The Return of Doctor Mysterio - Additional ReviewBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Nardole (MATT LUCAS), Grant (JUSTIN CHATWIN) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin,Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016
Again, Happy Christmas!!

The Doctor was back, briefly – and he was tripping across genre again and enjoying the dance. The decision to bring an American superhero into Doctor Who enabled the programme to reconnect with the contemporary and demonstrate that it still has that sense of humorous self-mockery British Book News remarked upon at the end of the 1970s, to the joy of Target Books and their blurb-writer. Much of the wit was extracted from the tension between the conventions of superherodom as presented by the story and the conventions which the Doctor seemed to think Doctor Who follows, while remaining aware that the two are not so different. It also – and far more successfully than The Husbands of River Song – extracted the twelfth Doctor from the shadow of the fiftieth anniversary year and from the intense presence (however appealing character or performer) of Clara. While the references to River Song and to UNIT and Osgood might have been designed to reassure committed viewers that the recent history of Doctor Who the programme was not being set aside after the Doctor’s twenty-four year night with River (neatly paralleled with his twelve month absence from television screens), they just kept to the right side of confusing entanglement for the Christmas Day viewer while looking to the wider television environment of streaming services and cyclical repeats where The Return of Doctor Mysterio will be watched minutes after The Husbands of River Song rather than a whole year.

I’d been cautious about the success of Doctor Who creating a televisual New York in Cardiff and Bulgaria, and the trailers and advance clips had somehow suggested a colder, grainier environment than I was used to from the gleaming adventure series, bright lights and sharp tonal contrast in so many American series. In the context of the whole, though, The Return of Doctor Mysterio did mount a credible New York, with its oddly warm green-white nighttime apartment set which could have been inhabited by characters from a realism-seeking police procedural, and most impressively of all the cityscape through which young Grant flew, the Doctor clinging to his heels, in the opening sequence. The Bulgaria-based New York streets compared favourably with locations in the superhero series with which The Return of Doctor Mysterio invited comparison, but Doctor Who’s sense of reality, at least here, was less dependent on the suggestion of a crowded Manhattan of people, businesses and criminals than on central pillars of emotional credibility.

Justin Chatwin’s Grant was a familiar Steven Moffat hero, a heterosexual man but uncertain in his relationships with the opposite sex and hiding behind masks literal and metaphorical in order to police desires he doesn’t know how to translate into reality. Moffat views the Doctor as part of this tribe, and his warnings that Grant shouldn’t repeat his mistakes recalled the Doctor’s advice to Young Kazran Sardick back in A Christmas Carol not to retreat to his bedroom and invent a new kind of screwdriver. Grant’s dogged professionalism in addressing Lucy by her married style when working as her nanny might seem odd given that he has known her since elementary school, but it’s another act of distancing and concealment. Charity Wakefield’s performance as Lucy complemented the worldview of Grant and the Doctor, combining a set of female attributes from male-viewpoint adventure stories – the reporter, motherhood, physical attractiveness, precise attention to dress sense, uncounterable authority – while still suggesting a believable person who could be represented differently by another narrative voice. Her deployment of torture by stress relief toy was played deadpan, admirably, and somehow represented Doctor Who's appeal across generations, So integrated was Wakefield's performance in the fiction that one of my family didn’t recognise her from Wolf Hall and assumed that she was an American guest star. Lucy was also a mask-wearer, of course, as Grant both recognised and did not recognise. Her shapeless grey dress, her date night red dress, as well as Grant's self-deprecating and self-deflecting casualwear and the Ghost's businesslike sculpted black costume made a starkly effective debut for new series costume designer Hayley Nebauer.

