Tuesday, 19 September 2017
Inspirations - The Celestial Toymaker
This is the first story to be produced by Innes Lloyd - according to the end credits at least - and the first to be written by Brian Hayles (which means that the story editor has had a lot of input). It was commissioned by Gerry Davis' predecessor - Donald Tosh.
The series hadn't done all-out fantasy before, so Tosh was looking for something with a surreal or absurdist streak.
As a starting point, Hayles and Tosh looked to a play by the name of George and Margaret. This was written by Gerald Savory, and was made into a movie in 1940, and if you take a look at the cast list you might notice that there's no-one named George or Margaret in it. That's because this pair of characters are expected throughout the play but never turn up. (It should be noted that Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot wouldn't premiere until 1953).
Tosh thought it would be a good idea if George and Margaret did turn up in Hayles' story. They ran their ideas past the BBC's Head of Drama, and he was happy initially. His name - Gerald Savory. However, once he saw the draft script outlines he got cold feet. This is when Gerry Davis stepped in and performed a total rewrite. Hayles was paid off, but allowed to keep the credit.
The plan was for the Doctor to embark on a battle of wills against his most powerful foe to date. This character became the Celestial Toymaker - an immortal, amoral being who played sadistic games. Those who failed would be turned into his playthings for all eternity.
Whilst he was still involved, ex-producer John Wiles had come up with an idea to get rid of William Hartnell, who had been making his life a misery. The fantastical element of this story meant that the Doctor could be rendered invisible and mute by the Toymaker, then brought back as an entirely different actor. The BBC top brass decided not to remove Hartnell - at least not yet. There is a rumour that he was issued a new contract by accident, and they couldn't go back on it.
The Toymaker - played by Michael Gough - is based on the Victorian / Edwardian magicians who dressed in Mandarin costumes - usually British or American, but pretending to be Chinese. Gough clearly isn't playing the Toymaker as Chinese, and there's no make-up to make him look Asian. Just compare with Kevin Stoney's make-up as Mavic Chen.
Some of these stage magicians favoured the turban - such as Alexander "Who Knows All" - to show how they had learned their craft from eastern mystics, but an American named William Ellsworth Robinson took on the guise of a Chinaman named Chung Ling Soo. He's best remembered for the end of his career, when he was shot dead on stage during his famous catch-a-bullet act (at the Wood Green Empire, in March 1918).
Spelt with a capital 'C', Celestial meant relating to China or its people - hence the Victorian magician's outfit. He's an immortal god-like being, so is just putting this look on for the benefit of the Doctor, Steven and Dodo.
One of the problems of the earlier drafts was that Steven and Dodo had little to do. With the Doctor made invisible and mute, allowing Hartnell a holiday, the companions are brought to the fore. They are the ones who have to play the games against the Toyroom characters to win back the TARDIS. The same four actors play all of these. The principal pair - Campbell Singer and Carmen Silvera - had been cast originally as George and Margaret, but now play the King and Queen of Hearts, Joey and Clara the clowns, and Sgt Rugg and Mrs Wiggs.
Inspiration for much of the episodes comes from children's games. Clara and Joey compete with Steven and Dodo in a sort of obstacle course - having to avoid touching the floor. Steven and Joey are blindfolded for this - so Blind Man's Buff (sometimes Bluff). Against the Hearts Family - based on the traditional playing card "face cards" - they play a form of musical chairs. Except there isn't any music, and they have to avoid the chairs rather than grab one. All the chairs are deadly, bar one. Peter Stephens is the Knave of Hearts, and he also plays another couple of characters later.
The next game is Hunt the Thimble - in this case the key to get through a door to the next challenge, hidden somewhere in Mrs Wigg's kitchen. Sgt Rugg's outfit comes from the Napoleonic Wars, and he mentions the Duke of Wellington. Mrs Wiggs appears to come out of Victorian literature - the sort of incidental character beloved of Charles Dickens. She could equally be a character from the Happy Families card game.
The first three episodes of The Celestial Toymaker are lost - some would say mercifully so. The kitchen episode on audio comprises about 15 minutes of crockery smashing, so I don't think we are missing much. For the final game, Steven and Dodo are pitched against an obnoxious schoolboy named Cyril (Stephens again). He's clearly based on Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School, the character who featured in The Magnet comic between 1908 and 1940. He was created by Frank Richards (pen name of Charles Hamilton), who some see as a possible inspiration for the Master of the Land of Fiction in The Mind Robber - the only other occasion they go for fantasy in the 1960's. After part four, in which he appears, the BBC continuity announcer had to state that the likeness was unintentional. Bunter was played on TV by Gerald Campion between 1952 - 1961. Campion appears in the never-finished Shada.
The game Steven and Dodo play against Cyril is a form of roll-the-dice game - like Snakes & Ladders - only over an electrified floor. Cyril refers to it as "TARDIS Hopscotch".
The Doctor, meanwhile, has been playing his own game - the Trilogic Game. This is based on the real Tower of Hanoi puzzle. You move a pyramid of discs around three pegs, one at a time and not allowing a larger disc to go on top of a smaller one, until the pyramid is rebuilt on peg 3. There is a legend that in a Brahmin temple in India, some priests are playing a version with 64 discs, and that when the final move is made the world will end. Apparently the mathematical solution for the minimal number of moves is 2 to the power of x minus 1, where x = the number of discs.
Harnell comes back from his holidays in time to end his game - except that to make the final move will cause the Toyroom to vanish, with he and his companions still in it. Steven gives him the idea of making the move by imitating the Toymaker's voice from the safety of the TARDIS.
The Doctor expects a rematch, but the Toymaker never returned to televised Doctor Who. He was due back during Colin Baker's tenure, in a story called "The Nightmare Fair", to be played again by Michael Gough, but the series was rested for a year and came back with the Trial format instead. The Toymaker has featured in audio stories.
Next time - there's another Holliday for the Doctor. People keep giving him guns and he wishes they wouldn't. Steven has Regrets whilst Dodo tickles some ivories, and everyone's in the Last Chance Saloon - in more ways than one...