.
Countering the seriousness of the events on the planet (and in the miniscope), Carnival is a light old beast with lots of playfulness from Pertwee and Manning; their antics on the SS Bernice are most enjoyable. Likewise, the miniscope purveyors Vorg and Shirna make for a wonderful distraction. It’s just all so damn colourful! (And I’m not just talking about their outfits.)
At the heart of the majesty of the story is the miniscope itself; such a simple and fantastic invention for the show (and later aped in the Tom Baker “classic” Nightmare of Eden). Like the TARDIS, it’s a gateway into other worlds, and possible adventures. The thought of a tiny TARDIS and Doctor is delightful, but chucking in a well-realised monster (the Drashig) and some top location work is the proverbial cherry on the very tasty cake.
Carnival of Monsters was my introduction to the Pertwee era and is still my favourite of his time as the Time Lord. It displays a more whimsical and fun sci-fi feel to the proceedings which shows off The Third Doctor superbly but also the other-worldly possibilities that sometimes the show denies itself. Carnival *is* a carnival – a carnival of fun!
Check out Nos. 50-45 HERE