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28 April 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 118: The Hall of Dolls (The Celestial Toymaker, Episode Two)

Dear diary,

This isn't, perhaps, going to be a popular statement… but I can see why The Celestial Toymaker spent so long being considered as one of the greats. Oi! Come back! Don't close the tab! Hear me out!

In the days when you can't see the story, or hear it (heck, even the novelisation wasn't released until June 1986, a little over twenty years from broadcast), this must have sounded brilliant. Take this episode, for example. If I were to describe it to you as Steven and Dodo having to choose the right chair, by using dolls to test them out, but six of the chairs have horrible consequences…

Oh, all right. It still sounds naff. But it shouldn't, because there's some quite creepy moments in here. One of the dolls gets cut clean in half when it's placed on a chair. Another is electrocuted as Dodo throws it up onto the chair. It doesn't sound great when you can hear it on the soundtrack, and it probably didn't look great to watch, but the idea of it… that's pretty solid.

Otherwise, I'm still not sure what to make of this story. This particular episode is usually the one that people hold up as being appalling because of the use of the 'n-word'. Obviously, it's not something that's comfortable to have in here, but it's a fact of the matter that it appeared this way at the time, 47 years ago, and that we've moved on from it. A friend made a good point the other day, though. Were this episode to be returned to the BBC's archives, what would they do about it? On the soundtrack it's covered by Purves' narration (indeed, I didn't even realise until later on that it had been spoken over), but the episode itself may not have that option. I'm guessing that the Restoration Team would just cover it cleverly in some way.

But setting that aside, I think I'm still more baffled by this story than I am actively bored by it. Today's episode was listened to while I did the washing up, and I spent most of the time wondering what on Earth they were thinking by making a story like this. It's really unlike anything that we've seen in the series, and it's not something that we'll ever really see again.

And then I got to thinking about the fact that people are always so keen to bring the Celestial Toymaker back. He's in one of the novels, a few of the Big Finish audios (played, superbly, by David Bailie. If you've not heard his performance then you really need to. Off to the Big Finish website with you!), the first of the Eighth Doctor's DWM comic strips. There was even a planned return to the programme in the 1980s (again, available from Big Finish now).

I couldn't get my head around why people were so keen to bring him back, but I think it is simply the fact that the idea behind him is a solid one. He's a God. A powerful God who gets terribly bored and draws people like the Doctor to his realm to entertain him. Done well (and this story perhaps isn't the best example of that), he could be a very good character.

And so we move to Episode Three. I'm still a little surprised by my own reaction to the story - as I said yesterday, I'd been dreading this one. Tomorrow's my last opportunity to picture the Toymaker's realm entirely in my mind as opposed to what I can see in the surviving final part, so hopefully it'll give me plenty of imagery that can only work well away from this serial's budget…

Next Episode: The Dancing Floor

Next Episode: The Dancing Floor 
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