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Thursday, 11 January 2018

Doctor Who - Christmas 2016: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Episode:827|Serial:264|Writer:Steven Moffat|Air Date:25-Dec-2016

This Christmas on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about a Doctor Who Christmas special again!

Well, the review was supposed to be done by Christmas anyway. I was aiming for Christmas Day and missed, though that's probably for the best now that I think about it. Two Doctor Who Christmas special posts coming out on consecutive Christmases is dangerously close to becoming a tradition and I'm not keen on getting stuck in traditions. I might even write about the next one at Easter or something just to mix things up. That seems like a good time for a story about rebirth.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio is actually the very next episode after the previous Christmas ep, The Husbands of River Song, as they apparently forgot to air a series of Doctor Who during 2016. It was a leap year too, so that means 365 days between episodes; the longest hiatus since the big one between 1989 and 2005 (the 1996 TV movie doesn't count because it's a movie). That's why it's the Return of Doctor Mysterio by the way.

Though Peter Capaldi had actually been back for a while by the time this entered production, as it was filmed during the production of the 2017 series, between Knock Knock and Oxygen. Must have been weird for them to film an episode without Pearl Mackie around.

Uh, I mean Pearl Mackie, who's that? Never heard of her. I don't even know who Jodie Whittaker is mate. This review only features SPOILERS for this episode and the ones that came before it (Christmas specials especially) and I'll not even be hinting about anything that comes after. Except for a few paragraphs back where I hinted that the next Christmas special is about Jodie Whittaker becoming the next Doctor, which you of course know already.

Man, I said 'Christmas' nine times already and it's only the intro, that's a bit worrying. Ten now.



The episode begins with the camera flying into this array of images that's presumably supposed to resemble a page from a comic book, but doesn't. I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong with it, maybe it's the layout, maybe it's the way the speech bubbles are all escaping into other panels, or perhaps it's the Comic Sans text, but this isn't what comics look like. Not an encouraging sign, considering it's an episode inspired by superhero stories about a hero inspired by superhero stories. You'd hope that the people involved would 'get' the subject.

You might have also spotted that the panels are just random scenes that don't tell any kind of story. I think that's because they're all glimpses of scenes to come... but it's been a year since I last watched this so I couldn't say for sure. "Stop him!" guy doesn't seem familiar at all.

The camera flies through a panel labelled 'That night...' and ends up in present-day New York. I can tell because of the smoky manholes, the yellow cabs, the skyline, and a big US flag. I've already spotted my first superhero reference too, as there's a Joe's Pizza down there, which is where Peter Parker works in Spider-Man 2. The first Spider-Man 2 I mean, with Tobey Maguire.

Though what you're looking at here is actually a backlot in Bulgaria, as that presumably worked out cheaper than flying over to film in the actual New York. Either that or it's become impossible to shoot over there now without accidentally catching Luke Cage or Jessica Jones etc. filming their episodes in the background. That's the trouble with every superhero living in the same city (even Gotham and Metropolis are both New York really).

The camera moves to enter the apartment of… some guy. But he's asleep right now, so the camera decides to enter his dreams for a bit, which then brings us into a flashback to when he was a kid and saw the Doctor swinging upside down outside an entirely different bedroom that was considerably further from the ground.

In the flashback inside the dream inside the comic the Doctor is currently suspended outside the 60th floor of a skyscraper with comedy spy music playing. But the rope around his ankles is beginning to snap and it's clear that if he doesn't get the immediate assistance of the young kid on the other side of the glass, he's going to wake up covered in blood and looking like Jodie Whittaker.

The kid (Grant) runs off to wake his mom up to ask if the old guy in the red coat who's come down from the roof on the night before Christmas can come in... and then he comes back with milk and cookies. Yeah okay, that joke worked, I smiled. And yet again the Doctor gets one over on his rival Santa Claus by swiping his snack. Sure Santa in Last Christmas turned out to be an imaginary character that only existed in their shared dream, but this is a dream too!

First time I watched this I figured the Doctor must have placed himself into this alleged danger deliberately to get Grant to let him in for entirely heroic sci-fi reasons to be revealed later, but nope he just got caught in his own lethal trap. Apparently setting up lethal traps is something the Doctor does now. I was also thinking the Grant would get disappointed when he realised Magician Santa hadn't brought presents, but I supposed they'd all be under the tree already or in stockings or whatever tradition these folks have.

