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Reviewed: Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary — The Giggle

This is easily the best of the three specials for me. Want more detail…?

In the 24 hours leading up to this story, I kept telling my family “regeneration day!” I don’t know why I get so worked up about that, but I always do. Saturday was no different. You watch regeneration episodes differently – or at least I do. Traditionally, the changeover happens in the last moment of the episode, you get a line or three from the new guy, and then you wait for the next episode. However, I felt something was going to be different this time, and it certainly was… but more on that later.

This episode starts off with a historical event, the first television broadcast. Not like we know it today, but the first televised image by John Logie Baird. This event is tied into the overall plot by the Toymaker, using the image of Stooky Bill (the doll) as part of his plan. It was a nice opening scene between the Toymaker and a guy coming in to buy the doll for use in the experiment. We get an early look at Neil Patrick Harris’ Toymaker: an excellent updating of a ’60s era Doctor Who villain – in fact, only the third Hartnell era baddie to return (the others being Daleks and Cybermen).

I was very much looking forward to Harris in this story, and he did not disappoint. The character was properly creepy, well acted, and despite being dispatched in the end a tad too easily, was very well executed. I could easily see this being the same character Michael Gough played in 1966. I especially loved the look on his face when Donna accused him of cheating. His accent went to a few places, and I loved the scene when he would say loudly in an American accent “Well, that’s alright then!” Very very much enjoyed his performance, and I really hope we see more of him in the future (which, given the way the story ended, seemed like it could be a possibility if they wanted to).

The overall plot was said to be a “worldwide” story, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like it was stuck in London; we didn’t see much of the events of the Giggle ourselves — we were just told about it. Apparently, the Toymaker put an arpeggio and a laugh into each TV transmission ever made, something that was picked up by everyone, and when activated, changed how people worked. The story said that the Toymaker made everyone believe they were right about everything; an allegory to current day’s society. There were a few digs are current society too with the comment by a politician (under the titular Giggle influence) saying “Why should I care about you?” I liked that part, I just wished it was shown to be a bit wider in scale than it felt. It was during this scene where we got a body double for Wilf, as Bernard Cribbins wasn’t able to film anything here, and the character effectively disappeared at that point.

When the Doctor makes it to the Toymaker’s shop, I laughed when Donna asked if he had his own TARDIS, because I could easily see someone thinking that (bigger on the inside). It felt properly creepy in there, with rooms going to nowhere, dolls that attacked you, and people who were turned into life size dolls — the atmosphere was great. When the Doctor and Donna escaped, and watched the Toymaker’s shop disappear, I got flashbacks to watching Dan’s house shrink into next to nothing from the Flux.

There’s a great scene in the middle of this where the Doctor and Donna are made to watch a puppet show by the Toymaker showing what happened to several companions of the Doctor after Donna’s time. At first, I wondered why they didn’t do more, but these are the ones that “died” (of a sort). The Doctor had an explanation for each, but I adored the puppet show of former companions — it even mentioned the Flux again. Once again, we’re not burying the Chibnall era, but leaning into it. I like that a lot. We also got the follow-up game to the 1960s story, but it’s just a straight up cut of the cards. That’s probably my biggest disappointment with the Toymaker. There’s two games with the Doctor here: one is a simple cut the cards, and the other is playing catch with a ball. Given the trilogic game from The Celestial Toymaker was more involved, these games felt like a bit of a letdown. Of course, the 1960s story had twice as much story time to fill (being a 4 x25 min runtime and this special being one hour). A minor quibble, as they’re all played quite well dramatically. I just wish the games were a bit more involved than they were on screen.

Before I get to the big controversial part of the story, I wanted to talk about some of the fun stuff. While none of these specials played out like a traditional special with parades of old characters and references, we got some of that here. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart appears here again, now making 7 on screen Doctors she’s had some sort of adventure with (the Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth and War Doctors). Did anyone else think when she walked up to him on the base at first she was going to slap him? Felt that way to me. We very quickly discover that she hired Mel out of that companion support group at the end of Jodie Whittaker’s final story, as Mel is working for UNIT now. The Doctor recognising her was sweet, and there was also a short scene later with Mel talking about what happened post Dragonfire. I loved the name drop of Sabalom Glitz, and saying how he died: a great scene that this old time Who fan geeked out on big time. That she’s portrayed as a computer expert is great, given how the character was originally designed to be in 1986. What I don’t get though is when Mel talks about her family all being gone — I don’t recall any talk of that back in the 1980s, so did I miss something? Speaking of working for UNIT, the scene when Donna Noble talks herself into a job with UNIT was also funny, and makes me wonder if it will get followed up on. Donna and Mel talking over which one of them was the first ginger companion was amusing. I also loved the Toymaker’s dance in UNIT HQ — so much fun, and gave me a bit of the Master dancing vibes (both the Simm and Dhawan versions).

