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29 April 2013

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

Day 119: The Dancing Floor (The Celestial Toymaker, Episode Three)

Dear diary,

What on Earth must Dodo think she's walked in to? She took to the Ark and the Monoids and the idea of time/space travel pretty easily (I think she was mostly distracted by the TARDIS wardrobe), but now… The Celestial Toymaker is quite unlike anything that the programme has ever attempted before, and it's an odd introduction for her to life in the TARDIS so early in her journey.

In some ways, this seems to be Season Three's 'sideways' story (in the same way that The Edge of Destruction wasn't really a futuristic story, and the first episode of The Space Museum was an interesting idea in stepping sideways in time, before it became a tedious, cardigan-eating bore), but even when you think of it as being in the same bed as those two stories, it's something of a curiosity.

The first two episodes have just about skirted by on leaving me baffled by the time the end credits rolled. They weren't the most accomplished episodes in Doctor Who history, but they were just about passable. Eventually though - and really, that means 'today' - it wears a bit thin. It has helped that, because I'm not watching a recon, I can imagine these episodes looking however I want to. My only frame of reference is a dimly-remembered few bits of the fourth episode, but I've somewhat pushed those to the back of my mind while listening. Indeed, now I'm not sure how much of my memory of that episode is me remembering and how much is me making it up in my head.

The other thing that I keep coming back to (and you'll have to forgive me for bringing this up a third day running, but frankly I'm too bemused by this story to really write a great deal more) is that it could be a really dark and sinister piece. Between yesterday's episode and today's, I re-watched The End of the Line on the DVD for The Gunfighters. It's a documentary about the production of Doctor Who's Third Season (and, really, one of the best in the entire range - I've seen it three or four times already this year, and I'd not be surprised to find myself sticking it back on once I've finished with the season), and it goes into the rather torturous gestation of this tale.

The short version is that because this season saw the production team in a state of turbulence (three different producers and a few different script editors before the year is out), this story somewhat fell through the cracks, caught between two teams with very different ideas. It's the first script to be written by Brian Hayles, and a story is told in the documentary is that, having gotten about half-way through, Hayles called the production team and told them he didn't think he could continue with the script - because he was scaring himself writing it. Donald Tosh goes on to talk of how the story originally was all to do with playing with people's minds and manipulating them: and there's still a few elements of that in here.

It's clearest in Episode One, when Steven sees images of himself displayed on a screen. The Doctor tells him it's only displaying the images to him, and that it's drawing them from Steven's own mind. It would perhaps be interesting - and especially from a budget-saving point of view - to have the guest characters in this story drawn from Steven's mind, too. So we could have a Dhravin appear at one point, or a Dalek. Even a Monoid. That might be interesting enough. Imagine Steven and Dodo entering the Dancing Floor to find a group of Daleks sat there, guarding the TARDIS and dancing around. I'm sure Terry Nation would have vetoed it, but it's an interesting thought.

Then there's the idea that the contestants Steven and Dodo actually are playing against are people like them - who've become trapped here in the Toymaker's realm and are now playing for their freedom. It's an interesting idea, and while it starts to get explored here (with Steven and Dodo debating what they actually are). it never goes quite far enough for my liking.

The Toymaker himself is growing in potential for a character, too. There's a point here when he could be very sinister: telling two of his 'dolls' that if they fail him, he will break them. He demonstrates by smashing a plate, but it would be so much more effective had he broken another failed pawn.

And tomorrow, I move back into the world of the existing episode, so any opportunity to imagine how good this could look will be out the window, and I'll get a real eye-opener to the world of the Toymaker…

Next Episode: The Final Test

Next Episode: The Final Test 
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