Doctor Who: The Giggle Review

Doctor Who: The Giggle
When the human race is driven to insanity by the giggle of a mysterious puppet, the Doctor (David Tennant) finds himself caught in an ancient foe’s (Neil Patrick Harris) deadly games.

by Jordan King |
Updated on

Contains plot spoilers for ‘The Giggle’

“That was completely nuts!” So exclaims Catherine Tate’s ever-eloquent Donna Temple-Noble during the dizzying climax of ‘The Giggle’, Doctor Who’s third and final 60th anniversary special. In-universe, it’s a perfectly understandable reaction to a particularly wild development involving a high striker hammer and the Doctor’s trusty TARDIS. It also just so happens to be a pretty solid summation of the episode as a whole. Because make no mistake, Russell T. Davies’ Whoniverse-reshaping grand finale — a breathless hour of blockbuster telly that’s thrilling, chilling, heartwarming, and headspinning (and that’s just the Spice Girls needledrop!) — is completely nuts.

Doctor Who: The Giggle

If last week’s spaceship-in-a-bottle ep ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ was a masterclass in restraint from RTD, then consider ‘The Giggle’ the showrunner unleashed, swinging for the fences with a story rocking more threads than Ncuti Gatwa’s wardrobe. Kicking off with John Logie Baird’s invention of television in 1925 and one ‘Stooky Bill’ — a real puppet so malevolent it makes Annabelle look like a Squishmallow and acts as the villainous Toymaker’s (Neil Patrick Harris) chosen vessel for global chaos — Davies quickly picks up where ‘Yonder’ left off. In short, ol’ Stooky Bill’s musical giggle — transmitted through every screen across the world — has got into everybody’s heads, convincing them they’re 100% right about everything. Screen-enslaved masses utterly convinced they’re right who won’t take no for an answer? Thank goodness this is science fiction, right?

The episode pivots into out-and-out horror territory, as the duo enter the domain of Neil Patrick Harris’ the Toymaker.

It’s safe to say RTD’s righteous fury at the current sociopolitical climate is more of a focal point here than in the previous two specials. Within a span of mere minutes, Davies’ satirical set-up ruthlessly apes anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, alt-media conspiracies, and governmental apathy. Some of it — a man endangering himself and others by needlessly standing in the middle of the road because he believes that’s what his taxes have paid for — is lacerating in its absurd plausibility. Other elements — the decidedly camp, to-camera “No change there, then” when a suspiciously Johnsonian PM blithely asks “Why should I care about you?” — are perhaps a little too on-the-nose for comfort.

The central assertion behind this plot — that the world we live in has unmoored itself from principles of right and wrong in favour of individualist notions of winners and losers — is a potent reminder that this all pours from the same pen responsible for Years & Years and It’s A Sin. An early doors monologue from Tennant’s Doctor on how humanity has never struggled to hate, given from within UNIT’s swish new Avengers Tower-looking HQ is vintage RTD. (The new HQ, combined with return of Jemma Redgrave’s Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and the reintroduction of Bonnie Langford’s classic Who companion Mel do nothing to defuse suggestions a spin-off is imminent.)

Doctor Who: The Giggle

Alas, no sooner has the apocalypse-level threat been established than we find the Doctor and Donna hotfooting it back to the TARDIS for a trip to Soho circa 1925 in search of the mysterious giggling noise. Here, the episode pivots into out-and-out horror territory, as the duo enter the domain of Neil Patrick Harris’ alternatingly camp and utterly chilling big bad the Toymaker. A kind of problematic deepcut villain from Who history, here the Toymaker is reimagined anew as a palpable existential threat to the Doctor, a manipulative puppeteer and cosmic game player who renders The Master a barely apprentice-level adversary by comparison.

