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The Winner Takes It All

In the series’ fictional universe many of the Doctor’s enemies, and even his own people, are characterised by their penchant for game-playing…
The Toymaker (Michael Gough) deals the cards in The Hall of Dolls, the second episode of The Celestial Toymaker (1966).

Consider the Doctor’s oldest enemies. Not ‘most enduring enemies’ or ‘enemies of longest standing’. Oldest as in ‘most ancient’ – enemies whose uncertain origins might predate even those of the Time Lords. The Celestial Toymaker, perhaps, or the Great Intelligence, or the Black Guardian, or the Gods of Ragnarok, or Fenric… among others. The Doctor’s ancient enemies. And they all play games.

Not metaphorical games; actual games. Board games, most often. This can’t be coincidence.

The so-called Celestial Toymaker was the first of these ancient adversaries encountered by the Doctor – both on screen and off, for The Celestial Toymaker (1966) was a return match, the sequel to an unseen adventure. “It’s so nice to see you again,” the Toymaker (Michael Gough) tells the Doctor (William Hartnell) after he’s somehow penetrated the TARDIS’ ‘safety barrier’ and drawn it to his Toyroom. “The last time you were here, I hoped you’d stay long enough for a game, but you had hardly time to turn around.” The Doctor, however, insists he’d been “very wise” not to rise to the Toymaker’s earlier challenge: “You and your games are quite notorious. You draw people here like a spider does to flies…

And should they lose the game they play, you condemn them to become your toy forever.” Although the Toymaker compels the Doctor’s companions to play rigged parodies of Earth children’s party games (Blind Man’s Buff, Musical Chairs, Hunt the Key), these choices, surely, are for the Earthlings’ benefit, since his origins are plainly far from mundane. Even the fact that the Toymaker appears dressed in ornate chinoiserie is an elaborate joke. The three-cornered Trilogic Game that the Toymaker forces the Doctor to play is based on the ‘Tower of Hanoi’, a nineteenth-century mathematical puzzle originally marketed by Professor ‘N Claus de [of] Siam’ – an anagram of ‘Lucas d’Amiens’, ie, the puzzle’s inventor Édouard Lucas (1842-91). ‘Prof Claus’ claimed to have discovered the game ‘in the writings of the illustrious Mandarin Fer-Fer-Tam-Tam’, hence the Toymaker’s Mandarin robes. The joke, in fact, is two-fold, since ‘celestial’ has two meanings – not only ‘pertaining to the heavens’ but also (archaically, with a capital C) ‘of or relating to the Chinese’.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In 1964 Dalekmania led to the birth of Doctor Who licensing, and it’s been with us ever since. The return of the series in 2005 prompted an even bigger range of merchandise, which this time invaded supermarkets as well as toy shops. In 2017 the popularity, and ingenuity, of these products continues unabated. This is the surprising story of Doctor Who toys and games – told by the people who make, sell and collect them.