REVIEW: Doctor Who’s ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ is a festive triumph
In the 11 years since Doctor Who was revived, it has become a staple of Christmas Day television. Yet over the last couple of years, the Christmas Special has been a definite disappointment – mildly entertaining, but not a problem if you succumbed to that post-turkey and booze snooze while watching.
Thankfully, the trend for Christmas-themed snore fests seems to have come to an abrupt halt with ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ – a fun, superhero story set in modern day New York.
Unlike previous specials, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ definitely watches like it is part of a series, rather than a one-off. While the story of Grant – a man that the Doctor accidentally gave super powers as a kid – and an impending alien attempt to destroy New York City is mostly done and dusted, there remain several open storylines to pick apart in the new series. The alien adversaries, who enjoy taking over the brains of Earthling authority figures, are still knocking about and even have a presence in UNIT. Grant still has super powers. These loose ends made it feel like less of a transgression than it usually does when we received the trailer for the new series at the end of the episode. Creating characters and storylines that are strong enough to feature in future episodes, while still packing in a heartwarming self-contained story suitable for families, was the great strength of ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’.
An underlying theme throughout the episode is the Doctor’s sadness at having seen the last of River Song (probably), following those romantic 24 years spent together at the end of the last Christmas Special. It is subtle, but it is always there – and it is contrasted nicely with the blossoming relationship between Grant and his school friend turned employer Lucy. Again, I imagine this will be something that will carry on into the upcoming series, and was a clever way to remind us what took place the last time we met up with the Doctor (a whole year ago!).
There was a lot teased about Matt Lucas’ return to Doctor Who as Nardole prior to the episode airing, but he was sadly underused – for the second time running. This Nardole, miraculously extracted from Hydroflax’s body by the Doctor, serves as quiet, empathetic companion who occasionally hints at the Doctor’s post-River misery. Honestly, this story could have been told just as well without his presence, but I suppose nobody is going to say no to a bit of Matt Lucas at Christmas.
‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ was a triumph, perfectly encapsulating the festive fun of Christmas without containing overused cliches. The use of a superhero narrative worked wonderfully. Best of all, the special managed to set up a new series without detriment to the story being told. This is Doctor Who how it should be.