Doctor Who Project: The Celestial Toymaker

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I’m not sure that I like these clowns!

As we near the end of Doctor Who‘s third season, the Doctor and his intrepid companions have confronted many foes since in 1963: dastardly Daleks, malicious Monoids, tetchy Trojans, and an aggressive Animus, to name a few. So perhaps we can forgive whoever commissioned Brian Hayles to provide the Doctor with his most frightful opponents yet in “The Celestial Toymaker” (Story Production Code Y)—clowns. And also an overgrown schoolboy, characters from a pantomime, and some living playing cards.

In fairness, the notion of the Doctor meeting an immortal gamemaster, the eponymous Celestial Toymaker, who seeks to entrap the Doctor for all time as a worthy opponent, sounds quite promising. With his mind alone, the Toymaker (Michael Gough) has the power to affect the TARDIS and the Doctor himself, making him a more dangerous foe than any the Doctor has yet met. And, more to the point, the Doctor has met him before and escaped.

Screencap of The Celestial Toymaker via the BBC

While most of the stories to this point have featured lead-outs from the prior story, providing a thin narrative continuity, “The Celestial Toymaker” continues referring to the events on “The Ark” for a good portion of the first episode. The Toymaker has the ability to make the Doctor disappear and become intangible, changes taken at first to be linked the similarly incorporeal Refusians. It’s not until the Doctor realizes that he is confronting the Toymaker that he definitively dismisses the notion that the Refusians are involved:

Well, I don’t think it was the Refusians’ influence that made me become intangible. No! I think it was something here, and I don’t like the feel of the place any more than you do, but, ah, we have to face up to it. You know, I think I was meant to come here.

The Toymaker seems to have the measure of the Doctor. He realized that getting the Doctor out of the TARDIS was a simple matter of blanking the screens, knowing that his insatiable curiosity would lead him to investigate. And the Doctor, for his part, acknowledges that the Toymaker is a notorious figure who lures unwary travelers to his realm in order to trap them, for his own amusement. The Toymaker does seem to adhere to a particular set of rules, however, and he offers the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo the chance to escape, by winning his games, albeit games tilted to his favor.

A battle of wits between old foes should be in the offing; instead, we get electrified hopscotch and two episodes of a disembodied hand playing Solitaire. Oh, yes, and the clowns.

The Toymaker tasks Steven and Dodo with completing a set of games/challenges before the Doctor finishes his; failure results in their imprisonment as his playthings for all time. As another of the missing film stories (only one of the four episodes, the last, exists), we have but a few visual references to the events, and perhaps witnessing Steven, Dodo, and two clowns (one mute, the other who speaks in a painfully squeaky voice) play Blind Man’s Buff for ten minutes provides a better experience than listening to the dialogue and reading along in the script, but I’m inclined to doubt it.

Their next task, solving a deadly riddle regarding seven chairs, six of which kill, in the company of playing cards come to life, fares little better. The pacing feels glacially slow; the entire second episode is given over to this riddle, just as the third episode is given over to a pantomime skit in which a Sergeant (from the Napoleonic Wars?) and a Cockney kitchen attendant bicker and throw plates at one another.

While Steven and Dodo suffer their way through their games, in each of which they triumph due to the foibles of their opponents, the Doctor is playing a logic game with a set number of moves. William Hartnell appears briefly at the beginning of the second episode and not at all in the third—the Doctor is made mute and invisible/intangible (save for a game-playing hand) by a petulant Toymaker, ostensibly to give Hartnell some time off. We’ve most recently seen a Doctor-less episode in “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,” and there, Steven held his own in a plot that provided a fair degree of interest even without the Doctor’s presence. Here, we’re treated to essentially two episodes of dull filler until the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo finish their challenges and triumph over the Toymaker in the fourth and final episode.

Screencap of The Celestial Toymaker via the BBC

There is, of course, a catch. If the Doctor makes his final move in the logic game, the Toymaker’s world will vanish into nothingness, along with the TARDIS and its occupants. As an immortal, the Toymaker will simply have to rebuild his world, a small penalty for losing, but the Doctor and his companions have no such escape hatch. So the Doctor imitates the Toymaker’s voice, poorly, tricking the logic game into finishing on its own while simultaneously dematerializing the TARDIS. An underwhelming resolution to an underwhelming story.

Not all is lost, however. “The Celestial Toymaker,” the debut production for Innes Lloyd, demonstrates a commitment to depth and detail on Doctor Who, not at all a certainty for a show with its third producer in a single season, original producer Verity Lambert having left near the beginning of the season and John Wiles holding the reins for a few stories in the middle. The notion that the Doctor has met the Celestial Toymaker before, off-screen, as a foe, gives some dimension to the Doctor’s universe and history. We’ve also seen established the non-inviolability of the TARDIS, as the Toymaker is able to reach into it and affect its occupants, much to the Doctor’s chagrin. There’s even the suggestion that the Toymaker will return, and, despite the poor opening match, with a better story the Toymaker could be a formidable future foe.

Dodo’s character continues to develop. She’s portrayed as being given to emotional decisions, as when she jeopardizes victory in the electrified hopscotch game to care for their opponent, who was, alas, feigning injury just to trick her into losing a turn. This human dimension comes through most strongly when she worries about the fates of the Toymaker’s playthings, seeing that they were his victims rather than mere tools used to oppose their progress; Steven, by contrast, insists that they are not real, despite repeated blows to the head from these “apparitions.”

She also becomes the latest female companion to scream her head off, three times by my count. Interestingly, she flirts with the Sergeant in order to enlist his help in their cause; no prior companion has engaged in any kind of overtly flirtatious behavior, though the Doctor did get engaged inadvertently in enlisting someone’s help once. Jackie Lane seems somewhat more at ease with the character than in “The Ark,” and she even meets her match, accent-wise, in the Cockney Mrs. Wiggs.

Once can’t help but notice that Steven goes from a rather sensible character previously to a hothead here, a turn attributable almost certainly to the novice writer (Brian Hayles) and novice director (Bill Sellars). He’s brash, easily angered, and quite egregiously guilts Dodo into risking her life in the “chairs of death” sequence. Where Dodo screams three times, Steven threatens physical harm four times (Jody the Clown, Sergeant Rugg, Cecil the Schoolboy, and the Toymaker). Not really a banner story for Steven, though I wonder if Peter Purves and Jackie Lane enjoyed the shoot—with all the jumping and physical comedy, it might have been interesting for them, if not for the viewers.

Screencap of The Celestial Toymaker via the BBC

The companions are not noted as such, the term of art in this story being “friends” instead. Quite a few opportunities for the use of the word occur, as the Toymaker spends the second and third episodes recounting Steven and Dodo’s progress through his games to an invisible (and not present) Doctor.

William Hartnell’s participation in this story proves uneven at best. Though not having many lines, he manages more than a few trademark Billy fluffs, but he has an equal in Michael Gough, who flubs a fair number of speeches himself. The Doctor’s role is minimal in any event, bookending, as noted, a bland story. With not many stories left in Hartnell’s tenure, one wishes for more here.

To make matters worse, the Doctor hurts a tooth on a piece of candy purloined from the Toymaker’s now-disintegrated realm, leading to a search for help. And where better to look for a dentist than, um, Tombstone, Arizona?

(Images via the BBC)

(Previous Story: The Ark)

(Next Story: The Gunfighters)

Post 24 of the Doctor Who Re-Watching Project

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