The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Posted in Episode by - December 26, 2016
The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Aired 25 December 2016

It’s been full calendar year since Doctor Who has aired a new episode, but despite the inherent pressures of any episode and the immensely-popular Christmas slot, in particular, ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ benefits from not having to pick up on a current companion’s plot arc or to set up or handle a regeneration as others have before it. Indeed, with only a fleeting scene where the Doctor is mistaken for Santa and only a couple of quick references to last year’s ‘The Husbands of River Song,’ this is perhaps the least Christmas-themed and the most standalone of the festive specials yet as Steven Moffat crafts a loving homage to American superheroes.

The festive holiday period provides the perfect time to experiment with the fundamentally ridiculous nature of the superhero genre, the spirit of the season bringing out the inner child in viewers more than any other time of the year. Quite wisely, though, the focus of the tale is very much on Grant Gordon and his misguided attempts to get nearer to his lifelong crush, reporter Lucy Fletcer, while also making the world a safer place as his Superman-eque alter ego, The Ghost. Again, rather than overtly focusing on a complicated origin story for this anomalous human, the explanation is quick and light-hearted but nonetheless effective as the Doctor’s plans go awry in front of Grant as a child, allowing for the emotions of Grant and Lucy twenty-four years later to take centre stage. The fact that the child Grant is a nanny to is actually Lucy’s from a previous marriage adds an immensely complex facet to the classic relationship issues that are a highlight of Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane who all get explicitly name-checked quite early on, but the brief running time does mean that Lucy’s eventual reciprocation of Grant’s feelings comes off as a bit rushed rather than fully understandable and earned.

Indeed, an hour is an incredibly short time to set up a new superhero, his love interest, and an alien incursion, and so many fascinating aspects appear all too briefly as a result. The scenes in which Lucy touches upon the Doctor’s loneliness and remorse and the issues of the Doctor’s gemstone giving Grant what it thinks he wants rather than what he perhaps actually needs are prime examples, each of which could have been explored more substantially had the chosen tone been more intimate and the running time longer. More successfully, the requisite alien invasion plot is also a secondary plot strand, likely for the best given the rather silly notion of sentient brains trying to infiltrate the bodies of Earth’s most powerful and prominent figures. Even with the threat of the alien spaceship crashing into New York City to set the invasion plans into action, the Doctor never seems truly concerned, even bringing sushi along to his initial recon trip and saving the day by essentially pressing an array of buttons randomly. It all plays into the light-hearted nature an episode buoyed by an emotional core, allowing Peter Capaldi to once more showcase his tremendous versatility as an actor while Justin Chatwin and Charity Wakefield match him stride for stride.

Although ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ will likely not be remembered as an all-time classic episode, it successfully combines Doctor Who and the ever-popular superhero genre to superb effect. While there are easily enough intriguing ideas to warrant a feature-film length, this look into the life of Grant Gordon nonetheless provides a very enjoyable tale that proves how variable Doctor Who can be while further whetting the appetite for the upcoming full series of adventures.

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