2nd Opinion: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
Connor Johnston & Gustaff Behr give their verdicts on the 2016 Christmas special.
“Things end. That’s all. Everything ends. And it’s always sad. But everything begins again too, and that’s always happy…”
Finally – We are back!
Returning to our screens for the first time in exactly a year was never going to be an easy task for Doctor Who. On top of the usual expectations associated with a Christmas special – i.e. maintaining a balance in atmosphere between the holidays and the show’s everyday appeal, as well as creating an episode that’s slightly more accessible to a broader audience than an in-series narrative – “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” had the added pressure of reconnecting with a plethora of fans feeling distanced and slightly cheated from the show’s extended break. With “Mysterio”, Steven Moffat produced a warming tale of adventure and love that while not having much significance in the broader narrative of the series, builds upon the spirit of the season to reintroduce the audience to the wonder and charm of Doctor Who with stunning confidence.
Not unlike most of Moffat’s Christmas Specials, the episode itself isn’t one that *looks* all that Christmassy, and billed as a tribute to the golden age of superhero films, there definitely are not many connections to the festive season in the episode’s premise either. As with his past efforts however, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” continued Moffat’s method of justifying the seasonal relevance of his work by embedding them with themes of Christmas in the form of goodwill, spirit, family, generosity and of course: love – producing an episode that embodies the *feel* of the season in a way no one else can.
When taking inspiration from an entire genre, one always runs the risk of the end result seeming less like a tribute and more like a cheap attempt at a cross-over, which no doubt was a fear of many when promotion for the episode began. Luckily this concern appears to be one made in vein, with the premise of a “Superhero” explained skilfully within the lore of the show and complimenting what is otherwise a classic Doctor Who alien invasion plot cleverly.
As always, the brunt of the show’s success comes down to an array of talent in front of the camera to bring the episode to life, and luckily there are no irregularities to be found in the ability of the cast this Christmas. It is clear how much Peter Capaldi has missed the show this past year, fitting back into the role with ease. One of the most impressive aspects of the special was how it subtly touched on the Doctor’s grief following the death of River Song in a way that didn’t overpower the episode, but still had an influential effect on the Doctor’s character.
I must admit, while I am still not convinced of Nardole’s worth to the show, Matt Lucas did do enough to, at the very least, reopen discussions about his character. While he maintained the same comedic value as last year’s special, the strongest hint of potential came instead through the more down to earth moments; especially in regards to his final scene pledging to aid the Doctor through his grief. Similarly impressive were Charity Wakefield and Justin Chatwin as Lucy and Grant, respectfully, who both brought their own charm to produce two thoroughly rounded characters – which is quite an achievement given their limited screentime of one episode. Finally, a mention must go to Logan Hoffman for his portrayal of a young Grant, who’s ability and involvement embodied the same dynamic between the Doctor and young children that has worked so well for the show in the past.
Regardless of the scarce but vocal comments that litter the comment sections of the show’s various social media accounts – there are a number of reasons that Steven Moffat’s work continues to be praised and respected by industry professionals both internally and externally to the show; and with “Mysterio” Moffat once again proves his worth with a script that is sharp, witty, emotional, hilarious and paced impeccably. No, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” will never be anyone’s favourite Doctor Who episode, nor is it the best Christmas Special the show’s ever made – however that doesn’t hinder the episode from excelling in its own right and producing a confident and thoroughly enjoyable hour of television.
As we prepare for what looks to be an electrifying new selection of episodes in 2017: one thing that is certain after this year’s special is that the team at the helm of the show (both in front of and behind the cameras) are extraordinarily well-equipped to deliver.
Welcome back Doctor Who!
Don’t feel bad if you thought that after a year without Doctor Who and the responsibility of writing just one episode for the year, Steven Moffat would decide to cap off the year with another A Christmas Carol or Last Christmas. While The Return of Doctor Mysterio doesn’t join The Doctor, the Witch and Wardrobe in the worst of the worst category, it stills ends up being very ‘meh,’ which is a huge disappointment on account of it being the only television episode of 2016.
Unfortunately most of the episode’s faults emanate from its premise, which is imitating most of Christopher Reeves’ Superman, also Marvel, DC comics and if I’m honest, the superhero shows currently gracing our screens on television. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as no idea is “completely” fresh and there’s nothing wrong with trying to expand your fan base, but this special feels so unoriginal that it’s easy to believe that little to no thought went into scripting it. It feels more like an obligation to be fulfilled rather than a reward for making us wait so long for new Doctor Who. Worse still, most of this episode is simply Steven Moffat reusing his old ideas.
The first fifteen minutes of the episode are easily my favourite, even if Twelve feels more like Eleven. The humour and chemistry between the Doctor and young Grant felt so organic. It worked much better than it did in the latter part of the episode where some jokes kind of felt forced or cringy like the scene with Mr Huffle. I really wanted Twelve to pull out a gun and shoot the thing in that scene.
Perhaps the most distracting aspect of this episode is the CG used for the Ghost’s flying sequences. They are atrocious, and this is coming from someone who is a huge fan of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, shows that do take a couple of liberties, but are proof that you can do realistic superpowered fight scenes on a television budget. Not only this, but unlike our super friends over on the CW, the Ghost’s costume looked like something Grant put it together himself… without the help of the costume department. We’re talking Spidey’s first costume in Captain America: Civil War bad, except no Extreme Makeover: Tony Stark Edition.
Moving onto the plot, while basic, I am thankful that we didn’t get any traditional body swapping shenanigans as after Your Name earlier this year, everything in Moffat’s arsenal would’ve easily bombed in comparison. I did however enjoy the subtler scenes and the interactions between older Grant and the Doctor, especially when they were having a drink together outside.
The final confrontation where the Ghost is held hostage felt a little dumb considering Grant himself established that he could move between buildings faster than most folk could reach for their phones. Like the Flash, he should have been able to make quick work of those guns using ‘bullet time’. Though given the CG quality in the episode, this may have been a blessing.
Can we just get Hugh Laurie in to teach Brits how mimic proper American? 99% of the accents in this special rival that of the CG department. Logan Hoffman, who plays young Grant, was phenomenal in his short outing and his accent was genuinely the most believable of the lot. After Capaldi, I truly enjoyed his performance the most and kind of hoped that like Kazran, we’d see more of him.
I have no opinion on Nardole and there’s a simple reason for this: He served no narrative purpose. He was simply there. You could easily remove him from events and they would still happen more or less the same. At this point, he feels like Mickey Smith, except he’s not going anywhere.
I listen to close to 80 audio stories per year, so I am not starved for Doctor Who. In fact I get more than enough of it. There is no line of separation between TV and audio, but the television series is still the main event. Because of this, I expect, no I demand the quality of stories be better than the audios. December saw the release of Big Finish’s Absolute Power, Quicksilver, Cold Fusion, Original Sin, The Hesitation Deviation and The Diary of River Song Vol 2. Whilst not a bad episode; with one year and only one story to pen, The Return of Doctor Mysterio should have easily toppled everything else the Whoniverse had to offer.