Sunday 10 December 2023

Doctor Who: The Giggle

The Giggle is the third and final special celebrating the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who. It marks the return of the Celestial Toymaker, an iconic villain from the First Doctor's era.

Nick Smith, our US-based veteran Whovian, ventures into Soho and discovers a magical toy shop filled with timey-wimey tricks and treats.

Guest post by Nick Smith

As returning showrunner of Doctor Who, Russell T Davies has been set with a very tricky task this year. Not only does he have to recapture the chemistry of the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in new forms (the Doctor regenerated, Donna slightly older but just as cheeky), but he’s also doing it on the show’s 60th anniversary.

Needless to say, expectations are high among drop-in viewers who remember the dream team, and long-term fans who are understandably jaded after the BBC’s fair-weather treatment of the series (which includes destroying dozens of episodes).

Thankfully for all concerned, The Giggle surpasses expectations with a story that provides an epic threat, a satisfying wrap-up for two characters and an exciting new beginning for another.

The threat is created by the Celestial Toymaker, a villain who first appeared in 1966. Back then he was played by Michael Gough, an excellent actor best known to modern audiences as the long-suffering Alfred to Michael Keaton’s Batman. An equally confident actor, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), brings the Toymaker back to life.

Harris played a small but important role in Davies’ excellent miniseries It’s A Sin, but he gets to show many more talents in The Giggle. He sings! He dances! He pulls the strings of marionette companions! The Toymaker has similar powers to Star Trek’s Q, just as childish but more malicious. He’s a perfect foil for Tennant’s seemingly indomitable Doctor.

The Toymaker has been lurking behind the scenes for decades, on audio (Big Finish’s story Solitaire is very atmospheric), comic strips such as The Greatest Gamble, and even a cancelled Sixth Doctor TV story (The Nightmare Fair). Finally, he gets a moment of glory, and it’s a memorable one. Usually, he lays traps and plays deadly games; here he focuses on illusions and mind games, baiting the Doctor as if their last tussle was a mere dice roll away. That’s a testament to the acting skills of Tennant and Harris, who make a wild, brain-bending scenario believable.

Davies squeezes in many references to past stories and even some obscure Big Finish UNIT spin-off audios. There’s a hint at a character who has not appeared yet (who even the Toymaker admits he can’t beat) and a full roster of new and returning friends (Kate Stewart, Mel Bush, The Vlinx) that brand new Whovians may struggle to keep track of.

Hopefully, the new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa’s reign won’t be weighed down with textual referencing in the same way as these specials. It’s hard to move forward when one foot is stuck in the past. It would be preferable to see the Fifteenth Doctor make a fresh start, as fresh as the show’s revival felt in 2005. Sure, there were Easter eggs laid back then, but they were hatched gradually and carefully without alienating casual viewers.

The audience could enjoy the show without getting bewildered by references to Ragnarok, Wirrn and fluxes, which to the unfanned ear - along with a side serving of technobabble - soon turns to nonsensical mush. It's better to stick with gentle nudges that encourage viewers to go find out more about Who lore.

Russell T Davies has managed to gift-wrap six decades of storytelling into a cohesive package, serving up three specials that really are just that – special, reminding us that watching Doctor Who can be a joyful experience. The Giggle, in particular, is a wonderful episode with enough subtext to tickle the mind and eyeballs, lined with levity, full of surprises and allegory. It’s proof that with Davies and Bad Wolf, this 60-year-old series is full of youthful vigour and it’s in safe hands.

Have you seen The Giggle? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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