Doctor Who: The Giggle treads confidently into untrodden territory with worldwide hypnosis, haunted houses, and new Time Lord mythology.
*This Review Contains Spoilers For Doctor Who: The Giggle*
With his controversial episode ‘The Timeless Children’ three years ago, Doctor Who’s previous showrunner Chris Chibnall changed the history of the beloved show forever, revealing that The Doctor’s heritage isn’t exactly what it’s always been presented as. The story was extremely polarising, and it proved something that’s always been true with Doctor Who and its fanbase: making changes to the show’s existing lore can easily end in disaster. ‘The Giggle’ could’ve easily fallen into the same category: writer Russell T. Davies makes some seriously bold swings and plays loosely with the show’s existing rules. But at the same time, it presents the exact kind of change that’s necessary to reboot the show into a new era without completely erasing its past.
In what’s easily the campiest and most playful of the three 60th Anniversary Specials, ‘The Giggle’ sees The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) return to Earth to find the human race brainwashed by a mysterious frequency that’s been hidden through history. After the typical time-travelling and problem-solving that you’d expect from a Doctor Who story, the man behind the curtain reveals himself as The Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris), an old nemesis who first fought The Doctor way back in 1966. And while the concept of the episode is fairly simple and nothing that Doctor Who hasn’t tackled before, it’s Neil Patrick Harris’ energetic turn as The Toymaker that really elevates ‘The Giggle’ above the rest.
The actor brings so much charisma to The Toymaker and completely lets himself loose in the character, bringing exaggerated accents and elaborate dance numbers that keep the episode on its toes as The Doctor races to solve another deadly mystery. The episode does a great job of blending the more lighthearted aspects of Doctor Who with those moments that bear more weight for the franchise as a whole, and that all comes together with ‘The Giggles’ shocking regeneration sequence. From the moment that marketing on these specials began, ‘The Giggle’ was advertised as The 14th Doctor’s regeneration episode – a practice in Doctor Who where one actor passes the torch down to another as the Time Lord changes his body to evade death. However, as should’ve been expected by Davies’ return, this episode changes up the formula massively.
Instead of watching Fourteen regenerate into Fifteen (Ncuti Gatwa), ‘The Giggle’ introduces the idea of ‘bigeneration’ and sees both incarnations of The Doctor exist simultaneously. It’s a totally new idea that’s essentially just been invented to avoid killing off Tennant’s Doctor (maybe for spin-offs in the future?), but ‘The Giggle’ does a fairly good job of explaining the process without undermining the importance of Gatwa’s arrival – who, incidentally, makes his presence known straight away. His scenes are brimming with energy and playfulness that hasn’t really been seen since Matt Smith’s take on the character; his youthfulness gives him such a fresh personality that’s going to be fascinating to watch in the future.
The actual narrative of ‘The Giggle’ might not be anything new when it comes to Doctor Who, but the excellent character work and the satisfying resolution of the Fourteenth Doctor’s journey makes it tailor-made for long-term fans. While it’s true that many fans were expecting a more holistic celebration of Doctor Who from these 60th Anniversary Specials, the result was a much more focused development of one particular era that’s often hailed as the show’s peak. ‘The Giggle’ finally gives this incarnation of the character the happy ending that he deserves, not only rewriting the tragedy of their original story but also healing The Doctor from the many traumas they’ve experienced in the fifteen years since. Writers rarely acknowledge the character’s own suffering, but Davies uses this story to finally allow The Doctor to “go home” and heal before starting things afresh with Gatwa’s exciting version on Christmas Day.
Doctor Who: The Giggle is now available to watch on the BBC iPlayer and on Disney Plus.