I don’t have much to add tonight. We really enjoyed the conclusion of this story – again, it’s one of my favorites – and our son liked it as well. It did strike me this time that almost all of the great Drashig action is confined to just episode three. Two of the beasts do escape onto Inter Minor in part four, but they’re really quickly dispatched… after they’ve dispatched Michael Wisher’s scheming politician character. Wisher would return a couple of seasons down the line as one of the all-time great Doctor Who villains. Peter Halliday, shown above as one of the other politicians, will also return to Who down the line in a couple of small roles.
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Another reason I love “Carnival of Monsters”: this bit here was the first Doctor Who that my daughter, who was then very small, ever saw. She came in just as the Drashig burst out of the ship’s hold and ran screaming from the room in almighty terror. She cried and cried and wouldn’t let me or her older brother watch an episode without making a federal case about it for months. He and I had then our viewing of season eleven interrupted by life getting in the way in a big, but good, way, and after several weeks’ break, he and I resumed in the privacy of our new home with the girlchild usually sitting on the staircase pouting that we were watching something too scary for her, occasionally punctuating our viewing in the television room by bellowing “I AM NOT WATCHING THAT!” If I remember correctly, it took ten episodes like that before she deigned to actually enter the room with the TV to watch Pertwee’s final serial.
If you’re familiar with Doctor Who, you’ll know that last one has some whacking huge spiders in it. She was almost as upset by those as she was the Drashigs. We had to wait a couple of weeks before starting the Tom Baker years.
Proving that the Drashigs still have their amazing tendency to horrify my offspring, while there were no tears tonight, our son did watch portions of this episode with his face buried in the pillows behind his mother’s back. It didn’t take long for her to get tired of that. They really are just superb monsters to inspire such antics.
I absolutely adore “Carnival of Monsters,” which, depending on what day you ask me, might make my list of favorite Doctor Who stories. I love everything about it, from the unbelievably dense and witty script to the sets to the costumes to the better-than-average visual effects for its day. I’m so glad to revisit it and pleased that our son seems to really like it, too. “That was pretty creepy,” he announced with a yelp when a Drashig shows up.
Looking back to his earlier adventures with Krotons and Autons, you can see writer Robert Holmes flexing his muscles and learning how to fill in years of backstory with the tiniest amount of dialogue: the Seely’s marriage, the unhappy Farrell family. Here, he can rely on our familiarity with the culture of the 1920s for those characters, and go to work on the alien civilizations: the bureaucratic and xenophobic ruling class of Inter Minor – one is instantly reminded of how Douglas Adams would later develop the Vogons in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, even if one doubts very much that these gray people would write poetry – and the Lurmans. I really love how he brilliantly uses our understanding of colorful, down-on-their-luck showpeople with big dreams to give Vorg and Shirna color that the audience can easily grasp, and then sketches in their galaxy and their opinions of Earth people. We’re called “Tellurians” in their far-distant corner of the universe, and they’re so far away from our sphere of influence that Vorg has to think twice to remember the name “Dalek.”
So it’s a great world and a brilliant script, with new information added very slowly, leaving our son wondering what connects these weird space people and a human cargo ship in 1926. Part one ends with one of the all-time great cliffhangers, as right out of the blue a gigantic hand plucks the TARDIS away. Part two has another fine ending, as we meet the roaring, monstrous Drashigs for the first time. Doctor Who would spend the rest of its original run trying to replicate the perfect success of these giant monsters and flopped, the visuals letting them down every single time. Dinosaurs, giant robots, the Skarasen in Loch Ness, Kroll, the Mara, none of them are as effective or as fun as the Drashigs.
Lastly, what a cast! Barry Letts put together a wonderful team of guest stars. Two of the gray bureaucrats of Inter Minor are Peter Halliday and Michael Wisher, each of whom we’ve seen before. On the SS Bernice in what looks like 1926, we’ve got Ian Marter, who would later join the cast as companion Harry Sullivan, and Tenniel Evans, who starred with his good friend Jon Pertwee in the long-running radio comedy The Navy Lark. Vorg and Shirna are played by Leslie Dwyer and Cheryl Hall. While Dwyer had appeared in dozens of films already, both actors would become better known for sitcoms that were in their future: Hi-de-Hi! and Citizen Smith. They’re perfectly cast here. I love these characters, and I love this story.
Well, there certainly was a lot that could have been done better in this last half hour, but I enjoyed that a lot. Spending the middle two episodes on what might best be called whimsy means that this story has a heck of a lot to tie up in a hurry. It’s rushed and, when Kronos unconvincingly destroys Atlantis, it really looks and feels like the director just said “that’s good enough,” because they had quite a lot more to tape.
But that scene in the dungeon! Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning are just magical together. It’s a beautiful little scene where the Doctor tells a story about an old hermit who lived on the mountain behind his boyhood home, and it’s just perfect. I love the Doctor becoming a storyteller instead of just dropping goofy anecdotes about Venusians. I love the way he seems to slip and refer to the story as “the first time I heard it,” as though it might not really have happened to him, it’s just an old, old story that’s taken on special meaning as he got older. We’ll never know, and that’s just fine.
Meanwhile, in short attention span theater, we asked our son what his favorite and least favorite parts of the whole adventure were, and they were apparently both in the final part. He loved the Doctor dueling with the minotaur – that’s future Darth Vader Dave Prowse under the mask – and hated the Master briefly becoming king of Atlantis. Overall, he said this story was “kind of a yes,” and I don’t agree. To my considerable surprise, the flaws don’t dampen the hugely entertaining adventure. It’s my favorite story of season nine, and it’s absolutely a yes.
