“The Celestial Toymaker” is one of the first Doctor’s most recognised stories, a curious feat considering that William Hartnell is hardly in it and that only one out of the four episodes exists today. Perhaps this story is so well remembered because it is well and truly “out there”; a highly experimental “sideways” story which seems to have paid off. Michael Gough has to be given a tremendous amount of credit for his fantastic performance as the Toymaker. He spends half the story playing a game against a silent, disembodied hand and yet he still manages to impress!
However, despite the imagination of the story and the brilliance of the Toymaker himself, I don’t think that this serial quite deserves its lofty reputation. The ‘Trilogic Game’ (which so much of the story revolves around) completely lacks suspense; as the audience is ignorant of the rules the only suspense comes from how few moves are left, meaning that Steven and Dodo’s race against time to win the Toymaker’s games (and thus get the TARDIS back) has to really hold the audience’s attention, and in my case at least, it doesn’t. On the whole, with the notable exceptions of “The Myth Makers” and “The Daleks’ Master Plan” I am not a fan of Season Four, and this has a lot to do with the Doctor’s rather dull and predictable companions. Steven may have his moments, but at heart he’s just a rather generic male character merely thrown into the mix to handle the physical side of things; not a patch on the far more interesting Ian Chesterton. As for Dodo, she’s just plain stupid. Time after time in this story she falls for the Toymaker’s tricks, befriending his minions and almost getting herself killed in the process. Nevertheless, some of the games are entertaining to watch – particularly the game against Peter Stephens’ grotesquely superb ‘schoolboy’ Cyril in “The Final Test”, the serial’s orphaned episode.
“…then your battle will never end?”
All things considered, “The Celestial Toymaker” was ahead of its time and even as it exists today (as three audio-only episodes and one complete episode) is still an enjoyable piece of entertainment. With more involvement from William Hartnell (who goes missing part way through episode one and doesn’t show up until six minutes into “The Final Test”) it could have been so much better; if his sparring with the Toymaker in the final episode could have been spread across the whole story it would have really given the early episodes that little bit of steel that they are lacking. At least the resolution of the serial is brilliantly executed, in a way mirroring Rassilon’s riddle in “The Five Doctors” – “To win is to lose, and he who wins shall lose” – perhaps explaining why only the first Doctor knew what to do in that story! The sequel that never materialised (at least on TV) is also wonderfully set up; it is a real tragedy that we never got to see Michael Gough vs Colin Baker…
The Celestial Toymaker' seems to have been largely regarded as a classic, until the soundtrack and surviving episode were released, since when praise for the story has been rather muted. This is a shame, as Doctor Who's first foray into surrealism, whilst flawed, is a highly imaginative and engaging story.
The Toymaker himself is a great villain, played with relish by Michael Gough. The concept of a villain who is enormously powerful and immortal and whose motivation is solely to stop himself getting bored is now relatively widespread in science fiction and fantasy, but at the time it was a fairly original idea and this was the first time that Doctor Who explored it. The Toymaker captures victims simply to play games; the fact that he sadistically turns them into eternal toys and makes it virtually impossible for anyone to beat him is what makes him an actual villain. He's also one of the most charismatic villains to appear in the programme up to this point, and maintains an air of avuncular charm right up until the end; he doesn't rant because, quite simply, he doesn't need to, since he is in complete control of his world until his final defeat. Even his occasional moments of anger at his toys are focused and controlled, more like a stern (if psychotic) parent than a megalomaniac who sees his plans at risk of unraveling. Despite this charisma, he is also at times a deeply sinister foe, the most effective example being his "Make your last move" speech during 'The Final Test'. His revelation of the rooms in his doll's house prepared for Steven and Dodo is also a chilling moment, emphasizing that, to the Toymaker, his victims are not people, but playthings.
In the face of such a powerful villain, the Doctor maintains a quite dignity, even when forced to play the trilogic game, and rendered invisible, intangible and mute. His confrontation with the Toymaker at the end is one of his finest moments, as he struggles to outwit and almost undefeatable foe. As he tries to work out how to escape from the Toymaker's final trap, Hartnell's face is a picture of intense concentration, impressively conveying the impression that Doctor is bringing all of his considerable intellect to bear on he problem at hand. His eventual last-minute defeat of the Toymaker by impersonating his foe and ordering the trilogic game to make its last move is an ingenious end to the story. For most of the serial however, he is sidelined and as in 'The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve' his companions take the centre stage.
'The Celestial Toymaker' is perhaps the best example of why Dodo is so disliked. As she and Steven are forced to play the Toymaker's games, she repeatedly falls into the trap of looking for the good in the Toymaker's servants and trying to befriend them, or at least sympathizing with them. Initially, this is an admirable character trait, but by the time she almost allows Cyril to beat them during 'The Final Test', I found myself admiring Steven's restraint at not strangling her. She seems alternatively stupid and irritating, and falling for Cyril's red ink trick is the last straw. Steven is far more resourceful and pragmatic, and Purves successfully portrays his increasing frustration and anger at being forced to play by the Toymaker's rules, but despite his and Dodo's prominent role in the story, he somehow doesn't really seem to do much here. The story seems entirely constructed to showcase the Toymaker's games, but incredibly, it manages to succeed on this basis, thanks largely to the supporting characters.
The Toymaker's first three pairs of toys, all played by Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera, steal the show. Admittedly, Joey and Clara the clowns don't work very well on audio, but the Hearts and Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wiggs are hugely entertaining, as they exchange banter in their attempts to distract Steven and Dodo from their games and also, perhaps, win themselves and earn their freedom from the Celestial Toyroom. My personal favourites are the Hearts, who are very well characterised. Their constant squabbling, and their attempt to trick the increasingly suspicious Fool into trying one of the chairs, are amusing, and carry 'The Hall of Dolls' along at a merry pace. The lethal nature of the chairs nicely offsets this, maintaining the sinister edge of the story in balance to the humour. The decision by the King and Queen to risk "death" together is strangely touching and reminds the viewer that the Toymaker's servants are just as much victims as the Doctor, Steven and Dodo could become. During 'The Final test', the Toymaker decides to try a more dangerous opponent, presenting us with Cyril, an overgrown schoolboy (rather infamously) in the Billy Bunter mold. He's far more sinister than Singer and Silvera's various characters, which is possibly due in part to the incongruity of seeing an adult dressed and acting like a schoolboy. He's also easily the most ruthless and underhanded of the Toymaker's games, setting a lethal trap for Steven and Dodo which he ultimately falls victim to himself.
The design of 'The Celestial Toymaker' is excellent, at least based on the existing photographic evidence and the surviving final episode. The incongruous mix of fairground sets and the Toymaker's weird mechanical constructs (including the Toymaker's robot) are highly effective and add to the air of surrealism already evident from the soundtracks of the first three episodes alone. In summary, 'The Celestial Toymaker' is a fascinating and enjoyable experiment in surrealism.