After the Doctor becomes invisible, the TARDIS materializes in the middle of a vast empty room. Dodo begs that they leave, but the Doctor remarks that he’s also intangible and can’t operate the TARDIS. Elsewhere a man dressed like a Mandarin sends two clowns to greet his “guests.” Back near the TARDIS, the Doctor deduces that they’re in the realm of the Celestial Toymaker. The man himself appears and causes the TARDIS and then the Doctor to vanish, leaving Dodo and Steven alone with the clowns, who begin to play harmless pranks. The Toymaker reappears and says he’s taken the Doctor to play a game, and Dodo and Steven must play several games on their own. If they win, they’ll be given a TARDIS (which, the Toymaker adds, might not be the real one). If they lose, they’ll be trapped in his world for the rest of their lives. Plus they’ll have to win their games before the Doctor wins his or they all lose.
At the Toymaker’s house, the Doctor accuses the Toymaker of luring people into his realm and literally turning them into toys, which the Toymaker doesn’t deny. However, he admits that he’s become bored and wants to make the Doctor into his “perpetual opponent.” He tells the Doctor that if he and his companions must win all the games they may leave and the Toymaker’s world will be destroyed. He then challenges the Doctor to a very complex version of a Tower of Hanoi game that will require 1,023 turns to win. Back at the room, Steven is challenged by the clowns to a grueling version of a Blind Man’s Bluff with an obstacle course. The Doctor uses the Toymaker’s communication device to warn them that the game is more dangerous than they think, but the Toymaker quickly retaliates by making the Doctor invisible again. The clowns win the game, but Dodo and Steven find out that the clowns were using a fake blindfold, allowing them to challenge the clowns to a second round, which they win. After the victory, the clowns transform into dolls and a TARDIS appears, but inside they only find a written riddle.
Following the clue, they find themselves in two rooms with seven thrones and a group of human playing cards, a King, a Queen, a Joker, and a Knave. Once again the Doctor manages to warn them to be careful, causing the Toymaker to make him mute as well. From the riddle Dodo and Steven deduce that six of the seven thrones is dangerous and they’re supposed to sit on the safe throne. They also find seven mannequins in some cabinets. The King and Queen approach Steven and Dodo and tell them that they’re not inventions of the Toymaker, but people who have also been made into prisoners. The cards and the companions play together by placing the mannequins on the chairs, which offer up an assortment of death traps, but the strategy fails when they find that the cabinet with the last three mannequins has suddenly become locked, leaving three thrones. Dodo accidentally sits on one of the chairs and slowly starts to freeze; Steven is barely able to pull her away. Abandoned by the Joker and the Knave, the King and the Queen sit on one of the chairs together and are “killed” (actually transformed into playing cards), which at least leaves Dodo and Steven free to pick the right chair. Unfortunately, their only reward is another fake TARDIS and another riddle, along with the Toymaker’s taunts that the Doctor is going to win his game before they win theirs.
Finding themselves in a Victorian kitchen, Dodo and Steven encounter Sgt. Ruggs and Mrs. Wiggs, a stereotypical Victorian army commander and working class matriarch respectively. Realizing that they have to find a key in the kitchen, they rummage through the room, watched by an increasingly irate Mrs. Wiggs. Wiggs’s anger erupts into a fight between her and Ruggs, giving them the opportunity to find a key inside a pie Wiggs is working on. After they flee the kitchen, the Toymaker appears and lectures Wiggs and Ruggs, ordering them to get to the TARDIS before Dodo and Steven. In the next room, they find themselves before a dance floor where three mannequins are dancing and then stop. Across the floor is what appears to be the TARDIS. Steven tries to cross the floor but finds himself dancing involuntarily while the mannequins approach him. Dodo ends up on the floor too while Ruggs and Wiggs try to reach the TARDIS before the pair. Dodo and Steven beat the puzzle by managing to dance toward each other and making each other their dancing partners. Of course, “our princess is in another castle” and it’s yet another fake TARDIS. Back at the floor, Wiggs and Ruggs are stuck dancing mindlessly like the mannequins.
