The problem with The Celestial Toymaker is that it just doesn’t work in the reconstructed form that it currently exists in.
Reconstructions of Dr Who stories usually involve telesnaps and other related pictures being shown on screen while the surviving audio plays in the background. As we’ve seen, sometimes these reconstructions work well because they are dialogue driven stories (The Myth Makers being a good example) but when the dialogue is sparse they just don’t. Without question, The Celestial Toymaker is the prime example of the reconstruction just not working.
Thankfully, Episode 4 still exists, but my advice would be just to watch that episode and skip the rest.
Why is that, I hear you ask?
Well let me explain.
Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker Review: What’s This One About?
In the cliffhanger to the previous story, the Doctor becomes invisible. While Steven & Dodo assumed it must have had something to do with the invisible ‘Refusians’, the Doctor immediately realises that it is something else.
And sure enough, the TARDIS has landed in the domain of the Celestial Toymaker – an ‘eternal’ being who has a penchant for setting up games and traps for people in his self-created world, The Toyroom.
He sets Steven & Dodo a challenge. They must complete all the ‘deadly’ games he has set for them before the Doctor completes his challenge – one of those trilogic puzzles as shown in the picture – or else they will all become his playthings forever.
While the Doctor becomes invisible and mute (to give William Hartnell another holiday that was originally planned to write him out of the show for good and replace him with someone else), Steven and Dodo must win games against a series of fictional characters that the Toymaker has brought to life from his Dollhouse.
- So in Episode One they compete against a couple of clowns in a game of Blind Man’s Buff.
- In Episode Two they have to compete against the King & Queen of Hearts in a game where they must find the one chair out of a possible seven that won’t kill them when sat on.
- In Episode Three they have to find a key hidden in a kitchen while a Victorian Policeman and Cook distract them, then cross a dancefloor where ballerinas try to prevent their progress
- In Episode Four defeat a villainous Billy Bunter style schoolboy in a deadly game of snakes & ladders where the floor is electrified.
Also in Episode Four, the Doctor is restored, everyone wins their challenges and they manage to escape from the Toymaker’s grasp, destroying the Toyroom in the process.
You’ll notice that this is the shortest Dr Who review I’ve done, but I find that comparatively, there is just so little to say about this one.
It sounds like an interesting story, doesn’t it? Indeed, before old stories became readily available, before the soundtrack to this story was released, and before Episode 4 was rediscovered, this was considered to be ‘a classic’. But sometimes, an
interesting idea doesn’t translate well to the screen.
What The Celestial Toymaker is, is four episodes of Steven & Dodo playing games (and I use that term loosely because I wouldn’t consider the challenges in Episodes 2 & 3 to be games) while the Toymaker himself talks to a floating hand, saying ‘You’re not playing quick enough Doctor’ before commanding the trilogic game to advance a few moves forward.
Now people enjoy playing games, but fewer people enjoy watching people play games. So even if all the episodes survived, it would be a struggle to watch, but since they don’t, it’s an even less appealing spectacle.
In Episode One for example, the sequence where they play Blind Man’s Buff involves almost no dialogue. One of the clowns doesn’t even speak. So the reconstruction takes the form of incidental music being played against the backdrop of a picture of two clowns. The same situation occurs in Episode Three with the search for the key in the kitchen and the advance across the dance floor. Overall there’s very little dialogue.
And even the dialogue that does exist doesn’t seem to clear things up. I’m really not sure what the game in Episode 2 was about, and I didn’t really see the challenge or the point of anything that happened in Episode 3.
My other problem with the story is the ‘look’ of it.
In a story where visuals are clearly given priority over dialogue, you’d expect those visuals to be impressive (by 1960s Dr Who standards). But what we see in Episode 4 is the Toymaker sitting in a giant white room, while the room where Steven & Dodo face their challenge really just looks like a TV Studio with a few props randomly placed about.
Basically it looks cheap, and the feeling of cheapness isn’t helped by the same three actors (Carmen Silvera off ‘Allo ‘Allo, Campbell Singer and Peter Stephens) playing three characters each throughout the story.
In fairness, they do a decent job of playing the roles differently, and Peter Stephens is particularly good as the creepy Cyril, but still, it’s far from being enough to save this story.
Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker Review: Should You Watch The Celestial Toymaker?
Episode Four is good enough as a single episode, but watching the whole story is a chore. It doesn’t work as a reconstruction, and episodes two and three would probably be rubbish even if they still existed. It seems that all the actual plot seems to happen in the first and last ten minutes of the entire thing.
When I first started doing these reviews, I criticised An Unearthly Child episodes 2-4 as being of almost of a lower standard than anything shown up until 1978.
Well, the “almost” allows me to say that The Celestial Toymaker, as a whole story existing in the state it currently exists in, is of a lower standard than that. I would go as far as to say that it’s the worst William Hartnell adventure.
And that’s such a shame considering it came after such a good serial in The Ark, and precedes a story which is arguably one of the very best…
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