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Doctor Who: The Giggle

"The rules. They are very, very importantent, these rules. Don’t you think?"

This week, The Doctor battles the Dunning-Kruger effect, as complete access to social media turns everyone on planet Earth into a gigantic asshole.

Thank God this is only fiction.

For the sake of context, we should probably start with a brief discussion of Peter Haining.

Forty years ago, Doctor Who was preparing to celebrate its 20th birthday. As part of the festivities, a special hardcover book was published by Target/W.H. Allen called Doctor Who: A Celebration – Two Decades Through Time and Space, written by Peter Haining. I have my copy next to me as I type this. In these simpler, pre-internet days, knowledge about Doctor Who stories from the Hartnell and Troughton days was thin on the ground. With no chance of ever seeing their stories for ourselves, and limited opportunity to discuss what they might have been, we were largely conditioned to accept what we were told about them by those who had seen them at the time.

They were our elders, and this was our oral history.

The problem with this is that sometimes elders are just wrong. The latter half of the book is largely taken up by a brief synopsis and review of every Doctor Who story that had aired to date. Which at that time meant up to the fifth Doctor story 'The Kings Demons.' With no other reference available, these three or four paragraphs per story were the entire sum of knowledge available to us for all of the old tales. Barring of course the Target novelizations, although many if not most of the early stories were still not novelized at this time.

So, when Peter Haining told us in glowing detail how the first Doctor story 'The Celestial Toymaker' was the most wonderful and magical tale that the series had ever produced while 'The Gunfighters' was so bad that it actively killed babies in the night, we had no way of knowing how profoundly wrong he was on both those points.

This is how we ended up with a profound fetishization of the entire concept of 'The Toymaker' back in the mid-eighties. So much so that the first story of the lost season 23 was intended to be a return of the Toymaker as played by Rik Mayall. Weep for what might have been. And here's the important point. Despite the fact that we ultimately learned first-hand how not-good the original 'Celestial Toymaker' story was, the concept was still great. An omnipotent, amoral being who exists solely to trick you into playing seemingly innocent games, games which only reveal their twisted, horrific traps once you're already committed to the game and can't escape. That's a good hook.

That's what Russell T. Davies is aiming for here. He's trying to give us the Toymaker as he existed in our collective dreams. He largely succeeds. And I'm willing to bet a not insignificant amount of money that RTD also has a copy of 'A Celebration.'

If you want to see why Neil Patrick Harris' take on the Toymaker works, and it does, you don't have to look any further than the Spice Girls dance number. Two particular moments in it, to be specific. The first is when he's approached by two soldiers and turns them into a pile of colorful bouncing balls with a single touch. It's cute. And silly. And then a moment later Shirley finds herself holding one which turns out to be all that's left of one of soldiers' heads. And his face is there. And it's screaming in terror and pain.

The next moment is the Toymaker's dance with Kate, in which he spins her whimsically into the nearest wall. Hard enough to give her a traumatic brain injury. That hit is brutal. It's hard to watch. And it's set in direct counterpoint to the cutesy dance number surrounding it.

That's what makes the Toymaker work. It's a Tex Avery cartoon in which the dancing horses bleed and die, while screaming 'Why?', in terror. That's what we were fascinated by in the 80s, even though we had no idea that the original story never bothered to deliver on the promise. RTD delivers on it here.

And that's why the bi-generation works, and the splitting TARDISes works. We've spent the bulk of the episode being trained to accept 'cartoon rules but allowing for evil.' It's not such a great leap from there to 'cartoon rules, but with hope and redemption and grace.' We've just never seen it done before.

So, if the episode is firing on all cylinders with the Toymaker, when does it run into trouble? Well, it has to be admitted that while I love the concept of 'everyone believes they're right so they're all being assholes' as a starting point, I have to admit that the episode doesn't really do a lot with it after they get it established. It's fun, but ultimately it does read a bit like the show taking a swipe at right wing internet trolls. And don't get me wrong, I think those people absolutely should get swiped at, early and often. The sheer number of Youtube videos that have showed up in my feed over the last two weeks shrieking #RIPDoctorWho just for daring to acknowledge that trans people exist. I can't even. I just think that they didn't really do anything with the idea beyond presenting it. Which feels like a lost opportunity.

