In Troughton’s absence, this episode aces the Bechdel Test: Zoe and Gia are the high brains of the operation, Jamie and Phipps the brawn as the plot to wrest control of the moonbase back from the Ice Warriors. Seasons Six and Seven are a bit of a high point for highly capable female companions. Zoe’s genius works when her Doctor is undisciplined and unstructured, but perhaps Liz’s is a bit less effective when Pertwee decided to play it straight rather than the odd, guitar-strumming hippy Sherwin envisaged.
The change to umbrella titles rather than individual episode names goes hand-in-hand with a different emphasis: no longer is this just the latest instalment of an adventure in space and time, it announces itself as the first part of a new serial. It’s possibly just coincidence that this feels different from, say, The Steel Sky – but the Doctor already knowing where he is, and the presence of a welcoming committee, mean that the element of exploration and world-building that have previously been the hallmarks of Hartnell ‘space’ stories aren’t really evident here.
Kate is magnificent: at the start of the episode, she sweeps in to save the day, waving a gun at the Clantons and putting the thugs in their place, before telling Dodo to vamoose, ordering Steven to play piano, and changing the mood entirely with her own, saucy rendition of The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon. She dominates the episode in a way most female characters don’t get to during this era of the show.
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.
In a strange way, the Monoids are a more compelling bunch of characters than the humans on the Ark. As they gossip between themselves, they share their worries and hopes for the future. One covets Refusis as ‘a new planet of our own where we can establish our own way of life’. He’s becoming a proper tin-pot dictator, gesticulating wildly and giving every impression he enjoys his position. His chief rival, Four, sees through his increasingly grandiose plans though – ‘Your orders? You have given too many and delivered them unwisely.’
The episode begins with a fairly weighty discussion on the morality of time travel, and the possibility that the TARDIS has been spreading deadly germs throughout time and space. ‘I don’t want to think about it, it’s too horrifying,’ says the Doctor, closing down any further discussion. So the question is never resolved. To an extent, it’s slightly pointless to raise such a significant idea only to leave it hanging, and I wonder if it’s part of an effort by Wiles and Tosh to question the ethics of the Doctor’s travels. As with The Family of Blood 40 years later, the audience is asked to consider if the Doctor didn’t land here, on a whim, would anybody have died? Neither Wiles nor RTD has an easy answer, but it’s clearly an idea that’s unsettled generations of producers.
After the doom and gloom of the last six weeks, this is a fantastic breath of fresh air. The opening is excellent: toucans and lizards hopping about a jungle, disturbed by the approach of an alien creature – the camera pans across and the TARDIS arrives. Out comes Dodo, full of beans, followed by a very grumpy Steven – both unaware of the alien creature stalking the forest.
As the episode opens, Steven has returned to Anne believing that he has seen the Doctor’s dead body, and begins a desperate search for the TARDIS key in Preslin’s shop. At which point, without a word of explanation, the Doctor turns up, and it quickly becomes clear that he wasn’t impersonating the Abbot.
‘Let us finish with this tedious business.’ There’s a lot of talk about French finances, foreign policy and family conflict in this episode, which is all very worthy, but and might even be gripping if the series were Game of Thrones and we were invested in any of these people – but many of them, including the feckless King, his scheming Queen Mother and the stolid Toligny – haven’t appeared before this episode.