Doctor Who – “The Giggle”

Dec 10, 2023 | Posted by in TV
Doctor Who

Doctor Who concludes its 60th-anniversary celebrations with an apocalyptic scenario, an old enemy’s return and a look to the future.

It’s certainly a transitional period for Doctor Who. The 60th-anniversary specials could be seen as the end of the revival era that began in 2005 before transitioning to something new with the Ncuti Gatwa-fronted series resetting the season numbering back to one. This begs the question; how do you bring something to an end that is designed to continue indefinitely with periodic refreshes baked into the concept? Russell T. Davies attempts to answer this by concluding the era he began in 2005’s “Rose” with a definitive ending of sorts for the Doctor while also allowing the character to continue on. Such a notion may seem like a cop-out and there’s definitely a strong argument for that being the case but there’s no denying that “The Giggle” builds to the idea of the Doctor letting go of the perpetual wandering and adventuring as such a lifestyle is not healthy for him in the midst of a global catastrophe.

Doctor Who

U.N.I.T. Assemble

The plot of the episode is pretty standard as far as Russell T. Davies finales go. It’s a high-stakes apocalyptic scenario where the Doctor faces a global threat. Reports flood in of chaos across the world as the Human race sees their sense of entitlement dialled up to extreme levels causing everyone to think they’re right and being unable to consider the point of view of anyone else. Illustrating this point is a man walking in front of a car because he feels it’s his right to stand in the middle of a road that his taxes helped pay for. Proving this point is more important to him than his life as evidenced by his willingness to be run over by a car to exercise his right to stand in the middle of the road that he contributed to. It’s obviously ridiculous but common sense is being overridden on a global scale and it’s tearing the world apart.

Behind this chaos is an old enemy of the Doctor called the Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris), a being capable of pretty much anything untempered by a conscience. He doesn’t recognise the concepts of good and evil as being valid considerations as everything is about the game for him. He lives to challenge others to games and there’s nothing more to it than winning or losing. Neil Patrick Harris is excellent in this role though isn’t playing far outside of the norm for him. He does what he usually does and does it well. The Toymaker is imbued with a sinister playfulness with Neil Partick Harris’ mania constantly highlighting just how dangerous he is. He can’t be reasoned with because nothing but the game is important to him so there’s nothing that can be offered that he will take. The Doctor even tries this by offering to travel the universe with him and play games across time and space. The Toymaker seems momentarily tempted but declines because he enjoys playing with the Human race so much. He’s on Earth for a good time and does not intend to leave.

The Toymaker isn’t a deep character but it’s a feature rather than a bug. His motivation is simple and what needs to be done to get rid of him is clearly identified. The threat comes from the fact that there’s nothing beneath the surface to exploit which forces the Doctor to play by his rules and find a way to win. Ultimately he succeeds and banishes the Toymaker from existence but not before a warning about his legions being on the way; a problem for the next Doctor to deal with no doubt.

Doctor Who

This is your life!

Adding to the threat level is the Toymaker’s casual reference to other insanely powerful beings he has bested in games. This includes the Master who has been encased in a gold tooth that is later retrieved by a mysterious hand setting up his return. His boasting is a double-edged sword as the Doctor doesn’t have that much trouble defeating him. Victory is achieved by winning a simple game of catch where the Toymaker simply fails to catch the ball and loses. It’s unsatisfying and doesn’t mesh with the Toymaker’s list of accomplishments.

The scale of the threat is another issue as it’s very difficult to comprehend. Some of the impact is shown in the opening moments of the episode but the rest of the time is spent in U.N.I.T. tower talking about what is happening rather than showing it. The world tearing itself apart is a distant and borderline theoretical problem that doesn’t directly impact the episode itself beyond being a background detail that will be fixed if the Toymaker is defeated. Such is the problem with expansionist plots like this.

Despite this, there is some effective social commentary baked into the situation in unsubtle ways. The cause of the global madness being burned into every screen influencing everyone who can see one is a great idea even if it is essentially the same idea as the Doctor hiding an instruction to kill the Silence on sight in the broadcast of the Moon landing. It highlights the power of television and the rapid technological growth that has resulted in people having powerful screens in their pockets. it also naturally points to the addiction to screens that plagues Humanity at this point and how that can be weaponised by putting specific information -whether true or not- in front of people’s faces to encourage them to form certain opinions. That addiction can be weaponised which is what the Toymaker is doing in a very overt way. Russell T. Davies has likely included this as a reference to the misinformation that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as well as the constant stream of terrible things that continue to happen because the release of information can be manipulated in ways that lead people in the wrong direction.

Doctor Who

I thought the budget would go up with Disney involved!