It's around this point that the Doctor starts looking at all the comics lying around Grant's bedroom.

Whoa, it's an actual cameo from Superman. I would've expected them to use their own made-up characters, but nope it's a legit comic. My research tells me that's Superman v2 issue 19 from July 1988 on the left and issue 7 from July 1987 on the right, so I'm thinking we're in the late 80s right now. Then again all the comics on display in future cyborg movie RoboCop are from around 1983, so who even knows?

The Doctor's scribbled some glasses onto the panel on the right to test his theory that Superman is actually Clark Kent, proving once again that he's one of the smartest people who's ever lived... who's somehow avoided absorbing that particular bit of pop culture trivia for two millennia straight. He's so gutted when Grant tells him that everyone knows about Clark's secret identity and defensively points out that Lois Lane doesn't know!

That's an interesting thing to mention actually as it hints at what era of comics writer Steven Moffat is familiar with. Because Superman and Lois Lane have been married (on and off) in the comics since 1996 and though the modern movies aren't quite there yet, they're on their way. Lois not knowing his real identity is a very old status quo.

I genuinely apologise if you've been working through Superman's entire library of comics in chronological order and I just spoiled that for you. Especially if you'd made it all the way up to 1995.

I love that background they've got there, with its blinking lights and planes flying by.

There's a radiation sickness joke here as the Doctor tries to guess Spider-Man's power set on the way back up to the roof (I suppose he'd know a bit about spider radiation after the Third Doctor died from it), then he just casually tosses one of Grant's comics away onto the snowy rooftop! That's a terrible thing to do to a kid who just brought you a plate of cookies. There's a title drop here as Grant says in a comic he'd be called 'Doctor Mysterio'. So that explains that. It's also the name of the series in Mexico, which makes me wonder what this episode's called over there.

This contraption the Doctor's built here is a time distortion equaliser designed to fix the damage he did to spacetime around New York during The Angels Take Manhattan, but Grant's not impressed. Plus he's got a cold, which he always ends up getting this time of year. The Doctor sympathises, as he usually gets an invasion at Christmas. For some reason, the first time I watched this I heard the 'invasion' part and not the 'fixing time' part and assumed this device was going to serve some purpose during an adventure he was already part of. But nope, never turns up again. It's just an excuse to introduce the intuitive gemstone he was going to plug into it.

I should probably hate it when the Doctor pulls out a full glass of water from his pocket to give to him but I don't. I guess if you have the technology to put a giant time travelling spaceship inside a tiny box you likely have the tech to carry a glass of water in a coat without spilling it. Though he doesn't have the sense to realise that maybe handing a sick kid a tablet-sized wish-granting object immediately afterwards and saying "take this" may lead to it getting swallowed. When his chest starts glowing Grant ends up panicking and flying away, which leads to the Doctor hanging above the city for the second time this night, though from someone else's ankles this time.

But we don't get to see how that works out, as Grant's woken from his flashback dream by the sound of a baby crying (he's a nanny hired by the child's mother, Mrs Lombard). We can tell it's Grant because he's wearing the same dinosaur dressing gown as he did when he was 8, and he's got the same red glow in his chest. I'm sure he's got it under control though. Adult Grant is being played by Justin Chatwin, who also played Goko in the live-action Dragonball movie, so he's got experience with superpowers.

Cut back to the past, where the Doctor and kid Grant are hanging off the top of the Empire State Building, and the Doctor explains that smart mind-reading powerful crystal lodged in his body + all the comic books in his head = he's a superhero now. Makes sense to me.

Then the episode goes to the same opening credits as the rest of the Peter Capaldi era, give or take a bit of colouring tweaking maybe. They didn't even reuse one of those Christmassy variants they did for Last Christmas and The Husbands of River Song which had the snow on them! Though the opening does have something notable about it, as that was apparently the longest pre-credits sequence in the history of Doctor Who! Though I didn't time them all to check.

They're really showing off with the city shots this episode. Sure it looks fake, but it's a low budget TV series so they've exceeded my expectations. But hang on, you can't have an obvious Daily Planet globe homage in an episode where we just saw a Superman comic! Plus there's a voice from inside saying "Any questions after today can be handled by Ms Shuster or Ms Siegel," which is a reference to the creators of the character, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.

