Doctor Who: Does the Celestial Toymaker Really Need A Comeback?

There's a lot of excitement for the Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials shooting now. Aside from David Tennant and Catherine Tate returning as The Doctor and Donna Noble, fans are all aflutter over Neil Patrick Harris playing the baddie. Described by returning showrunner Russell T. Davies as "the greatest enemy the Doctor has ever faced", fans are convinced he's the Celestial Toymaker, back at last.

Doctor Who: Does the Celestial Toymaker Really Need to Come Back?
The Celestial Toymaker in "Doctor Who", BBC

The Celestial Toymaker only appeared in one story in Doctor Who in a story named after him. He was an immortal entity who could warp and control reality and trapped the first Doctor (Willaim Hartnell) and his companions Steven and Polly (Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet) in a reality he created to play a game with giant toys. This was not the first time he and the Doctor had fought, and after he's beaten and exiled, the Doctor expects he would eventually be back.

The Celestial Toymaker was a lot of firsts for Science Fiction television. He was the first supervillain with cosmic powers on Doctor Who, possibly one of the first. He was a precursor to Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation and other reality-warping figures on Star Trek. He was played by Michael Gough, a stalwart character actor who would go on to play Alfred in Michael Keaton's Batman in the 1980s movies. "The Celestial Toymaker" serial is one of the stories that was lost when the BBC erased a big chunk of their video tapes in the 1970s, though, and only the 4th episode still exists in the BBC archives.

The Celestial Toymaker was also rather problematic. He wore the hat and robes of a medieval Chinese imperial court official for no apparent reason, recalling the Yellow Peril trope established by Fu Manchu. In the 19th Century, "Celestial" was also an Orientalist term for Chinese immigrants who arrived in the West. Doctor Who may have always been progressive with the best intentions, but the writers at the time were still products of racist attitudes at the time, and the show had an unfortunate tendency to go Yellowface with white actors, first here, then with the fake lama Cho-je in "Planet of the Spiders", and full racist Yellow Peril in "The Talons of Weng Chiang". It's fair to assume that if the Celestial Toymaker is back in the 60th-Anniversary special, Harris' portrayal probably won't be that racist.

Not All Canonical Baddies in Doctor Who Need to Come Back

Hardcore Doctor Who fans have been clamouring for the return of the Celestial Toymaker ever since the show came back in 2005, even though the majority of them weren't even alive when his story first aired and they wouldn't have even seen the surviving episode. The Celestial Toymaker was probably too omnipotent to find a good enough story for. A scripted story with the 6th Doctor (Colin Baker) was cancelled when plans for Baker's second season were drastically changed in 1985. The Doctor has also since been up against other near-omnipotent cosmic villains since his one appearance, like the Black Guardian, Omega, and Fenric.

Then again, they've also been clamouring for the return of virtually every villain form the old show, particularly the Valeyard and the Rani. It seems the fans think just because a villain is "canon", ie appeared on the TV show, they should be in the show again. The thing is, they haven't been brought back for a reason. The Valeyard is just an evil incarnation of The Doctor, and we already have that in the various new incarnations of The Master. Missy's appearance on Doctor Who during Steven Moffat's run effectively made the Rani redundant, since she was just an evil female Time Lord. Michelle Gomez injected madness and whimsy to Missy where the Rani was just a mean scientist, played with gleeful pantomime camp by the late Kate O'Mara. Some baddies are just too dull or redundant, unless Davies or one of the writers he commissions can pitch a fresh take.

Even the Meddling Monk showed up twice on the show, first in "The Time Meddler" then in "The Daleks Masterplan", the longest serial in the history of Doctor Who. And the Monk was a lot more fun, a slightly goofy, bumbling bad guy played with comic relish by the late Peter Butterworth on the show. And he had more personality than the Celestial Toymaker.

Then again, maybe it won't be the Celestial Toymaker that Harris is playing, in which case all the speculation will be moot, but hey, at least we got an excuse to talk about him.

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.