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Mostly Lost Hartnell Stories: The Celestial Toymaker

The Celestial Toymaker should be remembered as one of the Doctor’s greatest adversaries.  The fact that he isn’t is a bit baffling to me.  Here is an opponent who is eternal and has faced off against the Doctor before; at the end of the story, even the Doctor believes that their paths will cross again.  It seems to be the makings of an iconic villain, but this was not to be.  Part of this can be attributed to the fact that only the final episode of this four part story exists in the BBC archives; most people have not seen the Toymaker, so he is not as well-known as some of the Doctor’s other foes.  The fact that this story took place in the Hartnell era and mainly features Steven and Dodo (not exactly the best TARDIS team of all time), probably didn’t help matters either.  “The Celestial Toymaker” is the seventh story of Doctor Who‘s third season, and one of the many stories from that season not to survive intact.

The Doctor and the Toymaker

The Doctor and the Toymaker

After leaving Refusis, and its invisible inhabitants, behind, the Doctor suddenly becomes invisible himself.  He has to have Steven and Dodo operate the TARDIS controls for him, as he no longer has a physical presence.  Once he exits the TARDIS, the Doctor realizes that they are in the world of the Celestial Toymaker, an evil force who traps people and forces them to become his playthings.  The Toymaker appears, and within a few short moments has hidden the TARDIS among many copies and separated the Doctor from his companions.

The travelers will now be forced to play the Toymaker’s games.  The Doctor will be playing the Trilogic game (basically the Tower of Hanoi).  He must complete the game in 1023 moves.  In the meantime, Steven and Dodo will have to play a series of games against the Toymaker’s playthings.  If they lose, they become the Toymaker’s new playthings.  However, for each game they win, they will be presented with a TARDIS that may or may not be the real one.  The Doctor calls out to his companions, giving them advice, but the Toymaker quickly puts a stop to it by turning the Doctor invisible again (except for the one hand he will need to play the game) and making others unable to hear him. He is then left to play his game, while Steven and Dodo play theirs, and hopefully discover the real TARDIS before the Doctor finishes his game.

It’s an interesting premise, even if it’s not perfectly realized. Although I was unable to see the games unfolding, my interest was held through just the descriptions of them.  It may have been difficult to keep track of the many characters from the lost historicals, but it’s even harder to have to imagine how some of these games were played out onscreen.  Listening to the audio of a story in which there are characters who don’t speak is obviously not the ideal way to experience it.  There are, at least, stills from the episode that help clarify what the serial might have looked like.  It surprised me, then, that I enjoyed the story as much as I did.  It’s not one of the Doctor’s best adventures, but I imagine this story would hold up well, if we could only see more of it.

The idea of having Steven and Dodo face a new challenge (and meet new playthings) in each episode helped keep things moving. The episodic nature of the challenges and the fact that all of their competitors were a bit odd gave the story a bit of an Alice in Wonderland-ish feel, which I enjoyed.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the novel was an influence on this serial. I felt like most of the Toymaker’s playthings could have stepped right out of Alice. In Alice in Wonderland, you have the rather dangerous game of croquet played by the Queen of Hearts (and many other “living” playing cards) and an assortment of other odd characters.  In Though the Looking Glass, you have chess pieces that have come to life, and Alice playing a real life version of chess. The game of Hunt the Key with Sargent Rugg and Mrs. Wiggs even reminded me of the scene in the Duchess’ kitchen (in which there is chaos and many plates are broken as well).   It seems to me that Carroll’s writing must have at least been an unconscious influence on the story and tone.

Of course the script itself was rewritten many times, so I’m not sure whose ideas made it into the final version.  I know that there were issues with the unauthorized use of characters from a play by Gerald Savoy (who was then Head of Serials) and Cyril being very like Billy Bunter (who was also a rather obnoxious school boy played by a grown man), so there were probably many influences on the story. The script is credited to Brian Hayles, but it seems that the final version bore little similarity to his original story.  It’s interesting to note that producer John Wiles (who never got along with Hartnell) wanted this serial to be William Hartnell’s final story.  His idea was vetoed, and he ended up leaving his post before the story aired. His idea was that when Doctor reappears in the fourth episode, he would have a different appearance.  It’s a good thing that his idea wasn’t used, or else regeneration wouldn’t have been created and we probably wouldn’t still be enjoying the show today.  Another interesting note is that the Toymaker was going to be a member of the Doctor’s race, but that didn’t make it into the broadcasted story either.

