The Doctor joins forces with a masked Superhero for an epic New York adventure!
With brain-swapping aliens poised to attack, the Doctor and Nardole link up with an investigative reporter and a mysterious figure known only as The Ghost…
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Return of Doctor Mysterio.
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Nardole – Matt Lucas
Grant – Justin Chatwin
Lucy – Charity Wakefield
Mr Brock – Tomiwa Edun
Dr Sim – Aleksandar Jovanovic
Young Grant – Logan Hoffman
Teen Grant – Daniel Lorente
Reporter – Sandra Teles
Operator – Tanroh Ishida
Soldier – Vaughn Johseph
Producer: Peter Bennett
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Ed Bazalgette
Original Broadcast: 25 December 2016
After a year-long hiatus that I personally blame for everything that’s happened in 2016, Doctor Who makes its return to the airwaves with a light-hearted Christmas episode that has very little to do with the holiday season. The Return of Doctor Mysterio is a simple and straight-forward affair, a superhero stories riddled with Silver Age clichés involving aliens with a flimsy plan for world domination crossed with a sappy love story. It’s not the most memorable or top-flight episode. Instead, The Return of Doctor Mysterio serves as a light appetizer that sates the 12-month hunger in anticipation for the upcoming season.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, a young child named Grant has a chance Christmas Eve meeting on a rooftop with a strange alien. The alien, a strange being who Grant christens Doctor Mysterio, possesses a gemstone that utilizes the power of a distant star to grant whoever holds it their fondest wish. Upon accidentally swallowing the gemstone, the crystal bounds with Grant’s DNA, thus providing him with his greatest desire – the power to be a superhero!
In modern day New York, intrepid reporter Lucy Fletcher is digging into the background of Harmony Shoals, a seemingly benevolent multinational research corporation that hides a dark secret. Joined in her investigations by a mysterious man calling himself the Doctor, it appears that their attempts to uncover the truth will lead to their demise at the hands of Harmony Shoals’ true caretakers, an alien race with a diabolical scheme to take over the Earth! Only one person can assist Lucy and the Doctor to bring the aliens’ mad plan to a screeching halt – the super-powered vigilante known only as THE GHOST!
This is Steven Moffat’s seventh Doctor Who Christmas special, as well as the first original episode of the series to air in over a year (I’m not counting the restoration of The Power of the Daleks). It would be very easy for one to think “THIS is the episode it took a year to write? Man, Season 4 of Sherlock better be the television equivalent of Crime and Punishment.” The plot of The Return of Doctor Mysterio is right out of a comic book – boy gains superpowers, boy grows into man, man becomes hero, hero keeps secret identity from the love of his life, hero saves the world – with elements of Doctor Who spliced into provide just a little bit of meta awareness without going overboard. Moffat doesn’t dig too deep into his bag of tricks for this one. There aren’t any time travel motifs that require flowcharts to understand, nor are there any repeated mantras or everyday objects made creepy. The threatening aliens are the “split their own head open aliens” from The Husbands of River Song who call themselves the Shoal of the Winter Harmony. Their plan to take over the world…it’s original, though the more one thinks about it the more unlikely it becomes. Most of the aspects of the Ghost and Lucy Fletcher are lifted directly from Richard Donner’s film version of Superman, down to the rooftop interview and the hero, whose civilian persona is a part of the reporter’s everyday life, hiding his identity behind a pair of glasses. The dialogue is fast and pithy, the stakes are ridiculously high, and the climax all comes down to the Ghost/Grant doing something that would be absolutely eye-rolling in any other situation but absolutely perfect for this episode, even if the actual denouement is a bit too rushed and pat for my tastes.
Straight forward, clichéd, non-offensive…and it’s NOT a bad thing. Moffat isn’t trying to rewrite the comic book movie, he’s paying homage to it. The Return of Doctor Mysterio is light-hearted fun, which is a nice contrast to the ultra-heavy DC Universe movies that have come out in the past years. It also serves to poke fun at some of the comic book clichés, like the geeky guy pining for the girl for years on end also with juggling being a superhero while also being the nanny to an infant (“Some situations are just TOO stupid to be allowed go on!”).
