The Most Totally Closed Mind (The Celestial Toymaker)
|Me Chinese. Me play joke. Me trap you in a nightmarish|
shadow dimension and force you to play sadistic games
for all eternity.
I wrote this essay more than eleven years ago. I have not rewatched The Celestial Toymaker in those eleven years, and have zero intention of ever watching it again in my life. While I stand by the broad claim that the story is both racist and terribly made, I am in no position to defend any specific detail of my reading at this point. While I remain broadly proud to have been part of the widespread reevaluation of this story and its mistaken reputation as a classic, I would note that the argument that it’s crap and the observation of its racism both predate me—they can be found in About Time, which at this stage in writing Eruditorum I was still, frankly, over-reliant on as a reference. More to the point, there’s a decade of subsequent discussion about this story, some of which I should dearly hope has surpassed my own analysis. Given this, and without being so arrogant as to think this is remotely binding, I would largely appreciate if my decade old work were not held up as a primary source to be cited in any current debates about the character, if only because, as a trans woman, I really don’t need the inevitable explosion in my mentions.
It’s April 2nd, 1966. The sun continues not to shine. In two weeks, The Spencer David Group will require someone to save them. So the singles chart isn’t that interesting. Flipping to current events, then, we have… not a heck of a lot. Artificial heart installed in Texas. That’s a bit funny, actually, given that the story we’re talking about today was almost Harnell’s regeneration story, whereas his actual regeneration story features a villain based on paranoia about things like artificial heart.
So this story and the next one are a bit interesting. I mean, Doctor Who is always interesting. Even when it gives a complete turkey of a story, it’s still usually interesting. But these stories are interesting because they are a consecutive pair of stories that have both had dramatic and significant re-evaluations within fandom. We’ll talk about the actual process of re-evaluation on Monday with The Gunfighters, but for now, let’s note that this was, for a long time, considered one of the great lost classics of Doctor Who.
It’s understandable on paper. You’ve got an unusual setting, a first rate actor in Michael Gough, and a bizarre and terrifying villain. Everything looks like we’re set for a story that works well. So in the absence of anyone actually taking a look at the thing, of course everyone thought it was good. Episode 4 wasn’t found until 1984, which is after the cut-off for initial impressions, and didn’t get a mass release until 1991. Loose Cannon didn’t get to it until 1999. So there was plenty of time for everyone to make assumptions about the story before anyone saw it.
Sometimes this process masks a hidden gem. Nobody quite knew how good The Massacre was for a very long time, because on paper it didn’t look like much. Here, however, that process led us to assume that this story was brilliant. After all – a nightmarish realm of toys ruled over by an insane demigod that forces the Doctor and his companions to play a bunch of nefarious games with odd titles like the Trilogic Game. That sounds great. Clearly a departure for Doctor Who into something new and exciting, and an ambitious idea that introduced new kinds of threats for the Doctor.
Then people actually saw the thing. And that’s the problem. Because in practice, this story is a complete trainwreck. The pacing is excruciating. Even if you make the standard accommodations of remembering that it’s not supposed to be watched in one shot, it’s tough to get over the fact that there is no emotional content to this story. It’s just the Doctor playing the Trilogic Game for four episodes while Steven and Dodo meander through a series of arbitrary deadly challenges. The reason it’s four episodes long is… that’s how long it is. It could have been one. It could have been three hundred. It doesn’t matter, because the plot does not build at all, at any point, anywhere in the entire episode. They just eventually run out of games and go free.
I mean, watching the reconstructions you can find a little leeway. Yes, it’s almost certain that the 40 second dance sequence in episode three would have played better if you didn’t have to stare at a single photograph for 40 seconds while music played. But then you get to episode four and realize that, no, the whole thing actually is as dull as you were afraid.
And on top of that, the whole thing is just… not even trying. It makes literally zero effort to be good. There’s an interesting bit that comes up occasionally in which Dodo tries to treat the opponents the Toymaker creates for them seriously because they’re real people who got trapped by the Toymaker. But her and the Toymaker saying so is the only actual evidence we have for this. She makes a vague claim that their remaining humanity is why they let them win, but it’s a tell-don’t-show moment. Nothing, watching the episodes, makes them look like anything other than generic villains. That’s par for the course here. “Ooh, that’s an interesting idea, let’s ignore it in favor of fifteen minutes of hopscotch.”
The central example of this – the one that I spent most of the four episodes laughing at – is the Trilogic Game. Which sounds delightfully esoteric when you just read the name, or hear the Toymaker’s description: “The trilogic game. A game for the mind, Doctor, the developed mind. Difficult for the practiced mind. Dangerous for the mind that has become old, lazy, or weak.” I mean, wow! What a great idea! A devilish, difficult game that is so savagely difficult as to be actively dangerous for a lesser mind! How does it work?
Well, as it happens… it’s Towers of Hanoi. If you’re not familiar with the name, you’re surely familiar with the concept. There’s a tower of discs of varying sizes, stacked with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on top. You must move the tower from one location to one of two others, one disc at a time, and never putting a larger disc on top of a smaller one. For my part, I first encountered this game in a computer game – I believe Sesame Street themed – in which the discs were layers of a cake. I was very good at it. I was also three.
