CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS

"Bric-a-brac?!"

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Brilliant! (Almost.)

It's like that, isn't it? Just when you've got comfortably bedded into a run of standard fight-the-monster stories, along comes one so original it knocks you off the sofa. The Mind Robber, say, the Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and very definitely Carnival of Monsters.

The first episode in particular is a real blinder, with two seemingly unrelated storylines that leave the audience panting to know what's going on. The scenes on the SS Bernice are particularly intriguing, with the slowly unfolding scenario of the time-looped inhabitants out of their natural habitat, although the playing off of the three Minorians and their closed, hierarchical society against the anarchy of Vorg and Shirna is also terrific.

Eps two and three develop the potential of the first episode beautifully. Despite the obvious budget limitations, the Drashig are genuinely scary monsters, and location shots with the Doctor and Jo in Drashig country manage some real terror. The miniature Doctor and Jo crawling around in the miniscope's works is a great wheeze, and the breaking down of the boundaries when the Drashigs crash out of their compartment has the potential for some real mayhem.

Carnival Of Monsters' themes also pose some interesting questions with no easy answers - the free enterprise freedoms of Vorg and Shirna are one answer to Minorian society, but freedom brings its own problems. And to top it all off, there's the none-too-subtle but amusing parable about TV to smirk at.

Sadly, though, in the fourth episode Robert Holmes throws it all away - the potential of the Drashigs both inside and outside the scope is never realised, and the whole thing fizzles out tamely, having made little impact on Minorian society. Bummer. There's so much more they could've done: the Drashigs could have munched up the Minorian ruling class, giving the poor old functionaries a chance, for example. Or Jo and the Doctor could have worked out how to break the SS Bernice bunch out of the loop and mobilise them so that they could dodge the Drashigs and get out of the scope under their own steam, which would have been a lot more satisfying than waiting for Vorg to rescue them. Or whatever. Anything but that criminally wasted opportunity.

The Doctor's at his best in this - acidic, effective and moral without being bombastic - and even Jo, with her skeleton keys, isn't too pathetic. In fact none of the cast put a foot wrong. Worth a particular puff are Michael Wisher, with yet another brilliant performance as Kalik, and Ian Marter, convincing as the thankfully non-moronic ship's officer.

So. Three excellent episodes, let down by the ending. Shame about that, but overall it's still vintage stuff.

MORAL: Less is more.

OUTTAKES

THEREíS YEARS OF WEAR IN IT YET

The idea of species captured inside a machine is a great one - so great they use it again in The Nightmare of Eden.

QUICK. BEHIND THE SOFA

When the Doctor and Jo first start exploring the ship, they hide when they hear someone coming. Why? They've got no particular reason to expect danger, and it's very out of character for the Doctor.

MONSTER MASH

Although the Drashigs, with their scary jaws and voices, are a triumph of design over budget, the dinosaur thing's a bit sad.

DIRECT FROM CLUB MED

Shirna has some very obvious strapmarks.

WE THOUGHT IT ADDED A HOMEY TOUCH

Why would there be a door between the miniscope's works and the Drashig's compartment?

GET OUT OF JAIL FREE

It's a shame Robert Holmes couldn't think of anything more original than saving the Doctor from the Drashigs with the bloody sonic screwdriver.

THAT TAKES ME BACK. OR IS IT FORWARD?

When the Doctor explains the history of the miniscope to Jo, he concludes that the scope is an illegal one that's escaped the roundup. How does he know he's not just in a time before they were banned?

THEY DONíT HALF PONG

When the Drashig break through into the ship, the Doctor collapses. Why?

ALL IN GOOD TIME

When the Doctor emerges from the miniscope, instead of immediately trying to rescue Jo, who's in imminent danger of being masticated, he stands around trading quips.

SAY WHAT?

Why doesn't the Doctor understand the carny dialect? TARDIS translation circuits on the blink?

ITíS THE SHORT THAT COUNTS

After the Doctor finally gets around to mentioning that he has to rescue Jo, he decides on this extremely complicated rigmarole of shrinking himself again. Why doesn't he just yank the roof off and pluck her out?

HMMM

An er Omega circuit? Just after filming The Three Doctors?

NAP TIME

As the Doctor first emerges from the scope, the Drashig are snapping at the heels of Jo et al on the ship. When we next see Jo, they're nowhere to be seen.

WHEREUPON IT SANK WITHOUT TRACE

The Doctor puts the ship back in its proper time and place, thus blithely creating a time paradox, since he says at the beginning that the SS Bernice is famous for having disappeared.

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