“The game you’re going to play is not so innocent as it looks” – The Doctor
The very broad idea of this story is a good one—the Doctor and crew encounter an all-powerful other worldly being who draws them into another dimension where they must pass a series of games or forever be trapped as his playthings. Unfortunately, the story falls apart in the details. It’s not entirely the fault of the writer—apparently the original script lost permission of use so the producers had to take the concept and quickly come up with a whole new script almost simultaneous with filming. Unfortunately, it means that we are left with a very thin show. The dialogue does little more than explain and re-explain what the camera is showing, Steven and Dodo have to be written as slow or making foolish decisions in order move the story along, and many times things that they have already learned seems to be forgotten or changed a few lines later. Even the games and riddles when “solved” don’t quite make sense or fit the supposed rules. There are lots of clowns and toys and silly characters, but they are neither that fascinating nor do they have much menace. The Doctor’s game which supposedly requires his brilliant mind is actually a common logic puzzle that you can find anywhere. On top of this, the Doctor is absent from most of the program after he is first being made invisible and then later mute by the Toymaker all for seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary reasons.
Best unsettling moment:
In one of the few decent scenes of the story, Dodo notices that the clowns, now no longer able to cheat and therefore playing the game for real, are suddenly scared. As the room goes dark, she notes “Steven, I’m frightened. You notice he’s not funny anymore.” The horror of it doesn’t come through explicitly in the dialogue but it is hinted here—all of the characters that Steven and Dodo are encountering are people just like themselves caught as playthings for the Toymaker who are desperately playing for their own lives, possibly having been trapped in a hell-like limbo for eternity. It makes Steven’s reply “We can’t stop him. It’s him or us.” take on a very hard edge.
- First extra-dimensional all powerful being
- First time the TARDIS is taken out of time and space
- First return of a villain from an untelevised episode
It’s a shame that what should have been such a powerful concept as the Toymaker is ruined by weak writing and even worse by racist language that was still in common use at the time such that it creates a rather dull and lifeless episode that many are quite hostile towards, leaving little chance of the idea ever being revisited.