“After a very long time, something’s coming back,” David Tennant’s 14th Doctor ominously declares in the official trailer for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials.
Whatever is returning has the Doctor very shaken, and while we don’t know for sure what he’s referring to, there’s one very likely culprit: Neil Patrick Harris’ mystery villain. The dapper baddie has appeared in all of the teasers and TV spots for the highly anticipated anniversary special, but BBC has only now confirmed his identity. And it’s an identity that has a long, storied history in Doctor Who. And after 57 years, a classic — and basically forgotten — Who villain is back.
With the release of the action-packed trailer for all three Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials, airing this November, BBC confirmed that Neil Patrick Harris is playing the Toymaker. The name seems obvious — when he’s not donning a tuxedo and top hat, the character is dressed like a sinister Gepetto, and constantly surrounded by toys. But there’s more to him than just a toy-making gimmick: the Toymaker, also known as the Celestial Toymaker, is one of the oldest villains of Doctor Who, first appearing in a serial that aired 57 years ago.
Originally played by Michael Gough, the Toymaker made his debut in the 1966 serial “The Celestial Toymaker,” as a cosmic adversary to the Doctor who forced the Doctor’s companions to play a series of seemingly childish but deadly games. Think Squid Games but everyone is dressed in questionably oriental-looking robes (the Toymaker’s nickname was also “the Mandarin” — it was the ’60s). The Toymaker trapped his victims in a kind of pocket universe called the Celestial Toyroom, which he could manipulate to his whim. If his victims lost the games, they would become the Toymaker’s playthings forever, but if the Toymaker lost, the Toyroom would be destroyed and he would be forced to build another. The Toymaker also appeared to only be able to exist within his pocket universe, and couldn’t — or wouldn’t — leave it. But in the upcoming Doctor Who anniversary special, it seems that the Toymaker has made it into the main universe, and he’s pulled Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) into his schemes.
It’s unclear what evil games the Toymaker has in store for the Doctor and Donna, but they’re enough to have the Doctor fearing for Donna’s life. He might have saved her the last time by erasing her memory of him, but with Earth about to be invaded again and Donna back to yelling at Martians, it’s clear that they’ll have to find a new solution. The trailer reveals that the Doctor and his old pals at UNIT have to figure out how to “fight the human race,” so it’s possible that the Toymaker has expanded his powers into his universe, and has figured out a way to manipulate reality or bend people’s wills to his own. Or maybe this is just all the doing of Beep the Meep.
Either way, it’s exciting to see the Toymaker get to shine as the Big Bad so many years later. Gough was the only actor to play the Toymaker onscreen before Harris, but his performance can only be seen in parts and through recolored stills; sadly, “The Celestial Toymaker” is one of the many Doctor Who serials to have most of its episodes missing. Doctor Who rarely gets to dip into its stranger cosmic elements like the Toymaker, so it bodes well for the upcoming three-part 60th anniversary special. Looks like things will get timey-wimey, indeed.