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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

71 Comments

  1. Mike Russell
    April 1, 2011 @ 10:37 am

    I did not knew this meaning of Celestial. The Celestial Toymaker was never a story I liked; I often find myself wishing we could trade in the surviving episode for part four of The Tenth Planet.

    Big Finish is something I only occasionally follow. How do they handle bringing back this questionable character?

    I'm still keeping The Ark and Lost in Time on my shelf. But yes, if part of Bill's era had to be destroyed, I'm glad the mostly wonderful Verity Lambert era mostly exists and that it's season three that's been gutted.

    Reply

  2. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 1, 2011 @ 10:51 am

    Yeah, it's definitely a good thing that Seasons 1 and 2 are as complete as they are. I wish the losses to them weren't entirely focused on the historicals, just because it would be nice to see a bit more of what those were like, but for the most part the BBC inadvertently displayed considerable taste in what they didn't junk compared to what they did.

    That said, if I were bringing back 1 and only 1 Hartnell story – well, obviously I'd take Tenth Planet Ep4 first, but after that I'd take a Wiles story – either The Massacre or The Myth Makers. For all my problems with his era, the fact of the matter is, Wiles did up the quality on Doctor Who considerably, and I think his influence on later eras is understated. It's just that his era was nastily reactionary and went out on a particularly sour note. But, I mean, something like Midnight, or even Amy's Choice owes a huge amount to Wiles's willingness to push the show in some dark directions.

    And I don't know details on Big Finish and the Toymaker beyond that he's been used by them three times – once in an adaptation of The Nightmare Fair, which is at least somewhat understandable, and twice else. I distantly mean to check out one of those two, and may well get around to it in the 7th or 8th Doctor eras, but may also pass on it in favor of things I find more interesting from Big Finish.

    Reply

  3. John Seavey
    April 1, 2011 @ 4:03 pm

    So will "Talons" not be canon either, or will that be a subversive exploration of Victorian stereotypes?

    Reply

  4. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 1, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    An excellent question. Having not seen Talons in about a decade, and having not been as generally aware of colonialist issues in British media when I last saw it as I am now, I don't have an answer yet. I will tentatively say that Robert Holmes is far more likely to write a clever and subversive script than Brian Hayles, however, and that I hold out hope. On the other hand, I've never liked Talons as much as its reputation, so I'm certainly not averse to slagging it.

    If nothing else, Talons is an actually complex script with other things going on. The racism of The Celestial Toymaker would be a lot easier to swallow if there were anything else in the episode. But not only does it have a racist caricature of a main character, it doesn't actually have any significant ideas beyond that.

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  5. Aaron
    April 1, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

    You wouldn't bring back Dalek Masterplan? That's the one I'd go for, since you get a long episode, and Sara Kingdom, and more Steven, which is always a good thing. I actually wish we could trade some Lambert era for more Steven episodes- he's such an underrated companion, and I just adore him.

    As for Big Finish, I've listened to the Magic Mousetrap, which is the toymaker with the 7th Doctor, and though I don't care for their interpretation of my favourite era as much as I might, it was an alright episode. They ignored any racist parts of the character, and he was brought back as a doll, which meant he had a different voice (I can't remember what sort of accent he had as the doll though). But I think big finish just take him as being "Celestial" in it's "cosmic" sense.

    Also, I just watched episode four of this before reading this blog, and I have to say, I don't really notice the yellow face, though now that you mention the accent, I could hear that. I mean, given that he's dressed in a characiture of a chinese person, I'm sure what your saying is right, but not looking out for it, I didn't notice any makeup on Gough's face. I think that's why people don't say anything about the racism of the Toymaker- if we don't share these underlying assumptions about races in the first place, we don't notice the subtle clues put in for people that do.

    It'll be interesting to see what you do about Toberman in Tomb of the Cybermen. I've tried commenting on the racism in that episode, only to get shouted down by other fans who think I'm missing the point there.

    Reply

  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 2, 2011 @ 5:49 am

    Bringing back The Daleks Master Plan felt like cheating. It's also a clear candidate, although given that we have nearly 70% of the total Hartnell-era Dalek episodes, versus about 44% of the total Hartnell-era historicals, part of me is still inclined to bring back a historical on those grounds.

    I suspect that Big Finish probably was mostly unaware of the racist meaning of celestial, instead taking it to mean cosmic. I'm not convinced ignorance is an excuse, but I largely believe ignorance as a phenomenon. And I should clarify that I meant "yellowface" to refer broadly to casting white actors as east Asian characters, not to refer to a makeup decision.

    As for Toberman, well, we'll find out fairly soon I suppose. 🙂

    Reply

  7. Dave
    April 2, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    I never knew. I had even read somewhere that there were rumors of the Toymaker appearing in series 6 (unsubstantiated, fortunately).

    I just watched the latest series 6 trailer, and that last line– "I've been running my whole life. Now it's time for me to stop." –immediately reminded me of how you framed the show back in the second post. "A show about running, and escape." Congratulations, sir, you appeared to have called one of the themes of the latest season based on the first one.

    Reply

  8. talestoenrage
    April 2, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    It's definitely interesting to hear such a savage takedown of the Celestial Toymaker, considering how much the concept interests me.

    I'm not a big Doctor Who Fan, but I've been slowly getting into the series over the last year or so, and finally getting around to actually watching episodes over the past month-focusing entirely on the relaunched episodes, just to avoid getting overwhelmed with the idea of watching the "whole" series. As someone who's more experienced with television science fiction through Star Trek, the idea of a godlike being in Doctor Who, who fits the Q model decades before Q appears (and even before Q's arguable predecessor, Trelane) fascinated me. How would it play out on such a different show?

    Hearing that it's offensive instead of interesting is disappointing, but it makes me wonder if the concept could be redeemed in the main show. I don't know how he's portrayed in the Big Finish audio books, but I wonder how they could get away from the racism of the original episode without just ignoring it completely, since it seems like something that should be acknowledged instead of quietly ignored. I'd much rather see a Toymaker who gives a reason why a non-human appeared as a caricature of the "yellow peril," than one who just goes "Here I am, ignore the complete change in appearance!"

