Sorry for the long delay between updates but we’ve been watching The Celestial Toymaker. Need I say more?
The Celestial Toyroom
Sue: Is there anything I should know about this one before we start?
Me: Well, a new producer has taken over the reins. He’s called Innes Lloyd and he’ll stick around a lot longer than the last one did. Another interesting fact is that the Doctor Who Appreciation Society named their monthly magazine after the title of this first episode.
Sue: Oh, in that case, it must be a good one.
And that’s as positive as it gets as far as The Celestial Toymaker is concerned. If you like this story, even just a little bit, then you should probably stop reading this now.
Sue: Where the hell are we? Is this Earth?
Sue: So the Doctor has met this bloke before? When was that then?
Me: We don’t witness their first encounter. The Doctor must have a series of adventures before we met him. This is supposed to be a grudge match. Just go with it.
The premise is simple – our heroes are pitted against some deadly games in an environment that doesn’t really exist. Or, as Sue so succinctly puts it:
Sue: It’s not exactly Tron, is it?
While the Doctor is pitted against the Trilogic Game (which sounds impressive but looks like a clunky iPhone app), Steven and Dodo are pitted against a couple of clowns. One of them is Carmen Silvera, aka Renee’s wife from Allo! Allo!, but she’s so heavily disguised Sue will never twig; Carmen’s voice is so high, you’d be mistaken for thinking she was trying to avoid being recognised on purpose.
Sue: The actor playing the Toymaker looks very familiar.
Me: It’s Michael Gough. You probably know him as Alfred the Butler from the 80s and 90s Batman movies.
Sue: It’s funny you should say that – this story reminds me of Batman a lot.
Me: Holy Marconi with pepper jack, Susan!
Sue: I’m serious. This set – especially this obstacle course – is very comic book. The clowns remind me of the Joker and it’s all a bit camp and larger than life. All we need are some WHAM! and BAM! captions when Steven falls over and we’re sorted.
Every now and then, the Toymaker appears to taunt the Doctor with his deadly Trilogic Game, or he’ll wind up Steven with an obscure change to the rules.
Sue: Is the Toymaker an omnipotent Jeff Probst?
Me: Approximately three people reading this blog will get that joke, love. And two of them are us.
Me: Actually, from what I can see of this set, it does look a bit like the TV version of Batman -
Sue: I told you! I’m sure it was on at the same time. It’s all coming back to me now. Yes, I’m sure I’ve seen this before…
Sue: I think I saw this when it first went out.
Me: You’re pulling my leg.
Sue: It definitely rings a bell. I think it really freaked me out at the time…
And there we have it. Sue’s first memory of the show. We think. She might be confusing it with Andy Pandy. She would have been four years old when it went out.
Me: This explains a lot.
Sue: If you mean this is probably why I never watched another episode of Doctor Who ever again, you’re probably right.top
The Hall of Dolls
Sue: I’m guessing Hartnell is on holiday again this week, now that he’s invisible? How convenient for him. Can’t they make Dodo mute while they’re at it?
Me: At one point, they actually considered replacing William Hartnell in the middle of this story. In a nutshell, the Toymaker would have recast him, but they vetoed it. It was either that or the BBC issued Hartnell with another contract by mistake, I can’t remember the exact details.
Sue: So we wouldn’t have had a regeneration? How would they have around that later?
Me: God knows! Maybe they would have got Michael Gough back whenever they needed to change the lead actor. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Sue: Maybe Hartnell wasn’t on holiday after all. Maybe he was off on the stress. Did he know they wanted to get rid of him?
Me: I think he still believed he was indispensable at this point. It’s very sad, actually.
Even Sue feels bad for Hartnell, and she can’t wait to see the back of him.
The next game sent to vex Steven and Dodo involves a series of deadly chairs, sentient playing cards, and some massive dolls.
Me: I bet that’s not the first time Steven has had his hands on a life-sized doll.
Sue: This is getting very repetitive; there’s nothing to talk about. Nothing at all.
Me: Wanna bet? Listen very carefully to this next bit.
