Who@60: Did ‘Giggle’ produce last laugh for the Doctor’s anniversary..?

It's the end... and Russell T Davies doubles down as Tennant and Tate take their final(?) bow...

The Doctor, Donna and Wilf are caught up in a London – and a world – suddenly running amok… where everyone is so convinced they are right that they’ll fight each other to the death to prove it. UNIT whisks Wilf away to safety and escorts the Doctor and Donna to UNIT’s imposing new base of operations. It seems that the current chaos is linked to both a simplistic tune and something that may have been lurking in television signals since their creation. Too late, the Doctor recognises the handiwork of an old foe. But can he possibly defeat someone in a game that never ends? Or are the past, present and future all he needs to triumph?

The Doctor must win – because if loses he won’t only lose everything, he’ll be beside himself…



The last two specials have felt like decent Doctor Who entries, playing to different strengths, but the general feeling is that neither of them really felt like anniversary outings – more like the way they were originally pitched, as flashbacks to unseen 10 and Donna adventures. Yes, one can argue that Tennant has brought some subtle variations to his ’14’ but there’s little disguising that The Star Beast and Wild Blue Yonder both channeled the unique chemistry that originally made Tennant and Tate fan-favourites rather than the expansive sixty years of the show. So, The Giggle, designed as the last of the Specials (where Tennant faces a classic Hartnell-era villain The Toymaker and hands over to the incoming Ncuti Gatwa) has a lot resting on its shoulders… which it half embraces and half shrugs as the momentum starts to build.

Many of the set-pieces – particularly the early chaos in London/Bristol streets – feel like the show embracing its new sense of gloss and scale and bodes well for the future. The story logic has often been second-fiddle to proceedings and remains so here, with much technobabble about, well… babbling technology. Once again the initial problem is solved by a throwaway line of dialogue later in proceedings while the central cast spar verbally and physically and the post-production crew do their magic. Tennant and Tate are great as ever, Bonnie Langford slots in nicely and there’s some marionette versions of classic Who companions who had met questionable fates (yes, with their mention – and like many – I hoped and even presumed we’d see something more realistic, but… it was not to be). Donna asks the Doctor if the Toymaker’s references to them are true, but she’d have presumably known the answer if she retains some knowledge of the Doctor’s life post her DonnaDoctor era?  Donna does prove useful with her oft-forgotten typing skills coming in to play and her go-get-’em attitude always a winner (I could watch her encounter with the scary puppets on loop for the duration!).

The villain here isn’t really The Toymaker – or, rather, the villain isn’t anything like the Celestial Toymaker – more a clean slate and a carte blanche for Neil Patrick Harris to chew the scenery with relish and for the VFX department to indulge every whim while maintaining slight lip-service dialogue to the multi-dimensional being of old. He’s fun, dynamic, interesting, silly and dangerous, but he’s no more the character Michael Gough played all those years ago than Ncuti Gatwa is William Hartnell’s crusty noble vagabond. Harris – always great as a chaotic force – channels an Impossible Man/ Mister Mxyzptlk vibe throughout, a bored imp that enjoys winning at all costs.  Though the accents got boring after a while, I personally find him more interesting than the modern post-Missy Master (and, yes, they get a mention and a potential set-up for the future… again) though it wouldn’t have taken much of a plot rewrite to make the Master the antagonist here.  The Toymaker seems to have been packed away permanently (or as permanently as these things ever are), yet his defeat is somewhat underwhelming, literally a balls-to-the-wall game where he simply drops one and is done.

It could well be that Davies has delivered a dessert of epic proportions, but the problem will be if he can now ration himself and avoid over-indulging going forward. Let’s be honest, for all his talents, Davies has never really been that ‘less-is-more’ advocate… But such a carousel of change (in life and in long-running tv shows) is inevitable and I harbour no resentment for it moving forward and beyond me rather than back, safe into a twilight of nostalgia…

There are plenty of elements here designed to cause arguments amongst the faithful – most obviously the method of arrival of Ncuti Gatwa in the role. Ultimately, I really don’t have a lot of problems with the Special other than how some of the stuff was done. The climactic bi-regeneration feels like a needless show-off flourish, the kind of shock-value that Davies can’t resist, whether it makes sense or not… there simply to be both blatantly controversial and for a more overt way to have one’s casting cake and eat it. The very same narrative logic could have been used to bring us to that moment, but then to momentarily snatch Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor from the future… without the ridiculous and just plain played-for-a-laugh, half-splitting effect… and then have him return to that future point with ’14’ still getting his earned downtime ‘happy ending’ with the Nobles until continuity caught up. I like the ‘rehab in the wrong order’ line, but the head-scratching continuity problems (or arguably the perception of those elements being screwed up in the telling) means that the audience are presented not with a choose-your-own-adventure in a very long timeline, but with the feeling of TWO ‘concurrent’ Doctors. Sure, you can argue with time-travel that that’s always been the case, but this is far more overt. (Ironically, a similar time-twisty mobius-loop logic was used when Bonnie Langford originally joined the Tardis in Colin Baker’s era, being brought into the story from an unseen point in the time-stream where she was already a companion we never saw join him before his Trial). The very real danger here is that some, subjectively but with fair reason, will inevitably feel one of the ‘current’ incarnations is more genuine or beloved than the other.

The strength of that may depend on just how strongly Gatwa makes his mark and how long Davies can resist pulling Tennant and Tate back in from their happy ending ‘Exit Stage Right pursued by Zygon’ status. In the first case, Gatwa seems to have bundles of energy that will likely reinvigorate the show. This is not, in any way, your grandad’s ‘Grandfather’. I suspect his swirling, prancing, life-embracing, nightclubbing Time-Lord is going to take some getting used to and won’t appeal to everyone – though it’s already easy to see why Davies cast him and it will definitely feel like a new era, which is no bad thing. On the latter, I can’t help feeling that the Tennant-Tate chemistry is so strong that it may be mere minutes before Davies announces something more with them. However, if – when – that happens, it will impact the foundations of the main show, even if kept at a distance. Given that The Giggle sets up so much with UNIT (a new ‘Stark’ like tower, new status, better equipped and with a supporting cast that we know will have some reappearances), it seems impossible they won’t be a major factor going forward – and if they have two Doctors at their disposal – literally in the same time-zone and postcode – it’s going to be contrived if the two incarnations of the Time Lord don’t collide or sail past each other in the night. We are assured the baton has been handed over, but the truth is the baton-giver and the baton-taker are still in each other’s orbit. It could well be that Davies has delivered a dessert of epic proportions, but the problem will be if he can now ration himself and avoid over-indulging going forward. Let’s be honest, for all his talents, Davies has never really been that ‘less-is-more’ advocate.

I will admit that while I like many aspects of it and Tennant’s incarnation(s) getting some peace is a nice feeling. But though I like it, I’m no longer convinced that the show is made with me in mind anymore and that the Gatwa era may well see it move further towards a more ‘hip’ audience rather than hip-surgery fandom – in the same way that it’s been decades since I stepped into a night-club and now run the risk of thinking all music is turning into noise. Get off my lawn!!! etc C’est la vie. But such a carousel of change (in life and in long-running tv shows) is inevitable and I harbour no resentment for it moving forward and beyond me rather than back, safe into a twilight of nostalgia. However, I look forward to watching until the very last possible moment and holding on to find out. We’re all just stories in the end, full of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies and hopefully we celebrate the fact that there’s an entire library for a community to embrace that will be there even after one volume of many is put away…


'Doctor Who - The Giggle'  (BBC/Disney+ review)
'Doctor Who - The Giggle' (BBC/Disney+ review)
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