“Don’t you think it looks tired?”

The Doctor Who Christmas special this year, The Return of Doctor Mysterio felt very much like an attempt to harken back to some of the David Tennant era ones. An alien invasion that just happens to be at Christmas, the Doctor larking about on a spaceship, and plenty of ridiculous comedy. Mixed in with a superhero story which really didn’t work, unfortunately. Doubly unfortunate as that seemed to be the main thing the marketing focussed on.

What’s more, we have a new companion to talk about; Nardole as played by Matt Lucas. I say ‘new’, he had appeared in last year’s Christmas special – The Husbands of River Song. But we’ll get into that later on. For now, let’s look at the good, the bad, and the Matt Lucas!

doctor-who-christmas-800x1084The good

There’s a lot to appreciate in this episode, beginning with the alien invasion plot, which was one of the most interesting of any presented for a while on the show. It was fairly basic, but a curious work around, and the aliens were fairly creative. They saved a lot of money by having them as looking essentially human most of the time, but still, the concept is something that’ll leave you thinking about it.

These body-snatchers have a very haunting look about them, especially the head-splitting part of their nature. I thought the line about every world leader having an alien zipped up inside them was a not-so-subtle reference to the Slitheen.

Peter Capaldi put in yet another brilliant performance. He is not given a tremendous amount to work with here, I fear, but what he has he does well. Even when there’s a superhero in the room, he manages to steal the limelight by being such a hypnotic presence. And his unbuttoned look towards the end was just a bit tasty.

The writing was okay, paced well, with plenty of jokes. The ending also left us open to future episodes with these aliens, which I am all in favour of. Perhaps we will see a story arc? Even if Moffat says he hates them. He says a lot of things and he is often lying. Also, the terrorism leading to governments throwing their lot in with the very people who destroyed them is a very timely theme.

The bad
mysterio

Well, I’m afraid the main storyline didn’t really work. The superhero narrative felt a little lazy, a little underwhelming, and more than a little distracting. I got the feeling that the intention was to have the characters act somewhat outlandishly, to have a bit of fun poking at comic book tropes, and so on. But, perhaps because I’m not a comic book fan, I just found myself checking my watch as it went on, waiting for it to get to the good bits. The superhero story was definitely the weaker one, so giving it so much attention weakened the whole episode, I think.

The relationship between Grant and Lucy is – how can I put this delicately? – creepy. This is not the first time a Steven Moffat script has seen a woman made to fall in love with someone who has essentially stalked her, sometimes for many years. Why he thinks this is romantic is somewhat baffling to me.

Lucy starts out tremendously interesting – a driven, and brave journalist looking for a story and doing sometimes underhanded things to get at the truth. All while juggling a baby and a career. Yet, as soon as Grant’s affections for her are made clear, he becomes the focus and she is unceremoniously shoved into the background to become just a pawn. It’s maddening to see it happen.

The Matt Lucas

Oh yeah, Matt Lucas is there. And, really there’s not much else to say. He’s just there.

His inclusion here reminds me of an issue that’s been nagging me for a bit with regards to Doctor Who of late. That he was sent off at the end of the last episode, seemingly to go live his life, and then suddenly brought back for no apparent reason, laid it bare. This doesn’t feel like a continuing story. It’s disjointed, disconnected, and disorientating.

Hints are dropped, sure, and there’s no doubt we’ll get some further insights into why he’s around. But it does just feel like a decision was made to just throw him into the story, and to hell with whether or not it makes sense. I suspect whatever portion of the audience remembers last year’s Christmas special might be a bit confused, wondering if they missed something.

Doctor Who series 10What’s next?

The preview of the next series really did give me hope. I’ve been worried about the lack of colour in the show for a while, and the overemphasis on DARKNESS. The trailer was colourful, bright, exciting, and engaging. Bill, again, harkens back to some of Russell T Davies’ companions, it seems. A working class girl dropped into a world of time and space travel complete with monsters old and new.

Shifting the focus onto a fresh pair of eyes will, I hope give the show a much needed lift. Where I felt Clara got the short end of the stick in a lot of ways, her backstory and continuing story being rewritten on the fly it seemed. I sincerely hope Bill is given something real and relatable.

A sassy, quick-comeback character is all well and good, but we can’t all be sassy and quick-comeback-y all the time. That’s what made Rose, Martha and Donna so relatable. They seemed like real people dropped into unreal situations. That Bill is a return to this format is very welcome from me.

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.