The Doctor was reintroduced as a man of action and legendary figure, both aspects in distress. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is perhaps the most difficult to pin down because his range is so broad; here he was at his warmest and most magical, someone whom a child would trust, lightly delivering brutal put-downs, at ease with the contradictions of being both someone passing through with no ties and a self-acknowledged saviour of humanity with contacts in a planetary defence agency. Depicting the Doctor as a swinging pendulum in a window was a great sight gag, pun on Time Lord, and witty introduction to a child’s worldview. Moffat has compared the Doctor to Father Christmas before, in The Curse of Fatal Death and The Doctor Dances, but here it was both a way of emphasising young Grant’s naivety and literalness and setting up the way the episode performs a series of commentaries. I enjoyed the irony of the Doctor offering sardonic comments on superhero lore when his own contains its fair share of pretend science and unlikely transformations. It’s possible to read the Doctor’s insistence that the moment the superhero’s love interest – Lois in Superman, Lucy here – discovers the superhero’s secret identity, the story is over, as a criticism of the ensemble superhero television series of the present day. There, the superhero’s activities depend on the presence of a substantial back-up team fully aware of who he or she is. The Doctor might agree with this, but Nardole’s presence and explanation of the Doctor’s recent backstory to Grant and Lucy indicate that the episode itself does not. The probability is that Grant will continue his adventuring in a new context, backed up by Lucy and baby Jennifer. I've largely avoided reading other reviews while writing this one, but know I wasn't the only person imagining what shape a Ghost spin-off might take. However, more immediately this rejection of the idea of the hero - whether the Doctor or the Ghost - as lone saviour indicates that the Doctor, having lost Clara and River, needs to assemble his own new family. Nardole has been reattached sensitively and gently by Matt Lucas, and (as the first pre-credits ‘Coming Soon’ for a new season for some years stressed) we are soon to meet Bill.

Although unheralded as such, The Return of Doctor Mysterio might be seen in future years as bearing a similar relationship to The Husbands of River Song as The Woman Who Lived does to The Girl Who Died given comparable links of theme and characters. The head-opening secret society of Husbands now become the brain-removing Harmony Shoal, and receive development, becoming scheming villains rather than containers. The Doctor is working through, and out, loss both times, and preaches the embrace of change. This is more foreshadowing, both of the new companion for the new series and the new directions beyond as Steven Moffat yields the showrunner’s chair to Chris Chibnall. These are simple points made clearly for the Christmas Day audience who might have just finished dinner; it will be intriguing to see how a full series builds on them.





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Sunday, 25 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas. Justin Chatwin
Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016... Happy Christmas!

This review contains spoilers

 

I'll admit that I went into this year's Christmas Special with somewhat lowered expectations. The Children in Need clip had seemed a touch too stylised when viewed out of context, and then there'd been a surprisingly low-key trailer. Fan expectation can be a tricky superpower to handle, capable of spoiling things that would otherwise be appreciated when it blasts too high, and equally capable of casting a rosy glow over new episodes when set far lower. In this case, by not expecting too much I found myself savouring a wonderful Christmas present of Who, and a gift of a return from Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas.

For once, this Christmas Special isn't excessively garnished with festive trimmings, and it's all the better for it. Once an obligatory (and amusing) Santa reference is out of the way, we settle down to a loving homage to Superman, Superman: The Movie, and superheroes more generally, replete with lovely moments like a Shuster and Siegel name-check. And although the Doctor may not initially get how superheroes work, Steven Moffat's script is perfectly at home in this world of romantic comedy and wish fulfillment, even if he can't resist an assortment of X-ray vision jokes. "Light to moderate" excremental humour -- always a winner with the Christmas Day family audience, I suspect -- also slips by several times, with the "passing" of Grant's condition being a somewhat incongruous moment, especially as it places our favourite Time Lord in the role of an anxious parent awaiting... well, you know, that.

The flying effects and the Ghost's appearance appeared vaguely questionable in advance publicity but viewed in situ they are part of a beautifully-produced confection. 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' looks consistently impressive, and there can be little doubt that its budget is all right there on the screen; Peter Bennett deserves our Christmas cheers for his production work on this, as does Brian Minchin for his sterling exec-production. New York has rarely looked so New York-y, particularly given that it's all a matter of media trickery here; iconography that's been replayed so many times in movies, reduced to its visual essence, that the unreality has become convincingly TV-real. Additionally, we get an array of directorial and design flourishes to remind us that this is a comic book-inspired version of Doctor Who. Entering events via a comics page is apposite, especially as one panel appears to prefigure the Doctor clinging to Grant's window sill, suggesting that this entire story is an imagined version of a graphic novel. And we are treated to some comic book-effect split-screen roughly halfway through, another nice touch from director Ed Bazalgette. Then there are the coloured rectangular window panels that linger in the background of Harmony Shoal's office, representing yet more bright evocations of the comic book form. 

