Friday, June 14, 2024

Review: Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker Animation (2024)

I'm not the greatest fan of the recent Doctor Who animations. I think I'm of an age where I would prefer to see the episodes themselves, and if I can't do that (because the BBC wiped a load of them and they are currently 'missing') then I'd rather see something which is close to what the episodes actually looked like. I'm also of the view that if you're going to spend money to 'remake' them, then animation is not really the way to go ... why not literally remake them, with a new cast but using the old scripts ...


For this sixties William Hartnell story, 'The Celestial Toymaker', the team have decided to take the idea of reimagining everything to another level.  Previous stories had the sets and the effects reimagined, and increasing divergence from what was seen on television/intended by the original director. But here it's a totally new and different visual from the original.

I'm not sure which came first: the ideas for this animation, or the reintroduction of the character of the Celestial Toymaker in the TV series ... Gary Russell, who worked on the animation in its early stages, suggested on Facebook that the animation was planned and underway a long time before 'The Giggle' was made ... which suggests that perhaps Russell T Davies and the TV Series team took some cues from what was being done and incorporated them into 'The Giggle'. For the TV story and the animation do act as a strange sort of side-by-side set.

We have the idea of doors leading to other doors, the Toymaker appearing and disappearing like magic, an over-large Toymaker overseeing all he surveys ... and the colourful palate with which the sets and characters are painted.

For the animation, it almost works. I say almost, as the weak point is the human characters. The Doctor, and his companions Steven and Dodo, stand out as being awful. They barely resemble the on-screen counterparts, and while I like the animation of Dodo (I suspect that whoever was acting as the animation base for her was a better actor than those for the Doctor and Steven), the Doctor and Steven are stiff and wrong-looking throughout.  It's a shame that these characters (and perhaps the Toymaker himself) couldn't have been rendered as more human-looking, to better counterpoint with the toys and dolls and soldiers who make up the rest of the cast.  Luckily the Doctor isn't in the story much - he is made invisible by the Toymaker for the second and third episodes, and only his hand is seen ...

The changes to the other characters' look really works as they are unreal characters, larger than life in some cases, so their creation as 2D/3D playing card characters, or as knitted toys, makes the most of the idea that the Toymaker has turned real people into his playthings.

The soundtrack has been amended and augmented to 'sell' the new visuals, with new sound effects accompanying various appearings and disappearings (the effect seems to be from another sixties Doctor Who story, 'The Mind Robber') and other aural changes to accompany what we see on screen.

In many respects, it's the perfect story to benefit from this sort of radical reinvention (perhaps the only other might be the aforementioned 'The Mind Robber', and I do wonder if the use of the sound effect is a 'clue' to someone's theory that the Toymaker is actually running the 'Master Brain' in that story. Not something I'd ever considered to be honest ... but I've seen it said. Likewise the idea that the Toymaker is of the same 'pantheon' as the Great Intelligence, or the Animus, or the Eternals ... some Doctor Who fans do love to try and join everything together - even when there's no on-screen evidence to suggest anything of the sort!)

I was, to be fair, dreading seeing this animation as the initial visuals released online were so poor and so divergent from the TV visuals. But, watching it, it does work. The whole thing complements the story, and it's more engrossing with something interesting to look at.

I have to mention that the disks do have a remastered version of the existing episode four, and that's superb to see, and there's also a 'photo reconstruction' of the story as well, using the unaltered* soundtrack, images and telesnaps (pictures taken at the time off the television - in this case there are actually none from this story available, but I have a feeling they used some from other stories ...) and even some animation to visualise more complex sequences. This is very well done, and sort of shows that they didn't really need to have gone the whole reimagining route in the first place as what did happen on screen was perfectly good enough!

* It's worth mentioning that the soundtrack does have one particular change which is down to attitudes and sensibilities changing over time. The King mumbles a rhyme at one point: 'Eenie, meenie, minie, mo ...' and the second line included a word which has now fallen from popular usage and which is considered offensive. It's mumbled by the King under his breath so was barely heard anyway, but all versions of the soundtrack on this release have it excised/covered up.

Other extras on the disk include the first in a series of 'Escape Room' presentations, wherein Doctor Who cast members try and work out how to escape from a room full of clues and objects. Sorry, but this is dire. It's presented by Emily Cook, and the sequences where poor Peter Purves (who played Steven in the sixties), Maureen O'Brien (who played Vicki in the sixties) and, oddly, Lisa Bowerman (who was in Doctor Who right at the end of it's initial run in the eighties, in a story called 'Survival'), try to work out what to do and how to do it are painful. I only managed to take about 10 minutes before I had to turn it off.  Sorry chaps and chapesses ... I know your hearts are in the right places, but this just didn't work for me.

Overall, this is another Doctor Who release which might be of interest to some, but not for others. I suspect that young fans who watched and enjoyed Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker in 'The Giggle' might get a kick out of it as it shares sensibilities with that performance and story. As for us older fans, well it depends on how set you are on your Doctor Who being and looking exactly as it was when it was first transmitted in the sixties. The TV series itself is certainly not that - and hasn't been for many years now - but I appreciate that 'messing with the past' can be a hot topic, and it's not for everyone. So choose wisely ... 

'Make your last move, Doctor ... Make your last move ...'

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