The next riddle warns Steven and Dodo about the next challenge: a darkened corridor where they meet the Knave, who is now dressed in a schoolboy uniform and is calling himself Cyril. They’re challenged to the next game, hopscotch with a twist: an electrified field between the squares. Also Cyril proves to be a rather bratty opponent, using a slingshot and other tricks to cause Steven and Dodo to break the rules or almost fall into the field. Cyril is on the verge of winning but ends up being killed by the electrical field due to one of his own traps. This time the TARDIS they win access to turns out to be the real one. The Doctor, however, refuses to make the last move, realizing that when he does so the Toymaker’s world will vanish, along with them and the TARDIS. From inside the TARDIS, the Doctor manipulates a recording of the Toymaker’s voice to make the last piece install itself, destroying the Toymaker’s world and giving them the opportunity to escape. The Doctor muses that, since the Toymaker is an immortal being, they might fight again, but he is happy to celebrate this one victory with some candy Cyril gave Dodo before the hopscotch game. As soon as the Doctor bites into the candy, he starts to feel pain…
The Doctor is completely aware of the existence of the Celestial Toymaker and recognizes the signs of his handiwork right off the bat. There’s as good a starting point for a “lost adventure” as any.
At the end, the script basically takes over the Doctor’s mind and promises the viewer that the Celestial Toymaker would be back (no, really!). It didn’t happen, at least not in the show. He was supposed to make an encore appearance in 1986 with The Nightmare Fair (whether or not Gough was intended to reprise the role I haven’t been able to find out), but it was canceled to make way for “Trial of a Time Lord”, but more on that much later.
To follow up on my earlier comments about Dodo, I like that the writers here went out of their way to illustrate that Dodo isn’t stupid, just that her mind works differently. For instance, it was nice that she figured out what Steven couldn’t, that the characters they encounter were just conjured up by the Toymaker. Unfortunately, it never really effects the plot the way you think it would (or should), and at a guess I’d say it was just included at all in order to justify Steven not trying to help their opponents.
There are three things this serial is known for: it stars Michael Gough as a deranged god-like being, and it’s one of the episodes with the least amount of footage and even set photographs. Also it has a reputation as the serial that isn’t nearly as good as you hoped, and for the most part it’s true. Gough does go a long way; his part isn’t written as well as you might expect, but he runs with what little he has and plays the Toymaker like a classic pulp villain. From the vantage point of the twenty-first century, there’s just something about this serial that captures the spirit of mid-twentieth century “pulpy” fiction.
Fun as it is, it’s flawed for two reasons, one of which is completely the showrunners’ fault, the other of which isn’t. The one that isn’t is the fact that today the only way you can experience this episode is as an audio recording or as a “recon”, which is basically the audio recording cum stills and the very minute scraps of surviving footage. This is a tremendous problem, even more so than in the other “lost” serials, especially for the first and last episode, which involve characters engaging in a complex series of actions. Try as the narrator, Peter Purves (“Steven”), might, he can’t fill the gaps left by the absence of the visuals. The other problem which could have been helped is the absence of William Hartnell for two whole episodes, covered up rather clumsily with the explanation that the Toymaker made him invisible and mute. I admit it is the sort of thing you kind of wish people could still get away with in most modern television shows, but you have to wonder why they couldn’t wait for another serial where the Doctor could be kidnapped or something for most of the episode. Part of what makes this serial work is the sight of the Doctor verbally sparring with a rival mastermind, but we only see this in the first and last episodes (putting aside the second episode, where we have a very unconvincing “invisible” Doctor). Imagine “The Time Meddler” with the interactions between the Monk and the Doctor cut down to a bare minimum.
It still works, especially in the last two episodes, which carry the surreal and “anything can happen” tone of the serial the best, marred just a little by the fact that you can’t actually see (beyond stills) the closing “hopscotch-to-the-death” game. The first two episodes are a wash, with dull – and more than occasionally obnoxious – adversaries and Steven and Dodo constantly talking about what to do without actually doing anything. Plus Clara the clown’s voice has such a perfect ratio of “annoying” and “creepy” it deserves a new word: creepoying or annopy, I suppose. My verdict is that it’s not quite as bad as what its reputation might say, but its well-known flaws are unavoidable.