The Doctor returns to modern day New York to investigate the strange goings-on at global enterprise Harmony Shoal, a supposedly altruistic company which may have less than stellar motives for its business plan. Of course, this isn’t the Doctor’s first visit to the city: he’s battled Daleks there, lost two companions to Weeping Angels and a couple of decades ago had an encounter with a young sick child called Grant… one that didn’t go quite according to plan… then again, what does when the Doctor’s involved?
The company has also got the attention of a reporter and single-mother named Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield) and she encounters the Doctor as they both sneak around the vast corridors of the New York skyscraper in search of answers. But when they are discovered, it isn’t the Time Lord who proves the hero of the hour… it’s New York’s latest superhero The Ghost. Lucy is fascinated with getting the lowdown on the high-flying masked avenger and the Doctor is also determined to find out the truth. Because the cosmic traveller is familiar with people who wear all sorts of masks and knows that the superhero before him is the the young boy he met long ago… and the consequences of what’s happened since may all be down to him!
As Grant (Justin Chadwick) juggles his day-job and his night-time vigilante activities, can he, the Doctor and Lucy come together to defeat an alien conspiracy designed to bring the world to its knees?
And so this is Christmas… and what would the festive day be without a slice of action adventure designed for the whole family? Wiping away the various downbeat and cynical moments of the past year, of which there have been so many) the Doctor delivers just the right amount of tasty medicine suitable for the day. The show has been known for its touches of darkness and angst in recent years (Capaldi’s run starting out quite dark before levelling out ) but the actor also knows how to channel the likes of Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton and Matt Smith when needed and it’s hard to not to find the combined might of his furrowed attack-eyebrows and wide cheesy grin a winning combination.
The villains of the piece are actually bottled-brains with beady eyes, the kind of creations that requires only limited special-effects to work but which are likely to make kiddie-winks just scared enough to laugh nervously as the family tuck into a second helping of Christmas munchies. Of course, the brains need ‘vehicles’ and these come in the form of the humanoid guest-stars (mainly Doctor Sim – Aleksandar Jovanovic – and Mr Brock – Tomiwa Edun) who stride around menacingly and occasionally disconnect their facial features in a way that recalls an upgrade to the more ‘zippery’ Slitheen effects.
Matt Lucas makes his second appearance as Nardole in the show – his first being last year’s Christmas special The Husbands of River Song – and he’ll also continue in to episodes of the next season. Though he’s there as the straight-man and victim of the Doctor’s barbs, there’s thankfully a bit more to him than simple comic-relief. Though it’s only touched on in passing, essentially he’s the Doctor valet rather companion, there to do his bidding but also to give him a River Song kick to the conscience if gets too isolated or indifferent.
Canadian actor Justin Chatwin (War of the Worlds, Shameless and one of the few to escape the lukewarm reception for the Dragonball live action cinema outing of 2009) makes a great hero but a better everyman, clearly enjoying hamming it up as the empowered ‘Ghost’ but even more successful as the mild-mannered nanny-by-day.
Yes, once again, showrunner and scribe Steven Moffat mixes and matches some of the familiar elements we’ve seen before but he does so with a lightness of touch that seems suited for the Christmas special and ti would take a Grinch to deny that as family fun they work well. The many, many easter-eggs (if that’s not an inappropriate seasonal description) from the world of comics are there and die-hard fans will find a whole range of reasons to smile alongside the more obvious name-checks.
Despite the lack of overt Yuletide elements on show, the spirit (or the Ghost) is willing and on that level, The Return of Doctor Mysterio is blueprinted for Christmas and is a welcome addition to the schedules…