This isn't all comics callbacks and romcom sparkle, however. There are echoes of Christmas Specials past: the plummeting spacecraft (and this episode's overall tone) put me in mind of the brash and movie-referencing 'Voyage of the Damned'. At times, this story could almost be channelling Russell T. Davies at his most crowd-pleasing (shots of crowds looking up into the sky: check) and it knows exacty what it's doing. We also get small moments of real human feeling, crackling like popping candy in a Christmassy Heston Blumenthal creation. The "24 years" sequence is especially outstanding, and Peter Capaldi's delivery of "Everything ends. And it's always sad" shows that he doesn't need a big old monologue to dazzle. Slightly akin to Rogue One making you think differently about Star Wars: A New Hope, this speech (plus the return of Harmony Shoal/The Shoal of the Winter Harmony and Nardole) made me see 'The Husbands of River Song' in a different light. What had seemed rather forced last Christmas, for me anyway, took on a much greater depth when reassembled through the lenses of 'Doctor Mysterio'. Even Nardole, who I had found a little frustrating last time round, was a far more welcome presence as the Doctor's glued together companion. Matt Lucas's performance is uniformly excellent here, and bodes well for next season, I would say. Hiding a key plot point within Doctor-Nardole banter was cleverly done, as was the rapidly sketched-in sense that Nardole sees his role as one of caring for the Doctor. The character still needs further thickening and deepening, but I've no doubt that future scripts and performances will be well up to delivering on that. 

The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Lucy Fletcher (CHARITY WAKEFIELD) (Credit: BBC)

In fact, all the guest stars work really well in this outing: Justin Chatwin is effectively cast in the "mild-mannered" Clark Kent/Superman role, and Charity Wakefield makes the most of portraying Lucy Fletcher, who at times displays a sharp sideline is sub-Sherlockian deduction. Chatwin's switching between a "superhero" gravelly voice and "civilian" voice helps to sell his character's secret identity, even if, as the Doctor acidly notes, some situations "are too stupid to be allowed to continue". And Steven Moffat revels in the twists and turns of misunderstanding that a superhero narrative can afford (when is the Marvel Cinematic Universe hiring him?). The ultimate reveal of the Ghost-as-Grant is cleverly integrated into the Doctor's plan to save the world, with these plots dovetailing neatly in a masterclass moment of scripting.

Are there any pitfalls to this Christmas offering? Harmony Shoal are resolutely B-movie-style opponents, albeit good fun, but perhaps Lucy's deployment of Mr. Huffle as an interrogation device is a step too far. It's different, for sure, but would the Doctor really respond to this kind of thing? Presumably, he's indulging Lucy as he recognises her cleverness, but Mr. Huffle still gets to be quite annoying quite quickly. Even as a plot device this is remarkably twee stuff. But if, as a reviewer, I'm reduced to complaining about such minor things then I'll happily take that.

With mentions for Osgood and UNIT, and retoolings of favoured Moffatisms (especially the "in one bound they startlingly move from mediated presence to live presence" shtick) this will no doubt repay plenty of repeat viewings. It's an episode that suggests Moffat has endings on his mind, as well as the fact that endings can simultaneously be new beginnings (unsurprising for a showrunner entering his last season in the role). Nowhere is this fixation more apparent than in the outstanding "Coming Soon" trailer affixed to the end of this broadcast which really deserves its own screen capped review. "Can I use the toilet?" may well be one of the most refreshing lines of dialogue I've ever heard in Doctor Who, bringing an unexpected strata of basic reality to the Whoniverse. Just when fans might be expecting Moffat to wind things up towards a grand finale, Bill's introduction feels like a breath of fresh air, as if we've suddenly been thrown into series one of a brand new show called Professor Who. "See the universe anew": there can't be many better Christmas gifts than that.

