Spoilers from the outset for this review of the Doctor Who 60th-Anniversary Special, “The Giggle.”
The end looms for the Fourteenth Doctor in the third and final episode of the 60th-anniversary specials. It all begins in Soho, 1925, with the birth of television, an appropriate subject matter to honor the 60-year milestone and an effective means to welcome back The Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris). The classic villain, reimagined more than five decades later, sells Stooky Bill, a ventriloquist doll, to an assistant working with John Logie Baird (John Mackay), the Scottish inventor famed for creating the concept of television.
Harris plays the Toymaker with cold menace, dazzling eccentricity, and questionable racial perspectives (since the term Celestial is deemed a racial slur against Chinese ethnicities) in a story that otherwise, quite disappointingly, underutilises the iconic villain, last portrayed by Michael Gough in 1966. Nevertheless, Harris applies an impressive array of talents as a magician and performer to deliver a deft, exceptional performance as the revered cosmic being from beyond the universe.
With planes falling out of the sky and bedlam on the streets, the Doctor and Donna reconvene at UNIT headquarters (an unambiguous skyscraper slap-bang in the heart of London), allying with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), Melanie Bush (the return of Bonnie Langford after 37 years), the Vlinx (a robot of unspecified origin), and UNIT advisor 56 Shirley-Anne Bingham (Ruth Madeley). A signal, disguised as a musical palindrome, identified as the Toymaker laughing, has been embedded within every screen for the last 98 years, beginning from the moment John Logie Baird captured the leering face of Stooky Bill on a television screen.
To kill the signal, UNIT unleash the Galvanic beam (a laser cannon mounted on the helipad of UNIT tower) to destroy KOSAT-5, a South Korean satellite and break a chain of online connectivity broadcasting the Toymaker’s signal. The Doctor and Donna return to 1925 and meet the Toymaker, who recounts a tale about the game of catch – the first game ever invented (and one that later proves to be his downfall). Within the Toymaker’s dimension, a labyrinth of meandering corridors, endless doors, creepy Stookie Sue dolls (supported by her Stookie babbies), and string puppets fashioned after those the Toymaker has bested in his games), the Doctor competes with the villain in a card game. Highest card wins.
Despite suffering a defeat to the Toymaker, the Doctor notes that the two are now all square – since he defeated him as the First Doctor (William Hartnell). The Toymaker transports back to 2023, killing staff and personnel at UNIT during a musical number from The Spice Girls. Harris shines brightest throughout this sequence, turning soldiers into balloons with a touch and converting bullets into rose petals. With the Galvanic beam soon under his control, the Toymaker forces the Doctor to regenerate.
The villain suggests the third and final game between the two rivals should be fought with his successor. Audiences prepare to say farewell to the Fourteenth Doctor (and a second time to David Tennant) before something quite peculiar happens. An historic first for the series, the Doctor splits in two, allowing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth incarnations of the Time Lord to co-exist simultaneously – otherwise known as a “bi-generation.”
Ncuti Gatwa, flawless from the word go, allies with his predecessor to defeat the Toymaker in a game of catch. The two Time Lords imprison him inside a box containing the vast dimensions of the celestial creature – despite warnings of “legions” and a well-manicured hand picking up a gold tooth belonging to the Toymaker, said to contain the Master, trapped for eternity after losing a game.
With the Toymaker banished to a UNIT vault, attention turns to why the Fourteenth Doctor exists with the face of the Tenth since, quite frustratingly, the Toymaker ultimately had no influence over the twist. Instead, the Fourteenth Doctor has been left emotionally exhausted from the traumas of past adventures and regenerated to reunite with the Noble household and “come home.”
The Fifteenth Doctor parts ways for new adventures – creating a second TARDIS for his predecessor – since the rules of the Toymaker remain in play. With Gatwa gone until the upcoming Christmas Special, we find the Fourteenth Doctor, finding peace at last, recounting adventures to the Noble family (and Mel), with Wilf shooting moles (protected by forcefields) off-screen.
“The Giggle” is a fun, frantic rush to the finish line, failing to let up from minute one. Neil Patrick Harris is a stroke of casting genius as the Toymaker, supported by David Tennant in his second swansong as the Time Lord, and Ncuti Gatwa dedicates every second of screen time to bringing the Fifteenth incarnation to our screens, trousers included or not.
You can read FlickLuster’s review for “Wild Blue Yonder” here.