Doctor Who: The Giggle – Written by James Goss & Audiobook Read by Dan Starkey (BBC Books)

The Giggle is not, at any point, fair to its fellow 60th anniversary Doctor Who specials. It never was, right from the on-screen version. Where The Star Beast translated a beloved early Eighties comic-book into the 21st century and used it to bring back Donna Noble and her clan, and Wild Blue Yonder took us into a thoroughly New Who creep zone, neither could really hold a candle to the initial potential of The Giggle, combining the return of Sixties one-shot supervillain the Toymaker with the skills of Neil Patrick Harris and promising to be a regeneration episode.

As time went on and more details were revealed, it was clear that The Giggle was going to be stuffed to the gills with goodies – the return of Melanie Bush! The return of Shirley Anne Bingham and Kate Stewart of UNIT! A snippet of Ncuti Gatwa’s first speech promising an angry Doctor. And on and on it went.

And then it blew the doors off even our elevated expectations – Harris in particular seizing a role unlike any other in the show’s history, rewritten with modern sensibilities as a creature that could, and would, take the Doctor’s moral relativism to task, while turning bullets into rose petals and people into dolls, and treating absolutely everything, life, death, fear and madness, like a sick kind of game.

See what we mean? However great The Star Beast and Wild Blue Yonder were – and it’s important to recognise that they were – The Giggle had all the cards stacked in its favour.

Giving the novelization of a story like that to James Goss, though?

That’s a stroke of genius that goes almost beyond the original idea.

A Jewel In The Crown

What you get in the novelization of The Giggle is a story and a presentation-style that’s up there with the best of both the original Target novelizations and the new BBC Books versions.

Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks? Rob Shearman’s Dalek? Steven Moffatt’s The Day of the Doctor? David Whittaker’s The Daleks? Victor Pemberton’s Fury From The Deep? Terrance Dicks’ The Five Doctors? And Donald Cotton’s triptych of comedy masterpieces, The Myth Makers, The Gunfighters, and The Romans – that’s the exalted company into which Goss firmly and enthusiastically dances with his novelization of The Giggle.

There’s so much brio here, such enthusiasm and narrative assuredness, that Goss pulls one of the most audacious moves in the history of Doctor Who novelizations – while the book starts with a massively-above-average take on events as shown on TV, go far enough into the book and you get an overwhelming surge of the Toymaker’s personality, speaking directly to you, breaking the fourth wall with both aplomb and abandon, even renaming the book The Toymaker and the Giggle. There are many moments of comic genius here too, that had no reason to exist in the on-screen version.

While the Spice Up Your Life death-dance sequence on TV involved getting the rights to use the song by the Spice Girls, things work differently in publishing. The way Goss gets around not having the rights to the song that is essential to one of the episode’s key set pieces is chef’s kiss perfection. But rather than just use the solution he finds on one occasion to get out of a narrative jam, Goss doubles down and creates a light sub-plot about the fate of those who try to stop the Toymaker using songs in what is by then absolutely his narrative.

Joy, terror, creativity, and the power of the unexpected – it’s all here in clown-king bucketloads. If you thought The Giggle was a tour de force on TV – and if you’re reading this review, you probably did – you need to hold on to any hat you can grab, because the book is a high-energy, personalized version that rocket fuels its way right into those higher echelons of novelization we mentioned. Immediately after finishing it, your brain still fizzes with its potential, its teasing, its sheer unbridled oomf, and you’re tempted into rash statements, along the lines that it’s the best Doctor Who novelisation ever.

The trouble is, weeks after finishing it, when saner, less fizzy thoughts have had a chance to re-establish themselves…you still won’t be entirely sure that it isn’t.

The Audio Dimension

Now, it has been said – not least of all by me before hearing the audiobook version – that it was strange that Bonnie Langford was chosen to read the audio version of Wild Blue Yonder, in which she did not star, rather than that of The Giggle, in which she did.

Once you’ve actually started listening to the audiobook of The Giggle though, everything makes a glorious, harmonious sense. Because drafted in to see the Fourteenth Doctor on his way is Dan “King of Sontar” Starkey, who has never yet put a foot wrong in a Doctor Who reading, and here argues for his being much more widely known outside the Who and audio worlds than he is.

The reading is absolutely sure-footed, which given the wildness of the ride and the need to embody something as anarchic as Neil Patrick Harris’ Toymaker, is really saying something. He nails your attention to the story and its myriad twists and turns and mayhem, and if you happen to have the time available, you can listen to The Giggle in a single sitting, peppered with explosions of laughter that will make people look at you like you’re a loon.

The Extra Depths and the Whirlwind

While there’s an argument that says TV and movie novelizations should present more or less only what was on the screen, and while there’s a validity in that argument, as for instance, that’s what the master of them all, Terrance Dicks, frequently did, modern fans are inherently more in tune with the likes of Donald Cotton and Eric Saward, who each gave characters from the show extra dimensions or storylines unseen on screen, by way of bolstering their novelizations and delivering above and beyond the on-screen experience.

We’re trained to expect that sort of treatment these days (possibly quite unreasonably) by, for instance, the wealth of “extra” material that accompanies the show – behind the scenes material, extra snippets of fan-special material that contextualize moments of the story, and so on.

The Giggle is very much a novelization for such modern fans. Not only is a good portion of the story told from the point of view of the Toymaker, but there are irresistible fourth wall breaks and additional workarounds that will make you howl with laughter.

It would be a crime to tell you what some of them actually are, but for instance, the Spice Up Your Life workaround is a work of joyous genius, and so in keeping with the vindictiveness of NPH’s Toymaker, it makes you feel like you’re getting much, much more than your money’s worth from the novelization – and in particular, the audiobook version, with Starkey lacing the Toymaker’s personality with comedy and strychnine in equal measure.

In fact, if there’s a bottom line on The Giggle novelization and audiobook, that’s probably it – you get much, much more than you’re expecting from the experience, and still, some time after you enjoy it, you’ll be prone to the notion that it’s the best Doctor Who novelization you’ve ever read or heard.

A dark comedy jewel of unparallelled clarity and crispness, if you’ll take our advice, you’ll be kind to your ears and let Dan Starkey take you on the audio adventure first and foremost. But whichever way you take your Giggle, prepare yourself for a wonderful whirlwind and hang on tight. Tony Fyler 

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