Something I’m appreciating as I watch The Celestial Toymaker episode by episode are the performances of Carmen Silvera and Campbell Singer as the Toymaker’s various animated dolls, cards and fairy tale characters. While Michael Gough tends to get the attention, Silvera and Singer are the heart of the story – The Hall of Dolls‘ haughty queen and absent-minded king are now a homely cook and a blustering soldier. Through them, we understand, as Dodo comes to see, that the Toymaker’s servants are his victims, and their humanity makes them perhaps too kind to make Steven and Dodo’s tasks impossible. Without Silvera and Singer, this would be a much flatter episode.
As it is, this is fairly weak. The game of Find the Key isn’t as interesting as the deadly chairs, and the dancing floor itself, while a creepy idea, is quickly conquered. As such, the episode consists of about 15 minutes of Steven looking through drawers while Dodo flatters Sergeant Rugg into helping her, before the whole thing descends into a food fight. It’s certainly the slightest episode since The Feast of Steven.
Hartnell is entirely absent from the episode – again, represented by a hand moving around game pieces. The Trilogic Game remains the weak link: however much Michael Gough tries to make it a gripping test of intellect, it’s just not very interesting watching blocks move about. And denied a true opponent to spar with, the Toymaker is reduced to a sinister Ed Tudor-Pole, flitting round the edges of Steven and Dodo’s challenges, passing sarcastic comment and critiquing his own players for their failure (and making a mess of the kitchen).
At least the limited number of Trilogic Game moves the Doctor is allowed (1,023) means that an end is in sight – by the end of the episode he’s got to move 902. When other 1960s TV shows, like The Avengers, did oddball nursery episodes they could wrap the whole thing up in 50 minutes. The Celestial Toymaker is twice that, and it’s starting to sag.
Next episode: The Final Test