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Doctor Who – The Giggle

Once again, David Tennant and Catherine Tate come together to bring us much ado about nothing in The Giggle.

Nothing so far in Davies, Tennant and Tate’s return has flattered to deceive as much as THE GIGGLE does. It starts full of promise, trips itself up over its own overabundance of underdeveloped ideas and ends up falling flat on its face just at the moment when it should soar.

With the world tearing itself apart around them, the Doctor and Donna are whisked away to UNIT HQ where the cause of the disruption is traced to the Earth’s recent past and the Doctor’s distant past. The Celestial Toymaker has finally returned and the game is afoot!

After a brief preamble to introduce John Logie Baird and the MacGuffin which will form the backdrop for the forthcoming shenanigans, THE GIGGLE brings us right back to RTD’s burgeoning MCU fantasy as we alight atop UNIT’s new and not at all Avengers Tower knock off headquarters in the centre of London. (How many UNIT HQs is that for Kate Stewart now by the way?) Of course, Stewart’s not the only familiar face returning, either.  Ruth Madeley’s 56th UNIT scientific advisor Shirley Bingham is back, as is former Sixth and Seventh Doctor companion Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford) although not for any specific payoff, something which will become a hallmark of this special as it unfolds.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. THE GIGGLE doesn’t unfold so much as unspool uncontrollably as Russell T Davies struggles with all of his might to resist the inevitable obligation of once again having to let go of David Tennant as The Doctor.

The return of The Toymaker should be a big deal, canonically, but beyond a brief glimpse of footage from the original adventure, his origins and nature are handwaved away with the most superficial gnomic vaguery by Tennant’s Doctor. Of course, Davies isn’t interested in pinning down the Toymaker’s abilities or nature at all because it’ll make what comes later that much easier to shrug off. Tennant dials the intensity up to 10 here (or should that be 14) but somewhere a gear has slipped and for all the activity there’s precious little momentum as he stumbles from one set piece to another. Likewise, Neil Patrick Harris brings a deliciously sleazy and archly playful energy to The Toymaker yet never seems fully invested in the plot at hand. His motivations aren’t so much unclear as grossly underarticulated and repeated viewings of THE GIGGLE have convinced me that this story might have started its life as a much longer, potentially feature-length story which ended up being pruned and trimmed down to meet the hour-long running time at the expense of clarity and characterisation.

Everything feels rushed and/ or underexplained (The Vlinx anyone?), and the dialogue is often atypically clumsy and lacks Davies’ usual elegance and wit. Even the brilliant thematic underpinning of tying the Toymaker’ machinations into the didactic and divisive discourse of the 2020s is alighted on so infrequently and haphazardly that it never gets a chance to breathe before it’s tossed aside with remarkable ease, an ease which extends to the resolution of nearly every peril the Doctor and Donna face culminating in the farcical moment when the Toymaker is finally defeated by a game of catch, a game of catch that isn’t written or filmed in any way that mitigates its lack of dramatic heft.

Like its predecessor, it doesn’t feel celebratory of the series’ storied 60 years despite the return of a very early villain and a potted history of the companions which came after for Donna (“Well that’s alright then!”). If anything, Davies is celebrating a very narrow vignette of Whovian lore, to whit the time he was last in charge and he’s having fun doing it, even down to reprising his FLASH GORDON homage with the Toymaker’s gold tooth. Which would all be fine were this not a monumental and pivotal point in the series’ history.

There’s something almost contumacious in Davies’ treatment of the regeneration here, a wilful and cynical subversion of convention in support of the idolatry of David Tennant as The Doctor. Let’s not forget, this is the fifth time that Davies has written a regeneration that resulted in David Tennant being the Doctor and the second time he has left a spare lying around only this time he’s twisted the concept of a multi-Doctor story into the most disrespectful snub the series has ever delivered to the incoming Doctor.

The immediate focus of a regeneration is usually solely on the new Doctor, but THE GIGGLE introduces Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th incarnation as an aside, then returns its attention to making sure that not only does the 14th Doctor get a happy ending but that he’s very definitely left with a TARDIS of his own (in perhaps the episode’s most egregious deus ex malleus) no doubt to go wandering about in at a later date.

THE GIGGLE feels too rushed to be a good adventure on its own merits and feels desperately underwhelming as a capstone for a 60th Anniversary celebration for those of us who haven’t drunk the “David Tennant is Doctor Who” Kool-Aid (and those of us who are old enough to remember another previous Doctor looming too large over his successors thanks to a constant drip feeding of his ego and vanity) and while hints for what is to come tantalise (The Toymaker’s reference to “He who waits”) hopes for a Davies masterplan are dashed. Why did the 13th Doctor’s clothes also regenerate this time, in contravention of everything that went before? Just because. Why was Mel brought back? Just because. Why did the Doctor bigenerate this time? Just because. How come the TARDIS was able to duplicate itself? Just because. It’s the laziest kind of writing and something I thought the series would have left behind with its maestro, Chris Chibnall*, and means that the biggest “just because” of all was why bring Tennant and Tate back at all? Of course the bigeneration schtick is just Davies returning to the well of his favourite inspiration. While Marvel’s cinematic universe may recently have caught his eye, he’s long been an admirer of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and this latest wheeze is simply him homaging the end of Season 1/ beginning of Season 2 where (Spoiler Warning) Buffy’s death and subsquent revival causes another Slayer to be called and so from that point on there are two of them.

Perhaps, then, the biggest question of all is why does Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor have to be the only one to suffer the indignity of having his predecessor hanging around like an unwanted relative who’s overstayed their festive welcome? The Master once said a cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about. A cosmos with two of them contemporaneously makes no sense at all.

* This is the last time I’m going to (justifiably) rag on Chibnall’s shortcomings as a writer and showrunner. From this point on, I’m only going to look forward.

Dracula (1958) Dractober Review

Hammer Films brought Dracula bang up to date by going back to the story’s roots, adapting Stoker’s novel – with a few twists – and bringing the famed Count back to life in all his technicolour glory. When Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) accepts a position as Librarian at Count Dracula’s castle, his subterfuge is quickly discovered by the vampire (Christopher Lee), who sets out to avenge the deception by attacking Harker’s nearest and dearest. It’s up to Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to protect the Count’s would-be victims and destroy Dracula once and for all.

Christopher Lee’s imperious Count Dracula instantly manages to redefine the character for a new generation – and became the first to grin and bare the now-obligatory pointed canines which have become inextricably linked with the character. He’s matched (and some might say bested) by a dynamic and swashbuckling Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, bringing a steely-eyed intensity to the role of Dracula’s nemesis.

The production itself is lavish and indulgent, director Terence Fisher making full use of the chance to bring the timeless tale to live in technicolour and he really goes for it. Working with cinematographer Jack Asher, the mock-gothic Victoriana is exquisite in its detail and the colours are bold and bright and beautifully lit. Okay, so the blood never once looks like actual blood, but it’s such a shockingly bright shade of scarlet it achieves a sort of hyper-realness and thanks to the chilling charisma of Lee’s suave and seductive Count, the dazzling colour palate still manages to create a dark and foreboding atmosphere. The special effects are excellent too, especially during the final dramatic showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula in the castle library.

There’s a sinister score and an excellent supporting cast, headed by Michael ‘Alfred to three Batmen’ Gough making this a real Halloween treat that can be enjoyed at any time of the year, just not when the sun’s up. It infused new lifeblood into the tired cinematic legacy of the character of Dracula and ensured the venerable Count of cinematic immortality.

8/10