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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker

Serial Title: The Celestial Toymaker

Series: 3

Episodes: 4
The Celestial Toy Room
The Hall of Dolls
The Dancing Floor
The Final Test

Doctor: William Hartnell

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

The Doctor vanishes from the control room immediately after leaving the Ark- however, this is not the work of Solar Flares, but of the sinister super-being, the Celestial Toymaker. A powerful super-being in the tradition of Star Trek’s Trelane or Q (though predating them both), the Toymaker is not a man-child- but rather an intellectual equal with the Doctor, and an old foe- one that enjoys games, toys, and dolls as part of his bidding (NFS (Notes From Sarah): So your usual...psychopathic....type...guy). He has phenomenal mental and physical powers with which he created this false world (clearly granted to him by Solar Flares).

The Doctor is whisked away to play a game of tri-logic (very similar to the real world Tower of Hanoi puzzle), a strategic game to be completed in exactly 1,023 moves (with no errors in any of them), while Steven and Dodo are forced to play through a series of life-size games with animate, person-sized dolls (that cheat)- each time rewarded with a TARDIS fa├žade that may or may not be the real thing. They must keep playing until they reach the real one. Failure will mean death, or worse- an eternity imprisoned as the Toymaker’s plaything- becoming one of the dolls (NFS: That's terrible!!! That probably means that all the cheating dolls are poor people who couldn't make it out of there!). Likewise, if the Doctor finishes his game before Steven and Dodo succeed, they all lose- and the Toymaker uses automated voice commands to jump the Tri-logic game forward by any number of moves to prevent the Doctor from playing slowly.

As the Doctor and the Toymaker match wits (the Toymaker becoming annoyed enough to reduce the Doctor to invisibility and intangibility in all but the hand needed to play the game, and then later removing his voice,) Steven and Dodo face their challenges.

Dodo and Steven with a Fake Tardis
The first is a blindfolded obstacle course version of Blind Man’s Bluff, in which one is directed by the voice of their partner- opposing the TARDIS Team are a pair of clowns, who cheat terribly- altering the obstacle course as Steven is navigating it, trying to cause him to lose his balance and fall off. Eventually, after a narrow stalemate, Steven wins the second round by applying the same tactics to the clowns (NFS: No wonder this show has a dim view of Clowns...they cheat.). Their reward… is a fake TARDIS. (NFS: Hey...i'd take a fake TARDIS.)

Next up is a strange puzzle containing 7 chairs- 6 of which are lethally booby-trapped. Their opponents are personified versions of classic playing cards- the King, Queen, Jack (Knave), and Jester. They are given three life-size-but-inert dolls to test the chairs- eliminating a few, but not enough. Dodo chooses the wrong chair, triggering a freezing trap- but Steven manages to pull her free in time to save her life- a bit of a cop-out, if you ask this reviewer ( you think that was a cop-out?). Regardless, dolls are vibrated to death (NFS: I am betting that's as unpleasant as it sounds), electrocuted, sliced in half, and vaporized- between the dolls and Dodo’s actions, only two chairs remain. The King and Queen- electing to face their fate together, whatever it may be, pick a chair- and choose wrong. (NFA (Note from Andrew): And in this humanizing moment of courage and love and unity in the face of death... pretty much imply that, yes, they are all indeed captives of some sort and real people.) Steven and Dodo receive another lemon TARDIS- as the opposing team reverts to playing cards- and continue onwards.
A Toy Train? Or a SINISTER Toy Train?!

Their third challenge is a kitchen with a locked door, populated by a matronly cook, Mrs. Wiggs, and a stuffy old retired Sergeant, Sgt. Rugg (who looks like the king from the previous game). Their job is to search the entire kitchen for the key. As Steven grows more agitated at the characters (NPCs, for those of you in the RPG world), Dodo continues to treat them like human beings, receiving Rugg’s help. The characters are diverted, squabbling amongst themselves- with the addition of a lazy kitchen boy who looks like the Jack/Knave- but Steven and Dodo persevere as one of the characters inadvertently reveals the importance of the pie in which the key is hidden by fearing for its safety.

Steven and Dodo slip through the door and onto a dance floor populated by three Ballerina dolls, and are cornered by the three Kitchen characters- possibly other prisoners of the Toymaker playing for a chance at freedom, or true dolls playing for a chance at being made permanently alive- who goad them forward.

Safety lies on the other side of the dance floor, but when Steven enters, music takes control of him, forcing him to dance. Dodo is forced onto the dance floor, as are Rugg and Wiggs, who want to reach the other side first and win- with only three ballerinas to serve as partners, four dancers are shuffled, swapping from partner to partner in the rotation- when Steven and Dodo manage to pair up, neither led by a ballerina, they are able to control their own dance and dance themselves off the dance floor and to the safety of another false TARDIS.

Next, the two are confronted by a simple board game, with dice to roll and spaces to move... made less simple in that the spaces- platforms that must be hop-scotched to- are the only safe ground over a deadly electrified floor. (NFS: Ah the old electrified floor game, an old standby...although usually it's Lava when I play it.) Their opponent? A chubby, bratty man-child in a schoolboy’s outfit named Cyril, who cheats horrendously (NFS: And who is as annoying as he sounds!!!). As the Doctor closes in on the end of his Tri-logic game, the board game begins.

