Sunday, July 14, 2013

Carnival of Monsters - "By Jiminy, the old fellow's got some pluck!"

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Carnival of Monsters - Details

Season 10, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #66)

Pick up this DVD, look at the cover, turn it over and look at the back, and you could be forgiven for thinking, "Good grief, this isn't going to go well."  But you'd be wrong. Seriously, if you can just get past those gaudy costumes on the Lurmans and the low budget monsters, this one is great fun; it's one of Robert Holmes's best stories, really it is.

Consider what they've done with so little: we have a palace intrigue story on an alien world, layered over a bit of class and racial struggle, mixing with an ethical examination of keeping animals in captivity, with a 1920s period piece looped in, while slyly presenting a criticism of the act of watch television, and made it all come together and work despite less than successful wigs and awful CSO effects. And how many writers would bother to sprinkle in a bit of Polari for added depth?

If I were a chef, I'd make an analogy to how dangerous it is to mix so many different ingredients in one dish, when working in an understaffed kitchen with cheap pots and pans, if you don't get the thing exactly right, the end result will be an inedible hash. But I'm no chef and I'm not sure that comes close to explaining how disastrously wrong this production could've gone.

Philip Sandifer makes a case for this being perhaps the finest story of the Pertwee era and with the bloom still fresh on the rose I'm rather inclinded to agree with him. I've argued time and again that Doctor Who needn't tell sweeping epics and be about saving the universe in order to be interesting. In fact, the more it does that, the less it means each time. It's stories like these where they work hard to deliver drama with smaller stakes where the brilliant premise of the show, one of the main the reasons it has survived these fifty years, shines through and shows its resilience. It can be any number of different sorts of story forms in sequence, or even at once, and work.

Well, it can when the likes of Robert Holmes are at the top of their game.

It doesn't hurt either that Pertwee and Manning are both very good together, and apart. With the repetition necessitated by the looping of time aboard the SS Bernice things could get tiresome, but Manning delivers her lines with such charm, a simple "It's all right. I know the routine," conveys both a world-weary cynicism and brimming sense of humor. Pertwee gets to put up his dukes and seems to relish chance to engage in some fisticuffs. Major Daly calls it when he declares: "By Jiminy, the old fellow's got some pluck!" Yes. Yes he does.

Trained by John L. Sullivan. Queensbury rules, natch.
(And, yes, that's Ian Marter pre-Harry Sullivan with his back to us.)

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