Doctor Who Review: “The Giggle” is Lore-Changing

Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker in his shop.
Neil Patrick Harris as the Toymaker. Photo courtesy Disney+/BBC.

An old foe brings about the end of the 60th-anniversary specials, and we get introduced to the new Doctor in ‘The Giggle’.

Spoiler Warning: This review of ‘The Giggle’ includes major spoilers as well as a discussion of some fan theories related to the regeneration part. Consider yourself warned!

When we last left our Time Lord, they had arrived on an Earth where everyone was literally going mad.

In ‘The Giggle’, we start out in Soho in 1925, where a man decides to purchase a ‘not creepy at all’ ventriloquist dummy from a toy shop. The seller, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is obviously more than he appears, as he sells the doll (Stooky Bill) to be used in one of the first televised images. (By the way, Stooky Bill is based on actual history, and is just as creepy in real life apparently.) As the toymaker sends off the man, he laughs – or more precisely, he giggles.

We then flash to the present, as the Doctor (David Tennant – for most of the episode) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) investigate the madness. It turns out that two days ago, everyone started thinking they were right – all the time – and if you argue, they go mad.

They get picked up by UNIT, who is no longer in hiding. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) brings him in, where previous companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) is working as well. For those of you only familiar with the new version of Doctor Who, she was a companion of the 6th and 7th Doctors.

They have a little bit of a reunion, but then UNIT catches the Doctor (and the audience) up on what’s been going on. Whatever it is is happening all over and at the same right. UNIT is safe due to some armband technology invented by the Vlinx. Turns out, there’s an embedded code into every screen that is… the giggle.

The Doctor and Donna go back to Soho 1925 to investigate, to find the seller is actually the Celestial Toymaker (a villain from one of the first Doctors) who had been able to cross over into our world due to the events in ‘Wild Blue Yonder‘.

The Doctor challenges the Toymaker to a game and loses. As such, he is shot by a laser and starts to regenerate – but doesn’t. Then, the new Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa, best known for being in Netflix’s Sex Education) splits off from Tennant’s Doctor (well, the 14th Doctor version) in what is called a biregeneration. The two Doctors challenge the Toymaker to a game of ball, and this time win.

The 14th Doctor is sent off to live with Donna and her family to heal from the trauma of the last few regenerations, and the 15th Doctor gets his own TARDIS and can fly off without the huge weight of PTSD holding him down.

It all sounds complicated, and I can only imagine how confusing this is to non-viewers of Doctor Who, but it’s all handled very well.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate in a scared embrace.
The 14th Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) look on in fear. Photo courtesy Disney+/BBC.

Harris chews through the scenery and steals every scene he’s in, using his talents as a magician several times. (I could sit and watch him playing with the deck of cards for hours, I think.) Director Chanya Button lets the actors play with their characters. And I am already in love with Gatwa’s Doctor as he’s filled with a flirty joy we haven’t seen in a while. Although having seen him in Sex Education, I’m not sure about the ‘stache – it looks like he’s trying to appear older than he is.

The plot is an obvious commentary on the reaction to both the pandemic and the more toxic areas of the Doctor Who fanbase. For example, when Stewart disables her device to show the Doctor what happens, she goes off on wheelchair user Shirley (Ruth Madeley, who really does use a wheelchair) for standing occasionally, showing how Davies knew that some fans would go off on Madeley ‘crossing her legs’ in ‘The Star Beast‘.

As for the controversial bigeneration, I can see both sides. I do agree that if Davies’ commentary is right that every Doctor ‘woke up’ from their death and was able to continue traveling, that dulls the sacrifices that most of them made when regenerating. But at the same time, I like the idea that this ‘explains’ why when they bring back other Doctors they look older than we’re used to. For once, the regeneration is more joyful than sad due to 14 being still around, and I’m conflicted about that. Regeneration was what made a show like Doctor Who last as long as it has, and I feel it’s a good way to introduce the audience to the idea that death is a part of life but also that part of us still lives on. But every showrunner seems to change something about Doctor Who lore, and this was Davies trying to fix things from the past.

I’m enjoying the fan theory that the 14th Doctor goes on to become the Curator we saw played by Tom Baker in the 50th-anniversary special. I also like the idea that UNIT hires ex-companions to work for them. But I’m upset, too, that Martha Jones and Rory Williams weren’t mentioned in the list of companions. Additionally, Donna’s question to Gatwa’s Doctor as to whether he comes in a variety of colors really comes across as a racist microaggression, and that doesn’t bode well for how the first Black Doctor is going to be handled.

For the most part, I enjoyed the episode, although once the battle with the Toymaker is over, it feels like the energy drops to the floor. But still, it’s a good sendoff and a good start, and that’s what’s needed in a regeneration episode.

Doctor Who‘s ‘The Giggle’ is available on Disney+ for American viewers, and on the BBC iPlayer for those of you in the UK.

Ncuti’s Doctor will be back in the Christmas special, ‘The Church on Ruby Road’, on December 25, 2023.

Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.

She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.


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