Iain McLaughlin

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The Celestial Toymakers

Unused pitch

When Big Finish were preparing their villains trilogy for the 40th anniversary in 2003, a bunch of us got the chance to pitch stories for a return encounter with the Celestial Toymaker.

Mine never went beyond the synopsis below. And quite right, too, you might say. I definitely wanted it to be different from the first story and also different from The Nightmare Fair. So, this is what I came up with...

And by the way, I wrote it with Kenneth Branagh's voice in my head for Roger. Well, why not aim high?
English village, 1930-ish.

A village that’s got a hint of Royston Vasey about it, only in Cornwall or Devon. It’s the sort of village you might find in horror movies, full of the ‘Ooo-aaarrr-ing’ yokels, who infest Transylvania in British horror movies. You know the sort. Always saying things like. “Ooooh, you don’t want to up to that thur house on the hill thur, young maaaarster.” Okay, maybe they’re not THAT extreme, but it’s the horror stereotype. And there is a haunted house – Windlesham Hall. In true horror style, the place has a history that would make Baskerville Hall look like a Wendy house. A history of dark and depraved goings on. There have been black masses, utterly foul lords of the manor, ghostly sightings, unexplained deaths, the full horror flick monty. The audio equivalent of a Hammer set-up. A young chap arrives and is told by the buxom serving wench (hey, we can’t see that she’s buxom but if this was a Hammer movie she would be, okay?) not to go to the house. Only bad can happen there. There’s an evil in that house. Our young chap, Roger Windlesham, is the new Lord of the gaff and he’s going to have a look at his country seat. He cajoles and persuades the comely serving lass (who we’d better give a name – how does Betty sound?) to show him the way out to his estate, where the servants will be waiting to meet him. She knows it’s a bad idea, but she agrees. He’s a smooth-tongued charmer, is Roger. You know what they say, Roger by name...

The Tardis is not happy. It’s being hammered and battered about in the vortex. The vortex itself is all to hell. The patterns and rules of the vortex aren’t being followed and the Tardis’ controls are making even less sense than usual. The Doctor executes an emergency landing and arrives at Windlesham Hall a few moments before Roger and Betty. Newspapers have been delivered – the Times and the Devon Clarion (hopefully there’s no such august publication). It’s November 1930. The Doctor is up for investigating. When Roger arrives, he’s a surprised to have guests, but he’s pleased to have someone from London. He was worried that the locals were going to be a terrible bore (No offence, Betty). Roger has a bit of a low threshold for boredom. Still, he’s been informed that there are ghosts, ghoulies and spooks around, which should keep things rather jolly. The Doctor’s not keen on that, but he does want to know what’s going on so he accepts Roger’s offer of a meal and beds for the night. Inside, we meet the staff – again, they’re stereotypes. Upright butler who’s probably got a sinister secret, a dodgy housekeeper who’s in on the secret as well. Peri begins to wonder at the stereotypes they’re facing: ‘It’s like “Hound of the Baskervilles” crossed with “The Cat And The Canary”. What? Hey, I like black and white movies, okay? I just don’t want to be in one.’ Getting ready for the dinner, Peri and Erimem find that their clothes have moved around the room. They didn’t see it happen, but it did. Maybe it was a housekeeper or the maid. Except nobody else has been in the room. Weird.

Betty, meanwhile, has been invited to stay as well. She’s eyeing young Roger as her way out of being a busty barmaid and into being the busty lady of the big house. (Again, playing up to stereotypes – not blatantly obvious but certainly floating around that area of comfortable recognition for the audience. They need to know the scenario.) Anyhoo, she’s on her way down to dinner, probably after warning Peri and Erimem to keep their claws out of Roger – she saw him first and she’s got dibs on him. And then she sees someone – something? – in the shadows. She takes a look. Talks to this figure – doesn’t get an answer and when she gets closer she gets worried. She asks the usual questions a doomed stooge asks in horror movies. “Who are you? What are you doing in there? What...?” Followed by a blood-curdling SCREAM! When Betty is found, she’s wearing a huge grin. She’s deader than Cliff Richard’s underpants but she’s got a huge, off-putting, creepy grin on her face. Everybody has an alibi. Could it be the ghost of Roger’s rotten ancestor? The one who had a branch of the Hellfire Club? Ever since he was killed by an uprising of his farm-workers over the matter of a farm-girl’s virtue, his spirit has been rumoured to have stalked the hall, taking his vengeance on women, men and anybody else. The Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts here but there is something wrong. It’s as if he knows the set-up just too well. (By now, the comfy territory we’re in should start to get a bit uncomfortable.)
From here, we stay in familiar haunted house/Agatha Christie territory for the rest of part one, although it does get a bit weird, just how well the set-up is known to Peri and the Doctor. Lots of red herrings, clues, chills until the Doctor puts together the pieces. He works out what’s going on. Or at least 99% of it. The villain is...

Wait! Roger doesn’t want the Doctor to name the villain. He has to do it. The Doctor shakes off Roger’s protests and names the villain (whoever it is and whoever the clues and red haddocks... sorry, herrings led him to). Roger goes mental as the Doctor reveals the villain (who isn’t too put out by it all). But Roger really goes bing-bong do-lally. It’s not right. It’s not fair. He would have got it. He could have got it. The Doctor goes to pains to point out that this isn’t right at all – they’re in some kind of charade. Some kind of elaborate hoax. Why doesn’t the perpetrator show himself? Roger is still protesting that he would have got it.