Likewise, I wasn't a huge fan of the rushed UNIT set-up, culminating in the reveal without explanation of The Vlinx. I'm not certain if they're setting up a UNIT spinoff, or this was just an example of RTD finding it amusing to throw as much weird at the wall as he can, but would it have killed them to have either the Doctor or Donna even ask what The Vlinx' deal was? It would only seem natural in the moment to at least say, 'Hey, how did you get here?' It felt a little overstuffed in an episode that already had a lot of stuffing to do. It set them up to take a quick shot at Tories and Anti-Vaxxers – and again, they should have not-literal shots taken at them at every opportunity – but it didn't advance the plot much. And we could have had so much more Toymaker goodness in that time.

It's also probably worth acknowledging that having the two big games with the Toymaker be 'cutting cards' and 'catch' felt a bit underwhelming. The catch scene in particular was well directed, but it felt like an anti-climax after all the high concept stuff that came before it.

All of that said, the last ten minutes of this episode are an unapologetic love letter to healing and joy, and I couldn't get enough of it. I'm sure that there are plenty of people angry that there isn't a definitive end for the 14th Doctor, segueing into a beginning for the 15th, but I personally loved how they handled it.
Not my copy
Bits and Pieces:

-- It's easy enough to head canon a direct connection if you want to. Ncuti's 15th Doctor says that he's healed now because Tennant's 14th Doctor took the time to do the healing. Which is the entire stated reason that he has to give up wandering (mostly) and live in Donna's garden. He has to take the time to do the work to heal the psychic wounds that he's been carrying ever since the Hartnell days. They directly say that several times. So, Tennant leads directly to Gatwa at the end of his time, it's just that their times have folded over a bit and overlap. It's exactly the same paradigm as the Watcher back in 'Logopolis' if you need a precedent. There, sorted it for you.

-- Ncuti Gatwa hits the ground running and owns this part from his first second on screen. I can't wait to see where he goes with it from here.

-- I love the clothing logic of the 14th and 15th Doctors having split the outfit between them. Not least because we can definitively state that while he was playing with the Toymaker's balls, Doctor 14 was confirmed to be going commando. It's canon. You're welcome.

-- It's a little heartbreaking that Bernard Cribbins was clearly too ill to do intended scenes here and so Wilf is awkwardly kept just off camera right from the start of the episode. Understandable. But heartbreaking.

-- I had never heard of Stooky Bill or John Logie Baird. I like it when the show teaches me things despite the best efforts of the American school system.

-- The man who was turned into a marionette was grotesque in the best possible way. And I could watch Donna cheerfully murder dolls in front of their terrified children for hours.

-- A couple of years ago in a review of Doom Patrol I mentioned that I'd like all expository scenes to be conveyed via puppets from now on. I'd like to thank Russell T. Davies for respecting my wishes.

-- It was a little bit muddy as to how much of what we saw here was undone by defeating the Toymaker. For example, the guy that purchased Stooky Bill in the cold open now got to live, apparently, but all those UNIT soldiers still died.

-- We all thought that Kate was going to punch him when she first walked out to the landing pad, right?

-- I love how directly this episode called out all of the people online who tried to gatekeep disability after Shirley crossed her legs a couple of weeks ago.

-- Both Bonnie Langford and Mel were well served here. I wouldn't have imagined that I'd welcome the character's return let alone an update on what happened to the late Tony Selby's Sabalom Glitz, and yet here we are. And Sylvia told Mel that she's family, thus resolving the background 'Mel is sad because she doesn't have a family' storyline. That made me smile.

-- Why would any version of the Doctor have a convenient Giant Comedy Mallet to hand?

-- Apparently the whole Isaac Newton casting and its subsequent 'mavity' hijinx weren't important. Never mind.


Donna: "I wasn’t the first redhead?"
Mel: "No. That was me."
Actually, it was Liz Shaw. Just for the record.

Kate: "As for her, in that chair, I’ve seen you walk! I’ve seen you walking!"

Mel: "I’ve been fine. Well... no more opinionated than usual."
Donna: "Nor me."

Donna: "I spent six months teaching my daughter to play the recorder ‘til she said, ‘this is not who I am,' and that was the start of a whole other conversation, believe you me."

The Doctor: "The giggle in everyone’s head."