In other words, the diabolical logic puzzle is, in fact, an idiotically simple puzzle that children can and do solve and that is trivial to write an algorithm for. Which would be one thing if the sodding Toymaker didn’t routinely shout for the game to advance itself. Which kind of establishes the game as the linear execution of an algorithm that it is. I mean, it’s a bit puzzling why the Toymaker constantly goads the Doctor about whether he has the sequence right when the Toymaker has been making half the moves himself. (Really, about the most fun you can have with this episode is trying to come up with elaborate explanations for why the Toymaker is as stupid as he is. Unfortunately, as we’ll see in a moment, the most sensible explanation is a deeply unpleasant one.)
This may also be the story that functionally kills Dodo as a character. After an introduction in which she’s maddeningly stupid, here she has nothing to do. I mean, nobody has anything to do in this story, but for Steven or the Doctor that’s not so bad, because we at least know them well as characters. But Dodo has gone from stupid to nothing to do, meaning we’ve had eight episodes of her not working as a character. Even if she’s extraordinary in her remaining ten, she’s kind of up a creek now, and it’s no wonder she got dropped.
To some extent, there are excuses to be made. The original idea for this story was apparently to have it be an implicit sequel to a play called George and Margaret by Gerald Savory. George and Margaret was a minor piece of absurdism that got to the central idea of Waiting for Godot a decade and change earlier than Beckett did. The play is about a dinner party for George and Margaret in which the titular characters never show up. This episode was going to actually have George and Margaret, until Gerald Savory decided he didn’t like the script and demanded they be taken out, which necessitated a hurried rewrite of the script to remove its central concept. Probably the whole story would have been spiked there and then, except the show needed a cheap story and this story fell right on the transition from John Wiles to Innes Lloyd as producer, so Lloyd didn’t really have time to kill it, even though by that point even Wiles, who commissioned it, wanted it killed. Still, given that we’re already slagging on Wiles, and I don’t want to turn on Lloyd in his first story, since he’ll be here for two more seasons, let’s blame most of this on Wiles for simplicity’s sake.
But this is only so helpful. You could try watching the story as a piece of absurdist theater, except it’s lousy absurdism too, because absurdism is ultimately about something. This story isn’t. It’s not exposing the capricious and arbitrary rules that tyranically govern the world. It’s just faffing about with musical chairs of doom. It may use the tropes of absurdism, but it doesn’t get at the point of those tropes, making them an empty exercise, and making the absurdist explanation little more than an interesting production detail.
But here’s the really brutal part. It’s not enough that this story is complete rubbish. I mean, it is, and it boggles the mind that this was once thought of as a classic. (They were going to bring the Toymaker back in Season 23, before the 1985 hiatus killed that plan. Doctor Who fans should thank Michael Grade for sparing us from that trainwreck of an idea.) But that’s not actually the biggest problem with this story.
So let’s get to the real problem. The thing that takes this story beyond “Interesting idea with completely botched execution” into “Oh for God’s sake, just kill me.” The fact that this story is unrepentantly racist. Again.
And, I mean, seriously. I’m certainly deliberately including race as a running theme in this blog, but would the show mind cutting me a little slack so I don’t have to point it out every damn episode? I mean, I suppose at least the racism has changed slightly. The Ark is racist deliberately and ideologically. Everything about it is racist. Which is oddly more tolerable than this, where the racism is wholly incidental. The Ark was racist because some people with racist beliefs decided to write a story about what they believe. The Celestial Toymaker is racist because some people with racist beliefs just couldn’t be bothered not to put them in.
There’s two big aspects of racism in this story. One is more commented on than the other. The less commented aspect is this – the Toymaker himself is a vicious caricature of the Chinese. You may have missed this reading about the story. First of all, let’s note that the Toymaker is explicitly dressed as and described as a Mandarin. This would be one thing, except the title of the story – The Celestial Toymaker – reiterates this. Celestial does not mean “cosmic” here. It’s old slang for Chinese. (Fire up an episode of Deadwood and you’ll see it thrown around) Specifically, at least according to some sources, it implies drug use, which sets up an interesting interpretation of this story as a condemnation of the entire idea of psychedelic culture, but is probably neither here nor there. So we have a racial slur in the title, and a villain dressed in the appropriate ethnic clothing.
But wait, you say, Michael Gough was white. Yeah, but so was most of the cast of Marco Polo. He’s playing the role in obvious yellowface. For proof, look at him when he shouts at the Trilogic Game (also of Asian origin, at least by legend, although exactly where in Asia varies, and the legend is likely an apocraphyal backstory to explain a 19th century invention) to advance some number of moves. Hear that clipped, shouting speech with an accent that isn’t quite English? Sound familiar? That’s because it’s the same exact parody of East Asians speaking English still in use whenever you want an ethnically stereotypical Asian. The entire story is based around having a Fu Manchu style villain who is evil precisely because he’s Chinese. To an audience watching and even remotely aware of these stereotypes, the fact that he is Chinese is how we know the moment we see him that he’s evil. And just think about the xenophobia here – his toys and games are all classic Victorian stuff. So this is a nefarious, evil Chinese man who twists good Victorian children’s culture into sadistic and evil games.