    Reply

  9. El
    April 2, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

    Also this: http://www.kasterborous.com/2011/03/sylvester-as-the-doctor/

    🙂

    Wonderful blog by the way. I'm not sure when I started following, but by this point I've read each of your posts back to Unearthly Child. It's extremely refreshing to read a different take on these serials. You manage to keep hold of the show's format, concept, and limited back story from when it originally aired, while always keeping in mind how this lead to (or failed to lead to) where we are today.

    Reply

  10. elvwood
    April 5, 2011 @ 4:34 am

    Interesting, and a bit saddening. I first saw the surviving episode in my 40s, and yet I never saw the Toymaker as Chinese. Oh, he had the costume, but I just thought of that as dressing up, and I never made that connection with the adjective Celestial. When I heard the other episodes I was somewhat shocked by the Eeny Meeny Miny Mo version (even though they cover it up with Peter Purves' narration, you can tell its there), but still didn't make the connection. However, with audiences expectations of yellowface at the time (something I don't have) I suspect they would have seen it as you point out.

    While I'm not too bothered about discovering a nasty additional thing about a story I didn't like anyway, I really like the audio Solitaire. Selfishly, I hope this doesn't spoil my enjoyment of it, but I will be listening even more closely next time.

    Oh, and on Talons: Robert Holmes does put in some anti-racist material commenting on the attitudes of the time, but it is still upholds all sorts of racist stereotypes.

    Reply

  11. BatmanAoD
    April 5, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

    I'm actually not convinced that it would be unavoidably racist to bring back the Toymaker at some point. Clearly most people by this point understand the word "Celestial" in his name to mean merely "cosmic," since that actually makes a lot more sense in the context of Doctor Who anyway. The fact that it was originally something else seems almost irrelevant; would it not in fact be somewhat redeeming to bring back the positive aspects of the character, while burying the negative?

    Reply

  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 5, 2011 @ 8:21 pm

    For me it's a case of "this could be done well, but with so many other bits of Doctor Who history to pick from and do well, why not pick a non-racist one?"

    I mean, on some level it seems to me like it would be far cooler anyway if Big Finish were to dust off The Space Museum or The Savages or something for a sequel instead of a supposed classic that's actually both racist and rubbish. If you're just going to fetishize the distant past of the program, pick something that deserves more attention than it gets, not something that deserves less.

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  13. Anton
    April 15, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

    I have a vivid memory of a photo-story about the BBC make-up dept in an early Blue Peter annual where Christopher Trace (later to be replaced by Peter Purves) is shown being elaborately made up to look like a 'Chinaman', including very painful looking stretched gauze to give those all important 'slitted eyes' and wearing a costume very like the Celestial Toymaker's. I can't detect any sign of such make-up on Michael Gough in 'Toymaker' clips or photos though. Are we sure he was meant to be racially stereotyped Chinese and not just generally 'exotic' in his choice of dress, much like the Doctor and the Meddling Monk?

    Reply

  14. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 16, 2011 @ 8:14 am

    I'm pretty sure – there's enough stuff that signifies Chinese, and enough cases of white actors playing Chinese parts without heavy makeup (starting, at least in Doctor Who, with Derren Nesbitt as Tegana) that I don't think the lack of extreme makeup indicates much of anything other than that they'd never make a high profile actor like Michael Gough do that.

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  15. Anton
    April 16, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    Okay. Oh yeah Tegana, Blimey! Well, that's yet another piece of childhood innocence shattered. And I guess that's the point in a way. Did it affect my view of Chinese people that the Doctor Who production team chose to use a racial stereotype and what's more not even have the decency to employ a real Chinese person? Probably no more than the various 'Chinese' magicians touring since the 1900's or Fu Manchu or Pong Ping, Rupert Bear's mystical pekinese chum or that awful character Mickey Rooney does in Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's sad but true and we're more enlightened now I hope. Oh, by the way Please reassure me there are no examples of anyone actaually 'blacking up' in classic Who! (I don't think we can count Mavic Chen can we?)

    Reply

  16. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 16, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    I certainly don't count Mavic Chen. Whatever color he was supposed to be, he wasn't playing the part with any racially stereotyped traits. So nothing I can think of, at least.

    Reply

  17. Anton
    April 17, 2011 @ 11:26 am

    ^Thank Gawd fer that. your blog is fascinating reading by the way. Keep it up.

    Reply

  18. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    July 15, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

    Actually if you read the Fu Manchu books now, it's startling how little one would have to change to make Fu Manchu the hero. After all, his "fiendish oriental plot" is mainly to protect Asia against Western imperialism. And he's certainly a more layered character than the tiresome Nayland Smith. (It's also interesting that most of the really racist things are said by Smith and not by the viewpoint character, Petrie.)

    Reply

  19. Seeing_I
    August 9, 2011 @ 7:36 am

    Yeah, Mavic Chen could have been blue for all we know – though I tend to think he was supposed to be some of sort of futuristic Euro-Asian-African heritage. Not too unrealistic, really!

    As for the Toymaker … it was years and years before I ever heard the term "Celestial" used to refer to the Chinese. Jago's reference to "The Celestial Chang" in "Talons" seemed to me merely descriptive of his mystic nature (and of course, we can well assume that Holmes was playing on the dual meaning when he wrote the line).

    As for your distress that this character remains part of Doctor Who fiction, well, I would wager that a good 90% of Doctor Who fans have no idea there's an ethnic component to the term "Celestial," and take his Mandarin garb as mere fancy dress. Certainly, color photos show that Gough was not wearing any kind of yellowface makeup, and I must have slept through (shock!) the bit where he puts on an Asian accent to command the Trilogic Game.

