David Tennant’s latest time in the TARDIS comes to an end with The Giggle, co-starring Neil Patrick Harris. Here’s our review.
Spoilers lie ahead. Honestly, tons of them.
“You talk about no one, ever. You just keep charging on”
Well, that was mad.
Who knew when we all settled down to watch the latest Doctor Who that we were getting The Two Doctors Reboot, nice and early? We basically got a 40 minute episode then a 20 minute episode here, bringing the 60th birthday trilogy to a close, and setting up, well, seemingly everything.
The Giggle, then, is a fairly traditional episode of Doctor Who on the surface. A foe from the past, a fancy corridor to run down, the world under threat. That sort of thing.
What’s more, it’s an episode that wasted no time at all bringing The Celestial Toymaker back from the 1960s, now not in the guise of Michael Gough, but looking incredibly like Neil Patrick Harris instead. Harris with a German accent no less, behind the counter of a 1926 Soho store when we first meet him. He’s dancing to the Spice Girls by the time we watch him drop a ball, and that gives an indication as to just how fast and furious The Giggle would turn out to be.
After the opening credits, we’re in London, and all is not well. Lots of smoke, looting, cars rampaging on pavements. On the surface, a little bit of a horror movie, with a creepy ventriloquist’s dummy mixing in a bit of the 1940s movie Dead Of Night with a dose of Saw.
There was a threatened subplot setup about John Logie Baird, the invention of television, and the seeding of something that’s been subtly threatening the human race since the invention of said telly. But once Russell T Davies had made his point, it was pretty quickly shelved. It’s an idea that at any other time could have happily been explored in a full episode. Here, it was needed to the point that it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t, it was gone.
The point that Davies was making? Well, you could call it subtext, but it was so close to the surface of what was going on we may as well call it text. The unbeatable enemy here wasn’t The Toymaker, it was humans. Worse: the brand of humans who think they’re always right. Facebook comments boards in walking, talking form.
Even UNIT doesn’t know what to do about them.
As Davies points out, they shout, they cancel. They’re even offered Zeedex, a vaccine against trouble of sorts, and they criticise it.
It would be fair to say that The Giggle is not Russell T Davies at his most subtle, but clearly deliberately so. He’s got something to say, and boy, does his script say it.
Yet as soon as he’s done with that, the television and the doll are shuttled off, as there’s much else to get through.
It would, after all, be fair to say that The Giggle had a hell of a lot going on, and much was splashed on the screen.
If last week’s Wild Blue Yonder was the slightly more contained of the three episodes we’ve just had (and my favourite), perhaps saving a few of Disney’s dollars by sticking mainly to a single location with a small cast, here Davies is emptying the piggy bank in ten minutes flat.
Again, it’s not special effects per se (although they were not skimped on – witness the folding up shop): it’s scale. A busy London street looks really busy. Chaos looks like chaos The helicopter flying over London actually looks like a helicopter flying over London.
And that’s before we get to the new UNIT headquarters. The first clues were the branded armour on the UNIT troops. Then, off we pop to a tower that looks like it’s been bought off Tony Stark, and not at a discount.
I think most of us are expecting, thanks to the Whoniverse logo that now precedes episodes of Doctor Who, that we’re going to be getting spin-offs in due course. The scale of the UNIT set and the sheen of its new tower means my money’s on that being one spin-off right there. Especially as it offers a welcome pension scheme for erstwhile Doctor Who companions. There’s a job offer for Donna Noble for a start.
It turns out there’s a second spin-off that’s also set up: David Tennant’s 14th Doctor is still in play, and we’ve now got two TARDISes. Will that be explored as a possible option? Who knows, but I’d not bet against seeing Tennant again in the show.
Let’s go though to what was set up as the meat of the episode: the face-off between Neil Patrick Harris’ much-hyped The Toymaker, and Tennant’s Doctor. All with Donna Noble involved too. A rematch, now in our universe, nearly 60 years in the making.
It’s The Toymaker up against a doubtful Doctor too, one questioning his effectiveness. “Take away the toys, what am I?”, he questions, giving the Time Lord the kind of gravitas and weight that Tennant has always excelled at. At one stage almost a failing Doctor too, one with his confidence stripped away.
Is this the continued weight of the Flux on his shoulders here? It – along with Trial Of A Time Lord – certainly gets another reference here. At one stage, a puppet show even. Heck, the puppet version of the Doctor’s history: we’re up to spin-off number three. Would watch.
