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Recap / Doctor Who S10 E2 "Carnival of Monsters"

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Carnival of Monsters
"Vorg, I think we're being watched..."
Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Barry Letts
Production code: PPP
Air dates: 27 January - 17 February 1973
Number of episodes: 4

Pletrac: The function of this tribunal is to keep this planet clean. This Tellurian creature comes from outside our solar system and is a possible carrier of contagion. Furthermore the creature may be hostile.
The Doctor: Would you kindly stop referring to me as "the creature", sir. Or I may well become exceedingly hostile!

The One With… meta humour. And the one and only time you'll see a Cyberman in a Pertwee-era serial outside of flashbacks or hallucinations, for all of five seconds. Also, the one where the theme tune sounded like twangy rubber bands.note 

With the TARDIS again apparently fixed, the Doctor takes Jo on a test flight and they land on the S.S. Bernice, a cargo ship with a small complement of passengers crossing the Indian Ocean in 1926.

... Except that they quickly realise that the ship is trapped in a time loop, and the Doctor discovers that they are in fact trapped in a miniaturised form inside a Miniscope: a banned device which miniaturises and traps life-forms to be used as a peep-show. A giant hand appears and removes the TARDIS from the machine.

The Doctor and Jo escape into a different part of the scope, to be menaced by fearsome Drashigs. Eventually, the Doctor manages to break out entirely, and is restored to full size, but Jo is still trapped inside.

The scope is being shown around by two entertainers, Vorg and Shirna, Lurmans visiting the reclusive planet of Inter Minor and hoping to make money from the curious natives. However, they have fallen afoul of the planet's bureaucracy as they do not have a permit for the Miniscope. To top it all, the 'Scope is on the point of breaking down.

The Doctor attempts to rescue Jo, but his efforts are hampered by the internal politics of Inter Minor, where two locals plan to overthrow the government by allowing the Drashigs to escape. Vorg uses a disintegrator gun to destroy the Drashigs, and the Doctor links the Miniscope to the TARDIS to send all the captive creatures back where they came from and rescue Jo.

As the Doctor and Jo depart, Vorg and Shirna are busy setting up a variant of the old three-card trick to try and earn enough credit bars to leave Inter Minor...


