Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Barry Letts
The first proper serial of the tenth season, this one is a bit of an oddity. In fact, I was surprised to discover just how appreciated it was by the longtime fans. I struggled to maintain interest with it at all, largely because it didn’t seem to be offering very much. Just goes to show that I continue to have some contrary tendencies in my reaction to Classic Who!
Essentially, the story involves the Doctor and Jo landing on a ship in the middle of what seems to be the Indian Ocean, but there are strange creatures and odd time anomalies. Meanwhile, on some alien world, two carnies introduce the “Carnival of Monsters”, essentially a viewscreen upon which they display their miniaturized creatures. Of course, these are related; the TARDIS has landed in the display. As the aliens debate what to do about the carnies and the technology, the Doctor must race against time to restore himself and Jo. Hilarity ensues.
Part of my disinterest in this story was the disconnect between the two sides of the tale. It’s one thing when the alien politics and such are interwoven into the Doctor’s latest ordeal. It’s quite another when it seems like those scenes are part of another story entirely. Add to that the really annoying personalities of the carnies, and I just couldn’t get into this serial at all.
Thankfully, the serial is only four episodes long, so it wasn’t a chore to get through, and there were some interesting elements. The Drashigs look positively quaint when viewed from the current era, but I can easily imagine them being a credible threat at the time. Before they arrive, the whole “carnival of monsters” idea never really takes off, and the danger is a bit too remote. (I would say cerebral, but in this case, that’s not quite the truth.)
From a certain point of view, the Miniscope could be seen as something of a metaphor for television in general, with Vorg and Shirna as ersatz versions of the Doctor and Jo, respectively. Consider it more or less the “Doctor Who” equivalent of the classic “X-Files” episode “Humbug”, and you get the idea. Which would almost make the xenophobic Inter Miners more or less any non-British audience that didn’t quite “get” the series at the time.
If those were the intentions, then it’s what I might consider a noble failure. After all, I could be completely off the mark, in which case the real intent is escaping me. Or it is the intention, and it’s just too clever for its own good, since I have to guess at it. Of course, this is also a serial that obviously suffered from a very low budget, given how much occurs on a handful of sets (right down to a presidential assassination conspiracy, all more or less off-screen!).
One final word: this serial may not have worked for me on the whole, but there are some great Doctor/Jo scenes throughout that are a testimony to how the characters have developed together. Granted, Jo is still not a top-flight companion, but there is a definite rapport. Considering that this would be the final season for Jo, perhaps this is a good sign that she will go out on a high note.
Final Rating: 4/10