At the conclusion to The Bomb, the Doctor was rendered invisible and intangible by a mysterious external force that threatened the TARDIS. At the beginning of this episode he’s restored to normal, for a time, before again being made invisible and intangible by his opponent, the Celestial Toymaker. Meanwhile, Steven and Dodo take turns playing a game of Blind Man’s Buff with some clowns. This kind of repetition doesn’t bode well.
Unlike the normal approach of exploring a new world and learning about it, the Doctor quickly understands he’s stumbled back into the lair of the Toymaker. He rattles off, in a slightly stumbling way, the salient points – the Toymaker is a power of evil who captures people in his traps and makes them into his playthings. It’s the first of many explanations in the episode, establishing the rules of the various challenges – particularly the Trilogic Game.
While the Doctor moves blocks around a board, Steven and Dodo at least get to play more adventurous games. The first, an assault course with a rope swing and various obstacles, sounds vaguely amusing and was probably entertaining enough to watch for kids, although stripped of the possibility of failure that makes a TV game show like It’s a Knockout worth watching it’s hard to get that excited.
And, to be fair, it’s even harder to get a sense of this on audio than most missing episodes. So much of The Celestial Toyroom sounds like it relies on spectacle – the Toymaker’s creepy Victorian nursery; Steven trying to navigate an assault course; the production line of TARDISes; the darkening of the assault course as the Clowns lose the game, and their temporary animation – rather than dialogue. Although Clara the Clown’s incessant high-pitched laughter, Joey’s honk-honking and the noise of the buzzer makes the assault course sequence sound quite uncomfortable.
Most intriguing are the snippets of the regulars’ past that lurk round the edges of the story. Presumably the Doctor’s first encounter with the Toymaker occurred before he met Ian and Barbara, giving us one of the occasional hints of his pre-series adventures. The Toymaker’s Memory Window shows Steven images of his recent past, including clips from The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre (if only this episode had survived instead of The Final Test). Dodo’s glimpse of herself on the day of her mother’s death is a rare bit of backstory for her – and an indication of how cruel the Toymaker’s inventions are.
Next episode: The Hall of Dolls