Cyril uses all manner of tricks and rules of the game (invented on the spot) to try and trick, bully, or trap Dodo and Steven- fright masks, slingshots, back-to-start rules for almost every action… Dodo’s compassion is used against her- even as her roll which should carry her to the end is interrupted so that she can look after the injured Cyril, who sends her back to start for her trouble, his injury manufactured with red ink. However, he gets his comeuppance at the end- rolling a winning number and charging forth gleefully onto the space Dodo was headed for… and slipping on his own forgotten sprinkled powder, a trap that Dodo never reached, and falling to a grisly death on the electrified floor. 

The Celestial Toymaker
The Doctor has reached move 1022 of 1023, but Steven and Dodo have achieved their victory, and won the real TARDIS. The group flees into the TARDIS, but cannot take off, held there by the power of the Toymaker… in defeat, his created world will cease to exist in an explosive cataclysm- but until the Doctor makes his 1,023rd move and wins the Tri-logic game, the Toymaker is not yet defeated. The sore loser demands that the Doctor come out, make the final move, and perish in the destruction of the Toymaker’s world.

The Doctor prepares the TARDIS for takeoff, and then, emulating the Toymaker’s voice, orders the Tri-logic game to advance to the final move from inside the TARDIS, dematerializing to safety as the game makes the automated move, ending the game, and destroying the Toymaker’s world. 

The Celestial Toymaker becomes the new prize-winner for 'greatest travesty that it is lost,' as the first three out of 4 episodes are missing- and this is a largely visual story. The reconstruction clearly does not do it justice in the slightest.

That said, I found it to be interesting, intellectually stimulating, and possessed of a very clever ending solution. While it had it's maddening moments, it was what I heard described as "A good kind of frustrating"- the kind that you feel with the characters, instead of at the writers.

The story is most unusual, with the main villain of the Toymaker being somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek's Q, or perhaps Who spin-off "Sarah Jane Adventures"'s Trickster. A standard fun-house-gone-amuck romp, the story nonetheless presents an interesting set of puzzles, and maintains a healthy tension, a tinge of desperation, and a dollop of aggravation as the characters face an absurd, silly, yet undoubtedly lethal set of deadly puzzles for no reason other than the whim of a cruel maniac. (NFS: Which kind of reminds ME of a Batman the Animated Series type story line....speaking of Batman it's interesting to note that the Celestial Toymaker is played by Michael Gough who played Alfred in four of the Batman Movies.)

Each episode ends with a rhyming riddle, and clue to the next episode. Sets are minimal- simply set dressing a black void, very theatrical- the whole thing has a new and different mood- both fun and sinister at the same time, just as the Toymaker himself is.

And speaking of the Toymaker, his implied past history with the Doctor is a nice and intriguing layer to the episode's plot.

The ancillary villains, on the other hand, are a little goofy- with their articulated feelings, very strange (for the show) sitcom behavior, and the ongoing argument between Dodo and Steven as to whether to empathize with them or ignore them is an odd little philosophical aside... all of these feel like elements of a larger story (and somewhat New Who reminiscent as well)... but for the fact that none of them actually lead anywhere, remaining unresolved at story's end without having really affected the plot.

The Doctor was rather absent here- specifically so in the middle chapters so that William Hartnell could vacation- but his general upper-hand superiority was rather fun to watch. He uses a voice-trick for the second time to defeat his enemies (the first being in The Chase.) Along with his mysterious door-opening, hypnosis repelling/controlling blue signet ring (The Web Planet, The War Machines, Daleks Master Plan, etc.), these are two of Hartnell’s signature talents, mysteries left unexplained and talents not awarded to any other Doctor- leaving Hartnell, at the end of his run, a man of mystery and an incarnation of the Doctor with mysterious and unique powers- fitting, I say, for the man who began it all.

Steven gets most of the action bits here, and Dodo the character bits- her empathy for the Toymaker's dolls being both a point of argument and a trick used against her- still, she probably fairs the strongest of the three here, as the other two merely react. As with most action-stories, the focus is more on the situation than the characters. The older I get, the less I find I prefer the former.

Overall, this story had the 'quirky funhouse' feeling that most sci-fi shows try to do at least once- but its villain, implied to be on an equal level with the Doctor- makes it stand out... and I daresay that the various traps and puzzles might be rather exciting... were we able to see them in color ( to mention if we were able to see a lot of them actually ya know...MOVE). It’s still one of my favorites of the season- but is sadly the most forgettable of the favorites due to its piecemeal status.

Great moments:
Final victory and the destruction of the Toymaker’s World- heavy stock footage, but cool nonetheless! Also, ending each story with the printed riddle was a nice touch.

3.5 out of 5 Time Destructors for the Celestial Toymaker- I suspect a motion version might attract even higher, as I did like this one- but this was a largely visual story, and as it stands, too many of those visuals are lost, causing the whole affair to be somewhat lackluster- or more so than it would be otherwise. Likewise, 1.5, out of 5 Time Destructors for the recreation effort. They did the best they could with what they had- but they didn't have much. And frankly, even Galaxy 4 (and yes, I think it's obligatory that I must reference that in every Series 3 review) with it's mist-over-aliens shots, seemed more inspired than this. It just felt like they didn't really care.

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