Doctor Who — The Celestial Toymaker


Season 3 – Episode 7 – (1966)
Doctor: 1 – William Hartnell

John Wiles (the producer) has had enough and moves on and is replaced by Innes Lloyd (we will mention more key players than the producer in due course). The issue now is William Hartnell. His health problems are well known to all at this point and this issue prevents him from being able to remember his lines. This story represents the first possible exit point… Innes Lloyd had the idea that The Doctor would vanish and be replaced by someone else but it’s too jarring and likely rejected by the public. Elements of the idea remain but the first Doctor continues…

They arrive… well… I actually can’t tell you where… They’re out of time and space and in the domain as a figure known as the Celestial Toymaker. The Toymaker is played by acclaimed actor Michael Gough and he represents a Godlike figure who controls his own world. The Doctor leaves the TARDIS (still invisible but voiced by Hartnell) and they are trapped, in the Toymaker’s command.

The Toymaker makes hundreds of replicas of the TARDIS and presents his challenge… Dodo and Steven must complete a group of games. Each game gives the reward of a TARDIS, which may or may not be the real one. In the mean time the Doctor must play the “trilogic game”. It’s the one where you have to move a set of disks from pole A to pole C, moving one disk at a time and not stacking a larger disk on a smaller. It’s called the “Towers of Hanoi”. The Doctor must complete it without a false move, completing a stack of 10 in 1023 moves, while not stalling overtly in order as to not give the other two time.

I have to jump-in to mention that I was disappointed. I like a good game of logic but nothing is a real logic problem. The Doctor’s game is not a complicated problem in that there is an algorithm for minimum moves. If you have an even stack of counters, move AB-AC-BC- (there will only be one legal move) and iterate this until completion. (AC – AB – BC- iterated for odd). The companions’ games are just plot devices… you cannot solve as a viewer…

The Doctor is snarky, so the Toymaker reduces his presence to a hand making moves and if he stalls, the Toymaker can command automatic progression of the game to any move he chooses with a staccato command. William Hartnell took a lot of story as a holiday and this is very unsurprising. At this stage of production, Doctor Who ran for 48 of the 52 weeks in a year, with each episode being delivered, rehearsed and shot in a week. The episodes were then edited and in a fixed time afterwards. The lead characters have a tendency to just disappear for parts of a story.

Our story really follows Dodo and Steven playing games with the Toymaker’s playthings turned human. It is in one of these sequences that the King of Hearts utters the famous and unfortunate “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo” rhyme using a very unfortunate and blatant racial slur. I defend classic Doctor Who for having forward thinking attitudes… but they do sometimes leave me red-faced.


The final game is against a school-boy, Cyril, portrayed by a 45 year old Gerald Campion, who confuses everything by ad libbing his friends call him Billy. The BBC were forced into a continuity annoucement denying that the character was not a portrayal of the character Billy Bunter, from a BBC series also played by Campion… Such a mess. Cyril cheats at a game of hopscotch but then falls for his own trick and is electrocuted.

Finally the companions make it back to the real TARDIS and to the Doctor, whose form is restored. The Doctor has made it to the penultimate move, with a trivial step left. He takes Steven and Dodo and smugly enters The TARDIS. It cannot dematerialise without the game being finished. If the game finishes and the Toymaker’s realm disappears and the player with it. Thankfully with one brainwave, The Doctor engages a speaker and commands the game to finish with the same staccato tones that the Toymaker used. They material as the realm disappears and The Doctor smugly explains his victory before celebrating with a sweet, that breaks his tooth…

This story lives in both fame and infamy. The character of the Toymaker holds a place in some hearts and shows that The Doctor is not always the greatest being in the room. The character is incredibly racist, wearing yellow-face, being dressed and acting in a stereotypical fashion, and – believe it or not – the word Celestial is a slur used against Chinese emigrants in the 19th Century.

View it for the game story it is and try to move on from the past. Take it as a warning, though. Times change. That which is acceptable now will not be in decades time and this is a situation that constantly changes. Understand how we move forward and understand the past. Censorship is delicate but dynamic beast and perhaps we should all ponder how art (entertainment media) expresses itself. There is no right answer – directly – as if there was, we would have to accept objective morality. Complacency is a much deeper problem, though. Attitudes change rightly in order for groups to be heard. If we can think towards being equal as humanity rather than a given sex, gender, orientation, race or culture, we may just be on the right track but the road is long and winding.

Favourite Quotes:

  • The Toymaker: I’m bored. I love to play games but there’s no-one to play against. The beings who call here have no minds, and so they become my toys. But you will become my perpetual opponent. We shall play endless games together, your brain against mine.


7/10 (Its reputation scores it more than I can.)

Next time: It’s the old west and The Doctor looks for a dentist. It’s also a chance to hear the same song played about three hundred times. It was once the least popular episode of the series and consistently scores low. Is it terrible? Yeah, kind of…


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