The final test turns out to be a board game. Which is, at least, more fun than last episode‘s challenges. Jumping about between spaces above an electrified floor is an easy danger to understand, and the kind of fun game children play anyway. Equally, Cyril, with his sly and murderous pranks, is a more dangerous opponent than the Hearts or Mrs Wiggs and Sergeant Rugg.
Cyril’s horrible death – and the charred doll-corpse he leaves behind – suggests the earlier episodes (with their own gruesome traps) were equally nasty. There are plenty of similarly grisly touches through the whole story – including tiny dolls’ chairs prepared for Steven and Dodo. Perhaps this story was as darkly menacing as something like The Avengers‘ The House that Jack Built.
The darkness and horror that underlie the Toymaker’s domain tap into a very 1960s theme of the mysterious borderland between childishness and adulthood, a doll’s house of charming and sinister bric-a-brac. The idea of grownups trying to tap into their childhood, and managing to capture the image but not the innocence, is an aesthetic evident in various TV and film from the period, including The Prisoner and Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly. This makes The Celestial Toymaker one of the most authentically late-Sixties Doctor Who stories. Certainly Cyril, evidently a grown man playing at being a schoolboy (Steven comments on it), is a more disturbing creation than almost anything else in the Hartnell era, and the melancholy and regret in the story haunt even Dodo: ‘This is really a very sad place.’
Unfortunately, any thematic complexity bumps up against the reality of making an episode a week ‘as live’. There are several fluffs, mainly from Hartnell, who’s had a fortnight off and has not brought his A-game. He over-talks both Gough and Purves, and his laboured explanation of his final trick is painful. You can almost see why Wiles and Tosh wanted to write him out, and to have used this opportunity to introduce a new Doctor (apparently the face change would have been a consequence of his enforced invisibility).
The episode is, again, largely carried by Peter Purves, who is brilliant – sparring with Cyril and taking a swing at the Toymaker. He even gets to set the coordinates in the TARDIS, while the Doctor displays a previously unexploited gift for mimicry (Big Finish should snap him up for The Celestial Toymaker Adventures)
As for the Toymaker: he spends most of the four episodes talking to himself (having rendered the Doctor invisible and inaudible), but gets his best moments towards the end of The Final Test, when he snippily admits he is a bad loser, and tries to tempt the Doctor with his power to corrupt and destroy. Michael Gough, not always the most subtle performer, does a good job of switching between the polite veneer and the brutal, cruel monster underneath. And the script establishes him as a semi-mythic opponent for the Doctor, positing a ‘battle that will never end’ between the two of them: a taster of the ‘enmity of ages’ between the Doctor and the Master. He’s certainly a more credible Moriarty than the Monk. You can see why he lodged in fandom’s collective memory.
I was dreading hitting The Celestial Toymaker on this pilgrimage, but it is much better than I remembered (having only seen the The Final Test in isolation). The weakest episodes are the first and the third – where the games are witless and Steven and Dodo’s opponents are less memorable. The story is too long, but it’s also memorably sinister and horrific. And it ends with a great cliffhanger – a last present from the Toymaker as the Doctor doubles over in pain…
Next episode: Holiday for the Doctor