This article contains major, major Doctor Who spoilers.
The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary specials starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate as the Doctor and Donna Noble have wrapped on Disney+ with a story from showrunner Russell T. Davies perfect for the anniversary: the Fourteenth Doctor against the First Doctor’s great adversary, the Toymaker, and the introduction of Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor. It also the return of old and new friends, and one impossibly unexpected twist that people will be talking about for a long time.
(And it’s only two weeks until we get a Christmas episode. Huzzah!)
Want to know what happened? As a certain someone might say: Allons-y! And seriously, we’re starting with big stuff.
How does the Fourteenth Doctor die?
Yes, you read that right: THE FOURTEENTH DOCTOR IS HERE TO STAY. DAVID TENNANT IS STILL THE DOCTOR, AND HE IS IN LONDON RIGHT NOW.
But Ncuti Gatwa is also the Doctor, and makes a dazzling debut, wearing boxer briefs.
Yes, there’s a lot to explain.
What happens in the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary finale, “The Giggle”?
Having regenerated with the face of the Tenth Doctor, the Fourteenth Doctor has spent the last two episodes reconnecting with Donna Noble, messing up history's word for gravity with a silly trip to Isaac Newton, traveling to the End of Time to confront scary extradimensional doppelgangers, and running like hell from pretty much everything that happened when he was the Thirteenth Doctor.
At the end of Episode 2, he and Donna return to the present to find that two days earlier the entire world went crazy. Every single person on the planet now believes they are absolutely right about every single thing they do, and chaos has ensued.
The Doctor is brought to UNIT, where he reunites with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT’s Scientific Advisor #56 Shirley Anne Bingham, who we met in Episode 1. He’s also stunned to find working there none other than his old companion from the Sixth and Seventh Doctor’s days, Mel Bush.
Together the Doctor and Donna discover that the very first television image, that of a puppet giggling, had been laid under every single video image ever presented since, creating a kind of psychic trigger in everyone. Going back in time to destroy that image, the Doctor meets his old foe the Toymaker, who has come to Earth to lay waste.
Who is Mel on Doctor Who?
Melanie “Mel” Bush was a 20th century computer programmer who joined the Sixth and Seventh Doctors for a little over a year (20 episodes between 1986 and 1987). Played by Bonnie Langford, Mel left the Doctor to travel with intergalactic conman Sabalom Glitz. She appeared in the Thirteenth Doctor’s final episode as one of a number of former companions processing their experiences.
In “The Giggle” Mel reveals that after Glitz died, at age 101, she decided to come home, only to realize she really had no family left here. So she joined UNIT.
Who is the Toymaker?
Played by Neil Patrick Harris and also known as the Celestial Toymaker, the Toymaker is an immortal being from another dimension with the capacity to alter reality in any way that he wants. Gunshots become flower petals, attacking soldiers are turned into sets of bouncing balls, Spice Girls songs can randomly blast from every speaking, leading to an incredible lip-synced music video moment. For the Toymaker, everything is a game, and the only rules he is bound by are those of the game.
Way back in 1966 when they first met, the Doctor defeated the Toymaker and returned to our dimension. But in Episode 2 of the anniversary season, the Doctor played a game at the end of the universe, telling the extradimensional dopplegangers that wanted to invade that they had to count all of the grains of salt he poured out in a line before they could cross it. As it turns out, the walls between universes are thinnest out there at the edges, and in playing a game there he enabled the Toymaker to enter ours.
He’s been around quite a while, we find out, doing a whole bunch of mysterious things that we will talk about in a second before coming to 21st century Earth to help them with their insistence that they’re all always right. “That’s the game for the 21st century. They shout and they type and they cancel. So I fixed it. Now everybody wins.”
After being defeated by the Toymaker in a game of highest card wins, the adversaries return to 2023, for the best of three. But it does not initially go well for the Doctor.
How is Ncuti Gatwa introduced as the Fifteenth Doctor?
Having been defeated by the First Doctor and then defeating the Fourteenth, the Toymaker argues their third game should also be played by a new Doctor, and SHOOTS DAVID TENNANT IN THE CHEST WITH A SPACE LASER.
It’s quite a moment.
As he prepares to regenerate, Donna and Mel come to either side and comfort him. The golden embers pouring out of him, he says, “Here we go again. Allons’y.”
And then…it all stops.
Puzzled (ya think?), the Doctor stands. Then he asks Mel and Donna to pull on his arms, and as they do so, THE FIFTEENTH DOCTOR IS PULLED OUT OF HIM.
“What?” 14 says. “No way,” says the Fifteenth, totally loving this and dressed like he just got home from the club and is up for a good time. (Ncuti Gatwa absolutely makes the case for an open shirt and boxer briefs as a proper outfit for the Doctor.)
Once they’re free of one another, the Fifteenth hypothesizes that this is “bi-generation,” an idea that until now had been considered a myth amongst Time Lords, but clearly isn’t.
