21 December 2013
 Day 355: Carnival of Monsters, Episode Three

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 355: Carnival of Monsters, Episode Three

Dear diary,

It’s always the sign of a good episode if you reach the cliffhanger and you’re surprised that 23-and-a-half minutes are up. It usually signals that I’ve been so caught up in the events on screen and completely absorbed myself in the world. I think a lot of the cause for this really does need to be laid at the door of Robert Holmes.

I’ve said before that I can see with each passing Holmes script just why he’s considered to be such a fantastic writer of Doctor Who. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have sung his praises before now, and back in the day Terrance Dicks and Eric Sawad were both huge advocates of the man. And yet, I’ve never really understood it. His stories have always been quite good, but they’ve always felt like just A. N. Other episode of Who.

It’s another example of why watching through the series in order is such a fantastic way to experience the programme. You can chart the evolution of his writing from the early scripts in Season Six through to now, and you can see his trademark styles developing. One of the things people always seem to bring up is the ‘Robert Holmes Double Act’, and it’s well in evidence here. You’ve obviously got Vorg and Shirna playing nicely off each other – I’ve seen it said more than once that they’re a great metaphor for the Doctor and his companion, but I’m not sure that I completely agree with that – and our group of aliens plotting to overthrow the government and sharing a similar chemistry.

We’ve also got a great selection of writing for the Doctor and Jo in this story. More and more I’ve been drawing attention to the way that the pair interact, and you really do get the sense that this is a team who’ve been together for some time – and they have! By this point, Jo has been the Doctor’s regular companion for a couple of years. She seems to attract the best lines, too. Yesterday was another personal favourite, after the heat is ramped up during the attack on the Scope and the Doctor asks her to try getting up. ‘I can’t,’ she responds, ‘I’m only half cooked!’

Today their friendship is shown best while they’re hiding once more on the ship. Jo’s leg being spotted, she indicates to the Doctor that he should keep quiet and stay behind. It’s quite simple hand gestures – it wouldn’t take a genius in mime to figure out what she’s saying to him – but it conveys how close they’ve become. I’m so pleased, because I was worried I may not warm to Jo (Terror of the Autons wasn’t the most auspicious start for her), but as we approach the end of her adventures, I’m becoming very aware of how much I’m going to miss her personality.

Another thing that’s quite interesting – coming to this story so soon after watching The Enemy of the World - is Barry Letts’ direction. Just as with his use of back projection in that tale, we’re seeing him go all out with the use of special effects and various technology in this story. I’ve been tracking the ups-and-downs of his CSO use for a little while (today is as much a mixed bag as any other episode: the miniature Doctor staggering from the Scope during the cliff-hanger looks great, but Vorg’s hand holding back the Drashigs is less effective), but we’re really seeing the benefit of the model work in this tale.

To put it bluntly – the Drashigs look bloody stunning. They really are a bit of a silly design when you stop to think about them (the eyes especially make them look a bit ‘cuter’ than I think was intended), but they look so effective throughout this episode. The way one crawls off through the marshes (one of the best uses of CSO – not just in this story but in this era of the programme) is flawless, and the shots of them bursting through the walls of the Scope and later the ship are just as brilliant. There’s a special feature on the revised release of this story which shows some of the behind-the-scenes work with the puppets and it’s surprising that they come across so well – several of the unused takes are a lot less effective! I’m also very fond of the way that we get close ups of the creatures’ bodies as they move – the contracting bodies are so reminiscent of a caterpillar and an effective way of showing us their travels without the need to overlay them into another shot.

It’s becoming something of a tradition with the Pertwee stories of late, but I’m going to have to draw attention to the fantastic explosions in the marsh scenes, too. The effects team in this era really know what they’re doing! It also marks another step in the evolution of the Sonic Screwdriver – we saw the Doctor using it to detonate landmines in The Sea Devils, but here it’s used to ignite the marsh gasses, and adds another function to its growing list. We’re starting to really blur the lines now, between what the Sonic was originally designed for, and what we know it as from the latter half of the 1970s and beyond.

One last thing, which comes as a nice result of watching these stories in order. The Doctor tells Jo that he had ‘a great deal to do’ with getting the Mini Scopes banned as they were an insult to sentient life. He explains that while the Time Lords don’t interfere as a rule, he kicked up so much of a fuss that they gave in and took action. They muse that the machines were called in and destroyed – but that this one must have slipped through the net. It’s incredibly tempting to think that even though his exile has been lifted and the Time Lords have set him free, they may have still steered him in this direction to sort out this one last rogue machine…

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