    So, it's easy to see how the racism could have not been picked up on. The character himself – a Q type villian with a very Who-ish tendency to turn children's games into deadly danger – is easily be divested of any racist trappings and is just referred to, I think, as "The Toymaker." So while your misgivings about the episode itself are very well founded, I think you make too much of his continued appearance in Who fiction.

    By the way, the term "Celestial" as slang for Chinese comes from Tianchao Daguo, "The Celestial Empire."

    Reply

  20. Seeing_I
    August 9, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    By the way I have no idea if his more recent outings on Big Finish are any good or not, as I've not heard them. Mostly because the character himself always seemed rather crap and hokey LOL

    Reply

  21. Vain Sharp Dad
    August 26, 2011 @ 4:27 am

    If it helps, in Newcastle in the late 70s I was still (innocently/ignorantly) using the offensive version of Eeny Meenie with no idea….

    Reply

  22. Lokian Eule
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

    You know I got all in a huff about the Ark being sexist, but after a looong discussion with a friend of mine, I really conclude that it's not the story that's sexist, it's Harry. He's an old fashioned kind of guy, and when you think about it, all the sexist bits come from him. Then just to piss Sarah Jane off even more than she already was at that point, the Doctor goads her by making fun of her gender. Since Sarah Jane is a product of the women's movement, this story makes sense. It's not sexist though.

    Reply

  23. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 26, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

    I should clarify that "The Ark" I am talking about in this entry is the preceding William Hartnell story, called simply The Ark, and not The Ark in Space, which is a lovely Tom Baker story that I was very pleased with when I covered some six months after I wrote this entry.

    Though your observations about Sarah and the women's movement are quite relevant to The Time Warrior entry.

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  24. John Dorney
    December 5, 2011 @ 1:10 am

    As someone who wrote one of the Big Finish plays featuring the Toymaker I read this with quite a bit of interest.

    I'm ashamed to admit that I wasn't aware of the double meaning of the word 'Celestial' and had just thought of the 'cosmic' meaning. Oddly, in the script the character was simply named 'The Owner' throughout (Charley was also listed as 'The Girl') and the word 'Celestial' never appears (he does refer to himself as 'The Toymaker' at the end, as does the Doctor). Although this is not done as a result of any delicacy (as I'd no knowledge of the dual meaning). And whilst the cover art has him in the 'Mandarin' get-up, I'd not really visualised him in any particular outfit.

    And I suppose this informs why I don't really have a problem with the use of the character now. Because characters can transcend their roots. Over the years the Toymaker has morphed into a different character and our reading of his name is now definitely 'cosmic'. Yes, he may have racist origins, but that doesn't mean using him now is. Let's reclaim the Toymaker.

    Reply

  25. William Whyte
    December 28, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

    The whole Toymaker/Chinese thing brings up the Talons of Weng-Chiang, of course, and I have to say I think you're missing some of the point here. The Celestial Toymaker is racist in exactly the same way, and has access to exactly the same get-out, that Talons does: namely, it's a genre pastiche where the genre is casually racist out of ignorance. In this case, the clear intent is to do an absurdist children's story; the natural reference point if you're unimaginative is Alice in Wonderland; lacking the sophistication to do the logic jokes, you end up reducing that to (in About Time's words about something else) a mulch of Victoriana; and having ended up with a story about "what happens if you get treated the way you used to treat your toys?" you essentially have two villains you can pick, a Victorian manufacturer or some kind of magician who sets things in motion and sits back and watches.

    So the racism is an incidental byproduct of the weakness of the development of the story. They had a fairly strong high-concept idea about how helpless children are but how helpless toys are even relative to children. They could have gone more psychological to the extent where the identity of the bad guy didn't even matter that much. They could have thrown off the Victoriana (which, apart from the racism, brings its own problems of being old-fashioned and dull to the target audience of 60s kids, who had Lego and Meccano and Scalextric and Barbie ^H^H^H Cindy), in which case the villain naturally becomes someone else. But for whatever reason (and, as I say, I blame the pull of Alice), they went with Victorian chrome and that, combined with laziness, dragged in the problems you've noted.

    You can make the whole thing ten times less bad by resorting to fanfic. In the prologue, the Doctor's showing Dodo round the TARDIS and they come across a room full of Victorian toys. Dodo makes fun of them and the Doctor says "yes, I bought them for Susan… I never really understood young people. I felt compelled to get them for some reason." Dodo picks up a marionette of a Chinese puppet and brings it back to her room before she falls asleep. In the epilogue, Dodo wakes up and it was all a dream. The marionette's still by the bed. Her screams bring the Doctor and Steven running. As she explains to them what happened she realises that THE MARIONETTE HAS VANISHED…

    Maybe two and a half times less bad.

    Reply

  26. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 28, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

    But those two and a half less times do at least count for something. I mean, at least Talons was invoking a specific character in Fu Manchu who was relevant to the stories being played with. It's not like the Queen of Hearts was Chinese.

    Reply

  27. Lewis Christian
    July 6, 2012 @ 1:41 am

    Donald Tosh has apparently spoken about the Toymaker recently: http://gallifreybase.com/forum/showthread.php?t=143501

    Reply

  28. Chap_with_wings
    July 10, 2012 @ 6:35 am

    I have just discovered this excellent blog via wifeinspace. Of course you're totally right about the production team. Do we know if the eeny meeny rhyme was printed in full in the script? Or did the actor ad lib it? As another commenter admitted, this version was in common usage at my school where we saw it as a bit naughty. This was the 80s.

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  29. Chap_with_wings
    July 10, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    As for the Celestial thing… I think he's generally called The Toymaker (like The Monk). I never knew what the word meant, either in the novelisation or The Nightmare Fair. I assume Mr Dorney & co have dropped the word…

    I look forward to reading the rest of these!

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  30. Henry R. Kujawa
    August 5, 2012 @ 11:32 am

    Philip Sandifer:
    "it's Towers of Hanoi……I was very good at it. I was also three"

    Someone I knew had this game when I was a little kid. It was interesting to play… once. After that, ehh.