And, in terms of the regeneration, that’s it. 15 is the Doctor. 14 is also the Doctor. They even each get their own TARDIS. (We’ll get there.)
In fact, if you can believe it, this moment may have even bigger implications. On the episode commentary on BBC iPlayer in the UK, Davies apparently refers to this moment as creating an entire "Doctorverse", with all of the other previous Doctors awaking from death, as well.
What happens to the Toymaker?
Working together, the two Doctors challenge the Toymaker to a game of catch. The Toymaker previously had this whole speech about how catch was humanity’s first game. (He’s talking about how caveman threw stones to kill one another. He’s super fun, the Toymaker.) And the three of them proceed to throw a juggling-type ball at one another.
The three of them try their best to make this seem climactic, but come on, we just watched Ncuti Gatwa emerge out of David Tennant’s belly. It’s not exactly the most interesting thing we’re dealing with. In the end the Toymaker loses and is banished from this dimension (though not before threatening that his troops are coming). After being folded up and placed in a big red Jack in the Box box, Lethbridge-Stewart has him stored in the deepest vault and bound in salt.
Why was David Tennant back as the Doctor in the first place?
The big mystery of the 60th anniversary specials has been how exactly is it that the Fourteenth Doctor (as this new David Tennant incarnation is called) has the face and mind of the Tenth Doctor? While in the 50th anniversary episode “The Day of the Doctor” the Fourth Doctor hypothesized that this could indeed happen, it never has.
In fact, it’s Donna Noble and the Fifteenth Doctor who figures it out. For pretty much of all his existence, the Doctor has been running, without ever taking the time to actually mend from the things he’s suffered—the people he’s lost, the things he feels responsible for. So now it's time. “We’re Time Lords. We’re doing rehab out of order,” the Fifteenth Doctor tells him.
When the Fourteenth Doctor insists he has no idea how to stop, Donna suggests, this is why he regenerated into this form: Because she knows how. “I’ve worked out what happened,” she tells him. “You changed your face and then you found me, to come home.”
What happens to the Fourteenth Doctor?
The Fourteenth Doctor agrees to live with Donna and her family for a while and rest. At the end of the episode we see them all together, having a beautiful lunch, the Doctor telling a story of his adventures. Though Donna is worried that he's bored and wants to get back out to the stars, the Doctor tells Donna, “Funny thing is, I fought all those battles for all those years, and now I know what for: This. I’ve never been so happy in my life.”
It’s a beautiful ending to their story, and also not an ending at all, because before he leaves in his TARDIS, which now has a wheelchair accessible ramp and a jukebox, the Fifteenth Doctor whacks the outside of his TARDIS with a giant circus hammer, and creates an identical TARDIS for the Fourteenth Doctor. “We won the game,” he explains to the Doctor and Donna. “You get a prize, honey.”
While the Doctor is supposedly taking it easy on saving the universe, over lunch we do find out that he’s secretly taken Donna’s daughter Rose to Mars, and traveled to New York’s Gilded Age with Mel.
Will David Tennant be back as the Doctor?
Nothing has thus far been announced, but based on that ending, I would say it sure seems likely. And Donna Noble and Mel, too.
Are there any other big twists or teases in The Giggle?
In discussing his time in our universe, the Toymaker mentions “The One Who Waits,” the one player the Toymaker was afraid to play with. He refuses to say anything more than, “That’s someone else’s game.”
Also, over the course of the episode he reveals that he played a game with the Doctor’s legendary adversary The Master, and that after losing the Toymaker turned him into a gold tooth, which he wears. After the Toymaker is folded up we see a hand wearing nail polish grab that tooth.
The Toymaker also mentions having been messing with the Doctor’s own timeline. “I made a jigsaw out of your history. Did you like it?” What this means goes completely unexplained. Could this be the way that Russell T. Davies will try to explain and/or fix some of the very complicated backstory ideas that prior showrunner Chris Chibnall added to the character?
And Kate Lethbridge-Stewart offers Donna a job at UNIT, which she takes.
When is Doctor Who coming back?
Very soon! Ncuti Gatwa will have his very first episode as the Doctor this Christmas. A full season of 8 new episodes will be following in 2024.
Is there a trailer for the Christmas episode?
Yes,the BBC just released a trailer for its coming Christmas special. It features Ncuti Gatwa wearing a skirt and dancing in a club, goblins in flying wooden pirate ships, and the introduction of Millie Gibson as new companion Ruby Sunday.
If you want to start watching Doctor Who and don't know where to start, check out our handy Doctor Who watch guide. Or maybe you're already finished with the show - We've got the perfect Ten shows to watch when you're done watching Doctor Who guide for you too. If you're already heads over heels for the Fifteenth Doctor and want to learn more about the actor playing him, check out what he's been in before here. Or maybe you just need to figure out how the new series numbering is going to work (Are there really gonna be two series 1s? Yes.) - if so, this is the explainer you want.