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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Carnival of Monsters Special Edition

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Just released on DVD this week is a Special Edition of the classic Doctor Who: Carnival of Monsters. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) are on their way to a distant planet when they accidentally land the TARDIS on a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean circa 1923. Escaping the crew, who seem to have no short-term memories, they find themselves sloshing through a marsh.

A marsh on a cargo vessel? Yes. They are actually inside of a machine that miniaturizes things, providing shrunken habits for shrunken animals. This marsh is a dangerous place, teeming with carnivores, and the pair seek to escape. The Doctor manages to get out, after being separated from Jo, and finds himself in an unexpected place.

You see, the machine is a Miniscope, and it belongs to a traveling showman whose name is Vorg (Leslie Dwyer, Hi-de-Hi!). Vorg is bickering with the members of a tribunal council who won’t let him show his machine on their planet. This fight threatens the Doctor as he goes back into the machine to rescue Jo.

Vorg is a petty criminal, in the (proud?) tradition of such tricksters as Harry Mudd and Harold Hill. He isn’t malicious, but he is selfish and greedy. He will do the right thing only when forced to. This is evident in the story throughout, and gets some ice icing on the cake when Vorg is forced to use the old ‘three magum pods and a yarrow seed’ trick just to try to buy his way home. For those not familiar with the contest, think of the classic shell game one might see on the street corner. It’s a nice touch that viewers can relate to right away.

Interestingly, in Doctor Who‘s universe, the Time Lords have banned machines such as the Miniscope. One wonders why. Yes, it is inhumane to keep intelligent beings trapped in there, but is it any worse than a zoo for the animals? In fact, it might be better than a zoo, because their natural habitat is fully recreated, rather than being behind literal bars. Unless the Time Lords think all zoos are cruel. Carnival of Monsters doesn’t go into this deeply, but it’s something worth thinking about.

Carnival of Monsters was originally slated as a serial for season nine, but was pushed to season ten to make it easier for legendary Who producer Barry Letts to direct that adventure. Apparently, timing is important to someone so intricately involved in the show.

This being a Special Edition, Carnival of Monsters is loaded with extras. There is a commentary by Katy Manning and Barry Letts, as well as a second one using several guest stars and a special sounds creator. Of course, there is the usual photo gallery and PDF materials, too.

A twenty-three minute featurette called “Destroy All Monsters!” is a Making Of special, and calls on many of those involved, both in front of and behind the camera, to tell the story of putting together this four-part serial. Additionally, there is a two minute look Behind the Scenes. And Ian Marter, a guest star in Carnival of Monsters, as well as being a novelist, gets his own sixteen minute retrospective.

Eleven minutes are devoted to the various gadgets shown in Doctor Who. It’s quite interesting, as some are obviously based in science fact, while others are definitely pure fiction. Another eight minutes expands upon some of the models used for the visual effects. Barry Letts spends three minutes talking about using blue screen in a separate extra. This is cool because the technique is brand new when this serial is made. It makes this short feature a little piece of history.

Eighteen minutes are given to Mary Celeste, who discusses disappearances in human history. The cargo ship seen in Carnival of Monsters has to be taken from somewhere. Celeste outlines some wonderful unsolved mysteries from our past that are actually real, the basis for the ship in the story.

For those curious about the process of restoring the Doctor Who classics, there are some real treats. A longer, un-restored version of the second episode is included in this two-disc set. This provides a model for comparison, as well as shows what the technical team is working from. It really helps one to appreciate the amount of work that goes into the Doctor Who DVD project. There is also a Director’s Amended Ending, done to remove an error involving a bald cap.

Doctor Who‘s “Carnival of Monsters” is another excellent effort by a very talent team. It is on sale now at retailers everywhere, including online.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com