    "Celestial does not mean "cosmic" here. It's old slang for Chinese."

    Count me as one who never knew that. I always figured Mr. Jago called Chang "The Celestial Chang" because the guy was a magician (and Jago loved big words).

    "I'll accept the Paul McGann movie, the Peter Cushing movies, hell, In a Fix With Sontarans and Death Comes to Time. Those can all be canon if they want to be. Fine and dandy. The Ark and The Celestial Toymaker, though? Not canon. Plain and simple."

    Seems to me there was a scene like this in "BLAZING SADDLES". "Alright– we'll TAKE the niggers– AND the chinks– AND the injuns– but we WON'T take the IRISH!" (I may be paraphrasing…)

    "The fact that there are far more fans outraged about the fact that the Doctor maybe was in love with Rose than there are about the fact that in 2010 we're still using a racist caricature as a recurring villain is, frankly, disgusting."

    I must be one of the few people who wasn't bothered about Rose. He regenerated into a young man, she gave him a reason to start living again. After awhile, they got close. It made perfect sense to me. On the other hand, something about her never grabbed me as much as a lot of other girls who'd been on the show, but I put that down to personal taste.

    Talestoenrage:
    "As someone who's more experienced with television science fiction through Star Trek, the idea of a godlike being in Doctor Who, who fits the Q model decades before Q appears (and even before Q's arguable predecessor, Trelane) fascinated me. How would it play out on such a different show?"

    Similar ideas often pop up on different shows, to be treated differently because of the different styles of the shows. At least HALF of "LOST IN SPACE" season 3 are variations on stories from STAR TREK season 1 (I'm not kidding). However, checking the entire 3 seasons of LIS, I couldn't find any character who seemed to fit the "Q" type (other than the kid in "The Haunted Lighthouse", but that story was really LIS's verswion of "Charlie X", only with a happier ending). However, there was a 2nd-season episode "The Toymaker", which had a connection with "The Celestial Galactic Store". And the old man in the story mistakenly thinks Will & Dr. Smith are toys he built and treats them as such… Could this me another possible example of Irwin Allen being influenced by WHO?

    Philip Sandifer:
    "they'd never make a high profile actor like Michael Gough do that."

    They did it with Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee & Peter Sellers! (Film-makers, of course, not the people doing WHO.)

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  31. orfeo
    December 19, 2012 @ 2:35 am

    The problem with your assertions about the real meaning of 'Celestial' is that it runs up against the facts in one of the other blogs I'm reading as I go through 60s Doctor Who. Link: http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/serials/y.html

    Specifically, the title 'Celestial Toymaker' existed BEFORE the idea of depicting the character as Chinese. And the reason for depicting the character as Chinese had to do with the Towers of Hanoi game (which also wasn't in the initial script which had the 'Celestial' title).

    You can argue that using evil foreigners is racist. You can certainly argue that this is a lousy story (having just watched it, the lack of meaningful plot is fairly excruciating). But what you can't argue is that everyone knowingly intended that the word 'Celestial' was slang for Chinese, because the two concepts didn't exist together in the original script.

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  32. Elizabeth Sandifer
    December 19, 2012 @ 2:45 am

    That would hold, were not not for the detail that the word "Celestial" was re-appended to the title after being at one point deleted, and, looking over the timeline Sullivan presents, re-appended shortly after the decision to render the Toymaker explicitly Chinese was taken. This explains, perhaps, how the then-archaic slang came into their heads, and suggests a level of pun and double-meaning, but I have trouble seeing it as proof that it is mere coincidence.

    Reply

    • Ryan Egan
      September 1, 2023 @ 12:02 pm

      I’ll go straight to the point, there’s obviously NO defending the N-Word. The King of Hearts says it in Episode 2 & it’s a sad reminder that this was indeed still a common version of a children’s nursery rhyme in mid 20th Century Britain, appropriate for broadcast on the BBC.

      Was there thought behind it? Well, I’m happy to say at least it’s not directly written in the Camera Script, which only describes in direction that “THE KING CLOSES HIS EYES AND EENY-MEENY-MINY-MOS AT [THE CHAIRS].

      So the use of the word is not a deliberate authorial choice or character trait. Meaning it was either a decision made in rehearsals or not discussed at all, and was simply the predominant iteration of the rhyme familiar to the speaking actor, Campbell Singer (born in 1909).

      Episodes 1-3 of this story are missing. But when it was released as a narrated soundtrack, they basically have Peter Purves obscure the dialogue by talking over it. No doubt that if the story was ever animated, they could very easily cut the rhyme to only its first line.

      The issue overhanging the story as a whole is the title & titular villain. Now, obviously “celestial” alone is a perfectly cromulent word. It means ethereal, “of the sky/outer-space”. Dr Who for example also has the Celestial Intervention Agency & Iris Wildthyme’s Celestial Omnibus.

      But historically it was also an ethnic slur for Chinese culture & Chinese people emigrating to the UK, USA, & Australia from the 19th century. This meaning is listed in Merriam-Webster as a capitalised usage. It was apparently uncommon in Britain by the 1960s, but not forgotten.

      For example, in 1977 Robert Holmes twice has Jago use the word in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, set in 1892. Both times this is a capitalised use calling Li H’sen Chang “the Celestial Chang” as though it were his name.

      In all 4 episodes of The Celestial Toymaker, the word “celestial” is also spoken only twice. Both times in Episode 1 referring to “the celestial Toymaker”, both times uncapitalised. This indicates its intended use in the regular “ethereal” sense, not as a slur as part of the name.

      It also explains why for the rest of the story the Toymaker is referred to purely as “the Toymaker”, just as he is in the closing credits, the scripts’ cast list, the Radio Times, and indeed in a reference in Series 12’s I t Takes You Away. That’s the extent of the character’s name.

