With “The Giggle” finally hitting Disney+, the three David Tennant-centric Doctor Who specials have come to a close, with surprising and spoilerific results. We’ve known for ages that Neil Patrick Harris was playing a new incarnation of a 1966 1st Doctor villain, The Celestial Toymaker, but until now, nobody knew how that was going to play out. And of course, there’s the whole question of the 14th Doctor’s surprising regeneration. With deep dives into recent lore, the return of Mel (Bonnie Langford) from the 6th and 7th Doctor eras, “The Giggle” will give fans plenty to talk about for a very long time to come.

But, squeezed into all of this was one very telling line from the 14th Doctor, a kind of revelation we’ve heard before, but that truly helps to contextualize the more contemporary Doctors as being very different from the 1st Doctor, William Hartnell, for one crucial reason. Just because the 1st Doctor appears to be a literal grandfather, that version of our eponymous Time Lord is among the youngest, and least-wise of all our Doctor Who incarnations.

Mild spoilers ahead for “The Giggle” follow.

As Donna and the Doctor are trying to escape the domain of the Toymaker, the Doctor vaguely recaps the events of “The Celestial Toymaker.” As the Doctor explains, he allowed the TARDIS to slip into a “hollow beneath the under-universe,” which brought him in contact with the Toymaker. Interestingly, in the context of the original serial, this wasn’t the Doctor’s first meeting with the Toymaker; and that vague origin has never been outright depicted on screen. But, the more interesting revelation here is the way the Doctor talks about the events of “The Celestial Toymaker.”

“When I was young I was so sure of myself, I made a terrible mistake,” the Doctor says. Now, if you didn’t know he was talking about a William Hartnell-centric adventure, your mind might call up a vague younger version of the Doctor, perhaps even one of those secret “Timeless Children,” versions. But that’s not at all what the Doctor means here. He means Susan’s Grandfather, the 1st Doctor, the grumpy, gruff stick-in-the-mud. And the idea that gets reinforced here is fairly simple: The elderly Doctor was, in fact, the youngest and most immature version of all the primary incarnations we’ve seen.

Meanwhile, the more conventionally youthful Doctors — including the incoming Ncuti Gatwa — are considerably older than the Hartnell Doctor, meaning, they’re infinitely wiser and less immature. Part of this comes from more experience, but it also comes from the fact that the newer Doctors are, for lack of a better term, simply more Doctor-ish. Over the years, the Doctor has become more of themselves through a variety of critical points.

In “The Giggle,” the 14th Doctor mentions that he is “a billion years old,” which is significantly older than he was back when Donna first met him in “The Runaway Bride,” at a time which the Doctor usually cited his age as somewhere in the 903 range. Is the 14th Doctor counting all the time the 12th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) spent in the confession dial? Are we also adding in all the missing years from the time of the Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin), and other “Timeless Child” or “Brain of Morbius” Doctors who have had their pasts erased?

In a way, whether they’re a few thousand years older than the Hartnell Doctor, or a few billion, it hardly matters. The newer Doctors are simply much older and smarter than the older ones. Just because William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton might seem like senior citizens compared to Jodie Whittaker or Ncuti Gatwa, the reality is those classic Doctors are the young punks. Those are the Doctors who made the mistakes and messed up space and time, and various galaxies. In this way, the story of the new incarnations of Doctor Who isn’t about a Time Lord’s constant quest to look young. Instead, it’s all about undoing our preconceived notions of what a responsible hero should look like, and realizing the one that looks the most like a revered elder, is also the person who was likely the most reckless.

New Doctor Who streams on Disney+. 2005-2022 Doctor Who is on Max. The classic 1963-1989. era is on both Tubi and Britbox.

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