The Doctor: "All the anger out there on the street. The lies. The righteousness. That’s human. That’s you. That’s who you are."

Donna: "How much per year?"
Kate: "Sixty thousand."
Donna: "One hundred twenty plus five weeks holiday."
Kate: "Done."

Toymaker: "Und now, everybody loves the balls."

Donna: "Hello Stooky, my name’s Donna. Now I think that you’re a goner."

Toymaker: "Well that’s all right then!"

Toymaker: "That’s the game of the 21st century. They shout, and they type, and they cancel."

The Doctor: "Donna!"
Donna: "I’m already running!"

The Doctor: "We can be... Celestial."

Mel: "You’re going to be someone else. It doesn’t matter who. Because every single one of you is fantastic."

The 15th Doctor: "Come here. I’ve got you. Yeah. I’m here."

The 15th Doctor: "Sarah Jane is gone. Can you believe that for a second?"

An extremely enjoyable final outing for the 60th Anniversary specials that never failed to be enjoyable, even if portions of it were a bit overstuffed and didn't really pay off here. It fulfilled a long-abandoned dream of the Toymaker we yearned for in the 80s and brought in a new Doctor with a truly 'fresh start' feeling. Twelve out of fifteen Doctors.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.


  1. Excellent review! Side note here, I too have a copy of the book, A celebration of Time! When I found my copy all those years ago, I squealed like a fan obsessed!!! Lovely book! You have excellent taste! 😀
    I agree with your review about everything and until I saw the episode I was a wee bit torked about the idea of bioregeneration because it seemed like such a slap in the face to the 4th Doctor and 5th Doctor in terms of how the Doctor seems to be cheating death again with surprise DT Doctor! However, as I watched the episode I loved it! It was done well, handled cannon, yet turned cannon on its head as well!!!! You are so right to reference Logopolis episode as because as I watched Giggle it made me think of the watcher in Logopolis, who merged with TB Doctor to form PD Doctor..
    I thought everyone was OUTSTANDING in the episode and NPH slayed as The Toymaker! His song/dance number was fantastic and when Confronting the Doctor about prior companions and their tragic deaths. It was so well done, brought tears to my eyes because of my caring for those that were lost... Everything swirled/twirled so beautifully...not just because of a better budget but because ideas flowed together in a cohesive story. I'm so excited for the new episodes and because of the clip of seeing the new Doctor dancing in a Kilt! Fantastic!!! At what appears to be a rave I'm genuinely excited about seeing this newest incarnation and seeing his outlook on life, adventures and booming through Time/Space in this special box called the Tardis.

  2. I loved it, too. Neil Patrick Harris was amazing. Ncuti Gatwa was amazing. I realized in the middle of the episode that I didn't think I could watch David Tennant's Doctor die again -- and he didn't. And maybe he'll get better and get sick of retirement and we'll have a second Doctor roaming about. Can't be bad.

    And I knew nothing about the Toymaker history. Interesting stuff, Mikey.

  3. Actually, I’m unsure about the fate of the man who bought Stookey Bill. Were we being reminded of him for a later date? Were we supposed to think he escaped his fate? Kate asked, for the names of the people guarding the plasma gun, so it implies they’re still dead. I was just confused by that whole scene.

  4. To quote the Ninth Doctor, "Fantastic." Loved pretty much every minute. I didn't think the episode was overstuffed but I thought adding one more thing would have been too much. So, sorry to say, I'm glad Matt Smith didn't show up as much as I was rooting for that earlier this year. NPH killed it. Ncuti killed it. David Tennant is just always amazing, isn't he? I wanna know who picked up the Master tooth! The manicure matches Kate....just saying.... I was sad at the end too though, for the Wilf-sized hole. RIP Bernard Cribbins. I think the mentions of past seasons/series were very well done. The puppet show, the Fifteenth Doctor's speech, it was all perfect. Though it killed me a little knowing Sarah Jane is definitively dead in the Whoniverse. That one hurt more than the rest combined because Elisabeth Sladen is truly gone.

    I was so prepared for The Giggle to rip my heart out and stomp on it but it was so uplifting. Tennant!Doctor's never been happier and Ncuti!Doctor is out there hitting the club in a kilt. PS. I could listen to Ncuti Gatwa talk like ALL DAY.

