Steamships and dinosaurs and bureaucrats, oh my! Dirty fingernails too.
Imagine Big Brother with omnivorous monsters. Actually don’t. This is nothing like Big Brother. Everyone here has IQs with triple digits (even the chickens) plus there are no self-obsessed muppets here. Scratch that, it is like Big Brother! Imagine Big Brother with normal people… Ahem, I was right the second time, this is nothing like Big Brother. Sorry.
This story is like one of those Russian nesting eggs but every time you take one apart, inside it something completely different. To put it another way, this is a story that keeps you guessing (for the first two episodes).
The Doctor and Jo arrive upon a steamship but things are not as they seem. Events repeat themselves. Not so much Groundhog Day as Groundhog Minutes. Our heroes are constantly accused of being stowaways and then having to escape. Luckily they have a huge dinosaur popping out of the water to distract the crew.
In the first episode, we have the Third Doctor and Jo on the steamship. But also, we have a planet called Inter Minor where a race of grey-skinned aliens live. These aliens are grey in skin and nature, so when Vorg and Shirna turn up on the planet, they are not pleased at these colourful vagabonds. Just imagine the reaction of Daily Mail readers if a bunch of gypsies set up a camp in their front garden. Yes, that.
You know this is a Robert Holmes script when even nondescript grey aliens have a believable society. Bonkers but believable. Holmes has outdone himself here. We hear about President Zarb, and despite never seeing him, he is as big a character as any of the others. He is defined by what people say of him.
This is a world which echoes our own. It is familiar. It is real. We see functionaries, the lower class on Inter Minor, and we see how they are interact with their social betters both onscreen and by how the they are referred to by the elite. Both are fully realised groups. I cannot stress how real this all feels. I guess you just have to watch it and see for yourselves.
The steamship and dinosaur are contained in a Miniscope. This is a machine which shrinks creatures and settings so that they can be gawked at upon on a screen for the pleasure of the general public. Hey, I was right! It is like Big Brother!
Geordie Announcer: Day 346 in the Big Brother Miniscope. The Drashigs are called into the Diary Room to explain why they ate all of Major Daly’s cornflakes…
There are no real villains this time. Just scheming grey-skinned bureaucratic aliens whose idea of fun is watching paint dry on a high-definition television set. It seems, to me, that Vorg sees the people in the Miniscope as tchotchkes rather than actual living sentient creatures but that is not really villainy either.
Plenty of monsters though. Apt given the title of this story. A plesiosaurus which is quite naff. Oh, and Drashigs which are huge sock puppets with fox terrier teeth and an alarming taste in cuisine.
These Drashigs are the organic version of a waste disposal unit. Unlike most monsters on Doctor Who, these creatures are unintelligent. They are governed wholly by their stomachs and their insatiable never-ending appetite (they’ll even eat broccoli!). Just like any classic monsters, they are relentless. If they catch your scent, then they will chase after you until either you have gone well out of their range or they are chomping on your remains with their gently smiling jaws.
Do you remember all those people who complained about the Eleventh Doctor talking to cats and babies? In this story, the Third Doctor talks to chickens. Yes, exactly. To all the anti-Steven Moffateers, you’ve just been punk’d by Robert Holmes, creator of all the Gallifreyan lore/canon that you hold dear.
Sorry, I really must stop grinding that particular axe. Where was I? Oh, yes…
Aboard the S.S. Bernice, the ship that I didn’t previously reveal the name of, is a familiar cove. Playing sea-swab Lt John Andrews is Ian Marter. If you know your companions, then you will know that he also played Harry Sullivan (who is second place to Jamie as best male companion). Not an unusual occurrence given that quite a few actors played bit-parts and then were given major parts at a later date. But it does give me an opportunity to indulge myself by concocting an elaborate Whovian fan theory. Buckle up, this will be a bumpy ride.
The Doctor knows about the S.S. Bernice before he discovers that the identity of the steamship. He knows it went missing and was never found. This is a fact. But what if Andrews was Harry’s father? When the S.S. Bernice is returned to Earth, Andrews meets a woman and fathers a child, Harry. It could happen. So in the Whoniverse, before Carnival of Monsters, Harry Sullivan does not exist. Afterwards, Harry Sullivan does exist as a result of the Doctor and Jo accidentally arriving on Inter Minor instead of Metebelis Three. Harry pops into existence as time is rewritten by the return of the steamship. It could work. There is no reason why Harry should have his father’s surname. Um. Yeah…
OK. Pointless theorising is over now. You can all take your hands away from your ears and cease saying “La la la la la la!” at the top of your voices.
I think it is time to wrap this unreview up. I could easily talk to you more about the many fine points of this adventure but, as always, I suggest that you see for yourselves. If nothing else, you will get a lesson in how to build a realistic alien world.