THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE. BE ADVISED.
If there ever were a year we needed both the Doctor and a superhero, 2016 is it. Perhaps fittingly, in the calendar year since the last episode of Doctor Who, so much utter garbage and needless darkness has taken hold, and not even the world of fiction could really make us feel happier, brighter, more hopeful (sorry, Rogue One). So on Christmas, with the sigh of “finally” exiting my body following 365 days without Peter Capaldi‘s Time Lord, we get “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” a light, funny, exciting, and most importantly hope-filled adventure.
Since it has been so long since new Doctor Who (save for the excellent old-new premiere of animated “Power of the Daleks“), let’s get everybody back up to speed: the Doctor is a millennia-old Time Lord with a blue box called a TARDIS that travels in time and sp– too far back? Okay. At the end of Series 9, Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor lost his companion Clara, spent millions of years trying to find her, found her and Gallifrey again, but ultimately had to forget her for the sake of the universe. Then, a mere couple weeks later, he reunited with River Song (and the Husbands of Her) only to be forced to spend a final 24-year-long day with her.
So that’s where the Doctor is at the beginning of “The Return of Doctor Mysterio,” but it takes quite a while into the episode to see any outward signs. After accidentally bestowing a kid with super powers, the Doctor returns in after the kid is an adult (Justin Chatwin) who does double duty as a nanny and a superhero called the Ghost. The object of his affection/his employer is the savvy reporter Lucy (Charity Wakefield), who evidently can’t tell her nanny is the superhero (in a very funny reference to Superman’s Lois Lane). An alien invasion plot is there, because otherwise there’d be no show, and Nardole (Matt Lucas) returns because the Doctor needs someone to talk to, even if the BBC refused to say he was a pseudo-companion. (Probably because he’s an ACTUAL companion.)
What I hadn’t expected, though I absolutely should have, is that even though there are aliens and superheroes, Steven Moffat‘s seventh Christmas special is at its heart a rom-com. It’s all about a dork who gets superpowers, and acts like the heroes he reads about in comics, but can’t muster the courage to tell someone he’s in love with that he’s in love with them. It gives the Doctor the great position to kind of be the unqualified giver of love advice, resulting in a very funny line where Capaldi thanks the universe there’s someone worse at romance than he. While I think parts of Lucy’s character seem contrived and fall pretty close to Moffat’s usual writing of a tough and sexy woman–she just suddenly realizes her feelings, doing the Nicole Kidman thing from Batman Forever? Come on!–the ultimate center of the story is that you can’t see what’s literally right in front of your face, and don’t necessarily appreciate it until it’s almost gone for good. And that’s a nice, if seemingly naive, stance for these troubled times.
We don’t see it right away, but we do eventually see the toll the last few stories–and the years he spent with River that last day–have taken on him. He’s legitimately sad, and putting on a brave face only because he’s the Doctor. We even learn that he put Nardole back together just to have someone to talk to. (Sidenote: he must have given Nardole a bit of a mental pick-me-up because he’s much more capable and less thick than he was in “Husbands.”) The end of the episode, though, solidifies that maybe the Doctor’s more heartbroken at never seeing River again than we thought. However, his final little speech–delivered brilliantly as always by Capaldi–which tells that things end and are sad, but beginnings are a reason to be happy, speaks to the resilience, the pluck, the ultimate positivity of the character and the show, which is extremely Christmassy, even if the episode as a whole is not.
While not as sci-fi heavy as “Last Christmas” nor as rompy and heart-string-pulling as “The Husbands of River Song,” “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is exactly the kind of adventure story we need for a Christmas Day. It tells us we don’t need superpowers or a mask and cape to be heroic, and that the bravest thing you can do is speak your mind and stand up to the bullies of this world. That’s what Doctor Who is, and I for one have badly needed it.
4 out of 5 heroic burritos
Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor and the resident Whovian for Nerdist. Follow him on Twitter!