      Script Editor Donald Tosh laid claim to having added the word to the story in his rewrites, remembering this as an attempt to differentiate it from a book or short story that was popular at the time. A glance online shows The Toymaker to have always been a popular choice of title.

      And so “celestial” is added twice to the dialogue, as well as the story title & Episode 1’s individual title The Celestial Toyroom, reflected in the Camera Script’s list of sets as the area in which Blind Man’s Buff is played (and not appearing in the other 3 episodes).

      However, despite the word never being used in a racial context in this story, it has long been looked at dubiously due to the outfit worn by the Toymaker, portrayed as a Caucasian English man & typically described in reference books etc as being “dressed as a Chinese Mandarin”.

      Full disclosure, I have absolutely no Chinese background or depth of knowledge on China historically or culturally. I do not know if the costume itself is a faithful recreation of any style of Mandarin dress, or just a hotchpotch of symbols that “looked right” to whoever made it.

      What I do know is that it is a piece of stock costume from the BBC Wardrobe Department, rather than a design made especially for the character. Doctor Who used the gown previously in Marco Polo, appropriately set in 13th century China.

      Due to The Ark overspending on its jungle set, the budget for this story was cut & this probably isn’t the only stock costume. The clowns, dolls, Rugg & Wig could easily be from elsewhere, Dodo’s gear is Lulu’s, & Cyril is so faithful to Billy Bunter’s costume, I bet it is.

      But the Costume Department would still have a description of each desired costume. Unfortunately, the production file for The Celestial Toymaker is missing, so I believe the only original written description of the Toymaker’s appearance we have is from the Camera Script.

      The Toymaker is described as “A HAPPY LOOKING OCCIDENTAL MANDARIN CHARACTER. HE IS DRESSED IN A SPLENDID LOOKING BEJEWELLED FLOOR-LENGTH COAT”. “Occidental” meaning “relating to the countries of the West”, the opposite of “oriental” meaning “relating to the countries of the East”.

      Just how an “occidental mandarin” looks, idk. Maybe it meant a Mandarin type gown/collar in a Western style. Maybe it meant a generic bureaucratic definition of “Mandarin”. Or maybe the Costume Dept were right in inferring a Chinese gown to be worn by a western man.

      The only explanation comes from Donald Tosh to Doctor Who Magazine. A mistaken attempt to associate the Toymaker’s appearance with the Trilogic Game’s inspiration, “The Towers of Hanoi”, believed at that time to have been an ancient Chinese puzzle (despite Hanoi being the capital of Vietnam)

      Donald Tosh: “the game ancient Chinese which was why the Toymaker was dressed like a Chinese mandarin.”

      In fact, the puzzle was published by French mathematician Édouard Lucas in 1883 & imbued with false mysticism to intrigue the West. It was also commonly called “The Problem of Benares Temple” or “Tower of Brahma”, both associations with Hindu & Indian culture.

      So is the Toymaker meant to be Chinese? No, “occidental” says he was never to be played as Chinese. Gough isn’t affecting an accent or wearing any make up. If that was the desire, they’d have done it. Publicity stills at the time proves it’s not Yellowface. They’d just done it with Mavic Chen & it would very much happen again on Dr Who.

      I think it’s fair to see the final product as a case of cultural appropriation, misguided by disingenuous source material. It’s understandably uncomfortable seeing something from your culture used as design inspiration for a TV villain with no clearly defined context.

      I personally hope we see the Toymaker again in the show, in an origin story to provide that context. The reasons it’s a great story are tied to the premise & colour pics, rather than the final product.

      TLDR:
      •The use of “celestial” is not as the slur.
      •The outfit is cause the Trilogic Game was thought to be a puzzle of Chinese origin (but isn’t). It’s not yellow-face but is white use of Chinese dress without explanation.
      •The N-word is said by the King in the Eeny-Meeny rhyme.

      Reply

    • Matt Docherty
      December 11, 2023 @ 11:43 pm

      You would be amazing to struggle-snuggle.

      Reply

  33. neroden@gmail
    December 14, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

    On top of this, the story manages to be a long chain of stereotypes; even the "dancing dolls" come off that way. I'd love to see what Tosh has to say about it.

    Here's what I've thought: Tosh seemed to have a taste for surrealist material which was full of Jung-style archetypes. Arguably inappropriate for Doctor Who, but what makes it really bad was that he just picked up all the stereotypes which had been around for a while and used them, without a thought to whether they were problematic — and they all were.

    The Ark is good enough that it admits of alternative readings. This story doesn't admit of any readings, unfortunately, and really is quite unlistenable, with the existing episode being unwatchable as well. It's hard to understand why Tosh was so fond of it.

    Reply

  34. John Harwood
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

    .

    Reply

    • Aquanafrahudy
      September 5, 2023 @ 3:18 am

      How amusing. In accusing others of being childish you have revealed exactly how childish one can get.

      The Ark is racist because it tells black people that they can’t govern themselves. Take the story in its context.

      Also, I won’t take you up on your offer of ringing you, because there is such a thing as privacy.

      Good day. Or not, I don’t really care.

      Reply

  35. John Harwood
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    I've NEVER thought of The Ark and Toymaker as racist, and that's having been familiar with both stories since the 70s. I must have read the novels of each 4 or 5 times and watched both stories over a dozen times since 1988.
    First, how exactly is The Ark "racist"? Can someone please explain that?
    Second, the term "nigger" (especially in that rhyme) WAS acceptable. Having asked my parents who were both in their 20s in the 60s, they tell me the word "nigger" was used openly by virtually everyone and not meant as a derogatory term at all. My mum tells me there was even a colour shade called "Nigger Brown" that was on labels of shoe polish! It might have been changed in the 40s in the US, but that doesnt mean youre going to overnight, just wipe it from people's vocabulary. It WAS just "of the time". Accept it.
    The Celestial Toymaker Chinese? I've never thought of him as such until you mentioned it. And I certainly cant detect a Chinese accent. Have you SEEN Talons of Weng Chiang? A white actor clearly playing a stereotypical Chinese man? You dont find THAT more questionable? Are you going to consider that "not a Dr.Who story" too?
    And finally, getting UPSET by these "racist" stories is frankly pathetic. Why does it matter to you? I've been a Who fan since 1974 and it doesnt bother me in the least. There are more important things to worry about than whether or not a 60s kids' series is racist. And to stamp your feet and say things like" It's simply NOT Dr.Who, it's just NOT", had me in stitches. Grow the fuck up mate, for God's sake. How old are you? Those stories ARE part of Who's history whether you like it or not. There's always a loony-leftie in there somewhere who sees racism in EVERYTHING, where no-one else does.

