Reimagining Doctor Who

The Cosmic Toymaker

Episode notes

The Avengers episode “The House That Jack Built” is the progenitor for this version of the story, conscious to change the title from Celestial to Cosmic while we’re at it. The peril is realised through the inclusion of other characters who have previously played and lost at these games, each new game offering them an opportunity to free themselves from their fate of becoming toys (hence, the Toymaker makes toys out of unwitting people), which is a mystery Ben and Polly must arrive at and solve as part of the narrative stakes; Polly thus accentuating her intelligence and good sense (honed through the opportunity afforded to her by her private education abroad), and Ben through his physical abilities and prowess of strengths (being the one thing he has always and only had to rely on due to his own, not-as-privileged upbringing).

Of course, Polly seeks the adventure her posh isolation growing up denied her, and Ben seeks a better life and way out of being some small-time villain’s muscle, as his father before him was before being forced into early retirement after taking one knock too many (and him as a pro boxer in his youth), and being abandoned by his employer, and so Ben wishes to support his old dad while seeing something of this world and in glamour through the only way he could – the navy.  In that way, they both thrive on the adventures that the Doctor can provide, but it’s clear that, as the two grow closer together through such danger, that they recognise that what they want can best be provided by and from one another.  Ben and Polly are therefore tested by games that put them in their own past – and (supposed or potential) futures, including these backstories. The trilogic game has to be just one of many and to be done within a time limit.  Each game must become increasingly complex, culminating in four-dimensional chess, the last move to which is resolved by one of the Toymaker’s ‘toys’.

The first encounter with the multi-dimensional great evil, trapped in his shadow dimension.  Ben and Polly must escape, essentially, “The House That Jack Built” while the Doctor battles his way through a nightmarish landscape in which he is confronted by logic puzzles in order that he may continue to the centre where the Toymaker has trapped his companions in his dark tower and at the top of which he awaits the Doctor (if he proves himself worthy by passing all of his tests).  The narrative structure then harkens back to The Keys of Marinus.

The Doctor only appears in half of this episode, and we see him visibly weaken.  The Toymaker knows what is going on, and entices the Doctor to give up, to give in, to continue as he is forever here as his companion. The Doctor naturally refuses and the exertion leads to his exhaustion.

Cold Open

After the initial revelation that they are in the Toymaker’s realm – and have been since before the start the last episode – the walls of the TARDIS fall apart after the Doctor and his companions won that game. A new a game will now begin, only this time separately from one another so that they cannot rely on each other’s help.

Act One


For the Doctor, this takes the form of a game of four-dimensional chess with the Toymaker in his central octagonal chamber, the stages of the game being fast-forwarded and rewound by the Toymaker at his will constantly, which changes the balance of power in the match. The Doctor is made invisible and intangible, other than his hand; however, unlike the original, his voice remains, as the Doctor and the Toymaker engage in their discourse that covers the nature of life, time, and free will.

Polly and Ben, meanwhile, seem to have been returned to their lives in London, 1966. Ben finds himself expelled from the Royal Navy for abandonment of his post, having missed his ship after The War Machines due to the Doctor inadvertently taking him away in the TARDIS, and he has to return to life on the mean streets that he always hoped to escape. We find him at a point where he is coerced into an armed robbery, only for the proceeds to be taken from him by his father’s old employee and now effectively being blackmailed into his service.


Time has similarly moved on for Polly since her job at the Post Office Tower. Her experiences involve a procession of evenings in West End restaurants and clubs punctuated by weekend parties at the country houses of her numerous, well-connected and -to do social coterie while she is courted by a number of utterly boring men.

(The actors who portray both sets of characters are the same, clearly inferring the dreamlike quality of the events while also suggesting that these minor characters are cyphers, with the crime lord blackmailing Ben also appearing to be Polly’s father, who is mostly absent from Polly’s life due to being a diplomat. Further, throughout the events of this story, Ben and Polly occasionally reach into their pockets to find a key that they regard with strange fascination but that they cannot recall how it got there; i.e., these are the keys given to each of them by the Doctor to the TARDIS.)

First turning point

Independently, Ben and Polly are pressed on their pasts; what precisely brought them here, to this exact point in their lives. Neither are able to remember ever travelling with the Doctor, their memories getting hazy after returning him the key to the point where they can’t recall what happened to the Doctor after that – he just disappeared. This serves to take us at this point into their respective pasts, and we see Ben’s and Polly’s backstory of East End poverty and West End privilege, respectively.

In particular, they are returned to the moments leading up to their most defining childhood trauma. For Polly, this centres around her effective abandonment in a Swiss boarding school and a subsequent choice to either be kind or become a bully to a fellow student, and whether to join the popular group in illicitly going out to the nearby town or stay in and show kindness to the girl. For Ben, we return to the moment he must choose between running away to join the Navy or accept the offer to work for the crime boss as his father before him.

Act Two

Rising Action

We then cut back to Ben and Polly, with their choices taking us forward in time into their supposed futures. We first see the choices both made that would take them to their presents we saw earlier; Polly choosing to abandon her unpopular friend and join the popular group only to be found out and expelled from the girls’ school, before Ben accepts the offer of work that would mean his father can retire and he can look after him (after his mother long ago rightly left his father for his alcoholic rages).

