February 26: "The Hall of Dolls" / "The Dancing Floor"

(The Celestial Toymaker episodes 2 & 3)

Hmm.  No, sorry to say, but these two episodes appear to be as visual the first one.  It's certainly a rather imaginative story, but the actual realization is now without the pictures down to listening to Steven and Dodo argue with playing card people about using wooden dolls on chairs.  It's not the most thrilling television ever, I'm afraid.

Cover of the 1986 Target novelization.
(From On Target - The Celestial Toymaker)
And William Hartnell, who was made invisible last episode, is now rendered mute as well, after a few prerecorded lines that sound like he's literally phoning them in.  The lines are totally devoid of any sort of import or alarm or feeling whatsoever; I don't think it's a stretch to say it's Hartnell's worst performance on Doctor Who.  Still, at least everyone else is giving it their best.  Carmen Silvera and Campbell Singer do their best to make the Queen and King of Hearts distinct characters, and they're actually quite fun -- even though you know they're working against Steven and Dodo.  And it's a bit entertaining to watch Steven and Dodo interact; Steven wants to win no matter what so that this will all be over, while Dodo wants to get into the spirit of the games and doesn't seem to realize how deadly they are.  Still, it seems like a lot is lost when all you have is the soundtrack.

Alas, things don't get any better in that department with "The Dancing Floor".  The first half of the episode is fairly clearly designed to be a slapstick comedy, and so when all you can do is listen it's rather an exercise in tedium.  This sequence, more than any other, is probably the most difficult to evaluate based on audio alone.  After all, Laurel & Hardy's short The Music Box won an Academy Award, but if all you could do was listen to it, it would quickly lose its appeal.  I'm not suggesting that this sequence is on par with something like that, but rather that it's almost impossible to judge.  Still, at least it sounds like the actors are having fun.  And then the second half concerns Steven and Dodo dancing their way across a dance floor to get to the TARDIS.  It doesn't sound quite that difficult, and once they get the hang of it, it isn't.  Er, yes.  Again, visuals might really help.

But maybe they wouldn't.  It's got to be said that, after the sinister atmosphere built up by "The Celestial Toyroom", this gets squandered a bit in these two parts.  We get told the chairs are dangerous in "The Hall of Dolls", and Dodo gets frozen by one, so there's a little bit of suspense.  But on the other hand it does seem a bit jolly, and then "The Dancing Floor" goes even further by having not really any threat whatsoever, so dramatic tension goes out the window.  Donald Tosh has complained that when incoming script editor Gerry Davis rewrote his scripts to remove two primary characters, as ordered from above22, he also removed a lot of the menace that Tosh had inserted and replaced it with more pantomime.  You can't help but wonder if Tosh doesn't have a point.







22 Settle in, this might take a minute.  In the 1930s a playwright named Gerald Savory had written a smash hit comedy called George and Margaret, where a family is awaiting the arrival of two guests named, funnily enough, George and Margaret -- they're the catalyst for the events of the play, but they don't actually appear in it.  Fast-forward to 1966, and Gerald Savory is now Head of Serials.  So writer Brian Hayles gets the idea to have George and Margaret actually show up in a Doctor Who story.  Savory gives permission and Hayles writes the script, but he doesn't have time for rewrites, so it passes to outgoing script editor Donald Tosh to make any necessary changes.  He rewrites it substantially enough that it's going to go out under his name, "based on an idea by Brian Hayles", but then Savory reads the script, hates it, and withdraws permission for his characters to be used.  At this point money has been spent and people have been cast, so they can't just scrap the story.  Therefore incoming script editor Gerry Davis has to rewrite the whole thing to remove George and Margaret.  The result apparently hardly resembles Tosh's scripts, so he has his name taken off it and Brian Hayles is reinstated as credited author (Davis can't take credit because he's the script editor and the BBC had rules about such things -- as Tosh had left at the relevant point, that rule no longer applied to him).