While Sue is busy elsewhere, I cue up the alternative version of Episode Two. You know, the one with the Delaware theme music.
Sue: I’m looking forward to this. Now that the Doctor’s got a fully-working TARDIS again, it should be a completely different show. Were they given a bigger budget for this season, Neil?
I press ‘play’.
Sue: They’ve changed the music… They’ve changed the music and it’s ****ing terrible! Oh no! What have they done?
Me: Don’t worry. love. They were going to change the music, but when Barry Letts heard this, he had exactly the same reaction as you. Unfortunately, episodes with this arrangement were sent to Australia by mistake.
Sue: Those poor bastards. It was horrendous. Like a bad cover version. And why bother when there’s nothing wrong with the original?
Normal service is resumed.
Sue: Ah, that’s better. Ooh… Robert Holmes. We like Robert Holmes. This should be a good one.
Me: This is a very important story for me. Not only was it my first exposure to Doctor Who, it also forms part of my earliest – and most vivid – childhood memory. I can remember one scene in particular…
Sue: Wait, don’t tell me. Let’s see if I can spot it. Hang on a minute – Ingrid Pitt isn’t in this one, is she?
The story begins at a spaceport on Inter Minor.
Grey functionaries are beavering around the baggage area.
Sue: I love their costumes. Their leggings are really nice, too.
Me: But their masks… Don’t you think their masks look terrible?
Sue: Of course their masks look terrible. That goes without saying.
The TARDIS materialises in a cargo ship’s hold.
Sue: Good. I’m guaranteed some decent carpentry, at last.
Unfortunately, before she can check out the quality of SS Bernice’s timber, we return to Inter Minor, just in time to see Shirna climb out of her spacesuit.
Sue: Is this your earliest childhood memory, Neil?
Me: Hardly. I was only three.
Sue: Lady Ga-Ga would kill for a look like hers. She’s years ahead of her time.
The Doctor is convinced that he’s arrived in the Acteon galaxy.
Sue: There’s a crate over there with the word ‘Bombay’ stamped all over it.
But instead of using his eyes, the Doctor decides to converse with some chickens instead.
Sue: For pity’s sake, just look at the ****ing crate!
Jo finally cottons on.
Sue: At last! The Doctor isn’t exactly Sherlock Holmes, is he?
Sue and Jo are convinced the Doctor is lost.
Sue: Does his bloody TARDIS work or not? What was the point of giving it back to him if it doesn’t work?
And that’s when Nicol walked in.
Nicol: The Doctor doesn’t steer the TARDIS, the TARDIS steers the Doctor, remember? Matt Smith? Female TARDIS? Neil crying?
Sue: Oh, yeah. Good point. I’d forgotten about that.
Me: You’re not supposed to know that yet! Oh, I give up.
Sue and Nicol discuss Jo Grant’s latest outfit. They adore her jacket and top, but they aren’t too sure about her trousers. Plus, they can’t tell whether she’s wearing her socks pulled-up over her boots or not, which drives them crazy. And then Nicol leaves, to swot up on anti-matter universes, I expect.
Sue: I can hear someone typing…
Me: That’s Dudley Simpson’s music, love.
The Doctor and Jo take cover behind some furniture to avoid being discovered by the ship’s passengers. And then, when Major Daly falls asleep, they emerge from their hiding place to discuss their predicament.
Sue: Why are they having this conversation next to a sleeping man? Go somewhere else!
And then a plesiosaur attacks the ship!
Sue: Ooh, is that the Loch Ness Monster?
The Doctor and Jo are imprisoned as stowaways. Luckily, Jo is packing some skeleton keys and they escape. However, as they make their way back through the ship, they notice the passengers and crew are repeating their actions on a loop.
Sue: It’s Groundhog Day. Or Dinosaur Day. I knew something funny was going on.
Me: No you didn’t! You thought the Doctor was being a prat.
Sue: So is this dinosaur your first childhood memory?
Me: God, no.
An enormous hand reaches down and picks the TARDIS up.
Sue: I used to love Land of the Giants. Was the giant hand your first childhood memory?
