It’s Christmas once again, as it dawns on me that we really didn’t have much Doctor Who on our tellies for a good while. If it wasn’t for how busy I’ve been this year, I’d have rattled through the Capaldi years. This is possibly the least Christmassy of all the Christmas specials, given that it was only the pretitles that was set at that time, although it does the Voyage of the Damned thing of instead homaging a festive film genre. And also of being a bit rubbish.
I’m not really into superhero stuff, but Superman is probably the main exception, having watched Lois & Clark as a kid and enjoyed the Christopher Reeve films. There were heavy hints of both of these here, what with the superhero’s mild-mannered glasses-wearing alter ego and the journalist love interest. Grant was a little creepier than Clark though, having become his childhood crush’s nanny primarily so that he can monitor her life from within, trying to keep her to himself. Although admittedly, I did enjoy the joke where he started levitating every time he got an erection.
The Doctor was pretty much a guest in The Ghost’s story – other than accidentally giving him the powers in the first place, it’s mainly about him and
Lois Lucy getting together, with an alien invasion taking place in the background. Said invasion was sort of fine – the unzipping heads were cool and their convoluted plan was entertaining, but it was all just very slight and inconsequential.
Luckily Capaldi was in good form, and the scenes that actually had the Doctor in them were always worth watching for him. I like Nardole here too – I remember not being too enthused on first broadcast, due to how long they left it before clearing up the confusion about why and how he’s there, but now that I know him better, it’s less of an issue on second viewing, and I can enjoy his weird, funny Matt Lucasness. I also like the idea of the Doctor getting himself a robot buddy just to keep him sane – that’s essentially what the Master is in Scream of the Shalka.
But in retrospect, you can see that this episode comes at a weird time for the show, and it feels disconnected from the Doctor’s story. Series 9 was the end point of one part of his life, then the previous Christmas provided resolution for another, but the next chapter doesn’t really start til Bill shows up. Due to the extra year between series, we’re left with this odd orphaned episode, where the Doctor doesn’t seem to have a purpose – the stuff about River is paper-thin, and feels tacked on, because he’s in this holding pattern while he waits the various new story arcs to kick in.
I get that you don’t want to get bogged down in that stuff on Christmas Day, and the episode just about succeeds as a slice of entertainment that you don’t have to think too much about, but that doesn’t make for satisfying Doctor Who when viewed as part of a whole.