Much like children (and *ahem* some adults) across the country, “Doctor Who” reached into its festive stocking and pulled out a whole bunch of superhero toys. Although it’s a little bit shoehorned in during a leadenly expository cold open, once the superhero McGuffin is installed, showrunner Steven Moffat gleefully, almost giddily, goes to town smashing the genres together.
Having accidentally bestowed superpowers on a young boy in early ‘90s New York, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) runs into him again years later while investigating the activities of the mysterious Harmony Shoals corporation.
Working as an indirect sequel to “The Husbands Of River Song”, “The Return Of Doctor Mysterio” sees the return of Nardole (Matt Lucas) whose resurrection is hand waived away in a couple of lines of dialogue and whose main purpose this time out is to remind us the Doctor is sad. It’s a necessary reminder because the Doctor’s emotional thread through this story seems to be a bit of an afterthought. It also sees the return of the brain swapping aliens from last year’s Christmas special which makes me wonder if a busy with “Sherlock” Steven Moffat cobbled together this script from offcuts and discarded ideas from last year’s special. Both the story and the Doctor feel a little distracted, a little unfocussed and as a result the whole adventure is a little bit muddled. Essentially, “The Return Of Doctor Mysterio” is the overstuffed Boxing Day leftover sandwich to “The Husbands Of River Song”’s Christmas Dinner.
Oh, sure, there’s fun to be had homaging everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Richard Donner’s “Superman” but it’s an uneasy mix to have a proxy Superman in the same story as the Doctor and it never seems to find its balance. Hardly Christmassy at all, it’s a Christmas Special in the same way the 10th Doctor’s final year was made up of ‘Specials’, e.g. not that special and not that good. Individually each element is pretty good but it just doesn’t quite come together. The Ghost is a distraction rather than an asset in the Doctor’s foiling of the bad guys’ plan but stripped of the superhero tropes, this would be a thin story indeed.
It’s been a year since we last had some new “Doctor Who” so maybe my expectations for this were too high but when one of the best performances is from an inanimate squeaky toy, it’s probably a sign that something’s not quite working. Distinctly average, despite its huge ambitions, it just didn’t work for me and not even the not-quite-as-topical-as-when-the-script-was-written Pokémon Go joke can rescue it from mediocrity.