Reviewed by Cliff Homewood
‘The Giggle’ is one. With a side slice of ‘Whaaa?’ that Russell T Davies (RTD) adds to the mix. RTD was concerned people might think that the character of the Celestial Toymaker was a Q rip off from Star Trek even though Doctor Who‘s character came first.
It’s nice to see John Logie Baird appear as a historical character. I recently learnt different countries have different people listed as the inventor of television, Philo Farnsworth created it according to Americans for instance. RTD noticed, quite rightly, that the first televised image, that of a ventriloquist’s dummy, is rather creepy. If you have a phobia of puppets this episode is not for you.
Don’t you miss those old joke Emporiums? This episode plays homage with all the fun of the fair. Neil Patrick Harris was cast due to his vaudevillian range of abilities, from juggling to magic. There’s not many who can pull off a good song and dance routine and make it fun not a filler (I’m looking at you, The Master). With his casting they missed an opportunity for diverse casting. The character of the Celestial Toymaker was described in the original 1966 scripts as ‘a happy looking occidental Mandarin character. He is dressed in a splended-looking bejewelled floor-length coat.’ ‘Occidental’ means Western … so the idea was always that he wasn’t meant to be Chinese, wore a Mandarin-type outfit. Neil Patrick Harris excels in the role. The ‘Spice Up Your Life’ dance sequence is a highlight of the show (like the Master’s ‘Rasputin’ before it). I did not know that the Spice Girls song had a Chinese slur in the lyrics – suitably obscured here, maybe RTD subconsciously chose the song for that reason? He says that the Spice Girls rewrote it, but the BBC only had rights to the original. The original BBC Doctor Who ‘The Celestial Toymaker’ production has similar issues, with the lyrics to ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ in one scene obscured for modern audiences. Games within games.
There’s some nice anti-vax satire and more subtle satire with Grade’s Gentlemen’s Hairdressers next door (Michael Grade being the gentleman who chopped the head of the original series – though apparently that shop is genuine – it was the Emporium next door that was faked for the show). UNIT are now apparently based in the Avengers’ tower, but I don’t think they are charging them rent. There’s a great takedown of the Doctor’s history of losing companions. Donna (Catherine Tate) has a good creepy sequence. Mel Bush now works for UNIT. Bonnie Langford was fine, none of that crunching up to scream that haunts my Who memories. I think the screaming companion is probably history at this point.
There’s a whole scene showing us a ramp into the TARDIS. This is not the closing scene of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Yes, show the TARDIS has a ramp option, but it doesn’t need a back slapping scene showing a new feature. Why? One word. K9. We previously ignored that fact that he couldn’t get in or out of the TARDIS, therefore the ramp was implicitely always there, just not shown until now.
Seems racist when you have a fake German-accented villain pointing a WW2-like artillery gun at our heroes. Disabled people have a history of being bad guys but Germans not it seems (remind me to burn my Boys from Brazil and other 70s TV DVDs). The character plays with accents and goes through a few, RTD admits to playing with racism in this decision, and also in having the Toymaker make a racist comment near the start. Seems strange. He seems to be inconsistent, only applying to current causes (anti-men jokes are allowed for instance, and Davros cannot be in a wheelchair … but it’s fine to stereotype Germans as bad guys).
You may do a double take at the ending, I think RTD is having a giggle at our expense. Pull my finger and I’ll regenerate, would RTD be that silly, I’m joking, or am I? Ncuti Gatwa’s first appearance is notably sexy. There is a reason for his lack of clothes. I liked his skill with a large ‘Harley Quinn’ hammer that he inexplicably obtains from a hatch in the TARDIS floor. The reason for his regeneration was clever writing. I was disappointed there was no multi-doctor story for the 60th. Chibnall beats RTD. Yes, we had one recently, but if you use that logic, why are we having more Doctor Who, we’ve had 60 years of it already? He could easily have asked Jodie Whittaker to record a couple of scenes before she left and Ncuti a couple and inserted them in the anniversary episode, ‘The Star Beast’. When the Doctor informs her that everything is being dragged to Donna Noble, it could have included a couple of other incarnations. I thought at the time, that the Doctor could have regenerated as Tennant, as whatever mysterious force was bringing things to Donna included her Doctor. The reason given for David Tennant being the 14th Doctor in this episode was possibly because the Doctor was tired. Come on, you can do better than that.
The Giggle’s like going to a good carnival, although not without RTD’s ‘Really?’ moments.