Channel: BBC One
Recurring Cast: Peter Capaldi, Justin Chatwin, Charity Wakefield, Matt Lucas
It must be said that there isn’t a lot of Christmas in the latest Christmas special of Doctor Who. The episode opens with the Doctor ending up in a little boy’s bedroom on the night of Christmas Eve, in the middle of a never-explained big adventure. Of course, the boy assumes that the Doctor is Santa Claus. The next five minutes go through the Doctor doing his usual thing of bouncing witticisms and Sci-Fi mumbo-jumbo with a bemused person who the Doctor probably only half-realises is there. In the fun of the chaotic exchange, the boy swallows a gemstone that grants him one Christmas wish. That wish is to be gifted with superhero powers.
And then we are in a cross between a cheesy Superhero origin story ripped straight from a 1950s Superman comic and the usual brand of Doctor Who madness. Christmas is all but forgotten with the exception of the odd reference and the occasional piece of snow. Interestingly the action has been shifted from the UK to New York City, probably to explain that while the Doctor seems fixated on a single planet, he doesn’t necessarily always end up in London. The Christmas side of things supposedly comes into play on the tone, rather than the story. Christmas is a time for being close to the ones you love, an interesting concept as we find the Doctor between companions, and also a regular plot point in modern superhero tales. We are also going for a happy-go-lucky thrill ride rather than a dark, despairing tale of Doctor Who against overwhelming odds. We are at the point in the Christmas special era of Doctor Who where we are comfortable with this style of writing and therefore, when the episode evolves into little more than an amusing tale about the Doctor butting into the life of a nanny who has a crush on his client by day, and becomes the superhero Ghost at night, we are not disappointed in the lack of depth. In fact, the Doctor seems content to operate on the side-lines, doing his usual trick of unpredictable monologuing and sharp thinking, while the drama is left between a blossoming romance from the guest stars. It is predictable, mushy stuff, and the kind of light-hearted fluff that won’t stand out in anyone’s memory, but it does slap a smile on your face on Christmas Day, so what else can an audience ask for?
Everything else kind of falls into place around it. The focus is the comedy of a superhero living a double life. Most of the writer’s efforts have gone into developing the chemistry between Wakefield and Chatwin. It works, some of the better gags coming from the pair of them, which is saying a lot when you have Peter Capaldi on his usual fine form, strutting around the place. The villains are the usual disposable lot you would expect. Shady men in suits with suspicious surgical scars around their heads. There is an absence of the kind of minor chills that we used to get from the earlier, scary days of Doctor Who. The surgeons that emotionlessly carry out their master’s tasks, as well as the hollow drones lumbering after the Doctor, would have been a playground for Russell. T. Davies, allowing him to echo the Vashta Nerada or the gas mask children. Now, they seem strangely efficient, like a necessary plot point to get the story moving. Perhaps this is the TV executives worried about Christmas viewing more than the writers missing an easy trick. That being said we never show up for the villains anyway. It doesn’t matter if the Doctor is taking on the Daleks, a new foe or a generic greedy alien, the Doctor always offers us a good laugh. The little things make this episode, like Matt Lucas echoing the mind-set of a toddler, the Doctor proudly discovering that Clark Kent is Superman or a horrendously effective interrogation tool owned by Charity Wakefield’s reporter.
Final Verdict: Disposable, easy viewing. Nothing fancy, but then again, we rather the efforts went into the upcoming tenth season rather than the Christmas starter.