Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Return Of Doctor Mysterio
It's been a long wait since Doctor Who was on our TV screens, the longest gap in fact since the show returned to our screens in 2005. After a very strong series nine, 2016 capped off Doctor Who with The Husbands Of River Song, which was in true Christmas special style, a fun romp with some emotional undertones. We last saw the Doctor at The Singing Towers of Derrillium, ready to spend one last 24 year moment with River Song before she went off to the library and it was a beautiful moment to behold. Steven Moffat makes clear use of this story - and the year long gap - by having the Doctor spending 25 years away from saving the universe and he begins The Return of Doctor Mysterio a man in mourning; River has gone off to the library to die and now he needs to move on.
In that sense, this Christmas special is a great reintroduction to Doctor Who before series 10 airs in the spring. Peter Capaldi is at his finest (though would you expect any different?), with his comic timing never better. And Matt Lucas's Nardole is surprisingly funny and endearing too. I wasn't a fan of Nardole in his debut last year, finding him far to irritating to be enjoyable. But his character has been toned down now and is all the better for it. Is it another case of Catherine Tate syndrome? Maybe. I like the idea that the Doctor resurrected him from Hydroflax's robot body for company; it speaks to how far this Doctor has come since him darker season eight days. Interesting too that he mourns for River and not Clara, which I think is as it should be. The end of series nine suggested he maybe hadn't forgotten Clara completely, but it really doesn't matter. River is supposed to be the Doctor's love and The Return of Doctor Mysterio nicely recongnises that, coming off the bittersweet ending of The Husbands Of River Song.
The heart of this Christmas special is a superhero romp in the style of the Christopher Reeve Superman series, with a wider love for the superhero genre thrown in. It starts with the Doctor encountering a young boy Grant in New York as he tries to fix the temporal flux created by stories like The Angels Take Manhattan (and presumably to allow more New York-based stories in the future). It's a lovely introduction, as Grant presumes the Doctor hanging outside his bedroom window on Christmas Eve is Father Christmas and then swallows a rare red gem from inside a star, mistaking it for medicine, after the Doctor tell's him his name and gives him a glass of water. What else would a kid think? Of course, this 'mistake' imbues Grant with super powers and twenty five years later (post River song), he encounters a grown up Grant growing by the name Ghost and saving the city as a masked superhero.
it's all fairly standard superhero / alien invasion fare from this point forward, but very enjoyable none the less. The episode doesn't break the boundaries of the superhero genre, but that's kind of the point. Grant has grown up reading Superman and the gem has given him the abilities of that iconic superhero; the ability to fly, super strength, X-ray vision and a body impervious the bullets. He even has his own Lois Lane in the form of Lucy Fletcher, who he also just happens to be in love with. Though I did like that Grant's alter ego was a nanny to Lois's baby; its not what you would expect superhero's day job to be. It also made for some amusing scenes where Ghost flew off from a crime scene after the baby began crying on his hand held (very long distance) baby monitor.
Justin Chatwin plays the stoic, gruff-voiced Ghost well, but it is arguably his meeker Grant Gordon that makes the biggest impression in, playing the glasses-wearing, slightly awkward Clark Kent type much more successfully than he does as a superhero. I liked the superhero scenes, such as his rooftop flight with Lucy in his arms (a clear throwback to Superman) but it was a little play by numbers, a nice homage as it was. There was good chemistry with Charity Wakefield's Lucy Fletcher, the intrepid reporter who first encounters a sushi-munching Doctor as she investigates the mysterious goings on at Harmony Shoal and then finds herself flown home by Ghost after a near-death encounter with Aleksander Jovanovic's evil Dr Sim. Naturally she only has eyes for Ghost without realising that the man of her dreams is the very same man babysitting her child.
There are a couple of cool alien invasion moments - the room full of brains with eyes and Tomiwa Edun's Mr Brock replaced by an alien doppelganger and pulling a gun from within his splitting head - but the rest is nothing we haven't seen before. Even 'the alien invasion has already happened' plot seemed a little tired, but it worked within the context of a lighter, comic Christmas episode, and a comedy episode it most certainly was.
From the Doctor gasping at the realisation that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person after reading one Superman comic to Grant unmasking himself and Lucy failing to notice. I also loved the flashback to a teenage Grant's uncontrollable X-ray vision when confronted by all the girls in his school. But the highlight had to the brilliant 'interrogation' scene as Lucy confronted the Doctor with a squeaking Mr Huffle and demanded answers. It was simply played and perfectly timed; and Wakfield certainly held her own against the admirable Capaldi.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio saw the return of the Doctor (young Grant's titular Mysterio) after a year long absence on our screens. It wasn't the strongest Christmas special (I would argue that A Christmas Carol takes the top spot, followed by The Christmas Invasion) but it was a good entry in the 12-year tradition of Doctor Who festive entries. It was certainly stronger episode than last year's entry, even if it didn't have a moment to top that final scene at The Singing Towers of Derrillium. And it definitely wets the appetite for series 10, with audiences getting a trailer for the new series for the first time since 2012.
Here's the exciting new trailer, and we'll bring you reviews of each new episode when Doctor who returns in the spring...