Merry Christmas! Doctor Who is finally back on our screens after a year-long hiatus. Steven Moffat’s superhero adventure wraps up witty festive fun in a story that has a lot of brains… literally!

Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - The Ghost and Alexsander Jovanovic as Dr Sim - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – The Ghost and Alexsander Jovanovic as Dr Sim – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

Well, that was all rather wonderful, wasn’t it? We honestly didn’t think that mixing Doctor Who with comic book capers would work – but by a Christmas miracle, it did! The Return of Doctor Mysterio is a beautiful, brilliant blend of sci-fi and superheroes. Right from the off, there’s clearly a lot of love and affection for the works that have inspired this production. From the hand-drawn stills in the opening shot, to the split-screen panel editing, the comic influences supplement rather than detract from the experience. There’s also a cavalcade of Marvel and DC references in there for die-hard fans to appreciate – did you manage to spot them all? (it’s fair to say that some of them aren’t very subtle…!)

Picture shows:Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Logan Hoffman as Young Grant - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Picture shows:Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Logan Hoffman as Young Grant – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

Of course, the biggest influence manifests itself in the form of The Ghost, Doctor Who’s very own superhero. Although, surprisingly, it takes a while for him to arrive – it’s not until nearly 20 minutes in that we get our first glimpse of the caped crusader. Instead, the story opens with an intimate and magical opening set in the past. Peter Capaldi gets quite an entrance, literally getting back into the swing of things – he’s just as home in the role as ever. It’s as if The Twelfth Doctor has never been away, and how nice it is to have him back! After the obligatory Christmas references (which are thankfully left behind for the rest of the episode), The Doctor takes Grant up to the roof where the plot kicks into gear. The reasons for Grant gaining superpowers is a little unorthodox, but it made us chuckle, so it gets a pass.

“Doctor Mysterio… I’ll have that!”
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - Charity Wakefield as Lucy and Peter Capaldi as the Doctor - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – Charity Wakefield as Lucy and Peter Capaldi as the Doctor – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

What this opening showcases, and subsequently remains consistent throughout the rest of the story, is just how witty Steven Moffat’s script is. In the grand scheme, yes, the episode is just a bit of festive fluff that has little impact on the wider mythos – but it captures what a Christmas special should be, better even than some of the actual Christmassy episodes. Not a minute goes by without some sort of well-written zinger or laugh out loud gag. There’s puns galore, jokes for all ages, and even a Pokémon GO reference for good measure. If we had to pick a highlight? The scene with Lucy’s squeezy screaming toy is gut-bustingly hysterical on first watch.

Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - The Ghost and Alexsander Jovanovic as Dr Sim - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – The Ghost and Alexsander Jovanovic as Dr Sim – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

In fact, with all the hilarity happening on screen, it’s sometimes easy to lose track of the narrative. New York is under attack by brain-swapping aliens, returning from The Husbands of River Song. Their introduction is a genuinely chilling scene, as Mr Brock gets scooped out by evil surgeons. The unzipping heads and blue brain goo remains an impressive practical effect, too. It’s just a shame then that their plan is a little muddled and overshadowed by everything else. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense, it’s just not the main appeal. The wrath of Harmony Shoals comes off slightly as an afterthought compared to the rest of the episode. On the plus side though, it does lead to one heck of a hero moment for Grant at the climax. But, if the ending is anything to go by, we may not have seen the last of them just yet…

“We’re here to open your minds…”
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - Charity Wakefield as Lucy and The Ghost - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – Charity Wakefield as Lucy and The Ghost – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

Luckily, the underwhelming evil doesn’t really matter: the real triumph and draw of Doctor Mysterio is its main cast. Justin Chatwin is superbly convincing as Grant and The Ghost, nailing heroism as well as great comic timing. Charity Wakefield, meanwhile, is a revelation as Grant’s funny and feisty love interest Lucy Fletcher. She’s one of the best things about the episode, and it’s a crying shame we can’t have her on board the TARDIS full-time – she’d have made a great companion.

The real question marks going into this special, however, all surrounded Nardole. Matt Lucas is back for another Christmas outing, and again he primarily serves as a source of comic relief. Now a more permanent addition to the series though, his performance is more nuanced this time around. Don’t get us wrong, there’s still plenty of silliness and sarcasm. But, while his unexpected return is eventually given a quick explanation, it’s also surprisingly heartfelt. The revelation that The Doctor reassembled Nardole to spare him from being lonely after losing Clara and River is touching stuff indeed. He’s there to keep The Doctor company, plain and simple.

Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 - The Doctor ( Peter Capaldi) Nardole (Matt Lucas) - BBC - Photo: Simon Ridgway
Doctor Who Xmas Special 2016 – The Doctor ( Peter Capaldi) Nardole (Matt Lucas) – BBC – Photo: Simon Ridgway

Baddies aside, that’s not the only other nod to The Husbands of River Song either. The episode happens almost directly after it, 24 years since we left The Doctor and River on Darillium. The Time Lord is feeling sad, but hopeful, and ready to move onto the future. Following a final rousing (and incredibly meta) speech about endings and beginnings, The Doctor sets off again for a whole new set of adventures.

“With great power comes great responsibility…”

And then, oh then, there’s that Series 10 trailer. There’s only so much we can gleam from it, but our first impressions are looking positive. It’s very much focused on Bill, who seems like a return to the more ‘down to earth’ companion mould that we’re used to from the early days of the modern era. If nothing else, there’s something very Rose Tyler about her serving chips…! Fortunately, there is only a few months left to wait until we find out. And, if this Christmas special has been anything to by, we’re in for a spectacular end to Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner. The Return of Doctor Mysterio soars straight into the stratosphere as one of the finest Christmas specials, standing strong as a one-off genre-mashing extravaganza. It’s got heroes, it’s got humour, and it’s got heart. What more could you want on Christmas Day?

All we can say now is:

Roll on Spring 2017! It’s time to buckle yourselves in!
Because we’re ready to see the universe anew…

Synopsis

In this year’s Xmas special, The Doctor join forces with a masked Superhero for an epic New York adventure.

With brain-swapping aliens poised to attack, the Doctor and Nardole link up with an investigative reporter and a mysterious figure known only as The Ghost. Can the Doctor save Manhattan? And what will be revealed when we see behind the mask?

The 60-minute special is written by Steven Moffat, Executive Produced by Brian Minchin, Produced by Peter Bennett and Directed by Ed Bazalgette (Poldark). It was shot in Cardiff at BBC Wales Roath Lock Studios.

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