To my mind, 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' is one of the stronger Christmas Specials, successfully paying tribute to a genre that's long been an "anomaly" for the programme. Welcome back, Doctor, your unique superpowers have been missed.    





The Christmas InvasionBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 December 2005 - Reviewed by Calum Corral

Well, I don't know about Tony Blair but I was certainly making sure that my Christmas dinner was well out of the way in time for Dr Who.

It does seem amazing that in the history of the programme, there was only one episode broadcast on Christmas Day and for the BBC to give it such a huge fanfare this time round was incredible ... I never thought I would see the day!

However, when I first heard about killer Santas and Christmas trees, I think you could be forgiven for fearing the worst.

But the series of clips which we had seen beforehand including the spectacular crash landing of the TARDIS and London under attack certainly put my mind at rest (however there were little in the way of spectacular effect surprises - even the xmas tree was on the Jonathan Ross show but that great clip may well have ensured a bigger audience for the show because it was so good) I do appreciate it is always a delicate balancing act between how much you can give away and how much you should keep secret before it goes out on air.

So did The Christmas Invasion impress? Yes. It was a great hour of fun with some superb lines, impressive graphics and a new Doctor. Comparisons are bound to be made with Christopher Eccleston and whether Tennant was up to the task. I think he was very good, likeable and fun to be with. He actually seems very Doctor-ish! That is probably the highest compliment you can pay to him.

The thing I liked about Eccleston was that he actually brought something to the role which I don't think the original show had. But Tennant right from his introduction was on excellent form. The thrilling spinning Christmas tree was fantastic and the fight sequence was well coordinated. He made a terrific arrival actually against these dastardly villains. The Dr has carried out a sword duel before (was it The Kings Demons? The Sea Devils?) so this is in keeping with Who and Hartnell was involved in a few physical battles. The destruction of the spacecraft at the end and the Dr's angry reaction to Harriet Jones was reminiscent of Dr Who having a go at the Brigadier at the end of Dr Who and The Silurians - I am sure that is where Russell T Davies drew the inspiration from. It was a bit like The Belgrano.

I thought the mass signal to all the humans with blood group A+ was very well handled and quite scary. Russell did very well to draw out the emotion as mums were horror-struck, crying at their children to stop. That part of it was very dramatic and I would imagine quite scary for kids watching, especially as it looked that humans were going to walk off roofs to their death.

One minor gripe about the stories is that Cardiff and London seem to be the same place? Am I the only person who notices this? Continuity? Pah!

I have to say I really like Rose's Mum - I think she is a great character and a good foil for the Dr. I am still not sure about Mickey. I just can't really warm to him and while that is the point, he sometimes seems to be more of a hindrance than anything else. His character just doesn't seem to be developing any further but just seems to be going in circles with Rose.

For me though, the highlight of the programme was the good old British cup of tea waking up the Dr in the Tardis. What a brilliant and funny touch by Russell!

The clip montage was terrific at the end and the clips of K9 and the Cybermen were thrilling. I think David Tennant will be a very good Doctor and clearly seems to revel in the character. He was hilarious when replying to the Sycorax with a big deep throaty response! I loved that bit!!! The villains seemed a bit Lord of the Rings inspired.

So The Christmas Invasion - the highest rated Dr Who story probably since The City of Death - pressed all the right buttons, provided a very festive feel, and Dr No.10 made a terrific entrance. The show was sprinkled with some great humour and very wittily written by Russell. All round a great production. Roll on the next series!





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Monday, 26 December 2005 - Reviewed by Paul Condon

As a fanboy of far too many years' standing, I honestly think that the seriously OUTSTANDING David Tennant has the potential to be the best ever Doctor. Forget about my childhood memories of Tom Baker. Forget about the New Adventures version of the 7th Doctor. Forget about re-evaluating Hartnell thanks to the recons and audios.

David Tennant is going to be it, boys and girls. Honestly.

The episode itself was one of the finest bits of family-friendly Christmas Day entertainment that's ever been shown in Britain. A few hours ago, I watched the UK Gold retrospective of the 'best TV Christmas moments' and I'm honestly neither lying nor deluding myself when I say that a similar programme retrospective programme shown next year would DEFINITELY feature The Christmas Invasion in its Top 10. And as for any of those old mizzos who might believe that 'The Feast of Steven' could have been better - well, I listened to the audio and watched the recon earlier today too. It's RUBBISH.

