Home Classic Doctor Who Classic Doctor Who DVD & Blu Ray REPORT: Doctor Who ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ animation at BFI Southbank

REPORT: Doctor Who ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ animation at BFI Southbank

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

It’s seems like only a few weeks ago that Doctor Who fans were gathered in NFT1 at the BFI Southbank for a screening. In fact, it was less than 4 weeks ago! This time those in attendance had a world premiere to enjoy, one which will cause plenty of debate…

Those who decided to check out the new, animated version of ’The Celestial Toymaker’ at the BFI Southbank were able to enjoy something truly unique. To summarise, the episodes were still being worked on hours before they were due to be screened!

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank – Justin Johnson and Dick Fiddy (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Audio supremo Mark Ayres explained that he only received the first episode at 6:15pm Friday night! Then there was an issue which resulted in a patch file being created specifically for this screening so it wasn’t quite finished. That explains why one particular shot during ‘The Celestial Toyroom’ featured the text ‘NOT FINAL’. So before the, as yet unannounced, release date there will be further tweaks.

But what of the episodes that were presented?

An Animated First Doctor

Since the announcement of this animation there has been plenty of discussion regarding the style which has been adopted. The motion capture techniques first seen to replace the missing episode 3 of ‘The Web of Fear’ have been developed and significantly improved when compared to that largely unsuccessful exercise. The movement of characters is smoother and the visual style is a lot less like a first generation PlayStation game. But there still remains a limited likeness to the regular cast. Whilst still a strong characterisation of the First Doctor, the result is less like William Hartnell. I also wasn’t aware that Peter Purves had such a robust chin! But Dodo’s eyes are particularly mesmerising, like a doll, which feels appropriate. Then there are the cast of guest characters…

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Overall some interesting creative decisions have been made. For example, Joey the clown is now closer to 7 feet tall and skinny whilst Clara is a tiny little clown gripping onto Joey like a child sat on the shoulders of a parent. Those changes are less successful when compared to the King and Queen of Hearts who are appropriately origami-like creations which work particularly well. There are also some wonderful textures for characters like Mrs Wiggs, whilst Cyril (Billy) is grubby like a schoolboy but with a polished sheen. All of these tap into the unnerving and surreal which very much is appropriate for the realm of the Celestial Toymaker.

The Animated Toymaker

The Toymaker himself is quite impressive. Sometimes looming over the action and the participants. At other times sat menacingly in his chair, taunting the Doctor. Those who dislike the variation from what could’ve been achieved in the mid 1960’s will not necessarily appreciate these stylistic variations. However, as a piece of entertainment it works very well and instills the Toymaker with more menace alongside Michael Gough‘s recognisable vocals.

The forthcoming animation of 1966’s The Celestial Toymaker (c) BBC

Of course, we have ‘The Final Test’ to make direct comparisons and it’s difficult not to agree that the TARDIS hopscotch game is now a bit more interesting. Floating triangles attend the participants so they can make their die rolls. The peril of falling off your location is more obvious than a supposedly electrified studio floor. However, people playing games is not the most riveting of entertainment, as we found out again later in the session. But the story is rounded off nicely and the overall experience was entertaining.

Play the game

As with TARDIS hopscotch the other games have also been developed. For instance, the trilogic game takes place on a table with a base of floating and rotating triangles which is more visually interesting. Similarly the booth used for the Blind Man’s Buff game is now a clown car. However, the blind man’s buff game uses a route which is more three dimensional but makes it more difficult to follow. All of these collective changes won’t be to everyone’s liking. There is certainly less connection to the original production than most missing episode projects.

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank – Justin Johnson and Mark Ayres (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

But because ’The Celestial Toymaker’ is a rare trip into a fantastical realm, it is a good opportunity to be creative. And whether viewers like it or not, it can’t be denied that this is a very creative production! Unfortunately, this new animation is unable to address some of the issues which the story clearly possesses. The Toymaker’s desire to play a game with the Doctor, but presenting one which only requires one player. Similarly, insisting that  Steven and Dodo must complete their games before the Doctor and yet skipping the Trilogic game ahead several moves at a time. Dodo’s incessant, “No, it can’t be!” when faced with yet another fake TARDIS!

All of those issues are still present and correct. Whilst trying to be creative with the presentation and accentuate the sinister and the surreal, the episodes are still faithful to the original plot. Whether that will be enough for the dissenting voices, only time will tell.

Mark Ayres saves the day

Unfortunately the event was a shorter affair than others at the BFI Southbank. Sadly, actor Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) was unavailable. Similarly the animation team are based in Australia and were therefore also unavailable. Fortunately, Mark Ayres was on hand to provide an introduction and to answer some of Dick Fiddy’s questions at halftime.

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank – Dick Fiddy and Mark Ayres (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Ayres revealed that this version of ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ actually uses audio material from the Randolph tapes. Apparently those recordings were salvaged from a refuse facility before finding their way to Ayres. This is the first opportunity to use those Randolph tapes as part of a new release as they provide better quality audio than previously available.

It is a tremendous achievement to take audio recorded nearly 60 years ago and combine them with glossy new visuals. Ayres has also added background sounds for each area whilst trying to be faithful to the original soundscape. Adding sound effects to the clown car booth for instance, elevates the episodes. Mark Ayres has truly achieved some form of modern alchemy.

Beyond the Celestial Toyroom

After­ the conclusion of the animated episodes there was a preview of a new feature which will be included on The Collection box sets (mostly). Hosted by Emily Cook, teams representing the eras of the original seven Doctors have 70 minutes to escape a Doctor Who escape room. The audience were shown the first 10 minutes of the instalment which features Peter Purves, Maureen O’Brien and Lisa Bowerman.

Representing the era of the First Doctor, this particular feature will actually be included on the upcoming release of ‘The Celestial Toymaker’. O’Brien was bewildered. Purves’ confidence in the trilogic game was misplaced. Meanwhile, Bowerman had to make sense of it all. There was plenty of laughter in the audience but I’m not sure that was always the intention. Clearly a lot of effort has been put into this but you have to question why. Watching other people complete an escape room is not the most riveting viewing experience but the short clip was entertaining because of the individuals involved.

The Celestial Toymaker animation at the BFI Southbank – Justin Johnson and Emily Cook (c) Bedwyr Gullidge

Emily Cook joined Justin Johnson to discuss the project. Cook explained that the escape room was created specifically for this feature and filmed in a studio in Surrey over a few days. Then sadly the event came to a swift end.

BlogtorWho would like to thank all those at the BFI for the opportunity to attend these events once again.

Doctor Who: The Celestial Toymaker is available to preorder now on DVD, BluRay and special steelbook edition.

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