Interesting fella then, The Toymaker. He reminded me of when Russell T Davies re-introduced The Master all the way back in 2007. John Simm’s take on that particular foe was played big, a rampaging, loud, scene-demanding antagonist, not shy of a pop song. Certainly a marked difference from how we’d seen The Master before.
Neil Patrick Harris – at his most creepy in a suit in the background, staring at the camera – is more than up to what’s asked of him here, and it’s a not dissimilar approach. The words ‘quiet’ and ‘subtle’ were not part of the pitch.
It’s a whole lot of fun though, if not always a settled and particularly interesting take on the character. When he appears from the sky as a puppeteer, I confess, I wasn’t unnerved. When he was silent, staring in the background, I was.
A doll reciting poetry while walking slowly past a clock in the wall? Yep, that was creepier. A dance with Jemma Redgrave – welcome back! – to the Spice Girls? Again, less so. The smaller the ask, the more unnerving The Toymaker became.
But then, after all the build-up, not actually much time. It was lovely to see Bonnie Langford’s Melanie Bush again – quieter than usual – but again, not much time with her. Perhaps we’ll meet her again. Hope so.
The first 40 minutes then, the episode that we though we were getting, was perfectly decent, entertaining, breezy, and occasionally very funny (Donna knowing exactly when to run). Credit to director Chanya Button for keeping up with it all.
The last 20 minutes? Well, where do you start.
Doctor Who has always changed, always evolved, and rightly so. Right before our eyes tonight, it was rewriting its rule book again, and there was much to take it.
It was, in two words, a lot.
We’ve had a premature David Tennant regeneration before, but when he started getting the glow some 15 minutes from the end of The Giggle, I confess I was expecting a more traditional handover, albeit with Davies giving us an unexpected 15 minutes to get to know, well, the 15th Doctor.
What we got was something new: bi-regeneration.
That, plus a TARDIS with a jukebox. A Doctor parading around in his pants. Fourteen and 15 hugging it out. And an actual happy ending for a Doctor. Bet the BBC gets letters about some of that, too. Probably from the same lot that wrote in last time.
Things just kept on coming. This was full-on blockbuster television, and a very clear sign of where things are heading.
Just one of those things we got in the last act would have been new: in Davies’ latest generation of Who, we got the whole lot in a quarter of an episode. You ain’t going to get much slowdown in a Saturday night slot either.
I should note that a few things have been seeded here alongside the pair of Doctors and their respective vehicles.
The Master’s clearly back in play, and not just because of the namecheck of the Archangel network. The picking up of the tooth at the end (yep) had a ring of the last reel of 1980’s Flash Gordon about it. We know The Master’s in there: but who picked the tooth up? Someone at UNIT presumably. For now, they’re not telling.
There’s more too.
Who are the “legions” that the Toymaker talks of? Again, there’s clearly more threat coming, because he was incredibly easily defeated here after being told how deadly he was. It made the regular batterings of the Daleks look difficult. But also, we’re told of The One Who Waits. Who’s that? Whoever or whatever it is, it’s clearly Ncuti Gatwa’s problem. And it sure looks, from the glimpse that we’ve had, that Gatwa is going to have a lot of fun trying to solve it.
He may even need to invest in a pair of trousers.
Even writing this all down though, what I got from all of this, as much as Russell T Davies was repainting and rewiring the show, was a deep love of it from him. The time taken to pay tribute to Sarah-Jane. The mention of Adric. That aforementioned puppet show. Even protecting moles from Wilf. All of this is the woven fabric of the show, and it’s very, very clear that Davies is building on it, not disposing of it. I love that.
Here, he’s used a trilogy to give fans new and old something. The old farts like me are far more Wild Blue Yonder, I’d imagine, but I had fun with The Giggle, even if I wanted more of The Giggle in it. The last 20 minutes took me very much by surprise, and for a show that’s entering its seventh decade (!), how impressive is that?
It’s been a fun trilogy of episodes, this. And what we got here was the culmination of an ambitious, top-to-bottom reintroduction of the show that’s already got a fresh run of episodes waiting for us, beginning with the festive special.
This, then, is Doctor Who. And this is now the future of the show.
It ain’t going to be everyone. But all signs are, it’s going to be quite a ride. Roll on Christmas…—
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