Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters (take two)

I have a fairly remarkable story to share with you about our son’s memory, or lack thereof, pretty soon. Give me a couple of weeks. A day or two after my head stopped spinning from the tale he told, he dropped another bombshell. Yesterday in the early afternoon, he and I went downtown for our Thursday “quarantine burger” from Zarzour’s. Do you know the place? It’s Tennessee’s oldest restaurant, still in the family after 102 years, and they make an amazingly good burger. We used to go visit and enjoy the company and tell tall tales every Saturday, but since the pandemic, and since we started working from home, we just get lunch and wave our hellos and wish this will end one day.

My son and I were talking about urban blight on the drive. They knocked down two decrepit buildings near the intersection of Market and 20th and rebuilt one in a nice, modern style. We talked about crime and graffiti, which confused our son. I explained he’s not meant to be able to read it; it’s a form of palare for the eyes of other people who tag and scrawl, and it’s not meant to make sense if you’re not part of it. That reminded me of the delightful scene in part four of “Carnival of Monsters” where Vorg, thinking the Doctor’s a carny like him, asks “Vada the bona palone?” among other things and the Doctor has no idea what he’s saying. (Yes, Vorg, Cheryl Hall, who plays your assistant Shirna, is indeed lovely.)

So we got home with our quarantine burgers and after a while, our son said that he’d been trying to remember “Carnival of Monsters” and didn’t. “Oh, it’s the one with the Drashigs,” I told him. It meant nothing. I pulled up a picture on my phone and he shook his head slowly. Admittedly, time flies, and it was nearly three years ago, but the Drashigs scared the absolute life out of him at the time. He was ready to give up on Who entirely, he was so rattled. How is it possible he could forget them?

He has suggested that it isn’t just time and distance – after all, he remembered the Autons, from the same era of Who, just fine – but that he does not like being scared and he doesn’t like the memory of being scared. So he forces himself to not think about them and somehow succeeds in doing what every grownup would absolutely love to do: kill an unhappy memory entirely.

Nevertheless, for one of my favorite adventures from Jon Pertwee’s run as Doctor Who, that just wouldn’t do. If he wants to forget “The Monster of Peladon”, that’s fine, but not “Carnival,” one of the very best scripts from the genius Robert Holmes. So we watched it over the last two afternoons. If six was small enough to be horrified by the Drashigs, nine is the perfect age. He was a little restless at the beginning, but started coming around as the story got more mysterious, and was completely thrilled by the time we got to these monsters at the end of part two. Episode three was one of the all-time best for him. He was utterly blown away by the screaming, hideous beasts, right on the edge of his seat and pumping his fists.

He was less taken with the gray makeup on some of the actors, and grumbled about that, but he loved the Drashigs completely. The same kid who, three years ago, only consented to watch the show again because I promised him they’d never return, is now a little disappointed that they were a one-and-done. But what’s most important right now is that he’s not going to forget about them in a hurry. I hope.

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