When I was a new Doctor Who fan in 1983, The Five Doctors was my first story(!). That little clip of Hartnell at the start of that story was the only taste of “live” Hartnell I got to see back then – at least until NJN finally ran the Hartnell Doctor Who stories around 1986.
In the interim, you had to make do with still pictures in books. And back then, that meant the Peter Haining books. For some reason, the two Hartnell stories that always had color pictures were Marco Polo and The Celestial Toymaker. I suppose because both had a rather colourful design as compared to their contemporary brethren. Those pictures stuck with me for many a year, and defined my internal visual of what a Hartnell episode would actually look like – colourful and robust. That extended to the pictures of Steven and Dodo’s outfits, which were fairly colourful themselves (for some reason I liked Dodo’s “O” outfit here), so I thought it fit in well with the design of this story.
Episode four is the best of the serial, IMO, so I guess it’s fortunate that it’s the one existing one. The show had a lot going for it on paper. It has an “unreality” feel to it, mostly surrounding the characters the Toymaker sends against Steven and Dodo. It’s not unlike Troughton’s Mind Robber, or Colin Baker’s The Ultimate Foe, although perhaps not quite as “fantasy” as those examples. I did enjoy the angle of the characters in the story being toys from a Toychest that were “enlarged” or otherwise “created” to interact with the TARDIS crew.
The Doctor apparently has met the Toymaker before. There is a reference to an offscreen encounter, and the Doctor also calls him immortal a few times in the story. In episode four, the Doctor says the Toymaker can never really be killed. He’s someone who just continues to exist, tricking people into playing games with him. From time to time, he’d actually lose, his world (and himself) would disperse, and he’d have to create a new world for more people to entertain him. Sounds a little like Q from Star Trek, or The Gods of Ragnarock from Sylvester McCoy’s era. Still, most of the threat of the Toymaker seems set up by the Doctor’s respect for him, as opposed to the Toymaker’s actual actions.
The crew are separated about two thirds of the way through episode one. The Doctor stays to play a game called “The Trilogic Game” (pretty much a real world ‘Tower of Hanoi’ puzzle game) against the Toymaker, and Steven and Dodo go off to play against a succession of characters that the Toymaker throws against them. The room where the Toymaker and the Doctor are has screens where they can watch the progress of the others. The Doctor tries to help his companions, and the Toymaker doesn’t like that, so he renders the Doctor both invisible again, and then mute, leading to William Hartnell’s real life holiday. All we see of the Doctor from the latter stages of episode one through 10 minutes until the end of episode four is his hand (played by Albert Ward).
The games for the companions started off with some clowns, who initially seem like regular clowns, but get defeated when they have to replay a game due to cheating. One of the more interesting ideas (and one of the unreality bits) was against the King and Queen of Hearts, brought to life from a playing card; there’s also a kitchen setting with a Sgt. Rugg and Mrs. Wiggs, who try and have Steven and Dodo locate a key which they need to supposedly get to the TARDIS. Through this whole adventure, a succession of fake TARDII confound Steven and Dodo, so they now start to doubt if any of them are real. The companions eventually make it through the games and go up against Cyril the schoolboy in a game of hopscotch to get to the TARDIS. Cyril tries to trick the others, but ends up causing his own electrocution due to his trickery, and the companions are at the TARDIS, having won the game.
The last few minutes of episode four are interesting: it seems that although the crew has won their games, they can’t leave until the Doctor finishes his Trilogic game. However if he makes the final move and wins, the entire area including them would disappear. The Doctor gets out of that by some interesting verbal dexterity. An enjoyable solution for sure that I enjoy, and you probably will too.
The Toymaker for all his setup, ended up not being a terribly interesting adversary to me. He didn’t interact with Steven and Dodo very much other than talking to them from another room. He hangs out with the mostly invisible/mute Doctor. It gives him and the story an oddly disconnected feel. Mostly because Hartnell is not in episodes two or three at all, and only about half of one and four each. So it’s basically the Dodo and Steven show here. I feel the overall story was let down by Hartnell not being there. I enjoyed Hartnell’s performance in this one. Can’t put a finger on why, but I liked him here. Shame there was so little of him on screen.
In reading about this story for the review, I discovered something I didn’t realize. Then-producer John Wiles had problems with Hartnell, and was going to replace him. When the Toymaker made the Doctor visible again, Wiles wanted to replace Hartnell with a different actor. The BBC head of serials nixed that idea, and replaced Wiles on the show.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the attempted return of the character. In the end of this story, the Doctor tells Dodo that he expects to have more adventures with the Toymaker. This was to happen in 1986 in the first story of Season 23 with Colin Baker – with Michael Gough to reprise his role. The sequel, The Nightmare Fair was to go into production, having been written by former series producer Graham Williams. However, Doctor Who was put on hiatus, and all the existing story work was scrapped. The story was novelized in 1989, and later released as an audio play starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in 2009. The character of the Toymaker has also appeared in other Big Finish productions and novels.
To sum up, the story I think could have been made shorter, perhaps working better from being tightened up. For me, episodes two and three dragged, while episodes one and four are a lot more enjoyable. As long as I’m wishing for things I couldn’t have in this story, I’d like it to be in colour, too. The still pictures I mention above make it look like this would have been one of the better Hartnell era stories due to its use of color in its design. Still, having said all that, I do enjoy The Celestial Toymaker, and you probably will too.