  5. Any thoughts on the "I made a jigsaw of your history - did you like it?" comment from the Toymaker to the Doctor? It caught my ear when I first watched but then the rest of the card scene pushed it out of my head until someone brought up that it could mean the Toymaker had something to do with the whole Timeless Child thing. Especially since right after that he talks about playing a game with the Master.

    I'm not saying that RTD is going to basically wipe out the Timeless Child origin story by saying it was all a Toymaker construct (even though I kind of prefer that, despite how awesome the Fugitive Doctor was). But if the Toymaker did mess about in the Doctor's history like he claimed, it could explain some of the plot holes the Timeless Child leaves (how River Song got the ability to regenerate without the Doctor's DNA, why the Fugitive Doctor is even called the Doctor and had a police box TARDIS, etc.) as well as other that have been iffy to explain (the Doctor being half human, the Doctor's age, etc.).

    Anyway, I loved the episode despite feeling a bit cheated of the chance to ball my eyes out about the 14th Doctor leaving (very glad they didn't kill off Donna, too). I'm harboring a bit of "wait and see" for all the questions about what happens to him afterward - does he just die? Regenerate into someone who becomes the Curator (or is that Tom Baker's bigenerated Doctor?)? Time loop back to the moment of his death so that 15 gets all his memories and therapeutic healing?

    I've loved NPH since Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, so I was quite excited to see him on my favorite show. The deathly and over-the-top "Spice Up Your Life" dance was perfect.

    The card game and game of catch did seem rather anti-climatic, but I understood that simple games were the only way to have a fair chance of beating the Toymaker (he's not going to cheat, but he knows the rules and the strategy of games far better).

  6. I think that I'm pleased that we didn't lose Fourteen again. (Seriously, what is it with Tennant and screwing with his regenerations somehow?) The idea of him having time to simply rest and live is a very kind one, and I love that it's with Donna and her family. And Mel! This is the first time I've met Mel, but I adore her.

    I also adore Fifteen. He's a little cheeky! Definitely has some swagger. Ncuti Gatwa did fabulously and I'm very excited to see him again come Christmas.

    Kinda hoped that Fourteen's TARDIS was going to be Ten's old one. That might have made me cry, though.

    NPH killed it. Agreed. He was very fun. I had no idea about the Toymaker's backstory. I almost want to buy that book now! Disappointed that mavity was a nonentity. Maybe it'll come up again, but that feels like a stretch. I don't get it. Why have it in the first place? Feels uncharacteristically sloppy given how tightly written the rest of that episode was.

  7. A great episode. I would agree that the Toymaker we got here is more of a collective idea of the character than the actual character from the 60s, but he's handled so well and, well, I'm never tired of seeing NPH on screen
    The bi-generation concept I didn't like at first, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me. I came to the same conclusion as in the review: it's the Doctor's timeline folding back on itself. Works for me, no questions, no logical gaps. Definitely not the weirdest thing the show's ever done
    Ncuti is fantastic! Insane energy, an avalanche of charisma. Can't wait to see more of him. I knew he was going to be great as the Doctor, and I was not disappointed
    I still don't like how they handle the inclusivity message. I appreciate the message, but they keep bringing every possible bit of the viewers' attention to it. Sometimes it feels like they don't trust the viewers to see the details and the subtext, so they have to point everything out. What happened to the "show, don't tell"? Don't you think it would've been stronger if they showed all the things like the TARDIS' accessibility ramp or just Shirley being cool without actually telling us this? I don't know, it feels like the show, even Russel himself used to show more finesse in handling topics like this. Just a personal viewpoint, maybe it's just me preferring to have more subtleties, read between the lines, and actively look at the details. it doesn't make the episode worse. Good times, good fun

  8. Re: fingers, let's not forget Turlough

    1. And this brings me back to something I've literally been thinking about obsessively since I wrote this review.

      The question of Sara Kingdom.

      There's a solid argument that she was the first redhead companion, but for two complications. Since her episodes are in black and white, can we swear that her hair was red? I mean, Jean Marsh's hair was, but apparently Kevin Stoney's Mavic Chen was painted blue and I don't think we're supposed to read that as literal.

      Also this begs the argument as to whether she counts as a companion.

      Is anyone else obsessively concerned about this?


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