The Celestial Toymaker is a rarely-seen and omnipotent villain from the Doctor’s past. And he’s coming back.
Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary is fast approaching. And as it does, more hints and bits of news about the celebrations emerge. We now know David Tennant and Catherine Tate are returning. We also know that Heartstopper‘s breakout star Yasmin Finney will playing a new character called Rose. And we now know that the international star of stage and screen Neil Patrick Harris will be playing the Celestial Toymaker, last seen on screen in 1966.
But who is the Toymaker?
The Toymaker casts an usually long shadow over Doctor Who considering he was only ever in one television story. 1966’s ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ bears the name of its central villain, a godlike being who traps the unwary in his extradimensional domain in order to play his games with them, purely to while away the monotony of endless immortality. Lose and you’re transformed into one of his toys for all eternity. And the Toymaker makes sure he always wins.
He’s a rare example in Doctor Who of a type of adversary more familiar to fans of Star Trek – half jealous god, and half petulant child, he calls to mind the likes of Q and the Squire of Gothos. In theory he could wipe out his opponents with a mere snap of his fingers, but he fences himself with the rules of his own games, grudgingly letting them go if they defeat him on those terms. So if any villain can just literally hand wave away issues like Donna’s memory block and the Doctor having the wrong face, it’s him.
Who played the Celestial Toymaker in Doctor Who?
In that earlier TV appearance, he was played by future Alfred the Butler (and generally brilliant British character actor) Michael Gough, who faced William Hartnell’s First Doctor along with his friends Steven and Dodo. He stole the TARDIS and forced the travellers to battle through a series of children’s games against his own toys in order to claim back the Doctor’s machine.
Some of these games included finding the ‘safe’ chair to sit in (the others killing anyone on them in various ways); giant board game races… with an electrified floor to greet you if you slipped from your square; a treasure hunt for a key, and more. And all the while, the Doctor matched his wits against the Celestial Toymaker in the fiendish Trilogic game.
Is the Celestial Toymaker a Time Lord?
The Celestial Toymaker is not a Time Lord (as far as we know!) but one of the most intriguing things about his first story is that it’s not the Doctor’s first meeting with him. They both refer to an earlier encounter which the Doctor barely survived, and there’s a suggestion that the Toymaker is known to, and even feared by, the Time Lords themselves. It’s an idea which has fired the imagination of the writers playing in Doctor Who’s expanded universe ever since.
The 1999 novel ‘Divided Loyalties’ features a rematch between the Toymaker and the Fifth Doctor, accompanied by flashbacks to their very first encounter when the Doctor was still a student at the Academy. Those reveal that the young Doctor’s thirst for knowledge had driven himself and two fellow students into the Toymaker’s path, with only the Doctor making it home. The novel also claims that the Celestial Toymaker has no true form of his own and uses the stolen bodies of Time Lords he’s defeated as his hosts.
Another sign of the Toymaker’s popularity with fans, despite his brief time on television, was his being chosen as the villain to launch the Eighth Doctor’s era in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, rather than the Daleks or the Cybermen. In the epic ‘Endgame,’ he traps the entire town of Stockbridge within his Toyroom, but he regrets having delegated too much of his power to one of his machines when the Doctor uses it to create a duplicate Toymaker, leaving the two locked in their own, never-ending game against each other.
Another more recent comic featured the Twelfth Doctor and the Toymaker playing a high stakes game for ownership of the TARDIS, with the Doctor tricking his opponent into being trapped in his own Toyroom forever. (There’s a recurring theme in his appearances of the Toymaker falling into a trap that will keep him occupied for all eternity… but eternity never seems to last very long before his next return!)
Memorable Celestial Toymaker stories include one claiming that the Doctor never escaped the Toyroom at all!
In prose, the Toymaker has returned to bedevil the Doctor time and again. In the horror themed 2017 short story collection Doctor Who: Tales of Terror, the Toymaker appears in two stories. More than that, he even claims that the Doctor never escaped the Toyroom in that first television encounter, and that all the Doctor’s adventures ever since have been mere role playing games set up by the Toymaker in the role of Dungeon Master! Though obviously that proves to be yet another trick and a lie. Probably…
On audio, Big Finish have also created return games for the Toymaker. In Seventh Doctor story ‘The Magic Mousetrap,’ a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy holds an equally sinister secret as a defeated Toymaker claws his way back to reality, one victim at a time. Meanwhile, ‘Solitaire’ features the Doctor’s companion Charley stumbling into a Victorian toy shop, suffering from amnesia but strangely drawn to yet another ventriloquist’s dummy. But this one insists, in her own voice, that it’s called the Doctor and it can help her to escape the Toymaker’s shop…
‘The Nightmare Fair’ would have been the Toymaker’s return to TV
But most significantly, the Celestial Toymaker was originally meant to return in 1986. Michael Gough was going to play role once more in ‘The Nightmare Fair,’ one of the stories planned for Season 23. But it was a tumultuous time behind the scenes for Doctor Who, with the threat of cancellation hanging over the show’s head. Season 23 eventually arrived after a longer than usual hiatus, but all of the original plans for the year were thrown out to be replaced by the slightly metatextual 14 episode epic ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ placing the Sixth Doctor on trial for his very life.
Originally intended to be teased at the end of the previous season, with the Doctor declaring he was going to take Peri to Blackpool (the final word edited out when the decision was made to scrap the original Season 23 plans) ‘The Nightmare Fair’ did eventually see the light of day in a couple of other forms. It was adapted into a novel in 1989 by original scriptwriter Graham Williams, and then into an unofficial fan-made audio drama. Finally, Big Finish officially adapted it, with the Sixth Doctor and Peri encountering David Bailie’s version of the Toymaker (who’d earlier appeared in ‘Solitaire.’)
In a departure from his previous plans, the Toymaker now schemes to conquer the real world with his games. From his base beneath Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, he plans to unleash an addictive new arcade video game into the world, one which feasts on the souls of the players in order to create an army with which to conquer the Earth. Capturing the Doctor and Peri via a booby-trapped rollercoaster, the Toymaker is nevertheless defeated by the Time Lord once again. Trapped inside a time field flowing at a different rate from the rest of reality, it’s (once again) supposed to be a final end for the ancient meddler.
‘The Nightmare Fair’ also goes out of its way to explain exactly who and what the Celestial Toymaker is, diluting a lot of his mystique. According to the story, he’s a powerful psychic being from another universe, and his supposed immortality is partly an illusion caused by time flowing more slowly there. These new discoveries also enable the Doctor to handily knock-up a bit of technology to block the Toymaker’s power, now that he understands its source.
Doctor Who‘s 60th anniversary
It has now been confirmed that Neil Patrick Harris is playing the Celestial Toymaker in the upcoming 60th anniversary specials. It will be interesting to see if the new episodes adhere to the ‘expanded universe’ stories or whether they simply reference the original 1966 adventure, or even just start from scratch.
How do you feel about the return of the Celestial Toymaker? And how do you think he fits into the return of the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble? Let us know in the comments below.
Seventh Doctor Paisley hanky – order now from the Lovarzi shop!