Skip to content

The Celestial Toymaker. Or. “Where’s the rest of me?”

October 17, 2015


Certain post 2005 Doctor Who adventures are called “Doctor Lite”.  Blink and Turn Left are notable examples.  In William Hartnell’s day there were many such stories – designed largely to accommodate Bill’s holiday plans.

There isn’t much of the Doctor to be found in the middle episodes of The Celestial Toymaker.  The Toymaker, played by the chilling Michael Gough has reduced the Doctor to a disembodied hand and imposed silence upon him (or it).  Instead it’s up to Steven and Dodo to negotiate his fiendish and irritating games if they are to locate and reclaim the actual Tardis and escape.  The Toymaker is a peculiarly nasty piece of work, an immortal and unkillable entity, he (she?it?) kidnaps people and tortures them with silly games in a sustained fit of bored sadism.

Now there’s not much of Celestial Toymaker to see these days.  Just the final episode exists in its entirety and you have to make do with a reconstruction made of still photographs and the soundtrack for the rest of it.  I’d like to be able to see rather more of it for a variety of reasons

Michael Gough (sinister character actor who played Alfred to various Batmans in the 90s) is in charge and has far more dialogue than William Hartnell.  He’s in Chinese costume.  There’s a less happy article to be written about sinophobia in 60s and 70s television – but never mind.

Reconstructions of this story illustrate how visual it was, how much it depends on sinister sets and bizarre costumes. Celestial Toymaker must have been a peculiarly enjoyable project for veteran costume designer – the splendidly named Daphne Dare.

The solemn yet chewy voice of Michael Gough employs sinister clowns, Alice in Wonderland playing cards, a pantomime kitchen, inhuman ballet dancers, a Billy Bunter copyright infringement – anything he can get his hands on to turn Steven and Dodo demented while the Doctor is absorbed by a logic game that keeps him out of the drama for a while.   I’m particularly fond of Carmen Silvera in this story in a series of recurring roles.  (She would return to the show in 1974 to play a satisfyingly chilling ecofascist in Invasion of the Dinosaurs.)

Dodo isn’t that bad in it.  Dodo was, of course, the very worst Doctor Who companion ever.  Ill conceived as a swinging 1960s teenager, she sort of looked and acted as middle aged as the tiresomely “hip” dialogue that was written for her.  She wasn’t even properly abandoned or said “goodbye” to in War Machines.  She was just sort abandoned.  Left behind.  Least said the better.

But there’s something about the Celestial Toymaker which makes her tolerable.  I think it’s because the adventure is a bold and early example of what you’d call unheimlich pantomime.  This tale offers the peculiar chills of children’s theatre gone sour and nasty.  You are trapped in a garish confection of enforced merriment.  All the world hates a clown.  Part of the same mood informs the Second Doctor adventure The Mind Robber and the Seventh Doctor’s romp with The Happiness Patrol. I’m fond of all of these stories – studio bound theatricals which run back and forth between silly and sinister to great effect.

In short, I’d love to see the whole show restored because it’s about theatre rather than cinema.  It’s doing a version of something that television used to do best.  If you’ve ever hated a clown, developed an aversion to sugar, or had as a child to be taken screaming from a local Christmas production of Aladdin – then this is the scary story for you.

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: