(Doctor Who logo, all images – BBC)
THE RETURN OF DOCTOR MYSTERIO (CHRISTMAS SPECIAL 2017)
It’s that time of the year again. Except, in 2016 this isn’t simply the Doctor Who Christmas Special capping off another season in the TARDIS, but the only episode we’ve had all year!
There’s a neat idea resting at the heart of this story. What if, when Lois Lane first interviewed Superman upon that Metropolis Rooftop, when she started to get to know the public persona her hero had so carefully crafted, she thought he was a total douchebag? What if his mask only made her realise she’d been in love with Clark Kent, all along?
Many years prior, we begin on another rooftop as The Doctor inadvertently transforms a sniffly kid named Grant into a Superhero. Moving swiftly on, we’re knee deep in cleverly conquering Brain Aliens, robes from 12th Century Constantinople, persons of an extremely open-minded persuasion and some seriously high stakes nannying.
Since The Doctor has not graced our screens since this time last year, there’s a little bit of explaining to do. Like, say, the last time we saw Nardole he was just a head. Where exactly has The Doctor been for twelve months? As far as the first question is concerned, The Doctor glued it back on, ok? Happy? Regarding the extended absence, twelve months for us has been twenty four years for The Doctor. Specifically, the final twenty four years of River Song‘s life. Linking back subtly to last year’s Special, The Doctor‘s current state of mind is dealt with swiftly and with quite some emotional impact. This is an episode that not only gifts a considerably toned-down (and therefore more welcome) Nardole with a touchingly matter-of-fact epilogue but hands his lead a succinct distillation of the kind of Doctor Steven Moffat has shaped Peter Capaldi into. He’s a character well aware of loss but in all his 2000+ years has realised that given the choice of being happy or sad, it’s always better to just be happy. It sounds trite, but with staging as assured as modern day Who mixed with the acting chops of Capaldi it’s a moment easily sold to a Christmas audience.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio is, among many Christmas Specials of varying quality, one of the better offerings to date. It’s madcap, detailed but reassuringly restrained. It manages to explain away a year’s break while feeling like the show has never been away.
It’s filled with fun, not quite family friendly horror, some wonderful comedic timing from Matt Lucas (his robes providing me with the episode’s biggest laugh) and an ending that had enough moments of genuine romance and pathos to melt hearts and have my Mum begrudgingly admit it wasn’t bad.
I enjoyed the silliest of touches, like a throwaway scene that involved The Doctor and Nardole taking a sip from fine China in every shot. Most of all, I enjoyed a show that gave us a welcome return while arguably taking another step back, closer to the style of Russell T. Davies just in time for Moffat’s final season in charge. Will this stick? I guess we’ll find out in the Spring. For my money, as long as the writing stays this sharp and this entertaining, we’ll be in for another treat.
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