Carnival of Monsters

We’re in a miniscope!

The Third Doctor


The TARDIS lands on a cargo ship in 1926 but when a dinosaur appears and the crew and passengers begin repeating their actions, the Doctor realises that not all is as it seems.


Carnival of Monsters sees the Third Doctor hit a milestone in his time in the TARDIS, as he finally gets to pilot a fully functioning ship through time and space, even if he cannot necessarily program it to arrive where he was expecting. After the celebratory tone of The Three Doctors, this feels like another milestone in the show’s history, as it rediscovers how to construct stories where the Doctor has some degree of agency as to where he ends up, rather than being a puppet for the Time Lords.

Robert Holmes is held up in some circles as one of the best writers in the show’s original run, and Carnival of Monsters is probably one of the best examples of his work. It is an incredibly inventive piece of writing, balancing criticism of the bureaucracy via the grey society led by the Tribunal on Inter Minor which comes into conflict with the colourful Vorg and Shirna. The miniscope is used to contain intelligent and non-intelligent lifeforms for the entertainment of others, and the owner can manipulate the aggression of those contained within it, and it’s an idea that I love. It’s one that gets a reference in Robot of Sherwood, where the Twelfth Doctor believed that the idyllic Sherwood Forest is in fact, part of a miniscope. Vorg and Shirna feel a little bit like a personification of the 1960s and 70s – aided by the fact that Leslie Dwyer looks a little like John Lennon at times – bringing some psychdelic colour and ideas to the bland and grey civilisation on Inter Minor. The rebellion that they seem to unwittingly aid where Kalik and Orum use the disruption to plot to overthrow Pletrac feels like a last minute addition, but still moves everything forward to a satisfying conclusion.

The story benefits from Barry Letts’ direction, including the use of a real boat for the scenes set on the SS Bernice, which allow for a sense of realism in these scenes which could have easily been done in studio with the aid of Colour Separation Overlay. Letts seems to be of the belief that he’s working with a budget in excess of the one in reality and this seems to permit him to be innovative, especially when filming different settings in the miniscope. This makes it seem feasible that these various environments all co-exist within the miniscope and add a sense of fluency. It’s nice to see Ian Marter here, obviously before he becomes Fourth Doctor companion Harry Sullivan here, and although Andrews is a bit of a small part, he is probably one of the more memorable members of the guest cast. Letts plays with scale here – especially with the TARDIS and when the Doctor escapes from the miniscope – and it helps that that this minaturisation is not a key part of the plot like in Planet of Giants.

Eaten? They ate a spaceship?


Another of Letts’ triumphs in this story are the Drashigs, who look quite ropey but are utterly terrifying. They are glove puppets but combined with just how weird they look, along with the screams they emit, they feel worthy of the fear of the Doctor and other characters as they face them later in the story. That’s before they are revealed in the story to be omnivores capable of eating through spaceships and scourge of the Lurmans.

The detail that the Doctor was involved in getting the Time Lords to ban miniscopes makes this story feel all the more part of a crusade on behalf of the Third Doctor and his outrage feels perfectly placed and the fact that the non-interfering Time Lords stepped in showed how dangerous they are. The sense of moral outrage is clear when he confronts Vorg when he states that he is more concerned about getting the insurance money for his miniscope than the lifeforms contained within it when it starts malfunctioning. Leslie Dwyer’s Vorg and Cheryl Hall’s Shirna are reflections of the Doctor and Jo, right down to their ridiculous outfits but without the moral obligation to do the right thing. Speaking of Jo, this is perhaps the warmest the relationship between the Doctor and Jo has been to date. I love the way Katy Manning mocks the Doctor about how he has no clue where they are at the beginning of the story and how he needs ‘L’ plates on his TARDIS while he learns how to come to terms with his newfound freedom. Manning gets a bit more to do here and does excellently with it, showing herself to be resourceful and equally horrified by the prospect of being watched by outsiders through their travails in the miniscope.

Verdict: Carnival of Monsters kick starts a new era for the Third Doctor and the show in general. This one is just a lot of fun! 9/10

Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Leslie Dwyer (Vorg), Cheryl Hall (Shirna), Tenniel Evans (Major Daly), Ian Marter (John Andrews), Jenny McCracken (Claire Daly), Peter Halliday (Pletrac), Michael Wisher (Kalik), Terence Lodge (Orum) & Andrew Staines (Captain).

Writer: Robert Holmes

Director: Barry Letts

Parts: 4

Original Broadcast Dates: 27 January – 17 February 1973

Behind the Scenes

  • This story had the working titles of Peepshow and The Labrinyth. The title was changed to Carnival of Monsters by Terrance Dicks due to concerns about the title Peepshow giving the wrong impression.
  • This is the only Third Doctor televised story to feature a Cyberman, although Jon Pertwee would be pitted against them in The Five Doctors. The inserts for both the Cyberman and the Ogron were specially filmed for this story.
  • Katy Manning provided the noises of the chickens in Part One.
  • Tenniel Evans was recommended by Jon Pertwee – they starred in The Navy Lark together, and Evans had encouraged Pertwee to consider playing the Doctor.
  • The RFA Robert Dundas doubled for the SS Bernice. There was a delay to the shoot when the ship’s brass compass disappeared which was due to be auctioned off. The culprit was Pertwee, who believed that the compass wouldn’t be missed as he thought that it was to be scrapped with the ship. Pertwee duly returned the item.
  • Writer Robert Holmes added the subplot about the attempted overthrow of President Zarb after Terrance Dicks was concerned that the only threat to Vorg and Shirna was the penalty for their breach of import rules in the original script.
  • Holmes wrote authentic Polari into the script, something which delighted both Pertwee and Leslie Dwyer.

Cast Notes

  • Cheryl Hall and Jenny McCracken were among the actresses considered for the part of Jo Grant.
  • Ian Marter would go on to play Harry Sullivan, a companion to the Fourth Doctor, from Robot to Terror of the Zygons, making a further appearance in The Android Invasion.
  • Peter Halliday had previously appeared as Packer and provided Cyber Voices in The Invasion, provided Silurian voices in Doctor Who and the Silurians and alien voices in The Ambassadors of Death and would go on to appear as a soldier and provide Jagaroth voices and the voice of television newsreader in City of Death and play the Vicar in Remembrance of the Daleks.
  • Michael Wisher is possibly best known for originating the role of Davros in Genesis of the Daleks. Prior to Carnival of Monsters, he had appeared in The Seeds of Death, The Ambassadors of Death and Terror of the Autons. He would also go on to voice the Daleks in Planet of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks, Magrik in Revenge of the Cybermen and Morelli in Planet of Evil.
  • Terence Lodge had previously appeared as Medok in The Macra Terror and would go on to play Moss in Planet of the Spiders.
  • Andrew Staines had previously appeared as the Sergeant to Benik in The Enemy of the World, Goodge in Terror of the Autons and Keaver in Planet of the Spiders. He was the nephew of Barry Letts, and all of his appearances were directed by his uncle.

Best Moment

It has to be the cliffhanger to Part One where the hand reaches down and picks up the TARDIS right in front of the Doctor and Jo.

Best Quote

Our purpose is to amuse, simply to amuse. Nothing serious, nothing political!


Previous Third Doctor review: The Three Doctors

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