TARDIS Musings: The Celestial Toymaker - An Animated Review

Wednesday 12 June 2024

The Celestial Toymaker - An Animated Review

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster this one for me. I was elated to hear that the story was going to be next in line to be animated, but my heart sank when I got a look at the animation style. It sank further when I saw the dire cover art.
Last night I actually sat down to watch the thing - electing to see it in all its technicolour glory for this initial viewing. 
Now I may be burnt at the stake for saying this, but it honestly wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. 
If you're going to completely reimagine a lost story, rather than simply recreate it as faithfully as possible, then this is actually the way to go. 
Think of it like comparing the Peter Cushing film Dr Who and the Daleks with the original 7-part TV episodes. It's the same story but done in a different visual style, in colour, and with characters who don't look like the ones from the BBC show.
Of all the stories where this particularly surreal style of animation might work, then this is the one to use it on. 
The Celestial Toymaker sees the Doctor, Steven and Dodo enter a nightmare domain presided over by a god-like being, who uses toys and games to trap people into becoming his playthings for all eternity.
The Doctor is rendered mute and invisible for much of it, Mr Hartnell being off fishing in Cornwall or some such, which is good news for the animation as his likeness is the worst of the lot.
It's therefore left to the companions to carry the bulk of the story, as they play a series of childish games against pairs of nursery rhyme or toy opponents.
No longer needing to resemble Campbell Singer or Carmen Silvera, these characters become real toy clowns, knitted or wooden dolls, and playing card figures.
The most interesting change of appearance is Cyril, with his big pear shaped head. However, by taking him out of his Greyfriars School outfit, the fact his friends call him "Billy" will leave newer fans confused.
The likenesses of Purves and Lane, in their most distinctive outfits, is passable. The Toymaker looks nothing like Gough. To be honest, the likenesses are jarring only at first - you do get used to them.
After the various opponents, it's the games themselves and the backdrops which deviate most from the studio-bound settings of the original. The Blind Man's Buff game is played in a weird three-dimensional space.
Again, the weird surreal nature of the domain and its activities mean that the changes do work.
I'd have preferred conventional, faithful animation, but if this is all we're being given then so be it.

For anyone who simply can't stand the animation style, you can watch a reconstruction of the story which uses soundtrack, photographs and a little CGI animation, coupled with a remastered fourth episode - The Final Test.
There's also a B&W version of the animation, which - according to what I've seen on social media - some people prefer. Personally I don't see the point. If you're going to watch the animation, go the whole hog and view the colourful copy.
The main extra is, quite frankly, an abomination. It's an escape room set-up which apparently was designed to go on The Collection box sets. There's one per Doctor, and I'm surprised that this is on this disc and not a future Season 1 or Season 3 set. It's so awful that maybe they changed their mind and chucked it on here. 
This one features Purves, Maureen O'Brien and Lisa Bowerman (!?). They basically have to solve puzzles to get out of the room. It's 75 minutes long, and I managed to last 10 before I switched off. If you get a kick out of watching old people getting confused, this is for you.
How anyone could have thought that this format might be entertaining, I simply cannot comprehend.
I certainly won't be watching any of the other six we're expected to suffer.
There's also an audio interview with Carmen Silvera.

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