Unabashedly riffing on the Marvel universe, writer/director Moffat (Sherlock) leaps off from The Husbands of River Song (the previous Christmas special and series 9, heart-breaking finale) to set up the new episodes to come in series 10… and not too subtly to suggest where it is all heading. Despite the somber direction indicated, this romp is an amusing one and one that only barely brushes the holiday as a plot point. There isn’t much added to the Who universe with this installment, but it seems an important stepping stone.
Justin Chatwin (American Gothic) and Charity Wakefield (Close to the Enemy) do their best Superman/Lois Lane impressions , with a bit of Batman thrown in on Chatwin’s part (yes, all oddly DC in balance to the Marvel references). They play it for style and laughs, but still manage to make a connection. Matt Lucas (Alice Through the Looking Glass) was a good sidekick, though largely unneeded other than as a second set of hands and humorous foil. And the more generally unknown to English speaking audiences, Aleksandar Jovanovic (Collide) was just odd enough to feel alien.
This is also the most successful US partnership story the series has managed. It felt right rather than staged or forced, as so many of the American cross-overs have been. The lack of results before was likely because of their typically period nature and use of all British actors rather than American. Having Chatwin in the main role helped a lot this round.
What this holiday gift highlights again, however, is Moffat’s substitution of freneticism over story. He has never quite learned how to give his episodes space, but prefers rapid fire exchanges of dialogue that are entertaining, but don’t let you catch your breath. Russell Davies was much better at this during his original tenure, building complex stories with lots of meat and emotion, and still finding the tension and humor. You would finish a Davies series wrung out but with a story you wanted to see again. Moffat leaves me tired, but wondering if I want to get back on the ride or just move forward.
This is Moffat’s last season as show-runner… and series 9 was significantly better than he’d managed before, but I’m hoping this installment isn’t indicative of what we have to expect for his exit. I’d like to see the hand-off go out on a high note rather than sigh of relief on my part. If this is any indication, it could go either way. But at least he provided a bit of fun after a year-long hiatus. Series 10 launches in May…so not too much longer to wait!