Doctor Who - The Giggle review: "a near-perfect end that signals a bright future ahead"

Doctor Who: The Giggle
(Image: © BBC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A near-perfect end to the Doctor's 60th anniversary adventures. David Tennant and Catherine Tate bow out of the series in an often jaw-dropping episode that points the way to a bright new future for Doctor Who. Allons-y!

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Doctor Who's trilogy of 60th anniversary specials comes to an end with The Giggle, the biggest and, by quite some way, the boldest episode of this show for many years. There's a returning enemy, a global threat, and a long-awaited regeneration - but that's just the half of it.

In some ways these episodes have mimicked the structure of returning showrunner Russell T Davies' seasons past. The Star Beast was a fun and frothy family adventure reminiscent of season-openers like Rose or Partners In Crime. Last week's Wild Blue Yonder recalled the show's mid-season turns to the weird in episodes like Midnight. The Giggle, then, is a classic RTD season finale, epic in scale, with wild swings of tone and mood, big ideas, UNIT battles - and a dance. 

Wild Blue Yonder ended with a touching reunion with Bernard Cribbins' Wilfred Mott. It was, sadly, the only scene the Doctor Who production team were able to film with the beloved actor, though he does make a brief audio cameo this week (in a dialogue sample snatched from season 4 episode The Poison Sky). The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna (Catherine Tate) have returned to Earth, only to find the planet in chaos caused by the arrival of the Toymaker - played by Neil Patrick Harris with malicious glee. A sinister laugh transmitted through every screen on planet Earth has caused everyone to become convinced that they are always correct, leading to a wave of violence that UNIT are desperately trying to keep in check. To put things right the Doctor and Donna must enter the Toymaker's realm and, quite literally, beat him at his own game.

Photos from Doctor Who: The Giggle

(Image credit: BBC)

That's the initial premise, anyway. The Giggle takes many bizarre and surprising twists and turns across its 61 minute run-time, including a visit to Soho in 1925 (which provides the episode with a distinctly creepy image in the laughing form of ventriloquist dummy Stooky Bill) and a memorable raid on the huge new UNIT headquarters (which has strong Avengers Tower vibes and will surely be an easy target in the next alien invasion). It's all leading up to a moment that we've known has been coming for the last 19 months: the regeneration of David Tennant's Fourteenth Doctor into Ncuti Gatwa's Fifteenth incarnation.

As most of you reading this by now will know, there's a lot to talk about there (and if you need a handy recap, we have an in-depth ending explainer right here). For now though, and with our spoiler-free remit in mind, we'll simply say that Gatwa makes an immediately winning first impression: charismatic, funny, and with an edge of unpredictable danger. I can't wait to see where this Doctor goes and what they do next. Thankfully it won't be a long gap, with the show returning on Christmas Day with another special, The Church On Ruby Road.

Photos from Doctor Who: The Giggle

(Image credit: BBC)

But let's not forget David Tennant. His reprisal of the role caused many a raised eyebrow in the admittedly easy to wind up world of hardcore Doctor Who fandom, but it may yet prove to be showrunner Davies' canniest choice on returning to the show that he revived all those years ago.

Whatever your thoughts on the quality of the last few years of the show, there's little doubt that it had fallen out of the public imagination somewhat, even if the rumors of its imminent demise from the worst sections of the internet were undoubtedly overblown. Bringing back the most popular actor to ever play the part before handing over to a brand new Doctor, played by a rapidly rising talent, was both a smart headline-grabbing action and a chance to find new shades in both Tennant and Tate's performances.

Because, while the Fourteenth Doctor is, in many ways, simply an older version of the Tenth, that difference in age and experience is important, as The Giggle makes clear. This Doctor runs as fast as ever, but they're sadder and more care-worn. They've been bruised by the events of the Flux, which left half the universe destroyed (what seemed at the time to be a dangling loose thread, now beautifully woven into the Doctor's character), and by everything else that has happened to them over the course of, for Donna, 15 years and for the Doctor, literal aeons. Crucially, they're willing to give up everything to protect their companion. OK, so the Doctor was never afraid of self-sacrifice, but there's something more than that here. "It's not about me," Donna says at one point, and Tennant's "Oh yes it is!" is said with desperate conviction. This was never simply a lap of glory for Tennant, but a chance to round out the character that made him a household name in the UK.

Tate, too, is fantastic. Donna has also aged, but she's only grown warmer, wiser, and more determined. A scene where she faces off against one of the Toymaker's traps is laugh out loud funny as she unflappably deals with a monster in a wonderfully straightforward way.

Photos from Doctor Who: The Giggle

(Image credit: BBC)

Elsewhere, Neil Patrick Harris makes for a wonderfully sinister villain - by turns camp, silly, and genuinely terrifying. A handful of throwaway lines may hint at bigger threats to come (and perhaps the return of another old enemy), but there's something unknowable, strange, and - as the Doctor puts it - "elemental" about this character. They invoked superstition in last week's episode and now here they are, tussling with what is effectively a god. This is Doctor Who played on a grand and mythic scale.

Not everything works perfectly. The Vlinx, a surprising new bit of UNIT tech, is left unexplained for now and strikes an oddly goofy note in the episode. The nature of the giggle itself offers Davies the chance to make some pointed statements about the state of our world, but fades into the background as soon as the Doctor and the Toymaker meet. And while the episode looks generally pretty amazing, there are some spotty VFX in places. But so it always was with Doctor Who, a show that never let a lack of time or money stop it from going to places much bigger shows would never dare.

These are small quibbles in an instalment that marks a near-perfect cap on a trilogy of episodes that have been simply a joy to watch these last three weeks, and which point to a blazing future for Doctor Who, one that feels genuinely unpredictable and unmissable again. Farewell David and Catherine. Welcome Ncuti! Next stop: everywhere.

Doctor Who 'The Giggle' is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer in the UK and Disney Plus in the rest of the world.

For more, check out our guide to all the best shows on Disney Plus to fill out your watchlist. 

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Will Salmon
Comics Editor

Will Salmon is the Comics Editor for GamesRadar/Newsarama. He has been writing about comics, film, TV, and music for more than 15 years, which is quite a long time if you stop and think about it. At Future he has previously launched scary movie magazine Horrorville, relaunched Comic Heroes, and has written for every issue of SFX magazine for over a decade. He sometimes feels very old, like Guy Pearce in Prometheus. His music writing has appeared in The Quietus, MOJO, Electronic Sound, Clash, and loads of other places and he runs the micro-label Modern Aviation, which puts out experimental music on cassette tape.