Carnival of Monsters

Region 1
Special Edition

Region 2
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 66, starring Jon Pertwee)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • produced and directed by Barry Letts
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor lands the TARDIS way off course, on an olde English ship traveling the Indian Ocean. However, his curiosity is peaked by the anachronisms, temporal anomalies, and monsters he soon encounters, and he suspects a diabolical crime is being perpetuated. He and Jo Grant embark on an odyssey of strange locations leading to an alien planet on which a vaudeville showman is applying for a visa from some conspiratorial alien officials....

Special Edition DVD Extras include:

  • Original audio commentary by actress Katy Manning (Jo Grant) and director/producer Barry Letts.
  • Additional audio commentary by actors Jenny McCracken (Claire Daly), Cheryl Hall (Shirna),
    Peter Halliday (Pletrac), script editor Terrance Dicks, and sound effects designer Brian Hodgson.
  • Making-of featurette (23 min.) with Letts, Dicks, Manning, Hall, Halliday,
    assistant floor manager Karilyn Collier, and visual effects assistant Colin Mapson.
  • Behind the scenes footage (2 min.)
  • Expanded Visual Effects Test Film & Model Sequences (9 min.)
  • "Mary Celeste" featurette on ships disappearing at sea (18 min.)
  • Featurette on the novelization work later done by Ian Marter (John Andrews / Harry Sullivan) (16 min.)
    with Gary Russell, Tom Baker, Terrance Dicks, Lis Sladen, Nick Courtney, and Nigel Plaskitt.
  • Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) Effects Demo (3 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery music and sound effects montage (3 min.)
  • Early edit of Episode 2 (30 min.) with deleted/extended scenes and the "Delaware" title music.
  • Alternate ending (1 min.)
  • TARDIS-cam No. 2: Vortex Journey (1 min.)
  • "The A-Z of Gadgets and Gizmos" featurette (11 min.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

The greatness of the later Pertwee era begins here, with Robert Holmes best Doctor Who script so far, where he combines his great imagination with a now more refined writing style and a blossoming talent for engaging, well-developed characters.

The story begins where the characters come together for the first time and introduce themselves to each other, first on the planet Inter Minor, and then on the S.S. Bernice, making them all easy to get to know and understand. The TARDIS makes a technically perfect landing this time, perhaps owing the use of the correct materialization sound to the directives of the ninth recording block. (This story was recorded along with season nine). Curiously, Robert Holmes seems to have a great aversion to writing scenes for the TARDIS interior. He hasn't written any so far in his Doctor Who career, and opts not to do so here either. Thus a true classic misses some key exposition for the uninitiated viewer.

I've heard some (female) Blake's 7 reviewers complain that Robert Holmes does not write well for women, but I must say that I haven't seen Jo Grant's character appear as clever and deductive anywhere else as she does here - this could be her best story.

The style of story-telling we get here is unique for its time, something that hasn't really played out since "The Krotons" (story no. 47) and "The War Games" (story no. 50), and won't become a staple Who formula until the Tom Baker era. This is a true sci-fi mystery, a chain of questions and answers carefully plotted to lead the audience suspensefully towards a neat, new, scientifically challenging idea. Episode one plays to the mystery and allows the Doctor and Jo to build up the questions, while episode two gives great audio/visual exposition of the answers, and presto - there's your new sci-fi idea. From the cliffhanger into episode three, Holmes ups the ante with bigger threats and lots of action, while much of the emotional ramifications of the sci-fi idea settle in. And episode four brings the Doctor face to face with those responsible for setting up the main predicament, where he can confront them accordingly. Doctor Who has won its award for writing today.

Holmes' Achilles' heel is still there though, gently reminding one of "The Space Pirates" writing fiasco from season six. Commissioner Kalik, enjoyably played by Michael Wisher, is up to lots of crafty no good on the side, but neither the Doctor nor anyone else ever gets to investigate him, expose him, or do anything about it at all. In the end, Kalik is left to do himself in with a little of his own miscalculation. And the Doctor's final heroics only go as far as building a machine in early episode four, while Vorg upstages him in the second half, getting all the heroics of operating the machine and saving the planet. And one has to scratch one's head to ask: why? If the phase two lever is set to magically transport everyone to where they need to be, what really is the point of the Doctor going back in with a phase one lever? Surely Jo would be rescued just as effectively by just skipping to phase two? If not, the script needs to elaborate a reason, and/or give the Doctor a clear goal to accomplish inside the machine and show him achieving it, rather than just having him wither down and become the Man of Sleep for the climax. As it stands, the Doctor seems to achieve absolutely nothing by going back in, and it really is a repeat of what he's been doing in previous episodes.

There's lots of CSO work in this story, most of which is excellent and effective. The Drashigs in particular are a real achievement. Only the TARDIS model & its lighting give the CSO game away at the episode one cliffhanger, and rather obviously at that, as the model is so obviously different from the full scale version.

Holmes also falls back on a tried and true favourite theme of mine: government corruption and conspiracy, and as I say, it's a great shame that this issue is never explored, highlighted, or dealt with by the series regular characters. But Holmes gets the dynamic spot on: Kalik will secretly create havoc and destruction, panic and fear, while planning to publicly show up as a hero with a solution and earn the favour of all the common citizens. It still amazes me how many people watch so many films that illustrate this, and still fall for the politician's magic trick when it happens in real life. Anytime a political figure gains ground from combating a horrible disaster or tragedy, it is worth wondering if he or she didn't have an intentional, plausibly deniable hand in setting the whole disaster up in the first place. Kalik is the true political showman of this piece.

The acting is of a high calibre by all participants, with recurring stars like Michael Wisher, Peter Halliday, and Ian Marter being particular favourites of mine. Director Barry Letts is in fine form, turning out what is probably his best solo directorial work on Doctor Who.

The musical score is definitely my favourite from season ten, with bits for the old world sailing ship and Vorg and Shirna's circus act antics being well within Dudley Simpson's preferred repertoire. (Most of these can now be heard in pure form if you have the 11-disc version of the 50th Anniversary Music CD Collection pictured at right, where this track goes on to be the best new piece of music on all of disc 3 for Jon Pertwee's era.) Simpson also sustains a unique musical sound for the story near the end of episode three (sadly not on CD), leading to the Doctor's escape from the machine, which works very well in maintaining the suspense and drive of the on-screen action.
A suite of music from "Carnival of Monsters" Episode 1
lasting (3:35) was released on:
Audio CD - Doctor Who:
The 50th Anniversary Collection
11-disc version (2014)

More info

In the end, I've got to give this story top marks, for its flaws are few. It's one of the two true gems of season ten.

International Titles:

Deutsch: (Karneval der Monster)

Magyar: "Szörnyek karneválja"

Français: (Foire aux monstres)

Русский: "Карнавал монстров"

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability.
Original release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

Original DVD Extras include:

  • Audio commentary by actress Katy Manning (Jo Grant) and
    director/producer Barry Letts.
  • Behind the scenes footage (2 min.)
  • Extended/deleted scenes / alternate ending (5 min.)
  • Visual Effects Test Film & Model Sequences (4 min.)
  • Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) Effects Demo (3 min.)
  • Delaware Titles & Credits (1 min.)
  • TARDIS-cam No. 2 (1 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery different music and sound effects montage (2 min.)
  • "Who's Who" actor biographies (text only)

New Special Edition / "Revisitations Volume 2" re-release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
NEW for April 10, 2012.
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC in the U.S.
NTSC in Canada
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Frontier in Space"

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