I had hoped that I would be writing up four Hartnell stories this weekend, rather than three; but because the thieves who stole my laptop have also got my DVD of The Web Planet, you’ll have to settle for this smaller selection.
This meshes nicely with the shifting relationship between the Doctor on one hand and Ian and Barbara on the other, plus Barbara’s romantic spark with the locals. At the start of the story he is throwing them out of the TARDIS (I haven’t seen The Sensorites, the immediately preceding story, so not sure what has led to this). But by the end they have all bonded again, and the final exchange between the Doctor and Ian is a treat, as the screen dissolves from the TARDIS crew changing out of their 1790s costumes into a receding field of stars:
Ian: And what are we going to see and learn next, Doctor?
Doctor: Well, unlike the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it!
Locals and Vikings clash in a not especially original but at least not utterly stupid way. But Peter Butterworth as the Monk is very watchable, and his exchanges with the Doctor are great fun. The script is in general pretty good – I didn’t even notice that Hartnell was off-screen for the whole of episode 2. We also have Steven, who sneaked onto the TARDIS at the end of The Chase, being the first new companion to boggle at it in disbelief since Ian and Barbara right back at the beginning (Vicki takes it very much in her stride at the end of The Rescue). But then we all boggle in disbelief and shock when he and Vicki enter the Monk’s sarcophagus and find that inside, it is the same as the Doctor’s. Our hero is Not Alone.
No snappy dialogue to finish the story this time, but a nice set of arty film shots of Steven, Vicki and the Doctor’s faces over a star field, before the music starts.
I had been very much looking forward to this one on the basis of fan lore and the fourth episode (which is on the Lost In Time collection), and was taken aback by just how negative Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles are about it in their book. In the end I come somewhere in between. The Toymaker’s means and motivation seem to me too arbitrary, not sufficiently rooted in their own reality let alone the reality of the established lore of the series. On the other hand the cast (and, four decades later, Peter Purves’ narration) give it all they can, and I felt swept along by the action.
There are some striking parallels with the penultimate Ninth Doctor episode, Bad Wolf. The TARDIS is invaded by an external force, its occupants (the Doctor, a male companion and a female companion) are made to participate in games in which their lives are at stake. The 2005 version is better in two ways (though I would make the same criticism about the means and motivation of the bad guys not being sufficiently clear). First, of course, the vastly greater resources available – it makes episode four of The Celestial Toymaker look like a cheap studio-bound set of recordings, as indeed it is.
The second point of comparison is perhaps less obvious. In Bad Wolf, the other participants in the games are fellow humans, thus subject to the evil gamesmasters in the same way as the Doctor and friends, and indeed people we can empathise with – be it the Big Brother participant who throws her lot in with the Doctor, or the Weakest Link participant who gets Rose zapped. In The Celestial Toymaker, it’s not entirely clear what the status of the Toymaker’s minions is. Steven thinks they should be treated as mindless, soulless enemies and simply fought with. Dodo is inclined to show them compassion as if they too are being manipulated. Is Dodo being weak, or is she in some basic sense right to recognise them as having their own potential for personhood too? The question is not satisfactorily resolved (and indeed not even very satisfactorily framed).
I now have only six Hartnell stories left to watch/listen to: Marco Polo, The Sensorites, Planet of Giants, the rest of The Web Planet, The Space Museum, and Galaxy 4. Watch this space.