The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo

The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo

I would have liked to have seen more of the Doctor (no pun intended) and the Toymaker.  The Toymaker is, perhaps, my favorite type of opponent for the Doctor to face: one who is all-powerful and a worthy adversary. The world that they are inhabiting is of the Toymaker’s own creation; he is in complete control of his environment.  The Toymaker’s intelligence is what makes this story work: the Doctor has to face off against someone every bit as clever as he is.  Unfortunately, this serial was used to give William Hartnell his vacation time, so the Doctor is, essentially, absent for the second and third episodes of the story. While it’s a clever way to give Hartnell some time off, I think the story would be better if he had been more involved.  What should have been played as a battle of wits between the Doctor and the Toymaker becomes the struggles of the Doctor’s companions to defeat the Toymaker’s playthings (which, let’s face it, aren’t really that bright, although they do cheat to get ahead). Michael Gough (yes, Alfred from the Tim Burton’s Batman) does a great job with his limited role as the Toymaker.  Unfortunately, he is left playing many of his scenes by himself, since the Doctor cannot be seen nor heard by anyone else (including the audience).  In a random bit of trivia, Michael Gough was married to Anneke Wills, who would soon replace Dodo as Hartnell’s female companion.

This brings me to the weakest part of the story: the fact that so much of the story focuses on Steven and Dodo, who are not the most exciting companions the Doctor has ever had.  Dodo remains annoying.  She is constantly fooled by the Toymaker’s playthings, and never seems to grasp that they are playing these games for their lives.  Steven, who was a fairly interesting character, both in his travels with Vicki and his time alone with the Doctor, is just, well…bland with Dodo.  He spends all his time looking out for her, and that is the extent of their relationship.  Steven is constantly trying to stop Dodo from getting into trouble (and sometimes succeeding), but she never seems to learn.  Whereas Steven and Vicki were basically equals, Steven’s relationship with Dodo is more limited; it resembles that of a father and his a small child. Still, I think it’s a testimony to the inventiveness of the script that I remained engaged with the story through all four episodes, even the two without the Doctor.

Steven and Dodo meet Cyril

Steven and Dodo meet Cyril

After listening to/watching this episode I was left with a question.  Who exactly are these “playthings” that Steven and Dodo are playing against?  The same actors play the different toys, but are they simply the toys brought to life? If the Toymaker likes to trap people to become his playthings, then are they other people that he has trapped? The playing cards that were brought to life make references to playing for their freedom, which made me wonder if they were victims of the Toymaker.  However, the story never addresses this and Steven is constantly reminding Dodo that they are not real, so maybe they were meant to be literally toys brought to life and I’m just over thinking this.

Overall, “The Celestial Toymaker” is a good story.  It has its faults, but the premise behind it is a good one, and one that I think could be updated for new Who. I know the Toymaker’s return was planned for season 23, with Colin Baker’s Doctor and Peri, but it sadly fell through (although the story, The Nightmare Fair, is available as both a novel and a Big Finish audio).  I would love to see the Toymaker face off against Matt Smith’s Doctor.  There are so many new games the Toymaker could force his opponents to play, and we might finally get more of a Doctor/Toymaker showdown. I know it’s a long shot, I can’t be the only one who thinks this has potential, right?

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2 responses to “Mostly Lost Hartnell Stories: The Celestial Toymaker

  1. Thanks for the review. I’ve been a fan of this one since reading the novelization in the late ’80s (it has Gerry Davis’ name on the spine but was evidently written by an American TV writer whose only other credit I could find was an episode of “Tales from the Darkside”). The collective fandom opinion of “Toymaker” has gotten murderous in recent years, particular for its use of the N-word. I think you’re right that having Hartnell in all 4 episodes would have made it pretty much unbeatable… as it is, Episode 4 just devolves into a game of hopscotch…

    • I really think it has a great premise that just didn’t get realized as well as it could have. True, its use of the N-word doesn’t help its case any, but it has some really creative, unique ideas. Thanks for commenting! I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who enjoyed this story.

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