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Classic Who: The Celestial Toymaker

Oh, Michael Gough! How I have loved you ever since I saw Hammer's Dracula as a tiny child! How marvellous it is to see you enjoying a good Doctor Who villain role - and what a pity that only one episode of your performance now survives intact. Still, like Christopher Lee, Tom Baker and Alan Rickman, it is also true that one of your very best qualities as an actor is your voice - so thank goodness that, at least, remains.

The actual character of the Toymaker is slightly different from what I'd always assumed on hearing about this story, though. From the epithet 'celestial', I'd rather assumed that his power would extend further into the fabric of the universe than it does, and have him doing things like playing with the stars as though they were toys. Even when I realised that his powers were in fact limited to quite a small domain, I was quite surprised to discover how closely he actually adhered to the rules of his own games. Obviously he does have to be defeatable so that the regular characters can escape from him and go on with the series - but it all seemed a bit too easy in the end. I suppose maybe that is the point - what appears at first to be a terrifying all-powerful being turns out in the end to have little more than a few illusions up his sleeve, just like the Wizard of Oz.

We do get a very interesting stand-off between him and the Doctor at the end of the last episode, though, in which he tries to tempt the Doctor over to the Dark Side:
CELESTIAL TOYMAKER: Doctor, I offer you power. Power to corrupt, to destroy! Think of the exhilaration of that power! Serve me and live!
THE DOCTOR: Never! Never, my friend!
To me, that reads awfully like a temptation of Christ scene. And given that the climactic speech in The Massacre had just established how lonely the Doctor is, I do believe that we can now say we have a Lonely God on our hands!

There is quite an impressive range of appropriate tropes and themes on show here. We've got scary clowns, live playing cards and a kitchen with a crotchety cook where fights break out (both from Alice in Wonderland), a 'sergeant' who looks distinctly like most portrayals of the Nutcracker to me, riddles as cliff-hangers (though annoyingly, never ones which the viewers had any chance of solving, since they all refer to things we haven't met in the story yet), commentary on what the 'rules' of games actually are, who gets to make them and what is 'fair', music-box style ballerinas (a reference to Coppelia? It's two years too early for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and a rip-off of Billy Bunter. The robots with televisions in their tummies anticipate the Teletubbies by a good 30 years. And I assume that the Toymaker's oriental costume is meant to reference the tradition of the Chinese as magicians and makers of automata: the kind of thing represented by this Youtube video.

We've touched on quests and illusions in The Keys of Marinus, and also entered a world of (apparent) fantasy in the House of Horrors sequence in The Chase. But this seems to be the first time that Doctor Who has set a whole story so explicitly in a world of fantastic, and particularly child-like, imagination. Puzzle games will, of course, be an important element in later stories like Three's Death to the Daleks, Four's Pyramids of Mars and The Five Doctors, while Eleven's first story has just reminded us how important the use of childhood tropes continues to be in Doctor Who. Talking of New Who, I note also that the Toymaker communicates with Dodo and Steven at one point through the TARDIS phone (though admittedly in what turns out to be a fake TARDIS), just like the child contacting the Doctor at the beginning of The Empty Child.

I've already mentioned the use of television screens as a meta-reference, and here we get it more literally than ever, as the Toymaker shows Steven clips of himself in The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre. So has the Toymaker been an avid Doctor Who fan all along? It's also very, very hard not to see the Doctor's reduction to a floating hand (which wasn't even William Hartnell's), and then the further removal of his voice, as emblematic of John Wiles' desire to get rid of William Hartnell - though a kinder reading is that it allowed Hartnell a much-needed rest, and also meant that he could read many of his lines directly from a script, thus by-passing his increasing memory problems.

Meanwhile, the side-lining of the Doctor puts the focus on Steven and Dodo instead. I don't think Steven comes out quite as well as he did when left entirely alone in The Massacre - but then again it would be difficult for any character to show very much depth, or any actor very much talent, in a plot based around playing what are deliberately portrayed as juvenile games. But we do see some attempts to bring out their different approaches to the situation. In particular, in episode 2 Steven wants to dismiss the cook and the sergeant on the grounds that they aren't real, but Dodo shows more compassion about the fact that they were once people, too, and is more ready to engage with them. She turns her feminine charms on the sergeant, with the result that he agrees to help them (at least temporarily).

