It’s been an entire year since “The Husbands of River Song” first aired, and in that time, there has been no other Doctor Who at all, until now with “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”. It’s been a very noticeable gap. Since Doctor Who returned in 2005, there hasn’t been another year quite like this one. There have been years with a smaller-than-usual number of episodes, but never one with an episode count of only one (not even the so-called “gap year” in 2009 had so few episodes). Indeed, this is the first time two Christmas specials come back-to-back in episode order.
However, a long gap can increase the desire to see new episodes and that certainly was the case with me. I was eager to watch “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” as soon as it aired. But I was also worried. I had to watch it at my parents’ place, which meant making them watch it too, and my parents have little love for Doctor Who these days (despite my mom being a big fan of the original series). By the end of the episode, my fears were confirmed. My parents talked quite a bit about just how terrible the show is these days, and there wasn’t much I could say to argue with them because I kind of agreed—for this episode, at least.
On initial viewing, I was not that impressed by “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”. However, on a second viewing a couple days later, my opinion improved somewhat (which is a trend I’ve noticed happening with episodes by Steven Moffat). I found more things to like about it, even though my initial issues remained.
It’s not really that bad an episode. There have certainly been far worse ones, but there have also been much better ones, too. For a Christmas episode, it does what it needs to do, which is provide light-hearted entertainment and be accessible to casual viewers. It has lots of fun moments, with some knowing nods to superhero tropes. Yet at the same time, it has some rather paper-thin characterisations and alien villains that manage to be both creepy and boring (their basic concept is creepy, but they have no personality). Overall, it’s a rather mediocre episode and not one that’s likely to prove all that memorable, but it is enjoyable.