This year’s Christmas Special saw the Doctor come face to face with a superhero in a story that encompassed a love story, an alien invasion of New York by brain-swapping aliens and 2016’s most brutal interrogation scene. What did our team make of it?
I’m a sucker for superhero movies, so the marketing’s pitch for The Return of Doctor Mysterio as an affectionate pastiche of the genre might as well have been tailored just for me. And, broadly speaking, it delivered, though the episode was weighed down by some frustrating flaws. It was nice to have an episode with such a sincere sense of heart. Grant’s plot was a pleasingly sweet little character story that made smart use of superhero cliches while gently spinning them off in a new direction – Justin Chatwin does fine work with the mild-mannered civilian archetype, and conjures some convincing chemistry with Charity Wakefield’s journalist for some scenes that carefully straddles the line between farce and drama. Likewise, the TARDIS team really lifted the episode. Peter Capaldi slips back into the Twelfth Doctor’s evolving persona as if he never took a break – there’s a tangible sense that he’s mellowing as his era ages into the world’s coolest granddad who relishes his adventures through space and time, all the while nursing a quiet sense of pain that poignantly surfaces at the end of the episode. Matt Lucas’ Nardole was a surprise here. Lucas smartly fleshes out his one-note performance last year with a far more believable characterisation of Nardole as the Doctor’s caretaker who’s far more in tune to his emotional turmoil than a typical companion, while playing some nice comedic moments where he becomes a fun, zany foil to Capaldi’s straight man, and, quite often, vice versa.
The alien invasion plotline was a far ropier deal, however. Look, the festive instalments are notorious for thinly-written villains. But this just felt lazy, with the brain-swapping aliens representing a cobbled-together amalgamation of Moffat-era tropes that accomplished nothing new whatsoever. Their machinations fit awkwardly into the wider emotional story of the episode that examined themes of heroism and selflessness, exacerbating the flaws in pacing elsewhere and impeding the episode’s flow when it really felt like it was coming to a head. Ultimately, this was a good, middle-of-the-road Christmas Special that coasted on heart, humour and wit as opposed to a fully-realised story. That means The Return of Doctor Mysterio doesn’t break much new ground. But in this weird, tumultuous new year, it was a reassuring, and ever-so-slightly inspiring slice of Who that teed things up nicely for a full series next spring.
Ben (Assistant Editor)
I can’t wait for this year’s Christmas special! Wait, what do you mean, that was it? For me, it didn’t feel a traditional Doctor Who Christmas special. It didn’t feel Christmassy. Instead it felt like a b-movie superhero film featuring the Doctor in a supporting role. I understand Moffat’s idea of showing ‘what we usually watch at Christmas’ and although the sci-fi twist on the superhero was plausible enough, the episode was too swamped in Superman references to actually tell a good story.
The villains… I can’t even remember what they were called. As with most of the new villains in the past few years, they were instantly forgettable and hugely underdeveloped. Aliens that unzip their heads and use humans as skins trying to take over the world, might as well have been the Slitheen. Similarly, I didn’t really connect with Grant or Lucy. They seemed like generic American characters and didn’t really stand out as anything special. Although there were efforts at character development, it still fell flat for me. I think more time should have been spent exploring the villain and their plans.
However, I am warming to Nardole. Now that his comedy has been toned down a little, he has become a more rounded character. I look forward to seeing more of him in Series 10, hopefully as a Rory-type character who provides the comic relief whilst still being a strong supporting character. Peter Capaldi was on top form as ever. The sushi eating during the investigation was a perfectly ‘Doctory’ moment that made me smile out loud (I can do that y’know).
Finally, the Series 10 trailer really excited me. Pearl Mackie’s Bill now seems a lot better than the short comedy sequence we got a few months back and I can’t wait to see the dynamic with Capaldi’s Doctor. Overall, I’d give this episode a 3/10 – mainly saved by Capaldi and Lucas – because I feel that Moffat still owes me a Christmas special.
After an entire year absent from our screens, Doctor Who finally returned in the self-referentially titled, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’. It was a story approached with some trepidation. The much advertised venture into the world of comic book superheroes was anticipated to divide opinion.
Deciding to have a superhero character felt a little like sampling the current flavour of the month. I don’t believe Doctor Who should follow trends; it should set them. Also some might argue that superheroes have no place in a science-fiction show. But despite these reservations I thought the superhero element worked very well. His existence was explained in an acceptable and amusing manner. This in turn allowed the remainder of the story to develop but perhaps overshadowed the villains. Significant time was dedicated to Grant and Lucy instead of Harmony Shoal.
Rightly or wrongly, it created a much lighter tone than some of the dark and dreary superhero movies, from DC Comics in particular. For instance, how grim was ‘Batman Vs Superman’ this year? Steven Moffat commented that part of his inspiration for this script was the original Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. That could be clearly seen and created a refreshingly upbeat tone in an era full of brooding and melancholic caped heroes.
Although largely sidelined by the focus on the ghost, villain Aleksandar Jovanovic was very unnerving, matched by Tomiwa Edun. The scene in the brain vault early on was particularly chilling but any more scenes of that nature would’ve changed the tone of the story to one much darker. After the year that 2016 has been we didn’t need that. This was further supported by the lovely Matt Lucas and his regularly funny character Nardole, who often had the best lines.
Overall we needn’t have worried. ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ worked well and provided an entertaining and enjoyable hour of family viewing. It was worth the wait.
I’m stuck between the words unusual and unique in describing ‘The Return Of Doctor Mysterio’ – Personally, when I finally was able to watch it in peace a couple of times, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The 2016 Doctor Who drought needed a blast of something fresh and I think we got a great alternative take on DW Christmas specials, cute but with enough comedy driven profoundness to make this a heartwarming and pretty enthralling tale.
I felt Peter Capaldi did a fantastic job in embellishing a super-hero script and it was kind of nice to see him be the mover and shaker (almost Architect style from Series 8!). I know some Who fans feel let down, that will always be the case, but I thought Moffat’s latest Christmas effort did a great job in reaching out to potential new audiences, clearly especially in America with the lovely New York Winter setting, complete with the Gotham like steam from the subways and Kodachrome yellow cabs passing by!
I thought the script was gentle and had a real tenderness but with enough excitement and well placed humour to maintain a smile throughout. Nardole for me is a winner, I think there is so much to look forward to from Matt Lucas’ character. I think this particular special could have an aspect of being a build up to the rumoured movie to come at some point, but certainly I now feel very enlivened with happy anticipation for Series 10!
The Gallifrey Times team wishes you a Happy New Year – and we’ll see you at our next team review for the Series 10 premiere!