Doctor Who: The Giggle - 60th anniversary special recap

<span>Photograph: Alistair Heap/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios</span>
Photograph: Alistair Heap/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios

We didn’t want David Tennant to go, and it was time for Ncuti Gatwa to finally take the Tardis keys, but in a twist we got both of them at once. It was no surprise, though, that Neil Patrick Harris was a scene-stealing romp, revelling in silly accents, closeup card magic and imaginative cruelty.

The Toymaker’s violence-dealing dance scene at Unit HQ to the Spice Girls rivalled the Master’s Rasputin routine in the Power of the Doctor, and seemed like the new Russell T Davies era writ large: bright, bold and knowingly silly, but with an underlying political message.

Shirley Anne Bingham (Ruth Madeley) was back too, and the barb a possessed Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) aimed at her, that she had seen her getting up out of her wheelchair, was oddly prescient. It was filmed months and months ago, but echoed the ludicrous discourse after Madeley’s first appearance about whether a character in a wheelchair could be capable of crossing their legs. Online discourse like that was one of Davies’ real-life targets with this script, with its not-too-subtle messaging that having every human online and 100% certain they were right about everything was a recipe for global chaos.

A return for former companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) meant she finally got to show that her character really had been, as described, a computer programmer, and not just an eternally-in-distress 1980s damsel. And Langford got to use her singing and dancing skills for plot-driven reasons too.

At its heart, for the first 40 minutes, this was about Tennant and Catherine Tate (Donna). At times tender, at times dry or sarcastic with each other – “I’m already running!” – but always friends. When Donna so effortlessly negotiated a future job at Unit, you feared the worst for her – that it would be another fantastic dream she would never get to have, but she ended up with her family life, and an unexpected plus one in the shape of a grounded 14th Doctor.

Gatwa’s entrance, due to the show’s first ever “bi-generation”, appears to be acting as a character cleanse for the Doctor and a potential soft timeline reset for the show as a whole. It meant a huge tonal shift for the final third, leaving the demise of the Toymaker almost an aside as the Doctors stood together, using the 60th anniversary to wave goodbye to the past and usher in the future.

Sum it up in one sentence?

The Toymaker returns to drive the human race to distraction with a doll, only to find they’ve gifted the Doctor a home.

Life aboard the Tardis

We got the awkward conversation that happens every time a current companion meets an earlier one – “but you’d never mentioned them”. And the Toymaker’s puppet replay of the grisly fates of Amy, Clara and Bill rammed home how life on the Tardis has become a hazardous occupation in the modern era.

Fear factor

The scenes inside the Toymaker’s shop had a creepy dreamlike feel to them, with the dolls at times evoking horror movie vibes – albeit a horror movie you can show to eight-year-old kids on a Saturday teatime.

Mysteries and questions

The Meeps’s reference to its boss in the first special, and the Toymaker saying there was a thing hiding in the universe that even he was afraid to challenge, but would be somebody else’s game, seem to be setting up a big bad for Gatwa’s first full season. And the Master couldn’t really be trapped for all eternity in a gold tooth? Of course not. That was surely the hand of the Rani picking up the tooth after it dropped.

Deeper into the vortex

  • There were too many callbacks to count, but the biggest was the Toymaker, who, as briefly glimpsed in colourised clips, first appeared played by Michael Gough in a 1966 story with William Hartnell. Gough was due to reprise the role in The Nightmare Fair, a 1986 Colin Baker story, but BBC bigwigs had other ideas, put the show on hiatus, and we ended up with Trial of a Time Lord instead. The 1966 story has three episodes missing from the archive, but an animated version using the original audio soundtrack will be released next year. Though from the trailer it looks like it was animated in Roblox, so YMMV.

  • As Kate Stewart, Jemma Redgrave has now appeared in stories featuring the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and War Doctors. That equals or eclipses the number of Doctors that her character’s father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, appeared with, depending on how pedantically you count them.

  • Russell T Davies has said that one of the reasons he thought of casting Harris as the Toymaker after working with him on It’s a Sin was because the actor is a magic enthusiast and has done his own standup magic routines before.

