Doctor Who
The Celestial Toymaker

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Radio Collection
ISBN 0 563 47855 1
Available now

The Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves in the realm of the Celestial Toymaker, a powerful alien entity who delights in forcing innocent victims to play his apparently childish - but entirely lethal - games...

This unusual story has long been cherished by fans as a classic, largely due to the surreal central concept that sets it apart from every other Hartnell serial. (Curiously, however, similarly "oddball" stories made during Sylvester McCoy's tenure would not be so warmly received.) Certainly there is an interesting mismatch of tones going on here, as comical characters such as the King and Queen of Hearts (Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera) and Sergeant Rugg and Mrs Wiggs (Singer and Silvera again) prove a nuisance to the TARDIS travellers in the midst of deadly situations. The mysterious Toymaker, underplayed with casual menace by Michael Gough, also provides some intrigue as he and the Doctor speak of a previous encounter that was never seen on TV (but which was ultimately realised in Gary Russell's excellent novel, Divided Loyalties).

Ironically, and unfortunately, much of the appeal of this story, of which only the final episode exists on video (released as part of the Hartnell Years tape), is visual. Gimmicks such as an invisible Doctor, miming clowns (Singer and Silvera yet again) and people-sized puzzle games are all but lost on audio. Only the Fort Boyard-style intrigue of the games' cryptic clues is adequately conveyed. We are even denied banter between the Doctor and the Toymaker during two whole episodes as the former is rendered mute to allow Hartnell to take a holiday.

Thus the focus of the story is turned upon companions Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane), as they engage in a repetitive series of contests against the Toymaker's playthings. The story structure follows a formulaic pattern of one game being played against a different set of characters in each of the four episodes. Little is made of the sad fates of the Toymaker's pawns, even though they are his unwilling victims every bit as much as Steven or Dodo. There is some pathos in the "pact" ultimately chosen by the King and Queen, and Dodo shows some sympathy for the playthings, but her views are continually disparaged by a particularly pig-headed Steven. One wonders how Purves, who also narrates this double CD, felt about hearing his performance again.

At this stage in the programme's history, individual serials were usually bridged by cliffhanger endings. This audio presentation opens with an extended recap from the previous adventure, The Ark, which is extremely helpful to listeners who haven't watched that particular story recently. This device, which is also used on this month's other double CD, The Moonbase, creates an effective pre-credits teaser, and is something that would certainly have benefited some of the BBC's video releases of 1960s stories.

For all its failings, The Celestial Toymaker makes interesting listening, especially for those who have seen the fourth episode and wondered, "what happened first?..."

Richard McGinlay