Considering this was the only new episode of Doctor Who we could expect to see this year, writing a review of it was kind of a no-brainer. I did miss having new episodes to review each week, so I looked forward to having a chance to write down my thoughts on the 2016 Christmas special. It’s been exactly one year since our last new episode–was it worth the wait?
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio” sees, well, the return of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor with Matt Lucas reprising his role of Nardole from last year’s Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song” (yes, there is an explanation as to why he is back in one piece after he was beheaded last year). After his twenty-four-year night with River on Darillium, the Doctor reattached Nardole’s head to his body and offered him a place aboard the TARDIS–with both Clara and River gone, he didn’t want to travel alone (although he denies this reason). They turn up in New York City investigating Harmony Shoal, suspecting it’s a front for alien activity. Their investigation leads them to cross paths with Lucy Fletcher, a journalist trying to get background information on Harmony Shoal’s real purpose, and the Ghost, a masked superhero who has made it his mission to protect the city from all threats. Plot twist–the Doctor and the Ghost have met before. Twenty-four years ago, there was a little boy named Grant who had a conversation with a madman on a roof, and during the course of the conversation, he accidentally swallowed a Hazandra gemstone. Known as the “Ghost of Love and Wishes”, this gemstone has the ability to grant any wish–to a young boy with a love of comic books, it gives him super powers. The Doctor made Grant promise never to use his powers, but Grant saw an opportunity to help people, and he took it.
This wasn’t the best of the Christmas specials, but it was very good, nonetheless. There was much poking of fun at common superhero clichés and wry commentary. What I noticed, though, is that Moffat seemed to have toned down his writing this time; it seemed less frantic and manic than previous specials. Frankly, I think the story benefitted from that change of pace–when Moffat slows down and takes the time to work out the plot, his writing is much better. Also, I hope we get to see Grant and Lucy again in the future; they were fun characters. They started as parodies of Superman and Lois Lane but turned into characters I genuinely cared about.
Something else that struck me was a change in Nardole’s character–he seemed wiser, somehow, and seemed to have a good understanding of the Doctor. I’m not sure if that wisdom came from having a drastic perspective shift from being beheaded or if it came from many previous travels, but he definitely understands the Doctor’s pain and wants to help him heal. The Doctor certainly trusts him, or else I don’t imagine he would have taught him how to fly the TARDIS. But Nardole is showing he can be more than an inept bumbler, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in season 10.
And speaking of season 10…