When the King of Hearts randomly chooses a chair to sit on, he recites a well-known rhyme to help him reach his decision. Or does he? The recon we have at our disposal is excellent but it doesn’t use Peter Purves’ narration (the usual method for hiding the rhyme in question), but we still can’t hear it. The dialogue has been reduced and filtered out until it sounds like the King is mumbling under his breath. I could (and probably should) let it go at this point, but I think Sue should experience the full horror of The Celestial Toymaker. Plus, the resulting discussion might fill a paragraph or two.
Me: Let me play that bit again with the volume turned up. Now, really concentrate on what the King is saying…
Sue: NO WAY!
Yes way. It’s the n-word.
Sue: Could you really say that on children’s television back in 1966?
While we’re on this subject, I decide to quiz Sue further.
Me: Which nationality do you think the Toymaker is?
Sue: I thought he was an alien?
Me: OK, let’s assume he’s taken human form – which nationality is he?
Me: What if I told you the word celestial is old slang for Chinese?
Sue: Is it really? That’s news to me. Then again, he is wearing a chinese costume.
Me: According to Philip Sanifer’s excellent blog (you know, he’s doing the same thing as us, only seriously), this story is so racist it should be removed from the canon.
Sue: Removed from the what?
Me: It shouldn’t count as ‘real’ Doctor Who. It’s that bad.
Sue: But celestial in this context means spacey, surely? He’s a space god. And the actor doesn’t look Chinese to me, and he doesn’t sound Chinese either. He sounds like Alfred the Butler! And wouldn’t that mean that the first episode was called The Chinese Toyroom? It didn’t look very Chinese to me. In fact, it looked very British -
Me: So it’s not racist?
Sue: Oh, it’s undeniably dodgy – if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t have had to disguise that dialogue. I’m quite shocked, actually. Maybe there’s something to it after all. If we agree with the other blog, and it doesn’t count, can we skip the next couple of episodes?
Me: I’ll tell you something else that’s interesting – actually, it’s the only interesting thing about this story – and that’s this: for many, many years, Doctor Who fans seriously believed this was a classic -
Sue: Piss off!
Me: It’s true! Back in the day, when you couldn’t see these old episodes, you had to rely on the memories of the people who actually saw them go out.
Sue: I saw it go out and I can confirm that it was rubbish.
Me: These guys were old and wise when it went out. If they told you it was a classic, it was a classic. There was simply no way of disputing it. And then, in 1983, to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary, a book came out that reviewed all the episodes so far. The guy who reviewed them, Jeremy Bentham, -
Sue: That name rings a bell -
Me: You’re thinking of Lost, aren’t you?
Sue: Yes! That’s it!
Me: That connection is far too complicated to get into now. I’ll explain later. In bed. Anyway, the other Bentham wrote this review and he said The Celestial Toymaker was bloody brilliant. And on paper, it does look pretty good: a weird godlike being who can bring toys to life (that’s very Doctor Who), who had a grudge against the Doctor, all within this surreal, dreamlike landscape. Well, it sounded fab, so it was very easy to believe.
Sue gobsmacked. She cannot get her head around this.
Me: And then, in the 1990s, people finally got to see the surviving episode and the doubts started to creep in. And then the doubts turned to disappointment, and then the disappointment turned to loathing. I think the consensus now is that The Celestial Toymaker lies somewhere between pedophilia and genocide.
Sue: So why didn’t the fan club change the name of their magazine to something else? Now that everyone knows this is irredeemable racist shite, why don’t they call it Genesis of the Daleks instead?top
The Dancing Floor
Me: I really can’t do this.
Sue: Come on, it’s not that bad. It’s only twenty minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.
Me: I can’t. I just can’t. Do we have to? Really?
Sue: We’ve skipped two days already. I can’t remember what happened in the last episode.
Me: Don’t worry, it’s exactly the same thing that will happen in the NEXT EPISODE! **** ALL!
No, I didn’t mix up the names when I transcribed that exchange. I had a major wobble.
It’s alright for Sue, all she just has to is sit there and watch this rubbish – I’m the one who has to sit down and write this nonsense! I can’t just banish this to the back of my mind before the end credits have finished rolling.
She eventually talks me down with a promise of a foot rub.
