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22 December 2013

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

Day 356: Carnival of Monsters, Episode Four

Dear diary,

I’m somewhat fascinated by the fact that we make it – broadly speaking – to the final episode before the Doctor and Jo meet up with a large chunk of the guest cast for this story. It takes a real skill to tell a Doctor Who tale in this style, with two distinctly different stories running in parallel, and yet keep me interested in both halves. Right back when I started on this story, I was thinking that the cliff hanger to Episode One would be the Doctor and Jo encountering the Drashigs in the marsh, while Episode Two would conclude with them leaving the Mini Scope, and Episode Three would be the start of the attack on our alien world.

In my mind, I remembered the story being a straight split down the middle – with the first half seeing the Doctor and Jo inside the Scope, while the latter half saw them outside it, stopping the attacking Drashigs. I’d completely forgotten that the crew of the SS Bernice were present right to the end of the tale, or that the attack on the city was so… well…

I’ve been very fond of Carnival of Monsters this far. There’s a lot to love. That said, the ending does come as a bit of a let down. We’ve spent so long building up the plan to let the Drashigs loose on the city and use this as a way to engineer an overthrow of political regime that when it comes and it lasts about three minutes… Oh maybe I’m just being grumpy. The Drashigs still look fantastic here – though more like puppets than at any other point of the story – and there’s some really great CSO work on display again as they mill around the city.

It also provides an opportunity for Vorg to redeem himself somewhat, even though he’s not an out-and-out villain. You almost get the impression that in the modern series, you’d have him popping up from time to time as something of a lovable rogue. There was something of a return for the character – or at least the concept of the character – in the form of his son, Vorgenson, popping up in the Doctor Who Live arena tour a few years ago, where the concept of the Mini Scope provided a great excuse for the stage to be invaded by a parade of monsters.

For me, though, the biggest success of this story is growing to love Robert Holmes. I’ve been fond of him since his first appearance in this marathon (my average ratings for his stories have been generally quite high - 7 for The Krotons, 8 for Spearhead From Space, even Terror of the Autons came in a smidge above 'average' at 5.25. The only one that let the side down a little was The Space Pirates with 4.66), but this is the first time that I’ve really felt as though I understand all of the things people love about Holmes’ writing.

I’ve also started to see what people mean when they say that Vorg and Shirna are a good stand in for the Doctor and his companion – there’s a moment here where he gets Shirna to put her finger on an exposed metal part of the Doctor’s machine to check if it’s the ‘live’ part. It’s a scene that I could imagine playing out with the Second Doctor and Jamie, or even the Third Doctor and Jo. It’s good to see this kind of dynamic cropping in, though it just reinforces my desire to see this pair return again!

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