    Reply

  36. John Harwood
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

    And who are YOU to say Dr.Who "is not about racism. It's just not"? Well, obviously it IS!! You've given YOUR examples of why it is, I've told you about Weng Chiang (and others mentioned it too), you had the General in Ambassadors of Death who was totally xenophobic, and never mind racism, what about blatant sexism? Dr.Who has been nothing BUT sexist for about 90% of its history, and I hear casual viewers/friends/ family mentiong THAT, not any supposed racism. Therefore to your average viewer Dr.Who is more noticably sexist than it is racist. Do you have a problem with that? If you DO, then you better "De-canonise" every story from 1963 through to when token "strong" women like Ace and Tegan appeared, because prior to that, the role of women in Who was strictly as something to ask questions, to not understand anything and for the Doctor to constantly rescue. And anyone who wants to take this up with me they can ring me on 07984 115704 and use their voice instead of their bloody keyboard.

    Reply

  37. John Harwood
    February 27, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    You should also google "Dr.Who accused of 50 years of racism", to see the other side of your piss poor "argument". you're talking shite and you know it. I bet you're young aren't you? Probably somewhere between 18-mid 20s? Left-wing, pseudo-intellectual but consider yourself "academic", yes? I meet your type all the time. Wet behind the ears but thinks they've done it all, when in reality they've done NOTHING of any note and are ignorant.
    "Genesis of the Daleks": canon or racist? After all, the Daleks WERE based on Nazis. Oh and did you know Hartnell was a confirmed anti-semite? Better write off all the Hartnell stories, hadn't you? Moron!

    Reply

  38. Samuel Whiskers
    March 10, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

    Is he actually referred to as The Celestial Toymaker in the story? I thought he was just The Toymaker. You've described in earlier posts how these early stories didn't have overarching titles. I think the word 'Celestial' only appeared in the initial episode 'The Celestial Toyroom'.

    Reply

  39. Lokian Eule
    April 18, 2014 @ 11:54 am

    Wow, I wrote that three years ago and mistook The Ark for The Ark in Space. Well, that's a little embarrassing.

    Today I listened to the story "Solitaire" with Charley and the Celestial Toymaker facing off. It reminded me of your blog post and how I had a long conversation with someone about how the Toymaker was, in fact, not racist.

    Looking back on that conversation…well, I call bullshit. There's clearly some orientalism of some sort going on here. But it would be worth noting that the term "celestial" meaning Chinese fell out of use long by the early 1960s, and had thence come to mean "cosmic" like the present day meaning.

    I think what's also worth pointing out for readers is that doing yellowface extends past using prosthetics to imitate other races. This is something I did not understand three years ago…but maybe that's just me.

    It's sad that once again, there's an orientalist character and I like him. Li H'sen Chang and the Celestial Toymaker are both characters I really enjoy. What a shame.

    Reply

  40. lithrael
    July 28, 2014 @ 8:20 am

    Mr. Harwood, you are too crotchety to be on the internet. But I'll give your number to my nan and you two can have some sandwiches and talk about what a shame it is that everyone assumes you guys are racists just because you slip up now again and call darkies niggers.

    Reply

  41. N
    November 11, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    I'm not sure about this. Surely the above point breaks the link between 'Celestial' and 'Chinese' that you claim? The Toymaker and 'Celestial' are linked in virtue of the fact that the Toymaker is some god-like heavenly being, and the Toymaker and being dressed in Chinese clothes are linked by the Towers of Hanoi game. But the only way you can link the Toymaker with the Chinese racial slur 'Celestial' is by assuming that they reintroduced the word, having deleted it, because the Toymaker was Chinese. You say that this explains how the slang came into their heads. But there is now no evidence that it did come into their heads at all. It could just be that they thought 'The Toymaker' did not sound very interesting after all, or any number of reasons. This is especially true given that we don't know why the word 'Celestial' was deleted, prior to the Toymaker being made to wear Chinese clothing. It's also worth nothing that the Toyroom is called the Celestial Toyroom even though it is not decked out in Chinese livery; which suggests that the word 'Celestial' applies to its ontological status, not its cultural one – why then should that not be true of the Toymaker?
    It's also relevant that in Marco Polo they did tape back Martin Miller's eyes, despite him being a notable actor – so I don't see why they shouldn't do it to Gough if they really wanted to convey he was Chinese – especially as, contra Marco Polo, this story wasn't set in China. And if Gough's clipped voice is meant to be a Chinese accent (and it does not sound like a stereotypical Chinese accent to me – contrast it with John Bennett's in Talons), and the Toymaker is meant to be Chinese, why does the Toymaker not talk in that accent all the time, but only use it to speak to the Trilogic game? Why, at the end, does the Doctor talk about the Toymaker using a 'special sort of voice' when talking to the Trilogic game, if this is meant to be a Chinese accent and the Toymaker is meant to be Chinese? Why does the Doctor not refer to the 'special sort of voice' as a Chinese accent?
    Furthermore, the definition of 'Celestial' as referring to Chinese that I have found suggests that it originated in the 19th Century and was not current in Britain, but rather elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Slang is very specific to time and location and, to be honest, I find it implausible to think that Tosh would even have been aware of that connotation of the word.

