The Giggle

Posted in Audio by - December 10, 2023
The Giggle

Aired 09 December 2023


Representing the end of the three sixtieth anniversary specials with David Tennant briefly but spectacularly returning to Doctor Who as the mysterious Fourteenth Doctor, Russell T Davies’s ‘The Giggle’ looks to the franchise’s past and future as a mysterious ventriloquist’s doll and a terrifying puppeteer drive the human race insane.

Promotional material for ‘The Giggle’ has quite heavily leaned into the return of the Toymaker, an all-powerful being from outside of this universe who is driven by play and bound only by the rules of the games he enjoys that feature the highest stakes imaginable. Though the Toymaker has featured in several non-televised media, his only on-screen encounter with the Doctor came in the William Hartnell mostly-missing serial ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ while played by Michael Gough. While this character has somewhat come under fire in the ensuing years since due to certain Asian aesthetics employed, Davies quite boldly does not shy away from this godlike character’s apparent disconnect with humanity and its norms as his new guise often but not always uses a faux German accent while showing casually bigoted tendencies at least initially when selling ‘Stooky Bill’ to an assistant of John Logie Baird who would go on to use the doll to transmit the first television picture in 1925. While these could be meaningless choices for some characters, doing so with a new form of a villain who has been around for so very long hints at a certain innate callousness and cruelty that become all the more overt as he once more crosses paths with the Doctor who defeated him and destroyed his realm so many years ago.

Of course, back in the present, humanity is all but destroying itself, and as the Doctor shares a brief encounter with a dancing figure in the street he does not yet know to be the Toymaker, he learns that everyone now implicitly believes he or she is right and is acting with impunity because of it. With the Doctor and Donna promptly shuttled away to a UNIT base of operations, the two learn just how severe this forthrightness and lack of inhibition are as politicians reveal a lack of any sense of care for their constituents and as even Kate Stewart- once deactivating a particular armband that has proven effective at normalizing the wearer’s neural activity- proclaims bold conspiracies about the Doctor’s infiltration of UNIT, people uniting against her, and even Shirley Bingham being able to stand without her wheelchair. Breaking down a beloved character so completely in order to show the Doctor the true extent of this mysterious ailment is a bold choice that Jemma Redgrave performs exceedingly well, but unfortunately this special doesn’t offer much more room for either Stewart or Bingham to focus aside from introducing the galvanic beam weapon and an odd reintroduction in which the Fourteenth Doctor almost acts as if he is meeting Kate for the first time when comparing her to her father and the utter secrecy with which UNIT used to operate.

Much more satisfying, however, is the brilliant inclusion of Bonnie Langford as one-time companion Melanie Bush who finally returned to Earth after Sabalom Glitz’s passing and took up Kate’s offer to join UNIT. Finally having the opportunity to showcase her computer prowess that was hardly relevant at all during her original run of adventures alongside the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, Mel proves to be exceedingly confident and competent within her position, in the process allowing the Doctor to once again look upon his own past. Indeed, ‘The Giggle’ is very much centred around the Doctor reflecting upon his own past, and once Donna provides crucial insight to help piece together the puzzle behind the arpeggio lurking within each and every screen that is now globally interconnected, the Toymaker presents a very visual and haunting challenge that all but strips the Doctor bare. The Doctor is quick to proclaim that humanity can be better as it tears itself apart, but once within the Toymaker’s domain, he appears truly shaken and claims that he is nothing in comparison to the being now in control. Tennant plays this broken, open version of this Doctor brilliantly, and after two very different types of dolls and resulting horrors tease at the almighty power the Toymaker possesses, he likewise excels at portraying a grim fortitude as he insists on clinging to the positive by refusing to let the Toymaker steer the narrative about the fates of so many recent companions who traveled with the Doctor after Donna.