Me: No. Look, I’ll let you when we get there. You’re driving me insane, love.
Sue: I bet it’s something really obscure, like a close-up of a ladder, or something stupid like that.
As the credits roll, Sue takes stock.
Sue: It’s an interesting set-up. I’m definitely intrigued.
Sue loves it when the stories begin to intertwine.
Sue: Oh, I see. It’s like Big Brother. But in a box.
The miniscope’s owner, Vorg, agitates his specimens, which results in Andrews challenging the Doctor to a boxing match, although it ends rather quickly.
Sue: I bet the Doctor cheated. I bet he stuck his finger on the other guy’s chest when no one was looking.
The Doctor and Jo are trapped inside a miniscope.
Sue: This feels like a big change in style to me. The colours. The location. The ideas. It just feels different. It’s as if Jon Pertwee is finally getting to be the Doctor he’s always wanted to be. He’s quite good this week, although I still hate him when he patronises Jo.
Thankfully, those moments – and there are quite a few of them – are offset by the comedic banter which fizzes between Pletrac, Kalik and Orum.
Sue: The script is very funny. Robert Holmes is in a different league to everybody else. I really love these characters.
Me: That’s Packer over there.
Sue: Is it really? Oh, yes, so it is. I love Packer. The direction is really good. Who is it?
Me: It’s Barry Letts.
Sue: Is it, really? I didn’t know Barry could direct as well.
Me: He was a writer, a director, a producer, and even an actor at one stage. There was no end to Barry’s talents.
Sue: (Impersonating Terrance Dicks, extremely badly) Bwarry said to me…
Me: Stop that. You don’t even know who you’re impersonating.
Sue: Yes, I do. It’s Ian Levine, isn’t it?
Vorg checks on his miniscope, and as he turns a knob, we are presented with a very familiar face…
Sue: It’s the Cybermen! I knew they were behind this.
Me: No you didn’t.
Sue: They haven’t been in it for ages. And you can’t be a proper Doctor if you haven’t faced the Cybermen. It’s probably a law or something.
The Doctor says, “All these shafts look the same.”
Sue: It’s the 1960s all over again. Yeah, he’s definitely the Doctor now. The only thing I can’t stand about this story is the way Robert Holmes has written Jo. She’s too dizzy and ditzy. I mean, she isn’t that thick. She’s acting like a 12 year-old child.
And then we reach a very special moment. Well, for me, at least.
Me: This is it.
Sue: Is this the bit where they reveal all the Cybermen?
Me: No. This is my earliest childhood memory.
Sue: But it’s just a swamp…
And then a Drashig rears its ugly head.
Sue: Oh, okay… Well, that wasn’t very phallic, was it?
Me: And that was it. I was hooked on Doctor Who from that point. I can remember practically every story from here.
Sue: You’re probably just remembering all the other times you’ve seen them. You know, as repeats, or on video.
Me: It isn’t just the plots I can remember. It’s feelings, and places. Smells, even. It’s usually a snapshot image of a time and place, all brought into sharp focus by a scene from the show. In this instance, my auntie is with me, she must have been babysitting because I was only three years old. Anyway, the chair I’m sitting on has black and white stripes running over it, there’s a gas fire to the left of me, and I’m drinking something orange. I think I’m eating a Farley’s rusk, too. I can bore you with more of these memories when we… Sue? Wake up, Sue.
Sue: Jon Pertwee looks defeated.
Me: What do you think the Drashigs?
Sue: They look great. Very scary. Like giant evil caterpillars. Oh look, two of them are having a snog…
As our heroes run away from the monsters, Jo gets stuck in the mud.
Sue: Now we know why she’s wearing boots. Handy, that. It’s is a great scene, though. The direction is especially good. I love it when we go outside. Even if it is a bleak shit hole in the middle of nowhere.
Vorg protests his innocence to the Inter Minor authorities as hell breaks loose inside his machine.
Sue: You can see how this character would have been a big influence on the likes of Timmy Mallet. He would have been a good Doctor, actually. He’d have to change his costume, though.
The Inter Minor officials continue to bicker and point-score.
