Sadly, this year’s adventure – “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” – didn’t have much in the way of yuletide wishes or goodwill toward men. In fact, it had noticeably little.
Christmas managed only a passing mention as much of the action centered instead on a carbon copy superhero origin story for young Grant Gordon, a boy who swallows one of the Doctor’s magical space gems and inherits superhuman abilities consequently and subsequently. From there, the action fast-forwards into Grant’s adulthood (played by Justin Chatwin), wherein he’s exposed as a nanny-by-day-superhero-when-needed commodity in the world of ace reporter, Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield). Just as Lois Lane wanted the scoop on Superman, Lucy wants the goods on the heroic ‘The Ghost,’ and fate as well as the Doctor conspire to put these two together while managing to save life as we know it.
As is always the case, there’s a bit more – the Doctor has a new companion (funnyman Matt Lucas reprises the role of Nardole from last Christmas’s “The Husbands of River Song”), and a global conglomerate (Harmony Shoal) has risen to the level of threat needed to push the story forward – but it’s all second fiddle to the superhero story here. Lucy and Grant’s tale channels only the best elements of the aforementioned ‘Lois and Clark’ relationship so much so that one might think BBC’s suits asked for a ‘get out of jail free’ card from Santa; and there are plenty of nods other superhero entities, including a terrific one-liner from the Doctor about what really should’ve happened to Peter Parker once bitten by that pesky radioactive spider.
The plot – what little there is – centers on the aliens behind Harmony Shoal and their secret efforts to deposit alien brains into only the finest (or highest ranking) human bodies to control the Earth. Naturally, this draws the Doctor into action, pitting he and Nardole first on a collision course with the aliens and then on a collision course with the Earth (viewers will get the pun), and this offers Grant the opportunity to shed his disguise, save the day, get the girl, and raise the baby, all in the pursuit of happiness.
As I said, gone are the usual festive trappings, some of which were also sacrificed in the previous adventure, “The Husbands of River Song.” Mysterio does pick up on one of the key plot points from Song – that being the end of the Doctor and River’s much ballyhooed love affair – but it only earns a mention in passing. There’s little to no remorse on the Doctor’s part, and it would’ve been nice had screenwriter and soon-departing showrunner Steven Moffat given Peter Capaldi a bit more to work with on that front. Mind you: no one wishes to see the Doctor break down, but it’s the holidays, after all, and isn’t that the ultimate mortal curse of the holidays?
Mysterio was … nice, at best. All well and good. It didn’t ‘feel’ like Christmas, and this particular installment could’ve aired almost any time in a regular series.
But dare I suggest that the BBC served up a lump of coal for diehard fans who’ve waited a year for some new Who?
To me, the only thing that really felt right about this holiday special was the one thing many Whoovians have been complaining about since Matt Smith’s departure from the beloved SciFi program: Peter Capaldi. The screen veteran hit every note perfectly, and even though I think the story suffered from some missed opportunities the actor showed why he’s pitch perfect in the middle of his take on this seminal character. As this tenth season looms large (Doctor Who in series form has been absent from the BBC for some time now do to creative tinkering), I for one am glad to watch Capaldi come into his own as this incarnation of the traveler.