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Doctor Who – The Return of Doctor Mysterio (Review)

What is that?

Well, in terms you would understand…

… sorry, there aren’t any.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio feels very much like a return to the aesthetic of the Doctor Who Christmas Specials of the Russell T. Davies era.

Russell T. Davies tended to build his Christmas Specials as blockbuster events, stories featuring gigantic invasions and the end of the world. In some ways, the perfect fodder for a family sitting down after Christmas dinner, half paying attention to the television and very much in need of a plot that was packed with spectacle while moving a mile-a-minute. As a rule, the Russell T. Davies specials did not demand the complete and devoted attention of the best episode, instead feeling more like a lavish desert than a hearty main course.

Here comes a hero.

Here comes a hero.

For Davies, Christmas entertainment itself seemed to be the genre to which he wrote, with his specials very consciously intended to evoke a general mood or feeling of Christmas television. Indeed, Davies would even extend the tone of his specials beyond stereotypical Christmas concerns as in The Christmas Invasion or The Runaway Bride. Voyage of the Damned is the most obvious example, a riff on The Poseidon Adventure and other maritime disaster films that have little directly to do with Christmas but air in constant rotation during the season.

Steven Moffat has tended to use his Christmas Specials as part of larger emotional and story arcs. A Christmas Carol involved some light “timey wimey” stuff. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe built to a big emotional reunion with the Pond family. The Snowmen was all about the Doctor’s angst over the loss of River and the Ponds. The Time of the Doctor was a subversion of the “thirteenth regeneration” story. Last Christmas was very much about Clara. The Husbands of River Song was about saying farewell to River.

No escape.

No escape.

In contrast, the big emotional beats of the Davies Christmas Specials tended to be drawn in broader terms. The departure of Christopher Eccleston meant that The Christmas Invasion had to deal rather directly with the arrival of David Tennant, but the Tenth Doctor’s heartbreak over the loss of Rose played out in the background of The Runaway Bride paying off in one big moment where he repeated her name. The continuity elements in The End of Time, Part I were largely superfluous to the broad storytelling.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio very much evokes to the storytelling sensibilities of the earlier Davies era. Even the story beats harken back to Christmases past. Nardole’s brief closing acknowledgement of River Song evokes the Tenth Doctor’s brief closing acknowledgement of Rose in The Christmas Invasion. The action climax of the Doctor on the bridge of a crashing alien ship hurdling towards a major metropolis feels lifted from Voyage of the Damned. However, there is also the fact that The Return of Doctor Mysterio is a broadly-drawn superhero film.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't...

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

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