So a huge, HUGE round of applause for Jackie's mountain of carrier bags. Massive cheers for Rose's reborn faith in the Doctor. An enormous guffaw of glee for some fanboy retcon nonsense about how the regeneration process actually works. A high-five for Phil Collinson, Julie Gardner and - of course - the mighty Russell for pulling off an outstanding piece of Joe Public-friendly science fiction that would have kept families up and down the country transfixed. A huge, HUGE sigh of pity for any of you who are so fixated on 'serious' (ie, dull, humourless and tediously self-referential) Doctor Who that you failed to find much to enjoy in tonight's episode.

"No second chances."

For we are, without a doubt, experiencing the best EVER Doctor Who right now. And with David Tennant on board, things are only going to get better.





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Monday, 26 December 2005 - Reviewed by James Main

That was the most spectacularly executed transition from one doctor to another - RTD in his brilliant understanding of Doctor Who used Rose not only to express the viewpoint and feelings of the audience but to direct it and give it a big shove. Rose's distress at losing 'her doctor', suspicion, feelings of being abandoned and cheated with something less that what she had are familiar to any one who saw 'their' doctor go away and be replaced by some weirdo imposter. Billie Piper's role (and that of all the other returning cast members) was to nudge the audience into accepting the new doctor and to sanction our approval when it came... not that we needed any help!

David Tennant is truly wonderful and clearly has a very good idea of what the Doctor should be like without trotting out an imitation of anything that has gone before (a frequent mistake or anyone after Tom Baker). He also comes across as though he is having a whale of a time which makes everything he does all the more watchable. Personally I am over the moon- my kind of Doctor is back... he's witty, quick, fun, has masses of gravitas and huge piercing eyes (and isn't telling everyone to shut-up nor is he wearing a self-consciously modern or macho leather coat).

So much of the special harked back to those parts of the series that made it wonderful...

...a flawed friend in Harriet Jones making the same mistakes that the Brigadier would made every four weeks. Though with RTD's writing and Penelope Wilton's endearing performance the character is so much more understandable - making her divergence from the Doctor's moral stance even more troubling. And what a brilliant and almost chilling demonstration of the power of rumour in the Doctor's 'don't you think she looks tired' term-ending technique - this is great pen vs sword stuff for kids wilst being anything but patronising to adults.

We had the wonderful wierdness of a skinny bloke in jim-jams crossing broad-swords with a caped fleshy fiend miles above London - but played with the same conviction and professionalism that the series started with -before pantomime and camp took over. Great quirky ideas like bood-control and pilot fish designed to enthuse children about biology and the idea that a monster could even be your own race 'defending' itself against a retreating ship.

Mind-expanding, cheerful, fun but without farting or burping (and hopefully none heading our way) and the cybermen, baroque androids and K9 are coming.





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Monday, 26 December 2005 - Reviewed by Russell Thorpe

A fantastic episode which really set the scene for the oncoming series. The highlights for me included: Discovering Torchwood; Seeing UNIT in action; Harriet Jones, who was one of my favourite characters, destroying herself and being traitorous. This was a FANTASTIC plot twist.

However, I cannot help but feel some things really did not work in the favour of the series. The Father Christmases had very little explanation around them, and could have worked a lot more in favour of the script, especially after the hype. The series seemed to be going a lot more star trek orientated with random teleportations moving the storyline along, which shouldn’t be encouraged too often.

By the way, why did Mickey and Harriet understand the english being spoken by the Sycorax? They aren’t involved with the TARDIS.

Also, the Doctor throwing the satsuma at the button to kill off the Sycorax leader was ridiculous. Again, no more deus ex machine, please.

All in all, despite the downfalls I think that this really helped to push along the next slice of Dr Who. The character development for some characters was really good - not (in my opinion) for the Doctor, whose script was embarrassing due to its attempts to be random. This really just doesn’t work as eccentric, which is more how the Doctor needs to come across.








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