The Celestial Toymaker

Written by:
Brian Hayles
Directed by: Bill Sellars
Starring: William Hartnell
Year: 1966
Video Availability (surviving episode four only): Try Amazon

Once so popular that it even inspired the newsletter of the Appreciation Society, this experimental - yet crap - first Doctor story now seems to have been thankfully reappraised in recent years. Or should that be deappraised, as it's nowhere near as lauded as it used to be?

Yes, it brought something new to the series - nearly everything possible in Who had been done first during Billy's time, save for dream sequences and the dubbing on of character's thoughts - but it just isn't very good. Maybe it was at the time. It was certainly new, and daring, but while The Mind Robber generally holds up, this has dated quite badly. The majority of its appeal seems to rely on the juxtaposition of innocent characters and situations with the deadly and the macabre. Almost like watching an episode of Playschool where Big Ted flips over Humpty and rogers him, it's a sight of strange juxtaposition, but no real dramatic impact.

With no telesnaps existing, the Loose Cannon Recon team make up the episode with production stills and offscreen captures, not to mention a little animation. They do a grand job, and even include over three minutes of intro/outros from Peter Purves. The story, though, despite being better than I remembered, really doesn't add up to much, and I suspect it wouldn't even if the images were found. There's a disjointed feel to all of the dialogue, with characters coming and going with no real introduction and precious little coherence. Peter tries his best, but he's given weak support in the guise of Dodo, and their roles are largely reactive. With them standing around just looking at puzzle floors - and the distinct lack of incidental music - it comes over more as a particularly dull episode of The Adventure Game rather than a dramatic entry in the Who canon. This is the biggest difference between it and The Mind Robber, in that it appears to have been largely performed "as live", whereas a few cuts and set up takes would have aided its impetus. Oddest sight is Steven saying "what have you done now, you clown, you?" as an insult. But as he's actually saying it to a clown then it's less biting insult, more lack of imagination.

This first episode ain't all bad, though, as the scenes shared between the Doctor and the Toymaker are a lot stronger than I recalled. When exactly did the Doctor meet him before? What took place between them? There's a bit of ambiguous darkness there, and it does improve its standing, but Clara the Clown has a voice so grating even Bonnie Langford would take offence. On reflection, Peter does seem a bit bored and going through the motions, while again, I have to say that Dudley Simpson's musical input really isn't up to the job at all.
* * *

With the presence of a fake Tardis and the companions' adventure being watched on a screen, you could argue that this is a touch of postmodernism. But with Carmen Silvera and Campbell Singer dressing up as playing cards ::cough:: Alice In Wonderland ::cough:: as opposed to clowns, this is becoming a bit of a repetitive kiddie's revue. "Quick, Dodo, let's wander around the same set while Carmen and Campbell dress up as another pair of twats."

With the inspiration for the story being that Bill's contract was up for renewal and they couldn't decide whether or not to give him the boot, rarely has the real-life complexities of a story found their way so fully onscreen. What we're left with here is essentially water-treading, which avoids being chilling and compelling in favour of irritating and tedious.
* * ½

With over a minute of showcased dancing dolls this may work visually, but on audio it's just padded and noisy, a cacophony of cack. The production didn't bother to bring anything new to this episode, so I'm damned if I'm going to…
* *

The only surviving episode, discovered in the ABC vaults back in 1984. Even though it has the edge of visuals, I'd still say this is the finest of the four, if only because you know it's soon going to be over. While Steven may have effortlessly carried The Massacre, that was in a Lucarotti script, but here the absence of the Doctor is felt so strongly the thin story nearly tears in the middle without him. Okay, he might be on holiday for the middle episodes, but this is a strong story for Billy, even managing to say "intangible" in one go during the first episode. This final part contains his only fluff with "when the Toymaker wanted to move the pieces, he had toowho… to command them in a certain tone of voice"

Cyril "my friends call me Billy, but I'm not a rip-off of Billy Bunter, honest" takes them on some kind of BBC hopscotch, complete with lovely boom mike shadows. There's a scene where he gets blown to bits and Steven picks up his blackened corpse. It's supposed to be horrific, but with the silly dummy it's hilarious. Yaroo! Ah, shut yer face. On the positive side, then that special effect where the Toymaker appears to Steven when he tries to reach the Tardis is pretty good for the time it was achieved. Best line? Well, it's infamous, but I can't complete this review without noting Steven's desire to see if there's "an invisible barrier round his backside." Mind you, his "It's up to you now, Dodo. Come on, give it a good shake" might have produced an infantile chuckle if this was on audio only. "If I lose the Doctor and I go down together." Come on now, stop it, it's silly.

There's two endings to this story, one of which is the possibly the most ludicrous in the whole series, the other of which is sublime. Knockers of the Pertwee era (and why not, it's great fun) should be silenced by a story resolution so stupid it makes that of The Daemons seem to arise naturally from the plot. Billy suddenly becomes an expert mimic - even better than Les Dennis doing his Mavis Riley - and impersonates the Toymaker to escape from his trap. Sound fat-fetched? Not as far fetched as the execution of it, which sees Billy turn his back to the camera while Michael Gough's voice is dubbed on. Staggering to think that this kind of tot was taking place just eight weeks after The Massacre. But the best bit? Billy damages a tooth on a sweet. Say what you like, he's a funny guy, and this incongruous ending to such a straight(ish) story cracked me up. But not enough to rescue the episode from a below-average rating, sadly…
* * ½

Commendable in and of itself, and disproving the lie that later Hartnell seasons were resting on their laurels, it must still sadly be acknowledged that this isn't terribly good television anymore.
* *