Unfortunately, the guilt the Doctor still feels about the consequences of the Flux is all too fresh and powerful, and Tennant imbues a certain burdened weariness to his powerful performance that conveys the feelings of those around him that the Doctor seems to be wearing himself ragged and barely holding on. Still, he is every bit as determined as ever, but after he promptly loses a card game to the Toymaker to tie their long-standing score at one-all, the foe makes a truly grand entrance for all at UNIT to see, his callous disregard for reality and life on full display with a song and dance number that puts the Master to shame. The Doctor may have the authority of the presidency of Earth, but the Toymaker continues to show unimaginable power at every turn, and Harris is superb in each and every scene as this dynamic and charismatic entity who wants nothing more than to win, finding humanity to be the perfect race for him to study and interact with given the sports, gambling, and multitudes of other competitions that drive normal society.

The Doctor knows that he is the only one who can possibly save humanity and the world by vanquishing this foe, but his demand to play one more game to finally decide the winner is cut short as the Toymaker brutally intervenes and shoots the Doctor down, proclaiming that the rules they have played by thus far indicate one game per regeneration. It’s a shocking twist so relatively early in the episode with the threat the Toymaker poses nowhere near resolved, and Tennant again plays the shock and acceptance of his Doctor’s fate beautifully as Donna and Mel join him to celebrate the Doctor in all of their forms, “Allons-y” providing the perfect culmination of the actor’s time with the franchise. Only it isn’t, because in a move that is sure to prove controversial, the Doctor experiences the first-ever ‘bigeneration,’ a myth in which the present and next form of a Time Lord can coexist and physically split. With a quasi-outfit sans trousers, this is a startling but effective debut moment for Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor, and although this likely is not the multi-Doctor story many fans were expecting for such a momentous anniversary story, Tennant and he share an immense chemistry as their two incarnations turn the tables on the Toymaker and force him to abide by the circumstances he created as they play their final game together. While it does ultimately feel like more could have been done with the Toymaker in terms of the scale and scope of his games despite the overall simplicity of ‘cut’ and ‘catch’ expertly grounding this cosmic being who claims to have defeated the Master and trapped him within his golden tooth, having his entrance tied to the Doctor’s invocation of superstition at the edge of the universe previously and the resulting deep foray into the Doctor’s past and psyche here is magnificent and again stretches and perceived limits of what Doctor Who can do while also teasing that there is an even scarier threat still lurking.

Cynically, it could be said that the bigenerative process is simply a means of keeping David Tennant a viable option for the franchise at any time rather than truly moving on, and as the Fifteenth Doctor suggests that his soul is mended due to the healing work the Fourteenth Doctor has yet to do while staying on Earth and living a daily life with Donna’s family, Mel, and other friends, it is difficult to imagine how any threat to Earth in the present will not have the Fourteenth Doctor involved in some capacity , whether as part of UNIT alongside Mel and quite possible Donna as well or not. With his own still-functioning TARDIS available to traverse the universe, it’s clear that his adventures are by no means over, but the Doctor’s calm proclamation that he has never been happier as he sits surrounded by loved ones is an equally fitting and truly satisfying final moment for this Doctor and this face that Donna suggested previously had been given a second chance to change.

While Gatwa’s time on screen is naturally much briefer that Tennant’s as he gears up to properly take charge in the upcoming Christmas special, he instantly makes it clear that he will be bringing an infectious energy and charisma to the role, his Doctor easily taking charge and proving to be both empathetic and insightful in quick measure. Seemingly much less burdened by the guilt of recent events than the body he has just left behind, the Fifteenth Doctor appears to represent something of a soft reset for the Time Lord, and the inclusion of a jukebox in the TARDIS certainly hints at an intriguing future for the character and franchise. Thus, while ‘The Giggle’ may have missed opportunities to do something even more cosmic in scale given the immense wealth of potential the Toymaker possesses and to more fully realize UNIT and its major players in its current iteration, it is supremely confident and provides a brilliant culmination to this special run that so wonderfully continued the intertwined tale of the Doctor and Donna. Tennant and Catherine Tate have been magnificent in recapturing the energy and chemistry of their time together for the 2008 series while further expanding the legacies of their characters and of the franchise as a whole, and anticipation is certainly high for the next chapter of Doctor Who given the fantastic tease offered here.

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