  • Big Bad: Commissioner Kalik, the xenophobic Minoran bureaucrat with political ambitions who releases the Drashigs.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Vorg's polari in Episode Four is translated as: "Parlae the Carny?" (Do you talk the Carnival language?)... "Varda the Bona Palone" (Look at the good (looking) Young Girl)... "Niente dinari here, y'jills" (No money to be made here, you know).
  • Bottle Episode: The more elaborate set is a combination of Prop Recyclinginvoked from the extensive BBC Costume Drama collection, some Backed by the Pentagon boat exteriors, a BBC Quarry and a dark sound stage. The less elaborate set is a small round area. About half of the plot is three Rubber-Forehead Aliens arguing with two Human Aliens in a small room. The monsters are latex puppets called Drashigs, a Significant Anagram of "dishrags", as Robert Holmes assumed that was what they'd end up being made out of considering that this was a cheap story.
  • Bread and Circuses: The plot involves aliens using Miniscopes to torment people for their amusement.
  • Breather Episode: A relatively lighthearted and fun serial to offset the two much more serious, epic ones to follow.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: The Doctor puts on a Cockney accent to imitate a carnie.
  • Cain and Abel: President Zarb's policies, such as allowing aliens onto Inter Minor, are opposed by his brother Kalik, who tries to release the dangerous Drashigs into the city to force his brother to resign. Ironically he ends up getting eaten by the Drashigs.
  • Camp: The 70s-BBC-does-Vegas by way of Cockney Pearly Kings and Queens outfits seen in the picture. Vorg and Shirna's clothes could give the Sixth Doctor's garb a run for its money. He'd look right at home standing beside them, too.
  • Circus of Fear: Subverted, with the showman Vorg portrayed as ignorant of the horrors he's leading.
  • Continuity Nod: The list of monsters inside the Miniscope includes several varieties the Doctor had encountered in other adventures.
  • Deadpan Snarker: For a such a strait-laced race, one of the Tribunal gets in a good dig when Vorg points out that the Lurmans and Tellurians (humans) look similar:
    "The resemblance is unpleasant..."
  • Dirt Forcefield: In the location footage Jo sinks to her waist in a swamp. Her clothes are clean and dry in the studio scenes set less than a minute later.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Kalik seeks to release the Drashigs and use them to stage a coup. He ends up being the Drashigs' first victim once they're restored to their regular size.
  • Expospeak Gag: Orum says of the low-ranking Functionaries "Give them a hygiene chamber and they'll store fossil fuel in it." This is an Expospeak Gag on a line from the early 20th century, reflecting conservative class attitudes "If the workers had baths, they'd use them to keep the coal."
  • Extreme Omnivore: Vorg mentions that the Drashigs once ate a spaceship that'd crash-landed on their planet.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: Part of the story takes place in 1926.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The Doctor is challenged to a fight by Lieutenant Andrews, and lets on that he studied boxing at the feet of John L. Sullivan himself. He wins, naturally.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: The people on the ship repeat the same few minutes over and over. Their minds remain conditioned until they get sent back to where they came from.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Kalik and his associate Orum are the only casualties of Kalik's own scheme.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Shirna is noticeably more intelligent and sensible than Vorg, and seems to have more idea than him how the Miniscope works even though he's the one with the technical training.
  • Hypocritical Humour: At one point, the bureaucrats order Vorg to be quiet and he responds by going on at length about how obediently quiet he's going to be, only stopping when they tell him again to shut up.
  • I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Jon Pertwee and Tenniel Evans both appeared on The Navy Lark. In fact, it was Evans who convinced Pertwee to go for the role of the Doctor and he returned the favour by recommending him for this story.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The Doctor accidentally lands the TARDIS inside a "compression field", where the people on the outside are giants in comparison. Anything removed from the compression field returns to normal size within a few seconds. (The first thing so removed is the TARDIS, because it's interfering with the compression field. A giant hand reaches in and picks it up.)
    • The DVD and Blu-Ray releases lampshade the fact that this creates massive problems with Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale in the factoid subtitle track — pointing out that not only are the shrunken TARDIS prop and the shrunken Doctor CSO effects shot not even remotely in scale with each other, but that even if shrunken to a consistent scale with the TARDIS prop, all the creatures and the SS Berniece could not physically fit within the Miniscope's confines.
  • Karma Houdini: Vorg doesn't seem to be a cruel man, but he is rather blasé about keeping sentient beings in captivity, and doesn't show much concern for their well being (though given his general technical incompetence and typical carny's dislike for the authorities, it's unlikely he could have done much for the 'Scope's captives by himself, even if he'd wanted to). He does help the Doctor, though, even though he was threatening to turn him in for his deeds. YMMV on whether that's enough for him to escape punishment.
  • Mass Teleportation: The S.S. Bernice.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Tame by modern standards, but Shirna is an attractive young woman in a somewhat skimpy leotard-like outfit.