Sue: (Laughing) It’s Yes, Minister in space. It’s very funny, and they’ve got three excellent actors to play these parts. I could watch this all day.
The Doctor explains the miniscope’s chequered history to Jo.
Sue: Jo needs to calm down. Take a deep breath, love. And why is she playing it so young this week? She’s never usually like this.
I ask her what she thinks of the actor who’s playing Andrews.
Sue: He’s okay, I guess. Nothing special. He looks like Michael Schumacher. Will that do?
A Drashig attacks the SS Bernice.
Sue: The special effects are great. The chroma is working really well for Barry this week. Didn’t you tell me that Barry pioneered this technique? I bet he would have loved CGI.
The episode concludes as the Doctor escapes from the infernal machine.
Sue: He could have waited for Jo.
The Doctor returns to his normal size, which inspires Pletrac to embark on yet another rant about immigrants.
Sue: It’s Planet of the Daily Mail Readers.
The Doctor volunteers to save Vorg’s collection.
Sue: Does that mean he’ll have to rescue the Cyberman we saw earlier? That could be interesting.
And then Sue stops talking again.
Me: You’re not saying very much, love.
Sue: Shut up. I’m trying to listen to this. We don’t usually get dialogue as good as this – I don’t want to miss anything.
The Doctor is worried about Jo’s safety.
Sue: Why doesn’t he stick his hand into the machine and pick Jo up by her collar? It’s big enough.
Me: He’ll be bitten by the Drashigs.
Sue: But they’re tiny! Put a pair of gloves on, you wimp.
Everyone is worried the Drashigs will escape from the miniscope and wreak havoc on the city.
Sue: Just stamp on them when they come out of the machine. They’re tiny! It’ll be the same as standing on a normal caterpillar. You honestly don’t need a giant laser gun for that.
The Doctor returns to the miniscope’s interior and rescues Jo, but when they return to the exit, they are overcome by heat exhaustion and the Doctor faints.
Sue: Ouch! Jon Pertwee landed on his nose. That must have hurt.
The Doctor saves the day, the only way he knows how.
Sue: He’s reversed something again. It’s the only trick he has. Oh, look, that lid is made from cardboard. The money must have run out.
And then, as the credits rolled…
Me: I’ve just remembered something. Not only was Carnival of Monsters the first Doctor Who story I ever saw, it was the first story that inspired me to post something on the internet. Hang on a minute…
After a quick search of Usenet’s rec.arts.drwho archive:
Me: Here it is: March 31st 1995. I would have posted it from the university’s language lab. Yeah, I remember now… I was hanging out in a Telnet chatroom when I accidentally confused the philosopher Jeremy Bentham with the Jeremy Bentham who used to run the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. I was told to visit a newsgroup called rec.arts.drwho if I wanted to talk about Doctor Who. It was so embarrassing. I felt like a right tit.
Sue: Okay, you’ve lost me now.
Me: Anyway, my first post on rec.arts.drwho was about Carnival of Monsters.
Sue: What did you say?
Me: Here are some edited highlights: “Is it just me or are the Functionaries from Carnival of Monsters the worst example of make-up in the entire history of the series?”
Sue: That’s a nice, positive start.
Me: “I nearly fell off my chair in shock when they shambled onto the set. Bits of latex flapping around like no one’s business. And it wasn’t just one of them – all of them were flapping about! It was unbelievable!”
Sue: I thought you were supposed to be a fan, Neil?
Me: It gets worse: “Did Angela Seyfang (the make-up artist, and I use the term loosely) ever work again?”
Sue: That’s a bit harsh.
Me: “And as for Jon Pertwee: does anyone know how many times in the series he rubbed the back of his neck and looked baffled?”
Sue: How many replies did you get?
Sue: I can’t say I’m surprised. You sound like a troll.
Sue: That was very good indeed. It just proves what you can do in four parts with a good writer, a good director and a good cast. That isn’t too much to ask for, is it? The only negative thing I have to say about it is that Jo was written like a child. She needs to toughen up a bit. Some of the make-up was a bit dodgy, too – although I wouldn’t go on the internet to complain about it.