When the trailers came out for this one people really said they looked awful and the idea of Doctor Who doing a superhero story is just a silly one. Now I agree with this sentiment especially after Hell Bent was awful and faith has been lost in Steven Moffat and his writing which has had its ups and downs over the last several years. I was still determined to be optimistic with the hope that the story could actually be good and maybe surprise us with the twists and turns it could give, but was ready if it didn’t turn out to be very good. I saw it the day after Christmas and was severely disappointed from my very low expectations of the story, and surprised again that people praise this one for being good. The plot isn’t a bad idea, with a pastiche of Christopher Reeve Superman films which could work for an episode of Doctor Who, nothing would be classic, but it could work. It’s Christmas 2016 in New York City, an evil corporation is stealing brains of unsuspecting people and preparing to take over the minds of the world’s leaders. That alone would make a good plot to a story, but Moffat decides to complicate things with the plot of the Ghost and his love life which has nothing to add to the existing story archetype. It’s just doing the Superman story but in the Doctor Who universe which makes a sixty minute story a drag to get through. I’m going to say it now however as not everything was bad in this story.
The one thing the episode does perfectly is take the basic premise of Aliens of London and World War Three and improves upon them. Seriously the villains’ plan in this is the same plan as the Slitheen from that story, but here we can take them seriously for one reason. The villains of Harmony Shoal, while not the Brains of Morphoton from The Keys of Marinus as many are speculating, are properly scary. They have an appearance that will terrify children and adults alike and is an idea that really works for Doctor Who. While the blood dripping out is blue and the eye flashing thing is almost too much of a giveaway as to who is controlled by the villains, the fact that there is blood and the heads open up is what makes them work as villains. The biggest flaw is that when thought about a lot of their secrecy doesn’t make much sense as the map shows them as being all around the world, but if they’re all taking over others’ bodies in each location they should have been discovered by now. Peter Capaldi is also a delight in this episode, for the most part. Capaldi is great outside of the first fifteen minutes or so and the scenes where he’s depressed over River Song’s death. They feel for the first time for a story with Capaldi, to be forced in his line delivery. It isn’t convincing in the slightest and just doesn’t feel like the Doctor. Outside of this however, Peter Capaldi is still a joy to watch and makes things much easier to get through when a lot of the bad elements of the story come through.
The biggest problems with this story is that, well to be honest, it feels like a first draft and director Ed Bazalgette (who directs the story just like his Class episodes which are really poorly directed) and writer Steven Moffat are inexcusable for going over the script and changing it. The first ten minutes of the story and several times are flashbacks to Grant, aka the Ghost, growing up and the Doctor being a sort of mentor for him. Now I actually like the opening as while Capaldi is awkward the most, if this was framed in a different way it would actually work. The editing of the story doesn’t integrate these flashbacks well into the episode, and it would have worked better if the story was a mystery about who the Ghost was, instead of if we knew. It should have focused on the Doctor, Nardole, and Lucy Fletcher figuring out Harmony Shoal and the Ghost and that first flashback could have been a big reveal. It would have improved a lot of the pacing problems with the story which is what makes the plot itself not work. They could have done a little nod to The Face of Evil where it turns out that the Doctor Grant met was for the Doctor, when he disappears for a bit in Deep Breath.
The acting and the characters of the story don’t help matters though. Justin Chatwin as Grant/the Ghost is awful. Chatwin acts with his forehead and almost all his line delivery comes across as flat. He isn’t a good actor and the role doesn’t work for him, but he’s still somehow a big name to people. The character also is a bit too forced with the whole he’s a nanny with a wacky secret identity. Charity Wakefield, who is a much better actor, as Lucy Fletcher is also bland for different reasons. Wakefield knows how to act and has chemistry with most of the other actors, but the character of Lucy Fletcher is just a bland person. Sure she’s got a bit of character, but her problem is that she doesn’t seem to wish to react to things as they go on around her. Matt Lucas returns as Nardole from The Husbands of River Song. He was there. To be honest he was bland here, but there was one or two lines I remembered and found funny. Hopefully the character will develop as he appears more, but here he’s just an exposition machine with a bit of relief thrown in on the side.
To summarize, The Return of Doctor Mysterio is another attempt by Steven Moffat to be a good writer, and good ideas are there, but they aren’t developed enough to do anything. The story feels like it is the first draft of the script overall doesn’t work. Some of the things are really well done, but it doesn’t do much to be very good. 35/100.