  • Newspaper Dating: Shortly after they arrive on the S.S. Bernice, the Doctor and Jo look at a newspaper in the passenger lounge in an attempt to establish where and when they are.
  • No Ontological Inertia: When the device is destroyed, everything and everyone being kept inside is zapped back to when and where they were before, with no-one being the wiser.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Vorg and Shirna spend the entire plot stuck in a torturous border control waiting area, being bullied by (literal) grey-faced bureaucrats (who are trying to engineer a political coup).
  • Oppressive Immigration Enforcement: Commissioner Kalik is a snooty, egotistic xenophobic Inter Minoran official with political ambitions. Historically Inter Minor had banned all aliens from immigrating or even visiting (and all residents from leaving) following a horrific plague outbreak 2000 years previously, however, this rule has recently been repealed as part of a series of sweeping reforms by the new liberal President Zarb, Kalik's own brother. Outraged at this upon discovering two of the first alien visitors are a pair traveling showmen, Vorg and Shirna, who have brought with them a Minoscope (a device that miniaturises and traps individuals in time loops for the purpose of entertainment) Kalik sabotages it to release the trapped Drashigs, ignoring Vorg's warnings about how dangerous they are. Planning to scapegoat Vorg and Shirna for the disaster, Kalik will then use the outrage it sparks to force Zarb out of office and take over so he can restore the previous xenophobic laws. He ends up being the first one devoured alive by the Drashigs.
  • Placebo Eureka Moment: When the Doctor and Jo are trapped in the workings of the Miniscope, the Doctor remarks that they'll need to apply lateral thinking. When he attempts to explain the term to Jo, she thinks he's suggesting that they literally move sideways, and while he attempts to correct her she figures out an entire solution to their problem from that starting point, ending by sincerely complimenting him for thinking of it.
  • Planet of Hats: Planet of balding grey jerkass bureaucrats with an entirely unjustified superiority complex. Of course, we only meet three of them, but everything said about their cultures suggests they are perfectly typical of their species.
  • Planet Terra: The aliens refer to the Earth people as "Tellurians".
  • Red Herring: Jo tries to make the people on the ship see that they are in a time loop, and Claire seems to realise she's right. But at the end of the serial, Claire just brushes it off.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: The Doctor and Jo are able to remember all of the time they spent on the ship, but the ship's crew and passengers don't.
  • Rogues Gallery: The BBC has taken to borrowing this story's title as a name for the Doctor's gallery, despite there being no connection in the original story.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Inter Minoran bureacrats have grey skin and bald pates. (One slips off in the ending scene, if you're looking for it.) The Inter Minoran functionaries have snouts. The Lurmans have orange-toned skin.
  • Shell Game: What Vorg resorts to at the end of the story. Also the way he won the Miniscope.
  • Significant Anagram: The monsters are called Drashigs, a not very subtle anagram for 'dishrags', because it was the Bottle Episode and this was what Robert Holmes assumed they'd therefore end up being made out of.
  • Similar Squad: Vorg is an eccentrically-dressed bowtie-wearing older gentleman who possesses a small, seemingly innocuous machine that is bigger on the inside than out and can manipulate time. His glamorous young blonde travelling companion Shirna complains about Vorg's choice of destination and isn't sure he knows how to use his machine. Unlike the Doctor and Jo, though, they are more interested in getting loads of money with their machine than in seeing the wonders of the universe with it.
  • Skeleton Key: The Doctor complains that he can't open a non-electronic lock with the sonic screwdriver. Jo Grant responds by producing an impressive collection of skeleton keys.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: Just when they need somebody who can repair and operate a disintegrator gun, it turns out that Vorg is such a person, having done a stint in the army at some point.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The Drashigs pursue prey from their own swampland habitat to the Miniscope's interior circuitry, the interior of the Earth habitat's ship, and all the way out of the Miniscope's compression field.
  • The X of Y
  • Third Person People: The people of Inter Minor always refer to themselves as 'one'.
  • Those Two Guys: Vorg and Shina are the first instance of the Robert Holmes double act.
  • Tonto Talk: Parodied in Deleted Scenes (seen in an early edit of Episode Two included as a bonus feature on the 2019 John Pertwee 1973 season set). The three Inter Minoran bureaucrats resort to talking in this manner to Vorg and Shirna at first, who are justifiably bemused — they can speak the local language just fine.
  • Translation Convention: Vorg attempts to speak to the Doctor in Polari. The Doctor is hopelessly confused and doesn't seem to even recognise what the language is. It could be the TARDIS considered it an esoteric version of English slang, or (since Vorg is a Lurman who learned Polari so he could communicate with 1970s English carnies) perhaps Vorg's Polari is really bad?
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The Inter Minor characters seem to think that they're in a dark political thriller, when they're actually in one of the more bizarre and lighthearted Doctor Who stories.


Video Example(s):


Vorg's new buisness (Dr Who)

His miniature zoo destroyed, Vorg comes up with a new way of making money off of Inter Minor's bureaucratic inhabitants.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShellGame

Media sources: