The Celestial Toyroom

Sue: Is there anything I should know about this before we begin?
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 the Doctor Who Appreciation Society named their monthly magazine after the title of this episode.
Sue: Oh, in that case it must be good.

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, you should probably stop reading now.

Sue: Where the hell are we? Is this Earth?
Me: No.
Sue: So has the Doctor 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 meet him. This is supposed to be a grudge match. Just go with it.

The premise is simple – our heroes have to pit their wits against a series of deadly games in an environment that doesn’t actually exist. Or, as Sue succinctly puts it:

Sue: It isn’t exactly Tron, is it?

While the Doctor is pitted against the deadly Trilogic Game (which sounds impressive but looks like a clunky iPhone app), Steven and Dodo are bothered by some clowns. One of them is played by Carmen Silvera, aka Renee’s wife from ‘Allo! ‘Allo!, but Sue doesn’t recognise her under her heavy disguise, and Carmen’s voice is so high, you’d be mistaken for thinking she was trying to avoid being identified on purpose.

Sue: The actor playing the Toymaker is very familiar.
Me: It’s Michael Gough. You probably know him best as Alfred the Butler from the Batman movies.
Sue: It’s funny you should say that – this story reminds me of Batman a lot.
Me: Holy macaroni with pepper jack, Susan!
Sue: I’m serious, Neil. This set – especially this obstacle course – is very comic book. The clowns remind me of the Joker, too, 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.

The Toymaker delights in taunting his opponents.

Sue: Is the Toymaker an omnipotent Jeff Probst?
Me: Approximately three people will get that reference, love. And two of them are us. Actually, this set does remind me of the TV version of Batman.
Sue: I told you so. 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.
Me: What?
Sue: I think I saw this episode when it first went out.
Me: You’re pulling my leg.
Sue: It definitely rings a bell. I think it freaked me out at the time.

And there we have it. Sue’s first memory of Doctor Who. We think. She may be confusing it with Andy Pandy. She would have been four years old at the time.

Me: This explains a lot.
Sue: If you mean this is why I never watched another episode of Doctor Who, you’re probably right.

The Hall of Dolls

Sue: I’m guessing Hartnell is on holiday again this week, now that he’s invisible. How convenient. Can’t they make Dodo mute while they’re at it?
Me: 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 got around that later?
Me: God only knows. Maybe they’d have got Michael Gough back when 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 sick on the stress. Did he know that they wanted to get rid of him?
Me: I think he 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 massive dolls.

Me: I bet this isn’t the first time Steven’s 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…

When the King of Hearts chooses a chair to sit on, he recites a well-known nursery rhyme to help him reach his decision. Or does he? The recon we have at our disposal is excellent. It doesn’t feature Peter Purves’ narration (the usual method for hiding the rhyme in question), but we still can’t hear it. The dialogue has been filtered out until the King sounds like he’s mumbling under his breath. I could (and probably should) let it go, but 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… here.
Sue: NO WAY!

Yes way. It’s the n-word.

Sue: Could you say that on children’s television in 1966?
Me: No.

And while we’re on the subject…

Me: Which nationality do you think the Toymaker is?
Sue: I thought he was an alien?
Me: Okay, let’s assume that he’s taken human form – which nationality is he?
Sue: British?
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 Sandifer’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 the first episode was called ‘The Chinese Toyroom’? It didn’t look very Chinese to me. In fact, it looked British.
Me: So it isn’t racist?
Sue: Oh, it’s undeniably dodgy. They wouldn’t have had edited that dialogue if it wasn’t. 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 years, Doctor Who fans seriously believed that this was a classic.
Sue: Piss off!
Me: It’s true! Back in the day, when you couldn’t see the old episodes, not even as recons, you had to rely on the memories of the people who actually saw them when they were broadcast.
Sue: I saw it and I can confirm it was rubbish.
Me: These guys were old and wise. 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 wrote about them was called Jeremy Bentham.
Sue: That name rings a bell.
Me: You’re thinking of Lost, aren’t you?
Sue: Yes! That’s it!

I sigh.

Me: That connection is far too complicated to get into now. I’ll explain later. In bed. Anyway, the other Bentham wrote this review where 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 fabulous, so it was easy to believe.

Sue’s gobsmacked. She can’t get her head around this.

Me: And then, in the 1990s, people finally got to see the surviving episode, and that’s when doubts began to creep in. The doubts subsequently turned to disappointment, and then the disappointment turned to loathing. I think the consensus now is that The Celestial Toymaker lies somewhere between paedophilia 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 their magazine Genesis of the Daleks instead?

The Dancing Floor

Me: I can’t do this.
Sue: Come on, it isn’t that bad. It’s only 20 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.
Me: I can’t. I just can’t. Do we have to?
Sue: We’ve skipped two days already. I can’t remember what happened in the last episode.
Me: Don’t worry, exactly the same thing will happen in this episode: **** ALL!

No, I didn’t mix up the names when I transcribed that exchange.

Steven and Dodo’s next game involves a cryptic clue (“This is very 3-2-1”), and a missing key. The action takes place in a kitchen, where two characters from a storybook have been brought to life. To bicker, mainly.

Sue: I’ve definitely seen this episode before; I can remember the soldier and the cook, Mrs Wiggins. The key is in the pie, by the way.

She’s right. Then again, the key’s location is so obvious, a four-year-old child could work 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 they throw at Peter Purves, he always takes it on the chin.
Sue: Either this dance sequence looked really spooky or it looked really silly. Probably not as silly as So, You Think You Can Dance?, though.
Me: Or as spooky.

When the episode reaches its conclusion, I turn to Sue and notice she’s fast asleep. I don’t have the heart to wake her.

The Final Test

Moving images. Maybe this 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 little.

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. Yet.

And then, as if by magic, William Hartnell returns from his exile.

Sue: So in a parallel universe that’s Patrick Troughton?

Just when Dodo and Steven appear to have lost their latest 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!”), although the reason given for his death is even more surreal.

Sue: Slippery powder? I’ve never heard it called that before.
Me: Some sort of powder was definitely used 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 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 an amazingly crap ending”), the Doctor makes a great deal of fuss about the imminent return of his nemesis.

Me: You won’t believe this but they almost made a sequel to this story 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 months of torture, The Celestial Toymaker is finally over.

Me and Sue: YAHROO!
Me: So, do you want to say anything about Innes Lloyd?
Sue: I’m not impressed. Bring back Verity Lambert. He should watch some old episodes to see what kind of programme it is he should be making. That wasn’t exactly Doctor Who, was it? Oh, and while we’re at it, Brian Hayles can sod off as well.

The 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 then Sue gives The Celestial Toymaker the n-word. Nowt.


Me: Bentham, the guy who claimed that this story was a lost classic, described the next one as the worst Doctor Who ever made. I just thought you ought to know.
Sue: In that case, I’ll either love it to bits or this experiment is over. I can’t go through another one like that. Life’s too short.