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14 August 2015 @ 08:10 pm
The Randomiser: The Celestial Toymaker  
The Celestial Toymaker is the kind of story that feels uniquely first Doctor. There is something about it that speaks of a time when the show really didn't know what sort of a show it was and was prepared to experiment far more widely. Having said that, this tale of a magical toymaker (mysteriously and inexplicably dressed in a Chinese-style outfit) who seeks to imprison travellers by forcing them to play children's games until they lose has many similarities with The Mind Robber from Patrick Troughton's era. Still, I don't think we've seen anything like this since the 1960s.

It is interesting, in that context, that the story stops short of presenting the Toymaker as actually magical, even though to all intents and purposes he is. He is described away as a vastly powerful and indestructible being (but not magical) and the Doctor's victory is limited to destroying his realm which, the Doctor acknowledges, can be rebuilt (the show must have been considering the Toymaker as a recurring baddie). However a line in which the show acknowledges the existence of the mystical and magical which could easily have been crossed in these early days, is flirted with but left obscure.

Given its unique nature, I wish I had liked this better but I couldn't help feeling that, even within the context of 1960s pacing, the story could have used two fewer episodes. The basic premise, built in part around the need to give William Hartnell a holiday, was that in each episode Steven and Dodo must play a game against some children's characters (e.g. a blindfold obstacle race against clowns). Most of the games have a deadly element (generally in the form of electified floors or chairs) and the Toymaker's puppets variously cheat but often lose, as Dodo points out, because of the human failings that have travelled with them from their lives before they were turned into toys. Meanwhile the Doctor plays the Trilogic game. If Steven and Dodo finish all their games before the Doctor finishes his then they will be free to go. The Toymaker renders the Doctor mute and invisible for most of the story (hence allowing William Hartnell to be elsewhere) and is inclined to advance the progress of the Trilogic game automatically if he feels the Doctor is going too slowly. So basically every episodes consists largely of Steven and Dodo playing a game against some toys, winning through, only to discover there is another game to go. Meanwhile the Toymaker comments upon this to the empty space where William Hartnell is supposed to be and a disembodied hand moves triangles about. This feels quite tired as a format by the end of the first episode. The game-playing nature of the challenges also reduces Steven and Dodo to more or less juvenille versions of themselves. This feels like a story aimed squarely at the children in the audience with little consideration for the adults.

As an aside, the Trilogic game is, rather obviously, the Tower of Hanoi, which isn't that difficult to solve once you know the basic pattern of moves. I'd sort of forgive the story for bigging up something fairly simple as this fiendish logical game if it had bothered to explain how you solve it (which wouldn't have been out of place in early Doctor Who) but it doesn't. It's a bit like Star Trek's 3D chess turning out to be Noughts and Crosses.

The Celestial Toymaker not actively bad. By the lights of its time it is well acted and looks pretty good. But it is dull, and childish even for Doctor Who.

metanews coding: <a href=http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/167311.html>The Randomiser: The Celestial Toymaker</a> (DW) <i>Discussion of a first Doctor story</i>

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/167311.html.