“But you didn’t,” replies a rich voice. It comes from everywhere in the Hall, but from nowhere it particular. The Hall fades away and is replaced by another locale – say, a London street, the surface of an asteroid. It doesn’t really matter. The Hall is gone, so are all the people who were in it – Peri, Erimem and Roger included. There’s only the Doctor and the Toymaker, who introduces himself again and congratulates the Doctor on solving his little puzzle. End of part one.

That only really works if the Toymaker’s presence was being kept under wraps. If he was plonked on the front cover, his appearance at the end of ep 1 would be a bit of a non-shocker. Kind of like the Daleks turning up at the end of episode 1 of every story called “The Something of the Daleks”.

Anyway, the Toymaker would send the Doctor into another scenario. It’s not just games here – it’s more along the lines of mysteries and puzzles. Not just Agatha Christie stuff. Different places and problems, though the same characters turn up in different personas wherever they go. The Doctor gets one set, Peri and Erimem another. Roger is involved as well. He seems to be another of the Toymaker’s playthings, railing against the Toymaker, but we only find out the truth about him when he actually wins a game/challenge against the Toymaker. The Toymaker is scared of him. Y’see, Roger is also the Toymaker.

As I remember them, past stories with the Toymaker have always taken place on his turf, so to speak. He’s always been the mover and shaker, setting the scene for the story.

How about if he’s on the defensive for a change?

The Toymaker has created a duplicate of himself. Another Toymaker – a different body and a different voice – a separate entity, a different person, a life in its own right. Ideal for the Toymaker, you’d think. Someone to challenge him through eternity, someone to push him to the limit, someone to keep him intrigued. Just one problem – the 2nd Toymaker (who’s a bit Eddie Izzard-ish in my noggin) is too precise a replica. He’s got a heightened sense of the twisted, the nasty and the sneaky. He’s beating the Toymaker and if things don’t turn about quickly, the original Toymaker will be a goner. (Whenever the two Toymakers are together, they’ll play word games, trying to catch each other out, always trying to one-up the other, always trying to be get as victory). The original Toymaker needs help and turns to the only person he thinks can help him – the only person to have ever beaten him – the Doctor.

So the Doctor is stuck in the middle between two Toymakers, each of whom wants to destroy the other, and wants the Doctor’s help to do it. Naturally, the Doctor’s not daft enough to believe either of them, or the vast promises they make him, but he can’t stay about in this place forever either. He’s being pressured into choosing by the Toymakers putting Peri and Erimem into steadily more inescapable problems. The women are staying alive by living on their wits. They’re smart, intelligent and resourceful, but they can’t keep going forever.

A final challenge is decided upon. The two Toymakers in a last battle to see who survives. That’s fine by the Doctor. While they’re busy doing that, he’ll see about finding a way of escape for himself and his friends. But that’s just not happening. The Toymakers have chosen their game – and they’ve chosen their players. One will have Peri play for them, the other will have Erimem and it’s a game to the death. For the game to end, either Peri or Erimem has to die. Of course, neither woman will kill the other. They’re friends, they’re close. They won’t do it. The Toymakers have to agree. So they wipe the minds of both Peri and Erimem. It’s as if they never met and don’t know each other. One must kill the other.

The game is played out. Let’s play up the idea that Erimem’s going to die. We know Peri’s fate – well, at least three alternative versions of it. (And the telly bottled out of the only one I liked – so now I reckon that Doctor nipped back later, picked up Peri, they had a couple more adventures then she lived happily ever after nowhere near Yrcanos or wrestlers. But I digress). But we don’t know what happens to Erimem. Well, you might, but we don’t. Maybe she will die here. It comes down to the end of the game – maybe it’s a hunt of some kind – certainly nastier than the games in the sixties serial – and one has to kill the other to survive. But neither will do it. Peri won’t kill. Neither will Erimem, even though she did kind of kill people in the battle at Giza. She’s changing as a person and something inside tells her that killing this woman wouldn’t be right. And so now they start to wonder about why they’re trying to kill each other. Who set them to do this? They take the only alternative they have – they sit down and refuse to fight.

Stalemate. Both Toymakers go ballistic. They can’t have a result if Peri and Erimem won’t play. They want to start again but the Doctor points out that it won’t make any difference. Taking away their memories didn’t change who Peri and Erimem were. They’re the same people they always were and if they’re put into another game, they’d do the same. They won’t play or fight for the Toymakers anymore. The Doctor pushes the Toymakers into expending huge amounts of their energies. He goads them, cajoles them, bullies them, manipulates them, until they are at each others’ throats. They are tearing their universe apart to destroy each other. The Doctor grabs Peri and Erimem and they escape. A decidedly rough journey but they make it through. Peri and Erimem are closer friends because of what they went through. There’s a huge blast of energy and the Toymaker’s realm disappears. Is he destroyed? Did the Toymakers wipe each other out? No idea, answers the Doctor. He fancies a cup of tea.

Inside the Toymaker’s domain, the battle is ending. The Toymaker, the original, is winning. He has his replica – Roger – beaten down and worn out. Roger expects to be destroyed but the Toymaker holds back. He’ll give Roger a chance. A game of chance...