COVID is also heavily referenced with the mania gripping the Human race equating to how people behaved during the pandemic. The above-mentioned example is a clear nod to people refusing to comply with restrictions because they felt it was a violation of their rights rather than practical ways to increase their chances of being safe. The Zeedex armband that blocks the signal and allows people to retain control of their rational mind is a clear reference to the conspiracies suggesting that the COVID vaccine was a nefarious means of control. The Prime Minister openly declaring that he doesn’t care about the people he governs unquestionably references Boris Johnson in particular. None of this is subtle but the state of the world often demands overt references that highlight how ridiculous people can be about certain issues and the episode has plenty of fun sending them up. Those looking for biting and complex social commentary should look elsewhere but they are part of the narrative and provide an opportunity for the Doctor to condemn the obvious flaws that the Human race has yet to overcome. He’s an alien looking at Humanity from the outside and is in a position to make these informed observations. There’s nothing more to it than that but there doesn’t necessarily need to be. These references also ground the story in ways that viewers can relate to.

On a character level, the episode builds to a definitive ending for David Tennant’s fourteenth Doctor. Donna makes explicit reference to never stopping. From her point of view, this is her third consecutive crisis without the time to catch her breath and process what has happened to her. She points out that the Doctor’s entire life is like this and is starting to understand how exhausting it must be. Meeting Mel (Bonnie Langford) has helped her realise how constant the Doctor’s life is and she’s starting to think about how unhealthy that is for him. She’s horrified that the Doctor never mentioned Mel to her and she worries that it’s a symptom of a much larger problem caused by him constantly moving from crisis to crisis. The returning face is suggested as a warning that the way he lives his life is unsustainable. Steven Moffat introduced the idea of the Doctor regenerating into a form for a specific psychological reason when he was possibly given Peter Capaldi’s face for a reason so it’s consistent with the mystique of regeneration and providing this explanation as an interpretation rather than a definitive reason also allows it to be something that remains up for debate while informing actions and behaviour at this point.

Donna points out that she felt how worn out the Doctor is when she got a glimpse into his mind and tries to help him admit this to himself. She does so during a crisis that the Doctor is fully focused on so it falls on deaf ears as he insists he’s fine but constant evidence is put in front of him that he has failed to properly process a massive amount of trauma. The Toymaker references Amy who lived a lifetime in the past and died of old age, Clara who sacrificed her life and was robbed of her death by the Doctor trying to fix it and Bill who was killed by Cybermen but continued on as pure consciousness. The Doctor corrects the Toymaker’s assertions that he is responsible for those deaths by trying to put a positive spin on that loss. It’s textbook denial and active avoidance of the reality of the situation. Something that the Chris Chibnall era did was undo a lot of the growth that Steven Moffat gave the Doctor by having Jodie Whttaker’s Doctor refuse to try to be better as lives were ruined by her actions. Russell T. Davies has made this denial part of the character and created an arc that ends with him recognising that things need to change.

Doctor Who

Making an entrance

It’s a strong arc and the Doctor’s adventures ending with him deciding to settle down and leave it all behind to live the normal life that he once thought was impossible is a good conclusion in theory. Of course, providing it would end the show so the episode contrives a way for the Doctor to achieve healthy closure while still travelling through time and space in the TARDIS. This is achieved through the concept of bi-generation where the Doctor splits into two distinct beings, one played by David Tennant and the other played by Ncuti Gatwa. This happens after the Toymaker shoots the Doctor so that he can play the next game with the next Doctor. Instead of regenerating as expected, Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor splits off from David Tennant’s and they exist simultaneously. This turns the last act of the episode into a multi-Doctor story where the current Doctor and the next Doctor work together.

This doesn’t work because it invalidates the point of regeneration. It’s a farewell; it’s the end of something as well as the start of something new. Previous examples have prompted a state of sadness as well as a state of euphoria as the audience says goodbye to the previous Doctor while hopefully embracing the new one. David Tennant’s last regeneration was an excellent example of this with the loss neatly transitioning to a manic introduction to Matt Smith’s Doctor that immediately built anticipation for his tenure to begin. Something similar happens here with audiences being provided a flavour of what to expect from Ncuti Gatwa with the key difference being that the previous Doctor was still present and involved in the remainder of the story.

By itself, this isn’t a bad idea. Fans have long desired the next Doctor to be introduced before the current Doctor leaves and have a multi-Doctor story told from the perspective of the exiting Doctor. Russell T. Davies himself teased this idea in the Christmas special “The Next Doctor” without delivering it. The circumstances surrounding the production of the 60th-anniversary specials allow for this as Ncuti Gatwa was cast in time for this to be a possibility but the execution of the idea is a major problem.

Doctor Who

This is new!

