You never forget your first time…
I decide to toy with Sue a little. While she’s busy in the kitchen, I cue up the edit of Episode Two that includes the notorious Delaware theme arrangement.
Sue: I’m actually looking forward to this one. Now that the Doctor has a fully working TARDIS, it should be a completely different show. Did they get a bigger budget for this season?
I press ‘Play’…
Sue: They’ve changed the music – (pause) – They’ve changed the music and it’s ****ing terrible! What have they done?
She looks genuinely distressed, so I press ‘Stop’.
Me: Don’t worry. They wanted to change the music, but when Barry Letts was presented with that abomination, he had exactly the same reaction as you. However, episodes with that arrangement were sent to Australia by mistake.
Sue: The poor bastards. It was horrendous – like a really bad cover version. And since there’s nothing wrong with the original, why even bother?
Normal service is resumed…
Sue: Ah, that’s better. Oh, Robert Holmes! We like Robert Holmes. This could 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 still see the room as if it were yesterday. I can remember one scene in particular…
Sue: Really? No, wait, don’t tell me. Let me see if I can spot it when the time comes. Hang on – Ingrid Pitt’s not in this one, is she?
The story begins at a spaceport on Inter Minor…
Me: It’s supposed to be a baggage carousel.
Sue: Is it Christmas? Everyone’s luggage has been wrapped like it’s a present.
As grey functionaries beaver around the baggage area, Sue decides to surprise me.
Sue: I love their costumes. Their leggings are really nice.
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 arrives in the hold of a cargo ship.
Sue: Oh, good, I’m guaranteed some decent carpentry at last. I was beginning to worry.
Unfortunately, before she can check out the quality of SS Bernice’s timber, we have returned to Inter Minor, just in time to witness new arrival Shirna climbing out of her spacesuit.
Sue: So, is this your earliest childhood memory?
Me: Hardly! I was only three.
Sue: Lady Ga-Ga would kill for a look like hers. She’s way ahead of her time.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, the Doctor is convinced that they have arrived in the Acteon galaxy. They can’t be anywhere near Earth, he insists.
Sue: There’s a crate over there with ‘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, look at the ****ing crate!
Jo finally cottons on…
Sue: At last! The Doctor isn’t exactly Sherlock Holmes, is he?
But the Doctor still isn’t convinced. Jo – and Sue – are adamant that the Doctor must be lost.
Sue: Does his bloody TARDIS work or not? What was the point if it still doesn’t work?
Nicol walked in during this exchange, and she decided to interject:
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.
Nicol and Sue then get involved in a very long discussion about Jo Grant’s choice of clothing. They both adore her jacket and top. They’re not so sure about her trousers. They can’t tell if she’s wearing her socks pulled-up over her boots or not, and it’s driving them both crazy. And then Nicol leaves, to swot up on anti-matter universes no doubt, but not before she notices a character wearing a fez.
Nicol: Fezzes are cool.
Sue: I can hear somebody typing…
Me: That’s just Dudley Simpson’s music.
The Doctor and Jo explore the ship. When they are interrupted by some passengers, they hide behind some furniture. When Major Daly falls asleep, the Doctor and Jo emerge from their hiding place to debate their whereabouts.
Sue: Why are you having this conversation over the body of a sleeping man? Go somewhere else!
Suddenly, a plesiosaur attacks the ship!
Sue: Ooh, is that the Loch Ness Monster?
Me: If it is, it’s lost.
The Doctor and Jo are locked up as stowaways. Luckily, Jo has some skeleton keys on her person, and they escape. As they make their way through the ship, they witness the passengers and crew repeating their actions on a loop.
Sue: It’s Groundhog Day. Or Dinosaur Day, if you like. I knew something funny was going on.
Me: No you didn’t! You thought the Doctor was just being a prat again!
Sue: Is the dinosaur your first childhood memory?
Me: God, no.
For most people, a dinosaur attacking a ship would be good enough reason for a cliffhanger. But not for Robert Holmes. He decides to up the ante with a godlike hand reaching down to pick up the TARDIS.
Sue: I used to love Land of the Giants! I could just watch an episode of that now.
Me: I have the boxset if you -
Sue: If only I didn’t have to wash my hair. Oh, was the giant hand your first childhood memory? That would have freaked me out.
Me: No. Look, I’ll let you know when we get there, OK? You’re driving me insane, now, love.
Sue: I bet it’s something really obscure, like a close-up of a ladder, or something stupid like that.
As the end credits roll, Sue takes stock of what she’s seen so far:
Sue: It’s a very interesting set-up. I’m definitely intrigued. Robert Holmes certainly knows what he’s doing.top
Sue: The nails on that man’s hand are filthy! That’s disgraceful.
That detail aside, Sue really enjoyed the moment when the two stories finally intertwined, you could practically hear the pennies dropping all around her.
Sue: Oh, I see! It’s like Big Brother. But in a box. That’s clever.
Vorg, the owner of the miniscope, decides to agitate his specimens, and the Doctor becomes embroiled in a boxing match with Andrews. It ends quickly, with the Doctor victorious.
Sue: He must have cheated. I bet he stuck his finger on the other bloke’s chest when no one was looking.
The Doctor and Jo escape from the SS Bernice to the interior of the 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, actually, although I still hate him when he patronises Jo.
Thankfully, this is offset by endless comedic banter between Pletrac, Kalik and Orum.
Sue: The script is very funny. Robert Holmes is in a different league. I really love these characters.
Me: That’s Packer over there.
Sue: Is it really? Oh, yes, so it is. I love Packer.
From this point on, Sue doesn’t say a great deal. This is always a good sign.
Sue: The direction is really good. Who is it? It isn’t -
Me: It’s Barry Letts.
