If the currently running raft of Marvel films and DC superhero shows on US television are taking a fresh look at the superhero genre and the , this on trend Xmas Special harks back to its roots and the old secret identity angle. The villain’s plan is right out of a comic book and the visual representation of New York looks great (even if the cars are driving too slowly). The result is a brisk production that doesn’t dwell on the festive season and delivers a clever entertaining take on familiar ideas.
Spoilers beyond this point.
“I’ve been away for a while” says the Doctor as if addressing the viewer who has waited a full year for a new episode. And it’s been quite a year too, a year when perhaps you might expect the idea of a hero would be needed more than usual. And we get two for the price of one!
In the only mention of Christmas it is at that time of year that Grant Gordon first encounters the Doctor back in 1992 when the Time Lord is hanging upside down outside his bedroom window. Grant’s only a child but not a weird one like Amy was. Delightfully his off screen mum thinks the Doctor is Santa while young Grant upon being handed a crystal and a glass of water by a `Doctor` promptly swallows the former! Ok it’s slightly odd and relies on the sort of observational comedy that Steven Moffat built his career on but it made me smile. Plus Moffat does include a scene with the Doctor looking at an old Superman comic and pointing out the flaws in the whole secret identity thing which the production then proceeds to deliver!
I could just have carried on watching this set up for longer than the lengthy pre titles sequence if only because it is so winningly played by Peter Capaldi at his best. Steven Moffatt is on witty form with all the gloom of last season replaced by some well observed riffs on superhero motifs even cheekily using levitation as a metaphor for something else entirely while the Doctor remains irritated by the whole scenario. It’s a reminder that when he’s just trying to entertain us rather than show us how clever he can be with ideas, Moffat’s Doctor Who works much better. The result too is in one of Peter Capaldi’s most versatile performances in the role in which he balances his alien abrasiveness with some wonderful asides and looks. This suggests he may have finally settled into a persona we can fully love after the extremes of his first two seasons.
|"I'm not sure Sky have fitted it properly..."|
Nardole’s much discussed return is so casually handled it’s almost as if he’s just strolled on set to make observations which are light and not in the least bit annoying as people expected them to be. I don’t know if it will wear out its welcome but it works a treat here adding a different perspective to the adventure as well as seemingly looking after the Doctor. He is certainly a fresh approach to the companion role. Watching Matt Lucas’ off beat delivery together with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor you can see why the idea appealed.
As the Clark and Lois of this situation Justin Chatwin and Charity Wakefield manage to make an unbelievable situation believable, surely the aim in this sort of role. Grant’s real life persona is extremely mild mannered while his superhero mode is resolutely deep voiced and powerful. Lucy’s reporting zeal is nicely reflected in her dealings with everyone especially a funny scene where she tries to coax information from the Doctor by squeezing a toy that makes a whining noise! Both guest actors also play a rooftop scene that brings to a head the separate identities issue so well making what could be an awkward narrative moment sing.
It's another excellent looking production with New York reproduced faithrfuly. The villains of the piece are brains in jars but not those ones from the Sixties- for a moment I thought that’s what they meant when they mentioned recurring monsters. The opening of the heads is certainly a strong visual but the real jump off your seat moment is when a pair of eyes pop out of a brain.
This is a production that manages to be both knowing and charming at once, presenting plot devices we’re familiar with yet giving them a fresh spin. Kind of like Xmas really.