‘Doctor Who’ Says Goodbye to David Tennant (Again) With Regeneration Twist for Ncuti Gatwa (RECAP)

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[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the third Doctor Who 60th anniversary special, “The Giggle.”]

“I don’t want to go,” David Tennant’s (Tenth) Doctor said when he regenerated into Matt Smith’s (Eleventh) on Doctor Who in 2010, and now, once again, we don’t want to say goodbye to him (especially after only three specials). But hey, we do get Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor — and in quite the twist!

But first, before we get to Tennant’s latest regeneration scene — following Nine to Ten, the “Journey’s End” fake-out thanks to the hand he channeled the excess energy into, Ten to Eleven, and Thirteen to Fourteen — The Doctor has one last game to play, against the Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris). It all begins in Soho in 1925, with the puppet Stooky Bill John Logie Baird’s employee buys from the Toymaker’s shop for the inventor to use in his attempt to prove the television works. Remember that image and giggle: It will follow all the way to 2023.

In the present, The Doctor — after unknowingly dancing with the Toymaker amidst the chaos of the streets with everyone gone mad — and Donna (Catherine Tate) are whisked off via helicopter to UNIT headquarters, where Shirley (Ruth Madeley), Kate (Jemma Redgrave), and Melanie “Mel” Bush (Bonnie Langford) — “the best news!” The Doctor exclaims of the reunion with the former companion (reminiscent of Ten crossing paths with Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane in “School Reunion”) — fill him in on the latest threat: “How do we fight the human race?”

Two days ago, violence worldwide increased: Every human thinks they’re right and won’t be told otherwise. Those are UNIT are normal due to a Zeedex armband they have, from the Vlinx, that flattens the spike and keeps them calm. Mel has a Zeedex in case, but she’s fine, as is Donna; The Doctor suggests it’s due to long-term travel in the TARDIS putting them out of sync. What happened two days ago? A satellite was activated that takes the world 100 percent online: Everyone’s connected. The satellite’s clean — it’s not like the Archangel Network (from Ten’s run), with something hiding in the signal — but rather, as Donna figures out looking at brain scans, it’s a tune. A classic arpeggio, Mel realizes, and the humans react to the notes. Shirley realizes it’s a puppet giggling: Stooky Bill has been hiding in every screen since that first time, laughing at the human race and driving them mad. But who could do something like that? They’re looking for a puppeteer, and there’s a memory coming back to The Doctor after a very long time…

Neil Patrick Harris — 'Doctor Who'


With world leaders mad, The Doctor gives Kate permission to take down the satellite (disrupting the chain) using a Galvanic beam. Then, while Kate’s offering Donna a job — the companion negotiates double the pay — The Doctor catches up with Mel, who started working at UNIT upon returning home and realizing she had nothing left. Once Shirley gets The Doctor the exact date of the first transmission, he and Donna head back to Soho 1925 in the TARDIS. It’s there that Donna tries to talk to The Doctor. Maybe his old face came back because he’s wearing himself out, she suggests, because he just keeps charging on.

The Doctor avoids her attempt to push, but soon, they’re too busy anyway; they’ve found the Toymaker’s shop, and horror quickly dawns upon The Doctor’s face as he realizes who stands before them. The Doctor tries to follow the Toymaker into the back of the shop, a hall of never-ending doors. He and Donna are now in the Toymaker’s domain and governed by his rules of play. As they search, The Doctor tells Donna of his first encounter with the Toymaker (mostly lost episodes with William Hartnell‘s Time Lord and Michael Gough‘s villain). He let the TARDIS fall into another realm, “where science is a game and all of us are toys.” He beat the Toymaker, but now he’s found a way into this reality, and The Doctor worries it’s because he cast that salt at the edge of the universe (“Wild Blue Yonder”).

“I’m all sonic and TARDIS and Time Lord. Take that away, take away the toys, what am I? What am I now?” a vulnerable Doctor asks Donna. “I don’t know if I can save your life this time.” She’s not worried because “maybe I’ll save you,” says the woman who’s saved the universe. And she disagrees that odds are he’ll lose next time because every game starts from scratch. They just have to find the right door … which is promptly when they’re separated to face their own rooms of nightmares: The Doctor and the man who bought the puppet in 1925 who then turns into The Doctor himself on the Toymaker’s strings (“I thought I was clever”) and Donna with Stooky Bill’s terrifying wife and kids (whom she fights off, complete with “Hello, sweetie, my name’s Donna, now I think you’re a goner”).

Right after the two find each other, the Toymaker brings them to watch his puppet show, of what happened after The Doctor left Donna: the deaths of Amy, Clara, and Bill, as well as the Flux. The Doctor puts a stop to it by challenging the Toymaker to a game. Before they begin — the Toymaker won’t cheat because the only rules he follows are those of a game — the villain talks of his play up to this point, including sealing a dying Master for all eternity inside his gold tooth after he lost against him. The one player he didn’t face is the one who waits because he ran. “That’s someone else’s game,” the Toymaker says. (Perhaps the Fifteenth Doctor’s?) As for what’s going on in 2023, he made every opinion supreme so everyone wins and loses, a never-ending game.

Then The Doctor and the Toymaker face off in a simple game of highest card wins by cutting a deck of cards. The villain wins, but as The Doctor reminds him, he won many years ago. That means it’s time for best of three … in 2023.