Honestly, I am stunned and kind of upset that the Toymaker is still considered a classic Doctor Who villain. Big Finish has been using him in audio stories as recently as June of 2010. Despite the fact that he’s a flagrant racist caricature. And you can’t even rewrite him to avoid that, because the racism is in his name. It’s not like you can just shave off the pointy bits and have a character that isn’t racist. You’re pretty much stuck with it. The fact that anybody trots this character out as a classic part of Doctor Who history is a black mark on Doctor Who fandom.
And that’s not even all! The other, better known bit of racism, is that the 19th Century American version of Eenie Meenie Miney Moe is recited in the second episode. That would be the version in which “tiger” is replaced with “nigger.”
And for those sources (which I decline actively to do the service of linking) who defend the slur as being acceptable in 1966… No. The slur was not acceptable in 1966. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None had its title changed to not include the slur in the 1940s. It was racist then. It’s racist now. It’s just plain racist. There’s not a defense of this one to mount. You can’t hide it behind “Oh, times have changed.” Yeah, they have. But that’s not one of the things that’s changed.
I mean, for God’s sake, the American Civil Rights movement is international news by now. The word is an American slur. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes establishes conclusively that any UK usage of that version is picking up on the American version. To use that version is explicitly a reference to American culture, and in 1966, shortly after the heyday of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in America, there’s no sympathetic reading here. There’s no way to pick that version of the rhyme without making a conscious decision that you’re perfectly fine with calling Martin Luther King a nigger.
So it’s not “a product of its times” or anything like that. Nor was The Ark. Or, rather, they are a product of their times, but they’re a product of the worst and most reprehensible instincts of the times. I mean, I’m OK with sympathetic readings of racist texts of the past that acknowledge the failings even as they celebrate what’s good about them. Hell – I freely admit that The Ark, and the entire John Wiles era, is gripping television, even if it is largely ethically bankrupt. And it certainly doesn’t help that The Celestial Toymaker is crap to start. But there’s also no excuse for this. Or for The Ark.
Yes, there were more unrepentant racists in 1966, and so in that sense racism was “part of the culture.” But so was the idea of racial equality, and the sense that maybe colonizing people and oppressing them wasn’t a very nice thing to do. I mean, the entire Rhodesian conflict we’ve been talking about puts the lie to the idea that racism and colonialism was unambiguously accepted. Frankly, the ideas that are needed to label this story and The Ark as reactionary bullshit were just as present in 1966 as the racism they embody. Possibly moreso, in that this was an explicit debate going on at the time, and these stories unashamedly associate themselves with the wrong side of that debate.
And I just can’t do it. I can’t. The show I love doesn’t pull stunts like this. It doesn’t do stories that exist to revel in stereotypes and crass racism. It certainly doesn’t do them a week after a ringing endorsement of the idea that brown people just aren’t fit to govern themselves. This isn’t Doctor Who. I take back what I said in the first post about every story being a Doctor Who story. That’s not true. Stories that are fundamentally about racist ideologies and oppressing people because their culture isn’t as good as yours? Those aren’t Doctor Who stories. No matter what theme music you put at the top and what actors you cast, they aren’t Doctor Who stories. 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. I flatly refuse to let these two into the clubhouse. Doctor Who is not a show in which reactionary imperialist ideology wins the day. It’s not a show where the Doctor fights racist caricatures, unless he’s fighting someone for producing them. It’s not a show about xenophobia and racism. It’s just not. And stories that try to make it into one are far, far bigger violations of what the show is about than most of what constitutes a canon debate. 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. This is a real and major failing of Doctor Who fandom, and one of the few points over which I feel kind of dirty being associated with it.
OK. So, really, with this blog, it’s my sincere intention to remain positive about Doctor Who and try to find the best in stories. And it’s been two in a row that I’ve just had to throw my hands up and admit are really, really upsettingly not good.
For those who know the order of Doctor Who stories by heart, then, it will amuse you to know that I promise, I really do actually like Monday’s story.
Do you own the (existent) bits of The Celestial Toymaker on DVD yet? If not, and if this entry hasn’t totally dissuaded you from wanting to, consider buying them from Amazon via this link. If you do, I’ll get some money.
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.
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.
April 1, 2011 @ 4:03 pm
So will "Talons" not be canon either, or will that be a subversive exploration of Victorian stereotypes?
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?)
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.
April 17, 2011 @ 11:26 am
^Thank Gawd fer that. your blog is fascinating reading by the way. Keep it up.
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.)
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."
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
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
July 6, 2012 @ 1:41 am
Donald Tosh has apparently spoken about the Toymaker recently: http://gallifreybase.com/forum/showthread.php?t=143501
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.
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!
Henry R. Kujawa
August 5, 2012 @ 11:32 am
"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.
"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?
"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.)
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.
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.
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.
February 27, 2014 @ 4:08 pm
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.
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.
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!
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'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.