It’s only really as the Doctor and Donna move through the Toymaker’s Gothically manifested dimension — an exquisitely designed realm of dank hotel corridors, pupaphobe-triggering marionettes, and creepy carny puppet shows — that ‘The Giggle’ pauses to catch its breath. It’s in these moments director Chanya Button lets Davies’s otherwise relentless script breathe, augmenting the specials’ ongoing conversation with the show’s own legacy. It’s here that the Doctor is brutally confronted with his past companions’ fates, and it is here that his increasingly fraught sense of self (“Without the TARDIS, without the sonic, without the Time Lord, what am I?”) is interrogated by the God-like Toymaker. “I made a jigsaw out of your history,” Harris’ Toymaker teases, referencing and then discarding the Whoniverse canon’s more outré recent revelations with outlandish ease. It’s a fascinating way to put a pin in the Timeless Child and Flux of it all, Davies simply suggesting that “The Canon” is just one great game.

Speaking of games, mere moments later, the trio — the Doctor, Donna, and the Toymaker — find themselves back in 2023, the elemental ne’er-do-well turning soldiers into balloons while dancing to ‘Spice Up Your Life’. It’s a particularly bananas tonal shift in an episode filled with them, and one that leads the Toymaker and the Doctor directly into their final game.

Without getting into the specifics of it all, if you’re reading this then you likely know that Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor makes an earlier introduction than many would’ve expected in this finale. That said introduction involves the newest custodian of the TARDIS playing a universe-stakes game of literal catch, in his underpants, and he still manages to arrive on the scene as a force of wit, warmth, sass, and spunk tells you all you need to know about how much of a treat we’re in for come Christmas Day. As the dramatic peak of a 60th anniversary celebration, Y-front-clad ball games (steady!) really shouldn’t work. It is, of course, ludicrous, But it’s also such a uniquely, singularly Who thing to do that it plays out as if it simply couldn’t have been anything else. Gatwa’s arrival within that pivotal moment of transition — for the show and for Tennant’s Fourteenth Doctor — is sensational, the actor’s unique Scottish-Rwandan brogue and hopeful energy sparking a multitude of possibilities for just who the next Doctor will be. Instantly though, he feels *right*.

RTD’s final salvo for Who’s 60th celebrations offers a blessedly uncynical and sadly increasingly rare thing; a truly happy ending.

Now, the discourse will indubitably rage on about the ramifications of ‘The Giggle’s canon-busting denouement. Is it a damning indictment of modern franchises and fandom’s refusal to let things go? Or is it more simply a sincerely delivered reminder that — after years spent running on fumes in a universe gone mad — we’re all just a little bit burnt out, all desperately in need of nothing more than to sit and be with the ones we love for a while? The answer is probably, ultimately, somewhere in between. But of one thing we can be sure. RTD’s final salvo for Who’s 60th celebrations offers — in construction, writing, performance, and execution — a blessedly uncynical and sadly increasingly rare thing; a truly happy ending. That Tennant and Tate — who both finish their run here on a real high, as sarky and in-step with one another as ever — get to go out smiling, ending the show’s ongoing accumulation of trauma across NuWho, is a real balm for the soul.

Doctor Who: The Giggle

Overall, ‘The Giggle’ — and by extension these three specials as a collective — successfully act as a heartfelt paean to the messiness and madness of making and watching Doctor Who. They provide a graceful rehabilitation of the show’s recent history, reflect poignantly on Who’s enduring cross-generational appeal, and yet still somehow manage to smoothly clear the field for Ncuti Gatwa’s run as the Doctor. Occasionally they’re a tad unwieldy, with so many ideas that some struggle to breathe as RTD has his cake, eats it, and then duplicates it before going back for seconds. That’s never more apparent than here in this filled-to-bursting finale. But at the same time, they’re also a promise. A promise to embrace the new, to make Doctor Who fun again, and to regenerate the show with enough love coursing through its veins to fill two hearts, to power two TARDISes. And to that we can only really say, one last time, “ALLONS-Y!”

A messy, madcap, yet ultimately fitting finale to Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations, ‘The Giggle’ marks David Tennant’s departure from — and Ncuti Gatwa’s arrival in — the TARDIS with real flair.
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