After his turn as Goku in the cinematic disaster that was Dragonball Evolution, Justin Chatwin (who also starred in four season of Shameless) nails both the over-the-top earnest nature of the hero called the Ghost and the mild mannerisms of Grant Gordon, supernanny, bouncing effortlessly between the two with a low-key energy. Although the Nice Guy tropes seep in and make Gordon come off as a little creepy, which thankfully the Doctor calls him out on.
Grant: A couple of years after high school, I ran into her again. She even remembered me.
The Doctor: Oh, that was lucky.
Grant: And I was with my best friend at the time, and she couldn’t take her eyes off him.
The Doctor: Okay.
Grant: Love at first sight.
The Doctor: Right.
Grant: Then marriage, then a baby… and then he ran off with someone else.
The Doctor: Leaving, I suppose, the field open for you to move in…
The Doctor: …and care for the child she’d had by another man.
The Doctor: So she could keep working and possibly date other friends of yours.
Grant: Pretty much.
The Doctor: You tiger! Thank you.
Grant: Who are you thanking?
The Doctor: The universe. There’s somebody worse at this than me.
Fortunately the chemistry between Chatwin and Charity Wakefield as Lucy Fletcher helps balance that factor out. Wakefield plays the part of the intrepid reporter to a T – inquisitive, clever, daring, and failing to notice the biggest story in the city is staring her RIGHT in the face from behind a pair of glasses. But more importantly, Lucy introduces what just might be the most promising new character of the upcoming series…
I love the look on Capaldi’s face. It’s like the Doctor’s finally seen something he’s never seen before.
When it was revealed that Matt Lucas would be returning to the show as Nardole, the fans were…a little split. Aside from the fact that Nardole had his HEAD CUT OFF in The Husbands of River Song, to some Lucas is an acquired taste. Fortunately, Nardole turns out to be a strong counterpart to the Doctor as the pair engage in some perfectly-timed-for-Christmas panto back-and-forth dialogue and styling. He also gets a “companion” moment by being grabbed and put in peril by the rubber arm of an alien reaching through a door to grab him as well as getting a heroic moment when he saves the Doctor from Harmony Shoals by materializing the TARDIS around him.
After the final scene with the Doctor and River in The Husbands of River Song, it was great to see Peter Capaldi come out with a smile on his face in full-on Doctor mode. Capaldi just seems to be having a lot of fun with this episode as he engages in the standard Doctor clichés – showing up suddenly and acting like he owns the place, drawing strangers into his orbit by being both charming and infuriating, giving the bad guys one chance to run before he stops them, defending the Earth on Christmas, and calling people out on their stupidity when given the opportunity.
Moffat could have given fans a dour and brooding Doctor, one who spent the past twenty-four years with River Song before she died. Instead, we get a madly dashing Doctor whose best plan to stop a spaceship from crashing into New York City is to do something completely unexpected (“What’s Plan B?” “I don’t know, but it’s going to be a very big relief when I think of it!”). After everything with Clara, Me, and River Song, it really feels like the Doctor has managed to move on to a new chapter…which is weirdly Moffat’s final chapter.
Things end. That’s all. Everything ends. And it’s always sad. But everything begins again too, and that’s always happy. Be happy. I’ll look after everything else.
The Return of Doctor Mysterio is just that – the return of the Doctor to our televisions, with a light-hearted, low-stakes, and just plain fun episode. Nothing heavy, nothing draining, just a madman, his box. In short, everything Doctor Who can and should be, but with the added bonus of a superhero saving New York City.
– The scene where the Ghost takes his mask off and Charity keeps missing the fact that it’s really Grant made me chuckle.
– The Doctor is on the roof of Grant’s New York apartment building to fix the time distortions caused by the events The Angels Take Manhattan.
– Lucy Fletcher’s maiden name? Lucy Lombard. Lois Lane anyone?
– I appreciated how Brock suggests the reporters at the press conference throw their questions to “Miss Shuster and Ms. Siegel.” Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are known as the creators of Superman.
– Oh, and the Harmony Shoals building, with the big globe on top? Come on, it’s The Daily Planet!
– Hey look, it’s UNIT! And one of them dies almost immediately!
Cobi’s Synopsis – The Silver Age shines through as The Return of Doctor Mysterio pays homage to comic books with a light-hearted episode bursting with superhero clichés and thrilling heroics.