After the soul-searching and pushing too far of the final three episodes of the season, this is exactly what both the Doctor and the series need – a fun romp with some laugh aloud moments, a bad guy who’s clearly that, Capaldi stretching some of his comedy muscles… and some terrific chemistry between him and Alex Kingston. Those who are concerned about how this fits in River’s timeline (and the whole Doctor vs. River timeline issue in fact) will find some, if not most, of their questions answered… and I suspect you’ll come away hoping to see more of River and the 12th Doctor together.
This is far more in the mould of The Runaway Bride than any of the other Christmas specials, and given it hasn’t got to regenerate the Doctor or potentially write out any major companions (as Last Christmas so easily could have done), the time spent setting those elements up is devoted to madcap antics. If you’re not into screwball comedy, then this may grate a bit, but there are some serious moments – and the loss of Clara is addressed, albeit a little obliquely. You certainly don’t need to know the ins and outs of the past series!
Greg Davies and Matt Lucas do exactly what’s required of them – neither is given the world’s most serious dramatic role to perform! – but the focus is on Capaldi and Kingston. Douglas Mackinnon paces things well, allowing the emotional moments the space they need while keeping up a frenetic speed elsewhere.
Verdict: Certainly the most fun Christmas Special in many years, this is a great reminder of how Doctor Who can change tone without feeling forced. 9/10