Next time

Ncuti! With trousers on for at least some of the time! Millie Gibson! Davina McCall! Christmas! Goblins from (probably) outer space! It all starts at 5.55pm Christmas Day on BBC One in the UK and on Disney+ all around the world.

60th anniversary specials

Special 1: The Star Beast
Special 2: Wild Blue Yonder
Special 3: The Giggle
Christmas special: The Church on Ruby Road

Flux / Series 13

Chapter one: The Halloween Apocalypse
Chapter two: War of the Sontarans
Chapter three: Once, Upon Time
Chapter four: Village of the Angels
Chapter five: Survivors of the Flux
Chapter six: The Vanquishers
New Year's Special: Eve of the Daleks
Spring special: Legend of the Sea Devils
BBC centenary special: The Power of the Doctor

Series 12

Episode 1: Spyfall part one
Episode 2: Spyfall part two
Episode 3: Orphan 55
Episode 4: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
Episode 5: Fugitive of the Judoon
Episode 6: Praxeus
Episode 7: Can You Hear Me?
Episode 8: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
Episode 9: Ascension of the Cybermen
Episode 10: The Timeless Children
New Year's special: Revolution of the Daleks

Series 11

Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Episode 2: The Ghost Monument
Episode 3: Rosa
Episode 4: Arachnids in the UK
Episode 5: The Tsuangra Condundrum
Episode 6: Demons of the Punjab
Episode 7: Kerblam!
Episode 8: The Witchfinders
Episode 9: It Takes You Away
Episode 10: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
New Year's special: Resolution

Series 10

Episode 1: The Pilot
Episode 2: Smile
Episode 3: Thin Ice
Episode 4: Knock Knock
Episode 5: Oxygen
Episode 6: Extremis
Episode 7: The Pyramid at the End of the World
Episode 8: The Lie of the Land
Episode 9: Empress of Mars
Episode 10: The Eaters of Light
Episode 11: World Enough and Time
Episode 12: The Doctor Falls
2017 Christmas special: Twice Upon A Time

Series 9

Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice
Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar
Episode 3: Under The Lake
Episode 4: Before The Flood
Episode 5: The Girl Who Died
Episode 6: The Woman Who Lived
Episode 7: The Zygon Invasion
Episode 8: The Zygon Inversion
Episode 9: Sleep No More
Episode 10: Face The Raven
Episode 11: Heaven Sent
Episode 12: Hell Bent
2015 Christmas special: The Husbands of River Song
2016 Christmas special: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Series 8

Episode 1: Deep Breath
Episode 2: Into The Dalek
Episode 3: Robot of Sherwood
Episode 4: Listen
Episode 5: Time Heist
Episode 6: The Caretaker
Episode 7: Kill The Moon
Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express
Episode 9: Flatline
Episode 10: In the Forest of the Night
Episode 11: Dark Water
Episode 12: Death In Heaven
2014 Christmas special: Last Christmas

Series 7

Episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks
Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy
Episode 4: The Power of Three
Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhatten
2012 Christmas special: The Snowmen
Episode 6: The Bells of Saint John
Episode 7: The Rings of Akhaten
Episode 8: Cold War
Episode 9: Hide
Episode 10: Journey to the Centre of the Tardis
Episode 11: The Crimson Horror
Episode 12: Nightmare in Silver
Episode 13: The Name of the Doctor
50th Anniversary special: The Day of the Doctor
2013 Christmas special: The Time of the Doctor

Series 6

Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Episode 2: Day of the Moon
Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot
Episode 4: The Doctor's Wife
Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh
Episode 6: The Almost People
Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War
Episode 8: Let's Kill Hitler
Episode 9: Night Terrors
Episode 10: The Girl Who Waited
Episode 11: The God Complex
Episode 12: Closing Time
Episode 13: The Wedding of River Song
2011 Christmas special: The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe

Series 5

Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour
Episode 2: The Beast Below
Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks
Episode 4: The Time of Angels
Episode 5: Flesh and Stone
Episode 6: The Vampires of Venice
Episode 7: Amy's Choice
Episode 8: The Hungry Earth
Episode 9: Cold Blood
Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor
Episode 11: The Lodger
Episode 12: The Pandorica Opens
Episode 13: The Big Bang
2010 Christmas special: A Christmas Carol