    Reply

  42. CFE
    June 13, 2015 @ 11:13 am

    I suppose there's a reading which positions the toymaker as a deliberate pastiche of Victoriana (like his toys), after all: it's the defence we give Talons. But this story really sucks and deserves no such defence.

    Also, Mr Harwood needs to sit down with a certain Miss Wright and tell her that she existed merely to "ask questions, to not understand anything". I love when people take their early-to-mid seventies assumptions the show and try to make them work in the Weird Sixties.

    Reply

  43. James
    July 21, 2016 @ 10:15 am

    There is a thread on GalifreyBase you should see – http://gallifreybase.com/forum/showthread.php?t=143501

    And for what its worth, Michael Gough is NOT speaking “Chinese-speak”, he is speaking the way he does in practically everything (sadly minus the spittle of Konga).

    Heaven help you if you ever see The Birth of a Nation.

    Reply

  44. LizR
    February 15, 2017 @ 7:37 am

    Although it’s true that Agatha Christie’s “Ten little niggers” was retitled “And then there were none” in the 1940s, this was done because the original title was considered offensive in the USA – but clearly it wasn’t in the UK at the time (a point supported by the dog in “The Dambusters” by the way). So there’s that…

    Although, on the other hand, that was a quarter of a century before “The Celestial Toymaker” of course, and the 60s were supposedly more enlightened times – although Enoch Powell and Alf Garnett might be called by the prosecution to argue against them being THAT enlightened (not to mention the original words of “Get Back”, apparently). So it’s likely the BBC was sufficiently “institutionally racist” (appropriately enough) for such attitudes to creep unnoticed into a popular TV programme, even one supposedly about a supporter of the underdog, whose main enemies are thinly disguised Nazis. I wonder if anyone made these objections at the time? It would be interesting to know.

    Reply

  45. ladysugarquill
    June 28, 2017 @ 1:37 am

    Dodo didn’t get fired because she wasn’t working as a character, they kicked her out because TPTB decided she looked too old on camera. Yeah.

    I love Dodo. She isn’t useless or stupid, she’s happy and fun and I hate that the writers didn’t know what to do with her.

    Reply

    • ladysugarquill
      June 28, 2017 @ 1:54 am

      “2010 we’re still using a racist caricature as a recurring villain is, frankly, disgusting. This is a real and major failing of Doctor Who fandom”

      Most people don’t know about it, though. The Toymaker appeared in one Companion Chronicle afaik, and the vast majority of the fandom hasn’t watched this story, nor they listen to Big Finish.

      Reply

  46. John Smith
    October 19, 2023 @ 5:52 pm

    Thankfully, you don’t get to decide what is and isn’t canon, Philip.

    Like it or not, The Ark, this story, Talons, Tomb of the Cyber-Men and every other so called “problematic” story is just as canon as every other story. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

    Now man up, (lol) and accept it.

    Reply

    • Killer Meteor
      December 10, 2023 @ 11:39 am

      Where does Elizabeth say it’s not canon?

      Reply

    • Anton B
      December 10, 2023 @ 1:16 pm

      How about you “man up (lol)” and, instead of deadnaming others, have the courage to write insults under your own name? Alternately you could just go away. No one here cares about what’s “canon” or not.

      Reply

    • Christopher Brown
      December 11, 2023 @ 3:14 am

      Fuck off Nazi scum

      Reply

    • Killer Meteor
      December 11, 2023 @ 5:18 am

      What an awful human being you are, “John Smith”

      Reply

    • Killer Meteor
      December 11, 2023 @ 5:20 am

      John Smith AKA Multiple Frood?

      Reply

      • Ein
        December 11, 2023 @ 8:24 am

        Oh, I remember Multiple Frood from Twitter and GallifreyBase. One of the very worst.

        Reply

  47. Christopher Brown
    December 11, 2023 @ 3:12 am

    It’s so delightful to come back to this, ten years after this post introduced me to the Eruditorum, and see that update at the start…full circle indeed!

    Reply

  48. Andersonh1
    December 11, 2023 @ 4:35 pm

    When someone is fixated on race, they’ll find it where it doesn’t exist. It’s a major stretch to claim Gough’s commands to the Trilogic game pieces are “stereotypical Chinese”… compare them with John Bennett in Talons of Weng Chiang, just to pick a non-Who example, Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, or any number of other examples. Gough is clearly not in “yellowface” or made up to look Chinese in any way, as color photos of him in costume demonstrate, so several things you claim here are simply false. Wearing Mandarin’s robes alone does not make the character racist, and given the context of the story, the term “celestial” is clearly referring to “not of this earth”, and is applied both to the Toymaker and his toyroom (the name of the first episode is of coure “The Celestial Toyroom”). He’s out in space somewhere, doing things an earth-bound, human toymaker could never do. The only genuinely racist thing in the serial is the use of the “n-word”. That reflects badly on the actor for using it and those who allowed it on the air, but it has nothing to do with the character of the Toymaker. Much of your review is invalid because you base it on factual errors. It doesn’t matter if RTD has bought into it or not, facts are facts.

    Reply

  49. Kate Orman
    December 15, 2023 @ 3:52 pm

    It’s been half a century since The Celestial Toymaker, so it’s not surprising that many fans are puzzled about “Celestial” meaning “Chinese”. For copious examples of the word being used this way, pop over to the British Newspaper Archive and search Chinese Celestial. Mostly it’s just used in a mocking way, but sometimes it’s rather nasty. Anyway, search and you’ll see.

    https://britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

    Reply

    • TW
      January 27, 2024 @ 11:45 am

      Except of course if you restrict the search to the 50s and 60s, you mainly get either references to the historic Chinese Empire as the “Celestial Empire” or stuff about goldfish. This is dubious grounds for claiming the Chinese meaning of “Celestial” was intended as opposed to the more obvious one of “cosmic”.