Steven also gets a sudden burst of quality characterisation at the end of the final episode, when he is willing to go out of the TARDIS and make the last move in the Doctor's trilogic game, thus sacrificing himself to save the Doctor and Dodo. Given the reference to his experiences in The Daleks' Master Plan and The Massacre at the start of the story, I take this to represent the lasting impact which his inability to prevent Sara Kingdom's death or to save Anne Chaplette has had on him, and to constitute an attempt to redeem himself in retrospect. His protestation that "Something's got to be done! We can't just stand here and talk our way out of this!" is also a very classic encapsulation of what he stands for, and it is very appropriate that this also sparks off the Doctor's idea about how they can escape after all by using voice commands to finish the game remotely. I've taken a while to warm to Steven (mainly because of him not being Barbara), but I do quite like what he has become by this stage, and appreciate the developmental journey which he has been on to get there.

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Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Apr. 4th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
I've never listened/watched this all the way through, and should do - this is the most interesting review I've read. John Wiles and Donald Tosh hated what Gerry Davis had done to their concept, as you know; I've seen an interview with Tosh in which he said he thought of the Toymaker as one of the Doctor's own kind, and Tosh's view of the Doctor was more godlike (an extradimensional being who has chosen to take human form, ISTR - hence the "That is how he appears to you" line a Dalek has in The Daleks' Master Plan) than that taken by his predecessors or immediate successors.
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 01:15 pm (UTC)
Ah, really? I'd missed that line in The Daleks' Master Plan, but it is indeed quite revealing. The script as broadcast does leave room for the Toymaker to be a similar being to the Doctor - they certainly seem to have encountered each other before, and the Toymaker says that he has been 'waiting' for the Doctor. The ending also leaves a clear opening for him to return, as we're told that he will survive the temporary destruction of his world, and that 'there will be other meetings in another time'. So someone clearly wanted to explore his relationship with the Doctor further.

I don't think this is amongst the strongest Doctor Who stories, or even the strongest of this season. But it's worth at least one full viewing, I think.
damien_mocata
Apr. 4th, 2010 03:19 pm (UTC)
Here's a what if question to get some more creative juices going.

What if Hartnell had become Troughton during the Celestial Toymaker? (as if the original plan of changing Hartnell did happen, and I presume Troughton takes his place, but if you want to choose differently, feel free)

Do you think Dr Who would have continued on as it did normally, or perhaps would it have fallen flat on it's face within another season?
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Well, Hartnell only had another five stories to go after this, so I doubt it would have made very much difference. It would have meant Troughton going straight into The Gunfighters (which I've just finished watching), which would have required a few re-writes, but could have worked. Assuming everything else remains unchanged, it would also have meant that Troughton's first story survived, which would have been no bad thing.

Personally, though, I'm glad it didn't happen. I absolutely love Hartnell's Doctor, and though I realise his health meant he couldn't have gone on much longer anyway, I'm glad we got a few more stories out of him.
damien_mocata
Apr. 4th, 2010 03:31 pm (UTC)
Ah, but then what happens when Troughton leaves? After all, if he starts playing the role because of the Toymaker's intervention, then does the Toymaker have to be present from the change to Pertwee?

I'm thinking that in this early stage of who, concepts such as regeneration haven't been named or clarified, they just sort of happen. It isn't until Tom Baker that it's called regeneration, but that's after it's shown that the Time Lords can cause it.

Or do the Time Lords have the same power as The Toymaker, but the Doctor chooses not to use such power? I can't imagine the Doctor, as travelling with Ian and Barbara, NOT using such a power.
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, I see what you mean - that it might have meant the idea of regenerations as we now know them wasn't able to develop. I guess the easiest way to solve the problem later on would have been to say that the Toymaker hadn't actually caused the regeneration as such, but rather put the Doctor under such strain that he had regenerated spontaneously anyway. But, yes - it could have been a bit of a problem.
damien_mocata
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, the joys of looking back at stories as they were written and seeing how people have attempted to keep continuity.

Which reminds me about something I read while checking up points: Moffat is on record as saying that Dr Who doesn't have to have continuity because he's a time traveller.

I can see some of the hardcore fans spitting blood already...
strange_complex
Apr. 4th, 2010 04:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, I've come across him saying that, too. Mind you, the way he started out last night with the montage of the ten previous Doctors, and all the little nods to their stories, suggests he won't be as dismissive as some might fear. I think it's a good thing not to be too hide-bound to the past, and it looks to me like he's going to strike a fair compromise between recognising it but not being stifled by it.
xipuloxx
Apr. 4th, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
I think you're right. I believe Robert Holmes once said something similar about continuity, and he's (rightly) generally regarded as one of the best writers -- if not the best writer -- the classic series ever had.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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