Regeneration isn’t always a complete farewell of course as there have been several multi-Doctor stories in the past. David Tennant returned for the 50th-anniversary to share the screen with Matt Smith and John Hurt’s Doctors. Peter Capaldi’s final episode would also feature David Bradley’s version of the first Doctor and “The Power of the Doctor” contained appearances from previous Doctors so regeneration isn’t always the end for a particular interaction. The major difference is that multi-Doctor stories are acknowledged as rarities that risk breaking the universe due to the paradox of multiple versions of the same person co-existing. It explains why the Doctor isn’t constantly recruiting past or future versions of themself to help with problems. Certainly in the modern era, the Doctor has always been wary about crossing their own timeline so a consistent in-universe reason is given for the current Doctor to be responsible for their own exploits.

Bi-generation removes this limitation as the two Doctors are definitively separate entities with duplicate TARDISes so nothing is preventing them from teaming up regularly. Perhaps this is precisely what Russell T. Davies intended. He may have visions of multiple Doctors teaming up regularly without having to explain how such a thing is possible. David Tennant’s Doctor has elected to stay on Earth and live a normal life while Ncuti Gatwa assumes the status quo of having adventures in the TARDIS but nothing is put in place to prevent David Tennant’s Doctor from being recruited when the stakes are too high.

In theory, it’s a good thing that David Tennant’s Doctor acknowledges that a very long lifetime of moving from crisis to crisis never daring to take stock of what has happened and reflect is unhealthy. It shows that he recognises mistakes have been made and that he’s willing to take steps to correct them. It takes another incarnation of himself as well as his best friend and a former companion to help him realise this but eventually, it does sink in. He decides to leave the life of a nomadic adventurer behind and live a normal day-to-day life where he can actually stop and take the time he needs to heal.

Doctor Who

Doctors are doing it for themselves!

Except he doesn’t, The TARDIS is also duplicated which means that David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa each have identical TARDISes. Tennant’s Doctor states that he could never let go of the TARDIS which is immediately followed by a contrivance that means he doesn’t have to. He doesn’t actually have to give anything up as he can return to his old life at any point. A more powerful and definitive declaration of Tennant’s Doctor’s desire to make the sort of change being suggested would be for him to let go of the TARDIS as a sign that he has fully let go of his old life and has removed the temptation to return to it.

Having two Doctors existing concurrently creates potential issues with future present-day threats. It’s difficult to accept that David Tennant’s Doctor will stay out of any future invasions while Ncuti Gatwa -or whoever plays the Doctor- deals with it on their own. It’s analogous to the Marvel Cinematic Universe problem of the Avengers not being called to help deal with the frequent threats that arise because it happens to be the solo film of a particular character. Doctor Who now has the problem of a similar question being asked in future.

Furthermore, bi-generation is a concept that comes from nowhere. It exists to give the Doctor emotional closure without ending the show and is thrown in as an addition to the mythology with no setup or explanation. It’s just something that happens. Added to that, Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor has somehow healed and is emotionally healthy while David Tennant’s Doctor still has to work his way through that process. It’s comforting for anyone struggling emotionally to see a practical example of a future where they come out the other side but it’s just something that Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor says has been achieved without evidence of it. Dialogue does suggest that Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor has arrived early for some reason and David Tennant’s Doctor will eventually become him, presumably after healing as described but it’s far from clear and clumsily delivered in this episode.

A character arc like this should show how someone overcame their trauma rather than simply declaring that they did. Has Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor somehow processed what his mysterious origin means to him, the destruction of half of the universe, countless deaths he witnessed or caused -directly or indirectly- and any number of other things. Even if Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor’s bucket is somehow empty and he can go on adventures unencumbered by previous trauma then what prevents him from following the same path as before and accumulating all new trauma. Is he going to do things differently? This question will be answered in the next season but for now, so much information is presented and expected to be accepted without earning that acceptance. It’s a disappointing conclusion to a strong run of specials.

Doctor Who

This is living!


A disappointing end to a promising run of specials with a clumsy resolution that overpowers the strong work earlier in the episode.

  • 4/10
    "The Giggle" - 4/10


Kneel Before…

  • Neil Partick Harris’ manic performance
  • the simplicity of the Toymaker being a feature rather than a bug
  • relevant topical references that make the situation more relatable
  • setting up the definitive end for David Tennant’s Doctor and exploring it well


Rise Against…

  • the scale of the threat not being shown effectively
  • the Toymaker’s underwhelming defeat
  • bi-generation coming from nowhere
  • the clumsy resolution for David Tennant’s Doctor
  • questions being raised by two Doctors existing concurrently with duplicate TARDISes
  • Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor declaring that he has healed and represents the end of the road to recovery for David Tennant’s Doctor but not showing this development


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User Review
6/10 (5 votes)

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