Back in the present, The Doctor and Donna return with the box the Toymaker’s shop folded itself into. The plan: Find how the Toymaker, an elemental force beyond the laws of the universe, entered their world and hopefully turn that into an exit. However, that’s when the Toymaker makes his entrance (to Spice Girls!) and dances around UNIT, turning soldiers into balloons (killing them) and bullets into rose petals … and ending up outside with the Galvanic beam.

The Doctor doesn’t understand why he doesn’t do good with all he could do and even suggests they leave this world together: “We can take your games back to the stars, we can play across the cosmos, we can be celestial.” But the Toymaker refuses, not with all the games to play with humanity. “Your fight is with me!” The Doctor reminds him when he turns the laser on Donna, Kate, Shirley, and Mel. “And you owe me one more ga—” But then the Toymaker fires the beam right through him because “I played the first game with one Doctor. I played the second game with this Doctor. Therefore your own rules have decreed I play the third game with the next Doctor.”

And as the regeneration begins, Donna and Mel go to his side. “It’s not dying,” The Doctor tells them. “It’s time. Here we go again. Allons-y.” Only, then the regeneration appears to stop. “Could you pull?” he asks Donna and Mel, and when they do … The Doctor becomes two: the Fourteenth and Fifteenth! “I’m really, really me. I am completely me!” the latter exclaims. Once separate, the two hug and Fifteen explains it’s “bi-generation. I have bi-generated. There’s no such thing, bi-generation is supposed to be a myth, but look at me.” (We have to admit, we’re not too surprised about another regeneration twist involving Tennant considering the aforementioned one with Ten’s hand, the metacrisis version of Ten that got a life with Rose on a parallel universe, and his face coming back.)

David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa — 'Doctor Who'


So there are two Doctors to force the Toymaker to play a game, the first ever: Catch, taking them all across the helipad until the Toymaker loses. Fourteen, for his prize, banishes him for existence forever. “My legions are coming,” the Toymaker warns before he’s folded up on himself into the box of his shop. (That’s locked away at UNIT, but someone picks up that gold tooth…)

After, Fourteen worries about those who have died because of the madness, but Fifteen reminds him he can’t save everyone. “I got you,” he says, hugging the other Doctor and kissing his forehead. “It’s okay.” It’s as Fourteen shows Fifteen the TARDIS that the question of what this means comes up. “You’re thin as a pin,” Fifteen points out. “You’re running on fumes.” And it’s not just post-bi-generation. “It’s more than that,” he continues. “Our whole lifetime, that Doctor that first met the Toymaker never, ever stopped. Put on trial. Exiled. Key to Time. All the devastation of Logopolis.” Adric. “River Song.  All the people we lost. Sarah Jane has gone. Can you believe that for a second?” They loved her. “And Rose,” Fifteen continues. “But the Time War, Pandorica, Mavic Chen. We fought the Gods of Ragnarok, and we didn’t stop for a second to say, ‘What the hell?’” As Fourteen sees it, “you’re fine,” but Fifteen argues, “I’m fine because you fix yourself. We’re Time Lords, we’re doing rehab out of order.” (We already like him.)

Donna is the one to tell Fourteen he needs to stop. When he flew off in the TARDIS on her, she stayed in one place and lived. “Would drive me mad,” Fourteen says. “It does,” Donna agrees, “but you keep on going. and that’s the adventure. The one adventure you’ve never had because I’ve worked out what happened: You changed your face and then you found me. Do you know why? To come home,” while Fifteen flies off. And they even both have a TARDIS — the wheelchair ramp suggests we’ll see Shirley again — since they won the game and get a prize and there’s just enough left of the Toymaker’s domain in the air. (“I’m so sorry,” Fifteen tells the TARDIS after hitting her to duplicate her.)

Before Fifteen can fly off in the TARDIS with the jukebox, Fourteen makes sure to say goodbye. “Now, if you don’t mind, there is a great big universe out there calling, and I’ve gotta get going. So off you pop, old man,” Fifteen says, though Fourteen and Donna point out he’s technically older since he came after. And with that, one Doctor flies off to “everywhere” and the other…

Gets a family. Fourteen joins Donna and her family for lunch, the TARDIS parked in the backyard. And despite Donna trying to keep them grounded, yes, he and Rose have snuck off on at least one adventure. After all, he can’t turn down his favorite niece. (Donna’s his best friend, Shaun’s his brother-in-law, Sylvia is the evil stepmother, Mel’s the mad aunt, and grandad Wilf is off shooting moles.) Donna reminds the Doctor he doesn’t have to stay forever, but, “funny thing is I fought all those battles for all those years, and now I know what for: this,” he says. “I’ve never been so happy in my life.”

And with that, we’ve (sort of) said goodbye to another of David Tennant’s Doctors, though thanks to the bi-generation twist, Doctor Who can bring him back as Fourteen at any time. (There is, of course, the question of what would happen if Fourteen died. Would he regenerate into Fifteen? Bi-regenerate again? Die for good? Never die or regenerate? But we’ll leave that alone for now.) And now, we get to enjoy Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteen, starting with Christmas…

Doctor Who, 2023 Christmas Special, Monday, December 25, Disney+

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