Friday, May 10, 2013

"The Celestial Toymaker"

Aired Apr 2 – Apr 23, 1966

Episode 1: The Celestial Toyroom
Episode 2: The Hall of Dolls
Episode 3: The Dancing Floor
Episode 4: The Final Test

Story 24


Written by Brian Hayles

Directed by Bill Sellars


Synopsis

TheTARDIS arrives in the dimension ruled by the Toymaker, an immensely powerful immortal immortal who abducts beings and forces them to play a series of games, failure at which will result in them being added to his collection as his own personal playthings.

While Steven and Dodo are forced to play a collection of increasingly lethal children's games against the Toymaker's minions, the Doctor must face the Toymaker himself in a deadly, and complex, Trilogic game. Throughout his battle against the Toymaker, the Doctor is rendered mute, then invisible, while Steven and Dodo succeed in thwarting their cheating foes.

The Doctor eventually defeats the Toymaker by imitating the immortal's voice from within the safety of the TARDIS,  a tactic that completes the Trilogic game and destroys the Toymaker's domain as the TARDIS escapes.

As the Toymaker's realm disintegrates, the Doctor predicts that they will have to face each other again. The Doctor celebrates their escape with a sweet from a bag given to Dodo by one of the Toymaker's minions, but gasps in pain…


Analysis

Doctor Who's first and somewhat tentative step into surrealist storytelling is a success, albeit a qualified one. The major high points comes from the way it takes the iconography of childhood and children's games and twists them into something menacing and strange. The idea of an almost omnipotent being who lives to kidnap other beings and force them to play bizarre children's games is certainly compelling, and the Toymaker is well played by Michael Gough. The Toymaker is not a conventional villain in many ways, he is simply an immensely powerful figure who is bored and who is above conventional morality. He does these things because he can, he cares little for what he sees as lesser beings, and this detachment helps create an unusual villain for the series.


Peter Purves does his by now customarily excellent job as stalwart Steven, who by this point has some very interesting shades of cynicism and paranoia. It's not overdone, but Steven basically doesn't trust anyone except the Doctor and Dodo, and he's not above arguing with either of them. Purves is even more of an MVP due to the fact that we have yet another serial where the Doctor disappears for long stretches.

Lane's Dodo is once again ill-served. The writer seems to want to suggest that she has a good heart and therefore is scrupulously fair, even to the Toymaker's minions whom she sees as fellow prisoners rather than adversaries. However, all of the minions are nasty little cheaters, so Dodo just seems like an idiot for continually falling for their tricks.

Hartnell's lack of presence does significant damage to the story, as the viewer is largely denied the battle of wills that the scripts set up. Revealing that the Doctor has faced the Toymaker before, and stressing the Toymaker's power, all lead the viewer to wonder what kinds of sparks will fly once they do get down to their game. But the Trilogic game is largely unexplained except in the broadest strokes, and it mostly involves Gough delivering monologues to either a disembodied hand or floating blocks. As a result, the Doctor's contest holds really no tension.

That leaves all of the heavy lifting to be done by the other games. By and large they succeed, mostly on the whimsical strangeness of it all. The final moments of the story are excellent, with Hartnell taking on a proactive role at last, and his outsmarting of the Toymaker is great, if a little hard to decipher at first. In the final analysis, this story fits right in with the experimental aspirations of this season, and even if it is hampered by several failing points, its surreal nature makes it memorable and enjoyable.

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