Steven and Dodo’s next game involves a cryptic clue (“This is very 3-2-1“), and the hunt for a key. Most of the action takes place in a kitchen, where two characters from a storybook have been brought to life. To bicker, mainly.
Sue: I have definitely seen this episode before. I distinctly remember the solider and the cook, Mrs. Wiggins. The key is in the pie, by the way.
She’s right. Then again, the location of the key is so obvious, a four year-old child could have worked it out. Actually, maybe she did.
Sue: This section is a bit like Upstairs, Downstairs. Only shit.
If there’s one thing we miss seeing with our own eyes, it’s Steven dancing.
Me: No matter how much shit you throw at Peter Purves, he always takes it on the chin.
Sue: This dance sequence either looked really spooky or really silly. Probably not as silly as So, You Think You Can Dance?, though.
Me: Or as spooky.
As the episode reaches its conclusion, I turn to Sue to ask her what she makes of Cyril, but she’s sound asleep.
I don’t have the heart to wake her.top
The Final Test
Moving images. Maybe the story will come alive now that we can actually see it. Maybe it really is a lost classic. And maybe Donald Trump will be president some day.
The episode pits Steven and Dodo against Billy Bunter, sorry, I mean Cyril. Calling him Billy would be tantamount to copyright infringement. But they go ahead and do it anyway.
Sue: This is just ripping off everything that was popular at the time. Billy Bunter, films like Tom Thumb, The Black and White Minstrel Show, Batman – it’s a big jumble of what I remember seeing on television when I was small.
The final test is a deadly bored game (sic). Think Battle Royale crossed with Ludo.
Me: I’ve seen more exciting games of Don’t Scare The Hare.
Sue: It’s not exactly Total Wipeout, is it?
Me: No, it’s not that bad. Not yet.
And then, as if by magic, William Hartnell is back in the flesh.
Sue: So, in a parallel universe that’s Patrick Troughton?
Just as Dodo and Steven seem to have lost their game, Cyril slips up and crashes to the floor. He explodes, reverting to the form of a smouldering doll (“They set Humpty Dumpty on fire!”). The reason behind his accidental death raises a smile.
Sue: Slippery powder? I’ve never heard it called that before.
Me: Judging by what I’ve seen so far, powder of some sort was definitely involved in the making of this story.
Sue: Why does Hartnell keep calling the Toymaker his “dear friend”? He’s a nutter! And the Toymaker is a few slices short of a toaster as well.
Me: The Doctor likes a challenge. Maybe he’s battled this lunatic many times before and he knows it really winds him up. Just go with it.
Sue: That TARDIS over there is on a set of castors.
Me: It must be one of the Toymaker’s fakes. Oh, sorry, it’s the real TARDIS. What do you want me to say?
Sue: When do we find out who this Toymaker person really is?
Me: Well, you kinda just did.
Sue: That’s it? That’s the explanation?
Me: He’s like a god. We’ll meet more beings like him as the series progresses. Just go with it. Actually, don’t go with it. Back away from it. Slowly.
Even after the Toymaker has been dispersed (“What a shockingly crap ending”), the Doctor makes a great deal of fuss about the imminent return of his nemesis.
Me: You probably won’t believe this but they almost made a sequel with Colin Baker and Michael Gough in the mid-80s. It was going to be set in Blackpool but they cancelled it.
Sue: Thank heavens for small mercies.
And then, after what feels like weeks of torture, The Celestial Toymaker is finally over.
Me and Sue: YAHROO!
Me: So, do you have anything to say about Innes Lloyd?
Sue: I’m not impressed. Bring back Verity. He should go and watch some old episodes to see what kind of programme he should be making. This wasn’t exactly Doctor Who, was it? Oh, and while we’re at it, Brian Hayles can sod off as well.top
The Final Score
Sue: Well that was complete shite. Do I have to give it a mark?
Me: I’m past caring, love. Do what you like.
And with that, Sue gives The Celestial Toymaker the n-word. Nowt.
Me: Bentham, the guy who claimed this story was a lost classic, described the next one as the worst Doctor Who story ever made. I thought you ought to know.
Sue: In that case, I’ll either love it or this is all over. I can’t go through another one like that. Life’s too short.
The experiment continues. For now…top
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