Sue: I didn’t know he was a director 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, badly) “Barry 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?
Meanwhile, back at the Carnival of Monsters, Vorg checks on his miniscope after the locals’ attempts at obliterating it with a giant gun fail dismally. He turns a knob and we see 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 the Doctor without facing the Cybermen. It’s probably a law or something.
Sue loves the sets – both the interior of the ship and the miniscope – and when Pertwee says, “All these shafts look the same”, Sue gets all nostalgic.
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 writes Jo. She is far too dizzy and ditzy this week. She’s not that thick. She’s acting like a 12 year-old child.
And then we reach a very special moment. For me, at least.
Me: Well, this is it.
Sue: Is this the bit where they reveal all the Cybermen?
Me: No. This is my earliest childhood memory.
Sue: It’s just a swamp.
And then a Drashig rears its ugly head…
Sue: Oh, OK. (pause) Well, that wasn’t very phallic, was it?
Me: And that was it – I was hooked on Doctor Who from that point on. I have memories of practically every story from here on out.
Sue: You are probably just remembering all the other times you’ve seen them, as repeats, or on video.
Me: No, it’s not the plots I remember, or anything like that. 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 this show. In this instance, I’m in my first home, and my auntie (who lived in New Zealand, and so must have been visiting my mother) was in the room with me. She was almost certainly babysitting as I would have been three years old. The chair that I was sitting on had black and white stripes running over it. There was a gas fire to the left of me, and I am drinking something orange. I think I had a Farley’s rusk, too, but I can’t be sure.
Sue: Were you scared?
Me: I think I wet myself.
Me: I’ll be sure to bore you with more of these memories as we go on.top
Sue: Pertwee is really selling this scene. He looks defeated.
Me: What do you make of the Drashigs?
Sue: They look great. Very scary. Like giant evil caterpillars. Oh look, two of them are having a snog.
Our heroes run away from the monsters, but Jo gets stuck in the mud.
Sue: Now we know why she’s wearing boots. Handy, that. This 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 all hell breaks loose inside his machine.
Sue: You can see how this character must have been a big influence on the likes of Timmy Mallet. This actor would have been a good Doctor, actually. He’d have to change his costume first, though.
As the Inter Minor officials continue to bicker and point-score off each other, Sue is laughing out loud.
Sue: This feels like Yes, Minister in space. It’s very funny and it’s helped by the fact they’ve got three very good actors to play these parts. I could watch this all day.
Back inside the machine, the Doctor explains the history of the miniscope to Jo.
Sue: Jo needs to calm down a bit. Take a deep breath, love. Why is she playing it so young this week? She’s never usually this bad.
When there is a lull in the action, I ask her what she makes of the actor playing Andrews.
Sue: He’s OK, I guess. Nothing special. He looks like Michael Schumacher. Will that do?
The Drashigs break out their environment and one of them manages to invade the SS Bernice.
Sue: The special effects are great. The CSO is working really well for Barry. Didn’t you tell me once that he was a pioneer of this technique? I bet Barry would have loved CGI.
General Daly repels a Drashig with his machine gun, and then it’s back to the bar as if nothing had ever happened.
Sue: They are like dogs. I read somewhere that dogs only remember the last 10 minutes of their lives. This is what it must be like to be Buffy.
The episode concludes with the Doctor escaping from the infernal machine.
Sue: He could have waited for Jo.top
The Doctor returns to his normal size and Pletrac goes on a rant about unclean immigrants.
Sue: It’s Planet of the Daily Mail Readers.
The Doctor volunteers to go back into the miniscope to save Vorg’s collection.
Sue: Does that mean he’ll have to go in there and save that Cyberman we saw earlier? And the Orc? That could be very interesting.
And then Sue stops talking again.
Me: You’re not saying very much, love.
Sue: Shut up. I’m trying to listen to the dialogue. We don’t get dialogue as good as this, usually. I don’t want to miss anything.
The Doctor continues to fret over 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 Drashigs.
Sue: They are tiny! Put a pair of gloves on, you wimp.
Everyone is worried that 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 will just be like standing on a normal caterpillar. You don’t need a giant laser gun for that.
The Doctor returns to the miniscope’s interior and he quickly rescues Jo, but when they return to the exit, they are overcome by heat and exhaustion. The Doctor faints.
Sue: Ouch! Pertwee just 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 knows. Oh, look, that lid is clearly made from cardboard. The money ran out in the end.
As the episode wraps up, I am struck by a sudden thought…
Me: I’ve just remembered something. Not only was Carnival of Monsters the first Doctor Who story I ever saw, it was also the first story that provoked me into posting something on the internet. In fact, my opinion of Carnival of Monsters was probably the first thing I ever published online. Hang on a minute -
I conduct a quick online search, and then I find it – my first post to the Usenet group rec.arts.drwho.
Me: Here it is – March 31st, 1995. I would have posted it from the old university language lab that we used to sneak into. I remember now. I’d just been in a Telnet chatroom and I’d barged into a conversation that two people were having about Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. They told me to visit to rec.arts.drwho if I felt the urge to talk about Doctor Who. I felt like a right tit.
Sue: OK, you’ve lost me now.
Me: Anyway, my very first post was about Carnival of Monsters.
Sue: What did you say?
Me: Here are the 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 first 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? Why didn’t your first internet post talk about your love for the programme?
Me: It gets worse: “Was no effort made at all? Was all the money spent on the pleis…plies.. the dinosaur? 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.top
The Final Score
Sue: Very good. 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? I can’t complain about that one at all. 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. But, on the whole, it was great.
Next week is Anniversary Week for Adventures with the Wife in Space! Not only did we begin the experiment a year ago next week, we will also reach the halfway point in the experiment next week as well. Happy times and places.
The experiment continues…top
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