All right, so finally we get to Atlantis, and some juicy material with meat on it. It’s still very flawed – they gave George Cormack all the best lines and then let him deliver them like an old stage ham playing to the cheap seats, for starters – but still huge fun.
In one of the most interesting casting choices of the era, Queen Galleia is played by Ingrid Pitt. In the two years prior to making “The Time Monster,” she had starred in a pair of phenomenally entertaining Hammer films, The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula. Jon Pertwee apparently suggested her for the part. In between seasons seven and eight, he and Pitt appeared together in one of the segments of an anthology horror film from Amicus, The House That Dripped Blood, which I really do need to get a copy of one of these days. Galleia’s handmaiden Lakis is played by a young Susan Penhaligon, who had a long and very successful acting career ahead of her.
And speaking of what’s ahead for the actors, about five months after they made this story, Ingrid Pitt and Donald Eccles, who plays the High Priest, would work together in another phenomenally entertaining horror movie, The Wicker Man.
Anyway, Pertwee and Pitt don’t share any screen time in this episode, but Galleia’s alliance with the Master takes center stage. He’s criminally smooth, taking advantage of her lust for sex and power, and Delgado and Pitt are very, very fun to watch together. That said, there’s enough onscreen evidence both in previous and future stories for us to know that this cannot possibly end well for Galleia even if the Master’s suggestion of ruling Atlantis together was honest. I don’t mind; it’s so fun to watch Pitt and Delgado work together.
Meanwhile, our son didn’t have quite as much to giggle about in this episode, but he certainly caught the reference to the minotaur. It led to a surprisingly effective cliffhanger when it appears that Jo is in danger and the bull-headed beast will attack her. He watched with attention, needing a little clarity about which unfamiliar Greek name goes to which character, before getting wide-eyed with worry at the end. A very satisfying half-hour!
Okay, so on the one hand, this can be accused very fairly of being padding padding padding. If you’re wanting your Doctor Who to be lean and mean and tightly plotted, I can see why this story maddens you. There’s literally not one minute of story here that’s essential to the plot of the Master going to Atlantis to get control of Kronos. If that’s the only reason that “The Time Monster” exists, then it could have been a three-parter. I understand that the low-budgeted series, throughout the Pertwee years, mainly adopted its format of two four-parters and three six-parters to make the best out of the resources available, but they honestly could have used three parts from this and one apiece from “The Mutants” and “The Sea Devils” and made an additional five-part adventure this year.
But I’m in the other camp. This is fun. The Doctor is being the stodgy old killjoy and the Master is having a ball. Benton gets turned into a baby, the TARDISes are materialized inside each other, and the Master uses his machine’s telepathic circuits to fiddle with the Doctor’s speech and have the words come out of his mouth backwards. If you’re bothered by the Brigadier turning into the Doctor’s straight man, only there to feed the star lines, he gets to stand in place for about the whole episode, frozen in time, so even he can’t annoy you. How could anybody not like this? It’s so fun.
I think I see one reason fandom doesn’t care for this story. Everybody’s waiting for Ingrid Pitt and she isn’t in the first half of the serial! But seriously, there really aren’t six episodes of plot here. I mean, when the characters are specifying that everything you’re seeing are delaying tactics, that’s a bit of a clue.
On the other hand, I’m loving it. It may be stretching a slow four-parter, at best, into six, but it’s all so entertaining! The scene where the Doctor builds some “modern art” for its sort-of crystalline structure to interfere with the Master’s time experiments is padding, but it’s funny. You also read people complaining that the Brigadier is getting increasingly stupid as the series goes on, but our son guffawed at the Doctor and Jo roaring past his jeep in the super-speed-boosted Bessie. This may not be essential, but it’s fun.
And so the cliffhanger sees Captain Yates, bringing the TARDIS to Cambridge in a military convoy, plagued by more delays as the Master dumps various foes from other times into 1973 via his interstitial time machine. It ends with a massive explosion as a thirty year-old Doodlebug flying bomb comes down in the tree line. That’s a hugely effective cliffhanger; our son was very worried for Captain Yates!
Also, our son was quite frightened by that most ridiculous of Doctor Who monsters: Kronos finally makes its weird appearance, all white costume and colorful visual effects sparkling off the vision mixer, the actor’s arms flapping like an angry canary while swaying in the lab on a kirby wire. No, nothing about Kronos is really successful at all… unless you’re six, in which case this furious caged beast who absorbs Dr. Percival in a puff of nothing really is a surprisingly weird and troubling enemy.
Speaking of Dr. Percival, I’d mentioned that John Wyse would later appear in the BBC’s Dorothy L. Sayers adaptations of the 1970s. He was joined last time by Donald Eccles, playing the Atlantean high priest who the Master zaps into the present. Eccles would also have a big supporting role in one of those Sayers serials. He played the Reverend Venables, the campanology-obsessed vicar in The Nine Tailors, a couple of years after this.
Very, very little happens in part two of this adventure. It’s all talk and setup, as the Doctor explains that the Master is trying to use the power of Kronos, the most dangerous of a species called Chronovores. These beings exist outside of time and, as their delightful name implies, eat time itself, swallowing life.
It all seems fairly innocuous, and until a scene where Benton comes very close to capturing the Master, slow, but our son takes the Doctor’s warnings very, very seriously. Without even materializing, Kronos swallowed about sixty years from a lab assistant, leaving him an old man. That, and the grim and always-end-of-the-world tone that the Doctor employs, is enough to really convince our boy that this is deadly serious business. He’s very, very worried about Kronos.