After the dance scene, the Toymaker takes over this huge gun that UNIT has and threatens everyone. He shoots the Fourteenth Doctor with it, and forces him to regenerate. We get the yellow glow and then…. Nothing. Something new happens here. David Tennant regenerates into Ncuti Gatwa, but remains himself. They called this on screen “bi-generation”. The Fifteenth Doctor says “there’s no such thing, it’s supposed to be a myth”, so basically, something Russell T Davies invented. On first view, I was like “WTF is this”, but the more I thought about it, it kind of works. Something new. Now I don’t want this to be the standard going forward, because to this point, regeneration was always a mix of sad and happy. We’re sad that the old guy is gone, and happy for the new guy. That is taken away. I don’t hate this, but it is definitely different. I imagine a lot of fans will get bent out of shape over this, but Doctor Who has always tried new things over the 60 years it’s been on, so why not this? It does give us a multi-Doctor sequence in this episode, which we weren’t expecting, so that’s good.

It does raise some bizarre continuity here. Since the Fourteenth Doctor remains a Time Lord, what will happen when he naturally ages and regenerates properly? We don’t really know, but my guess is that he would turn into Gatwa properly, and Gatwa would come full circle and take off from that regeneration as well. Something that would be interesting to see during Gatwa’s tenure, a double regeneration from the Fourteenth to Fifteenth. This one here is the “too early” one, and the later one would be them catching up? It’s all wild speculation, nobody knows, except perhaps Davies, who obviously won’t play his cards this quickly if that’s what he’s thinking.

Anyway, after that scene happens, we get the aforementioned final game against the Toymaker. If you watch the cut of the game itself, it’s quite obvious the three of them are no good at this game — one of them says as much in the behind the scenes making of. Still, it’s fun to watch, and the Toymaker is eventually defeated. The Doctor claims banishment as his prize, and the Toymaker ends up inside the box that was his house from earlier. Kate says to bury it in the deepest place, surrounded by salt. That’s two episodes in a row they mention salt as a barrier. I wonder if that will come up again.

Speaking of coming up again, as everyone is walking off, we get a shot of the “tooth” that was inside the Toymaker’s mouth, which apparently contains the Master. We get some laughing when the tooth is picked up — this is very similar to the exact same thing we saw at the end of The Last of the Time Lords when someone picked up the Master’s ring (and in the 1980 movie, Flash Gordon). So it’s pretty obvious we’ll get the Master again. But whom? Simm? Gomez? Dhawan? I really want to see Sacha Dhawan’s Master again: he was amazing, and I could go for more.

We then get a scene in the TARDIS with two Doctors talking about how this will work with both of them at once. It’s in here we get a sequence of characters mentioned from the past — which I loved seeing in the final 60th anniversary special. They’re all name drops, mind you; we don’t see or hear any of them, but the list of characters and events we get checked are: the First Doctor, the trial in The War Games, Pertwee’s exile to Earth, The Key to Time, Logopolis, Adric, River Song, Sarah Jane Smith, Rose Tyler, the Time War, the Pandorica, Mavic Chen, and the Gods of Ragnarok. That was quite a fun name drop there. My daughter who was a major River Song fan freaked out when they said that — much in the same way when I heard Mavic Chen!

There’s a little fun wibbly wobbly where we end up with two physical TARDISes (TARDII?) here due to Gatwa’s Doctor and leftover energy from the Toymaker. The new one has a wheelchair ramp; my first thought was “K9 can get in!” but it was Shirley Ann who was overjoyed at the ramp, which I found positively amusing that the Fourteenth Doctor then closes the door on her and doesn’t let her in. There was a comment I read by RTD about this bit saying there is something coming in a future episode which will clearly state these are the same TARDIS, not two of them, so this will get revisited.

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Doctors say their goodbyes, and the latter takes off to future adventures. The Fourteenth stays behind with the family Noble, along with “Mad aunty Mel”. This Doctor appears to actually “stop”, although to what extent he’s able to stick to that, we’ll see. RTD has said there’s no plans to bring him back, he’s done — and it’s an odd way to finish with a Doctor. It’s never happened before. It’s a super nice scene, but it just would have been better if they could have filmed it with Bernard Cribbins, who was said to be there, but out of shot, so Wilf lives.

The final shots are of Gatwa in his TARDIS taking off to the future. Ncuti stole every scene he was in. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since 1983 when Peter Davison was the incumbent. Gatwa was amazing here. I thoroughly enjoyed everything he did on screen. When this was over, I truly can say that I have not been this excited about the new Doctor at the end of their first appearance in quite a long time — possibly ever. I really can’t wait for Gatwa’s first episode: we won’t have to wait long — it’s on 25th December!

P.S. On Disney+ here in the states, did anyone notice that if you watched with subtitles on they referred to Tennant’s Doctor as “Tenth Doctor”, and not Fourteenth? Was it this way on iPlayer as well…?

Joe Siegler

Reviewed: Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary — The Giggle

by Joe Siegler time to read: 9 min
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