Neil Patrick Harris’ debut as The Toymaker delivered a chilling performance that elevated the third Doctor Who special in truly surprising ways.
“The Giggle,” now streaming on Disney+, quickly ditches the whimsy that characterized the previous two specials. Its opening minutes acquaint us with The Toymaker, who runs a toy emporium in Soho circa 1925. An assistant to the real-life inventor John Logie Baird purchases a ventriloquist’s dummy named Stooky Bill from the off-putting clerk (very clearly the Toymaker) and hurries off to help his boss run tests on a prototype for a live television system.
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Baird pops off Stooky Bill’s head, fixes it to a crude-looking contraption, and starts the test. The experiment is a success and Stooky Bill becomes the world’s first televised image. Baird notes that to prove his invention works, he will next need to produce moving pictures. Gazing upon the now-melting dummy’s head in awe, Baird and his assistant hear distant maniacal laughing.
The focus returns to Donna and the Doctor in present-day London, where, if you recall, things have escalated dramatically. The people of London have suddenly and inexplicably turned on each other, brawling with strangers, stepping in front of careening cars, and setting fire to newsstands and storefronts. As the Doctor tries to talk down an especially unruly pedestrian, the Toymaker flits into view behind him. The enigmatic villain now sports a slick black suit, a top hat and liberally applied makeup, epitomizing fashionable evil.
UNIT soldiers arrive and whisk Donna, the Doctor and Wilf across the city to their headquarters.
Returning from “The Star Beast” is UNIT scientist Shirley Anne Bingham, who again proves to be a valuable ally to our heroes as they navigate this new threat. Shirley and UNIT Science Director Kate Stewart lead the Doctor and Donna to the control room, where former Companion Melanie “Mel” Bush greets them.
They wrap up the pleasantries and break down what’s happening: Every person on the planet suddenly believes they are right, and any attempt to convince them otherwise is met with violence. Everyone at UNIT wears a metal armband called a Zeedex to keep them from going mad, too. They don’t know exactly what’s going on, but they suspect a signal (triggered days prior to humanity’s collective snapping) is behind the chaos. They’ve identified a specific satellite as “a link in the chain,” but the Doctor suspects something deeper.
Eventually, the Doctor discovers that the signal setting the world on fire is actually a hidden recording of Stooky Bill’s crazed giggling. Shirley traces the recording back to October 2, 1925, prompting Donna and the Doctor to board the TARDIS and travel there. They quickly find the Toymaker at his shop, but finding him and beating him are two very different challenges.
The Doctor recognizes this old foe and tells Donna to return to the TARDIS. “You never ask me to do that!” Donna protests. She realizes that the Doctor is afraid of the Toymaker, but before they can do anything else, they find themselves trapped in a maze. Donna and the Doctor are separated, the former being forced to fight off a bunch of walking, talking dolls while the latter encounters Baird’s puppetized (not a word but we’re running with it) assistant. After overcoming their respective trials, Donna and the Doctor end up together again in a theater, where the Toymaker treats them to a puppet show recounting the Doctor’s adventures with various Companions.
The Doctor challenges the Toymaker to a card game and loses. Recognizing their very immediate predicament, Donna and the Doctor escape the Toymaker’s shop as it noisily converts to a tiny music box.
Back in the present, UNIT uses a galvanic beam to target and destroy the problematic satellite that’s boosting Stooky Bill’s malicious signal. The Doctor and Donna return to headquarters moments before the Toymaker appears, indulges in lively song and dance, kills a handful of soldiers, and abruptly flees.
The dastardly villain reappears and uses the galvanic beam to shoot this reincarnation of the Doctor, saying his next game must be played with a new Doctor. As this Doctor falls to his knees and starts dying, Donna and Mel rush to his side and promise to be with him until the end.
But the end doesn’t come. Instead, the Doctor, still David Tennant, makes a bizarre request: “Could you…pull?”
Donna and Mel tug on each of the Fourteenth Doctor’s arms, “pulling” the Fifteenth Doctor (played by franchise newcomer Ncuti Gatwa) from Tennant’s body. The Fifteenth Doctor explains that they can both exist at the same time because of “bi-generation,” which was previously thought to be a myth.
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Doctor face off against the Toymaker in a final game: don’t drop the ball. The Doctors manage to beat the Toymaker and banish him from existence.
Donna and the Fifteenth Doctor convince Tennant’s Doctor to retire, and after using the Toymaker’s toy hammer to knock another TARDIS out of the TARDIS, the Fifteenth Doctor departs.
“The Giggle” concludes on a touching note: the Doctor, having “retired” from Time Lording, spends a quiet afternoon with Donna and her family. Is this the actual end of his story? Probably not, but it’s a much-needed change of pace for the guy….
What did you think of “The Giggle,” Fifteen’s arrival and the three specials as a whole?
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