Chapter 28. Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters (1977)

Synopsis: Aiming for the planet Metabelis III, the Doctor and Jo arrive on board a ship in the Indian Ocean. Something strange is going on as the crew and inhabitants of the vessel appear to be trapped in a time loop, repeating the same actions and conversations in a cycle. And then the ship is attacked by a prehistoric monster that has been extinct for millions of years. Meanwhile, the planet Inter Minor welcomes its first ever off-world visitors, including a travelling showman and his assistant who possess a rather unusual device that contains wonders from around the universe. Purely for entertainment, strictly non-political – and highly illegal.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Dangerous Arrivals
  • 2. The Monster from the Sea
  • 3. The Giant Hand
  • 4. Trapped!
  • 5. Inside the Machine
  • 6. The Monster in the Swamp
  • 7. ‘Nothing Escapes the Drashigs’
  • 8. The Battle on the Ship
  • 9. Kalik Plans Rebellion
  • 10. The Doctor Takes Over
  • 11. Return to Peril
  • 12. The End of the Scope

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1973 scripts by Robert Holmes, which also makes season 10 the first complete season available in Target form.

Notes: The story follows on immediately from The Three Doctors, published two years before. The Scope draws in its audience, creating ‘a mild hypnotic effect, making the viewer feel part of the scene he was witnessing’. As well as environments containing humans, drashigs, Cybermen and Ogrons, we’re told that the Scope also has a collection of Ice Warriors. The Doctor uses a flare gun that he pocketed from the SS Bernice to ignite the marsh gas on the drashig’s planet (he uses his sonic screwdriver on TV). The drashig differs significantly from the beast seen onscreen; lacking the six eyes and gaining limbs, it’s less worm-like and a lot closer to the plesiosaur on the original front cover:

… something between a dinosaur and a dragon with squat body, powerful clawed legs, a sinuous neck and a mouth that seemed to contain not two but at least a dozen rows of enormous razor-edged teeth. The eyes were small and blinking, the nostrils huge and flared. 

Describing his part in vanquishing the drashigs, Vorg claims he is an ‘old soldier’. After the death of Kalik, Orum confesses to his part in the conspiracy, but Plectrac assures Jo that an inquiry must still take place for the sake of procedure – and it’s this that prompts the Doctor and Jo to depart..

Cover: Within a bright yellow frame, Chris Achilleos shows a plesiosaurus as it curves around a ship in the ocean and a monochrome Doctor looks sternly at the reader. The 1993 reprint cover art by Alister Pearson is a lot busier (in a good way!), incorporating a dramatic portrait of Jon Pertwee, two face-pics of Shirna and Vorg in a moody blue, while an Inter Minor administrator inspects the mini-scope and two drashigs loom up from the bottom of the page.

Final Analysis: Adapting Robert Holmes’ satire on bureaucracy, Dicks seems to tap into some of Malcolm Hulke’s influence. HIs description of the splitting of the ruling and functionary castes into two different species seems vaguely more political than usual. By the story’s conclusion, Officials and Functionaries alike congregate to congratulate Vorg and there’s no sign of the lower caste being ushered away. Maybe that’s wishful thinking but the suggestion is there. As mentioned in the introduction, this was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. This was a year before I saw the story repeated as part of the ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ season, so it was a favourite even before I saw what a Drashig looked like, which for once was much more creative and fearsome on TV than the book had led me to believe.

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