In a jaw-dropping finale to Doctor Who’s 60th-anniversary specials, the episode titled “The Giggle” introduces Neil Patrick Harris’ Toymaker, a character with a surprising link to the show’s past. While the Toymaker may be a new face for many fans, his roots trace back to the 1966 serial “The Celestial Toymaker,” a once-lost gem recently revived through animation efforts. The Toymaker, known for putting the Doctor’s companions through perilous games, makes a return, revealing an unexpected fondness for the Spice Girls. However, amidst the fictional narrative, the episode intertwines real-life elements, including a dummy named Stooky Bill, the pioneer of television John Logie Baird, and the first-ever TV image.
“The Giggle” unveils a narrative thread connecting the Toymaker, Stooky Bill, and John Logie Baird. Set in 1925, the Toymaker encounters a man purchasing a doll, intending it for his employer, the esteemed inventor John Logie Baird. In a disconcerting conversation, the man discloses Baird’s groundbreaking venture into a mysterious creation called television. Baird, recognized by the Toymaker as a great inventor, aims to make history with the doll. The twist comes as the Toymaker reveals that Stooky Bill’s image was used to control the world, a revelation rooted in the doll’s connection to the first TV image ever transmitted.
During this historic moment in the episode, Stooky Bill’s hair ignites as Baird attempts to prove the functionality of television using a moving image. This carefully crafted scene aligns with the real-life history of John Logie Baird, who, in 1925, successfully transmitted the first TV image featuring a grayscale representation of Stooky Bill. Baird, a Scottish inventor and electrical engineer, embarked on experiments that led to the creation of the world’s first live TV system. His makeshift TV set included unconventional components like a hatbox, scissors, darning needles, bicycle lenses, sealing wax, and the pivotal Nipkow disc.
Despite facing setbacks, including electrocution and skepticism about his sanity, Baird triumphed on October 2, 1925, when he achieved the groundbreaking transmission of the first TV image. Stooky Bill, with his brightly painted face and high contrast, served as the ideal subject for Baird’s experiment. Unlike the fictional narrative, the real Stooky Bill did not spontaneously combust or exhibit autonomous actions; instead, he played a vital role in the birth of modern television.
Following this success, Baird continued to make significant contributions to the world of television. In the following year, he presented his system to the public and later invented the first color TV system. The Baird Television Development Company Ltd., founded by Baird, transmitted some of the earliest BBC programs, solidifying his legacy as the father of modern television.
As a nod to this historical connection, the Bradford National Science and Media Museum featured Stooky Bill in a 2023 Halloween exhibit. The doll head showcased in the exhibit is believed to be the original one used by Baird in his pioneering experiments. The transmission image depicted in Doctor Who’s episode likely mirrors what Baird observed decades ago, capturing a crucial moment in the evolution of television.
Doctor Who’s ability to seamlessly weave the Toymaker’s fictional storyline into the tapestry of real-life history highlights the series’ brilliance and its unique position in the realm of television. By interweaving sci-fi peculiarities with historical facts, the show continues to captivate audiences, proving its enduring significance in the ever-evolving landscape of television entertainment.