      Of course Sandifer should have done this sort of thing before writing a supposed cultural history of Doctor Who, instead of relying on a 2000s TV show to inform them. Perhaps then we would have not have gotten the shockingly historically illiterate section on the story’s use of “n*****”, where she is completely unaware that Parliamentarians were using phrases like “n***** in the woodpile” without comment well into the 70s, and that the Agatha Christie novel she makes such a fuss about as “proving” that Toymaker was out of step with the times was actually published under its original title in the UK until 1985.

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        January 28, 2024 @ 4:39 pm

        “Mainly” is right. A search from 1/1/55 to 1/1/65 produced examples of a “Celestial Highlander” (a Chinese-Scottish woman), and the supposed story of a Chinese general baptising his troops with a firehose in “one celestial squirt”, as well as multiple references to the contemporary Republic of China and its people.

        There’s no wriggling out of it: “Celestial” was still used to mean “Chinese” at the time “Celestial Toymaker” was made.

        Reply

        • TW
          January 29, 2024 @ 10:20 am

          The point, which you have completely failed to respond to, is that the idea that “Celestial Toymaker” was intended by the production team to mean “Chinese Toymaker” as opposed to “Cosmic Toymaker” is dubious at best considering the association of the word “celestial” with “Chinese” was petering out at the time of its production.

          Reply

          • Kate Orman
            January 29, 2024 @ 4:14 pm

            The people who made Celestial Toymaker grew up in a world where “Celestial” was routinely used to mean “Chinese”, as did millions of viewers. The word was still being regularly used with that meaning at the time of the serial.

            Now, if the Toymaker wore lederhosen or a wetsuit, it might be more ambiguous. But there’s simply no wriggling out of it: “Celestial”, in the title of the story, was intended to mean “Chinese”.

          • TW
            January 29, 2024 @ 6:07 pm

            Except that of course what people would have heard “growing up” is irrelevant, because by this logic language would never change at all.

            We know why the Toymaker is in a Mandarin costume – because the production team falsely believed the Tower of Hanoi was of genuine East Asian origin. At some point around the same time the serial’s title was changed to “The Celestial Toymaker”. The link between the two is dubious – certainly there’s absolutely no case “cosmic” wasn’t the primary intended meaning – because there isn’t any other implication besides costume that the Toymaker is Chinese – no yellowface, no accent, nothing said by him or other characters.

            In any case, there are a large number of Doctor Who stories more racist than the Celestial Toymaker, where I’m fairly certain no one would be constructing theories about its alleged racism if it didn’t have “n*****” in it. Talons is the only other story where one can be fairly certain that the subject of race will come up, and it’s definitely not the only story more racist than Toymaker.

          • Elizabeth Sandifer
            January 29, 2024 @ 6:16 pm

            It seems extraordinarily mendacious to pretend that the two meanings are in some sort of either/or opposition. I expect the word was chosen precisely because it had an apropos double meaning.

          • Kate Orman
            January 29, 2024 @ 7:29 pm

            That’s a great point. It wouldn’t surprise me if a play on words was the intention, with the Toymaker’s mysterious realm as his Celestial Empire.

            I’ve got this hilarious mental picture of the door of a closet, bulging outwards with Toymaker’s collection of Sinophobic implications, and fandom (well, part of it) with its back to the door, desperately trying to hold it shut, crying “… uh… I know — yellowface! There wasn’t any yellowface! So ‘Celestial’ doesn’t mean ‘Chinese’!” In an infinite regression of goalpost-shifting — lest that awful door spring open.

          • Ross
            January 29, 2024 @ 10:42 pm

            “We wanted a word that means ‘cosmic’ and by a remarkable coincidence, though none of us even considered it, it just happened to also be a to-us-obscure word that sometimes (but not by us not intentionally for sure) was in the past (but not now) used to refer to a certain racial group which, also by complete coincidence and unwittingly on our part, we decided to dress the character up as. What are the odds?”

          • TW
            January 30, 2024 @ 10:56 am

            I never denied that a double meaning was logically possible – hence my use of the phrase “primary intended meaning”. My point is that if the double meaning was intended one would presumably have seen the slightest effort beyond the costume to make him read as Chinese – but there isn’t, diegetically he can’t be read as anything other than a white man in a Mandarin costume.

          • Jodi L
            February 1, 2024 @ 11:45 am

            This is all semantics and doesn’t change the racism of the story. Yellowface doesn’t just have to mean literal yellowface makeup–all of the signifiers used by the Toymaker are borrowed from stereotypical yellow peril villains like Fu Manchu and there’s never any indication given that the character is invoking those signifiers intentionally in-story. I think that in the wake of RTD’s interpretation of the character you certainly CAN read the Toymaker as a white guy in a racist costume, but acting like that was the intended reading by the creators of his first appearance is tantamount to arguing that all the monsters in the series should diegetically by read as people in rubber suits. The redemptive reading only really works if you consider a story made 57 years later as something the creators of this one planned for, which is nonsensical.

          • TW
            February 1, 2024 @ 6:00 pm

            My point has nothing to do with RTD. The point is that if the Toymaker was meant to be read as Chinese (or “alien Chinese” as with Ming) there’d be something there beyond the costume. If nothing else, you’d expect the “Trilogic Game” – the very reason the Toymaker is in a Mandarin costume to begin with – to have its believed Asian elements brought up rather than have it completely stripped of any cultural context.

  50. Andersonh1
    December 23, 2023 @ 11:39 am

    The ironic thing here is that I think most people today had no idea of the historical usage of the term “celestial” (I certainly didn’t), meaning that making a big deal out of past racial usage of the term is reviving terminology that was nearly dead. I have a hard time seeing that as a good thing, particularly now that RTD has made his version of the Toymaker explicitly racist. I don’t know if it’s Sandifer’s blog that inspired him or not, but by arguing a debatable interpretation (and it’s being charitable to give it that much credence) of the Toymaker as racist, suddenly we’ve got more racism in Doctor Who, not less. I think this particular interpretation of the character would have been better left unsaid, quite honestly. Some things just need to be allowed to fade away and die.

    Reply

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