There then follows Polly’s ultimately empty life of not having to face up to responsibility and escape into her privilege as the failed daughter of a wealth father and equally dissatisfied mother, eventually marrying into further wealth through an older man who turns out to be abusive as she seeks to escape with her two young children.

Ben’s future is equally grim and violent. We see him emerging from a seven year prison sentence in his future, violent and embittered. While desperate to avoid his life of crime, he’s unable to pull away as he simply doesn’t have the material means or opportunities he can make or is afforded to start again now that he has a prison sentence attached to his record and name.

Second Turning Point

Cut back to the Doctor and the Toymaker, and the Doctor asking what if we had the chance to choose again? The Toymaker laughs, saying that while the game they play is four-dimensional he will not allow it. So the Doctor asks what if we didn’t have to choose again but instead chose to make a better choice the next time?

Rising Action (continued)

Polly and her children are in a bedsit she can afford with the little money she has in her name. Ben is residing in the same ‘last chance saloon’. They meet in their doorways of their shared corridor, their rooms immediately opposite one another. They both seem to immediately recognise one another, and despite not being sure how they begin talking, both are convinced that they somehow know one another.

As they continue to talk on a park bench outside while Polly’s children play, they come to remember what happened through the nearby presence of a police box, which unlocks the memory of the Doctor. They retrieve the keys from their pockets and go to unlock the TARDIS doors, which brings them back to their situation.

Separately, they see on the scanner their lives that we have just seen in flashback and flashforward, and come to remember what happened to them and where they are – that they have lived another version of their lives as they did in Revolutionary France, albeit much less impossible versions, and that the choices they think they have made were only illusions.

Crisis Point

At that point, the Toymaker intercedes, asking them if those memories really are so harmless as illusions. He brings before them again their tormentors and they are required to make their most difficult choices.

Polly must choose whether she really wants to run away from her bored privilege, dropping out of the life of her family and friends and enter mortal danger with the Doctor, while Ben must choose whether he really wants to run away from his situation but in the process abandon his father for a chance at his own fresh start. They are given a choice of returning to where they came from but with the Toymaker changing their versions of history, as he did in France, so that Polly and Ben can be happy and successful but at the cost of never having met and travelled with the Doctor. They realise that doing so would mean that they would never have met, and that the temptation of the Toymaker’s choices, even if they seem real to them, would be illusionary – that they would become as all his other toys. They choose life as it is in the realm of reality, not how it could be or what could have been in this fantasy land and to be able to make their own choices on their own terms over their own lives.

The Doctor appears, no longer invisible, his form illuminated by the strange golden glow we have seen before to not some discomfort before soon abating: “Check mate, I believe.”.

Act Three


The Toymaker rounds on the Doctor. He may have lost to Ben and Polly, but the overriding situation is predicated on his and the Doctor’s game of chess. But the Doctor reaffirms that the Toymaker has lost even that, that there is only one move left that could possibly be made and that will result in the Toymaker losing. The Toymaker smiles, gleefully affirming that it is the case. The Doctor knows what this means – that their game of chess can only conclude with one outcome, whoever wins; the end of the game will mean that, in the Toymaker’s realm, this board will be swept clear and in the almighty flash that they experienced after the end of the previous game that they played set in so-called Revolutionary France they will simply be made to play another game – unless they can dematerialise the TARDIS at the exact right time and ride the energy wave out of this realm of fiction and into reality as they know it. But the Doctor cannot be both inside the TARDIS and playing the game of chess with the Toymaker at the same time, and he is unwilling to sacrifice either Ben or Polly.


The resolution comes through one of the toys who has attended the Toymaker during its match with the Doctor, and who has been listening to their discussion and has learned a lot from the Doctor, who has been seeding the poor wretch with the means to his own salvation; namely, to choose to rebel against the rules of the Toymaker and his games. With the Doctor in the TARDIS, seemingly at a stalemate but that the Toymaker counters with “Check mate, Doctor!”, in that moment the toy breaks free from his conditioning and plays the final move.

The Doctor, sweating and straining with the will to keep himself upright and for the toy to complete the move, observes this, having planned for it all along. He is ready to hit the dematerialisation switch at precisely the right time, the glow around his body returning just as he presses the control and just as the Toymaker also cries out in a defeated anguish. There is an almighty flash just as we hear the sound of the TARDIS wheezing and groaning its way to escape.


The Doctor, Polly, and Ben have been knocked unconscious as the TARDIS serenely makes its way to its next destination. From within the console room, we hear it materialise before we return to the silence of its internal hum. We see TARDIS has coalesced in the middle of a snowstorm piling up around its walls, while inside we scan the unmoving bodies of Polly and Ben before we see the Doctor’s, again beginning to be consumed by the golden glow that causes him much pain.

Remember to share your thoughts in the comments section below, please.

(Available 23 May 2023)


(Previous episode: The French Revolution)

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