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The Celestial Toymaker

BBC Radio Collection - Audio Release
Nigel Parry

One of the tactics featured in early Doctor Who stories (to lure viewers back the next week) was, at the conclusion of one tale, the opening scene to the next was trailed. To that end, at the end of 'The Ark', Steven and Dodo were alarmed to 'see' that the Doctor had become invisible. It is nice to find, therefore, a small-narrated recap of that cliffhanger has been expertly edited onto the beginning of this audio, pre-opening credits.

This was the first of the type of story that Doctor Who would excel at in the future: the 'surrealist' type of production. After this, the next time such a format would be attempted with such success would be 'The Mind Robber' with Patrick Troughton's second Doctor. 'The Celestial Toymaker' is set in a sort of non-specific 'otherworld' that transcends description. This world is not necessarily a planet, or a continent, rather a void, a fantasy palace where normal rules do not govern.

'The Celestial Toymaker' has had, by all accounts, a troubled conception. Re-write after re-write resulted in many acrimonious exchanges between writer Brian Hayles, story editor Donald Tosh and incoming script editor Gerry Davis. The end result might be seen as a sort of compromise of ideas between these three men. The problems didn't end there. The character of Cyril bore an uncanny resemblance to Billy Bunter, a fictional comic creation of the time. However, Cyril is evil and malicious, distinctly at odds with the jolly Bunter schoolboy character. On its original television transmission, a disclaimer was read over the credits to episode 4, restating that the two characters were entirely unrelated. Cyril's announcement that people have been known to call him Billy didn't help matters much...

So, the Doctor is invisible, although it is obvious from this audio that he is standing in another room. He and Steven (played quite petulantly in this tale by the narrator Peter Purves) and Dodo go outside into this strange world where they meet The Toymaker, enigmatically played by Michael Gough. It appears he and the Doctor have met before, although there is no detail given of this. And then the travellers are split up, with the Doctor facing the mischievous might of the Toymaker, and Steven and Dodo teamed up against some very bizarre characters, often played by the same actors. Also there is Cyril, whose helpful disposition is soon revealed as anything but. Peter Stephens brilliantly plays Cyril, and apart from him, the most successful adversaries might well be Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wiggs, two squabbling cockneys who might have just walked off the set of 'Upstairs Downstairs'. ("He's a pig." "What did you say?" "I said, give 'im a fig."). Corny though their patter is, Rugg and Wiggs are alarming simply because their characters are so shockingly out of place in this strange world.

It's worth mentioning that, from this audio, the Toymaker's environment is silent. There are no weird sound effects in the background, no echo effects added to any of the character's voices. Whilst seen by some as a disadvantage, to me, the background silence only serves to make the 'games' seem more isolated and eerie.

There are rumoured to have been plans afoot to change the identity of the Doctor in this story, with a different actor appearing towards the story's close. The change of actor might have been written off as a final trick of the Toymaker, and how the idea of regeneration, so vital to Doctor Who as a series, would have come about is highly uncertain.

Thankfully (if the rumours are true), the idea was abandoned, and Hartnell was on hand to reprise the role after being absent from parts two and three (he was represented in those episodes as a recording of Hartnell's voice). He tricks the Toymaker by turning the dangerous Trilogic Game against him, and impersonating his voice for the final move. The Toymaker is last seen screaming as his world crumbles, and his characters slowly become still, doll-like and lifeless. The Doctor, however, feels sure the two of them might meet again.

Whatever the difficulties prevalent during the writing of the story, 'The Celestial Toymaker' is highly enjoyable. As is often the case, the actors rise above the occasionally awkward dialogue. In fact the various characters and mannequins often outshine even the Toymaker himself who is often so far from the main action that he occasionally seems somewhat distant and isolated.