The name wrapped around this particular globe is 'Harmony Shoal', which are two words that some should be very familiar to people who've seen the last episode, The Husbands of River Song. Well they should be, but to be honest I'd totally forgotten that the guy who kept his wallet in his head claimed to represent the "Shoal of the Winter Harmony".

Inside the building, a guy called Mr Brock is just finishing off a press conference and is answering questions from a reporter called Ms Fletcher. It's a very Lex Luthor and Lois Lane kind of situation, with Ms Fletcher curious about Harmony Shoal's mysterious benefactors and Mr Brock charming the audience with his witty replies.

And then Nardole from The Husbands of River Song interrupts his press conference to ask where the little boy's room is.

Yeah Nardole's just here, walking around in present-day New York with his head back on with no explanation. I like Matt Lucas though, so I can't complain. Plus it means that the Doctor is travelling with just a male companion for the first time since... Turlough when he was the Fifth Doctor I think, though that didn't last an episode (and they also had a robot with them). Plus I remember Eleven travelling with Rory for a bit while looking for Amy, but again it didn't last an episode.

Mr Brock tells Nardole where the restrooms are, but that just confuses him further as it's not what he asked. It's confusing me as well; what the hell is this exchange about?

Meanwhile, Lois Lane goes over to chat with that cleaner behind him... I mean Ms Fletcher goes over, sorry, and Mr Brock goes to chat with a scientist called Dr Sim that's been lurking in the back of the crowd, looking sinister. The scar across his face doesn't help; plus his eyes occasionally flash green and he's leaking blue fluid from his nose, which has apparently gone unseen by everyone.

Dr Sim needs to show him something, so they meet at midnight to visit the creepy brain storage room, while Ms Fletcher spies on them in disguise as the cleaner. Plus Nardole's there too, spying on them in disguise as an idiot.

It's a cool looking set, this brain vault, I like it. They get some good shots looking straight down at it, but I'll spare you the extra screencap.

The shifty scientist with the leaky face has brought his boss here to tell him that new brains keep appearing but there have been no new deliveries. Also he tells him to tap the glass on one of the jars, which he does.

Surprise, the brains have eyes! And the eyes flash in the same way as Dr Sim's weird eyes! Turns out that Dr Sim has had a brain transplant, and his original brain is now sitting in one of the jars on the shelf (looking significantly more realistic than the rest of them).

So the shocking twist is that when the Lex Luthor character dropped that line "We're here to open your minds," at the press conference he genuinely had no idea it had a double meaning! Everything we've seen of the sinister Mr Brock and his nervous underling Dr Sim has been set up to use our preconceptions to deliberately mislead us. Except now Brock's presumably going to be possessed by an alien and become the villain he seemed to be from now on.

Mr Brock gets a punch in, dislocating Sim's face, but he's immediately overpowered and is grabbed by three surgeons who come walking out of hidden doors in the back wall.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane and the Doctor have been hanging around the door to the brain vault, eating sushi and eavesdropping on everything that's been said. So hang on, they know that Mr Brock is about to have his brain removed and they're doing absolutely nothing to save him? I guess you could argue that the vault is sealed, but my counter-argument would be he's the Doctor. They could've at least shown him trying to get inside. Or have him explain to Lucy that they're too late and they'd only be handing over their own brains to them, which would likely be counter-productive.

This is where we learn she's called Lucy Fletcher, by the way, and she's a reporter from the Daily Chronicle. And he's Special Agent Dan Dangerous from Scotland Yard, Scotland (or 'The Doctor' for short). He shows her on a convenient map on the wall that Harmony Shoal have institutes like this all over the world and always in capital cities. Then Nardole comes in and points out that New York isn't a capital city, which annoys me because that didn't actually occur to me until he mentioned it.

Just then Dr Sim comes in with a pistol and takes his time to explain that he's going to shoot them all in self-defence. It's an ingenious plan with only two minor drawbacks: 1. The three of them don't look even slightly threatening. 2. If they turn around it'll be obvious he deliberately shot them in the back.

It seems like he could resolve this pretty easily by getting those surgeons to come over and remove their brains, but it turns out that his time just ran out as there's a superhero outside watching what's going on and he seems to want a word.

He's working so hard to hold that pose that it's giving me a new appreciation for just how effortless Melissa Benoist makes it look on Supergirl. I'm also starting to appreciate the city backgrounds I've seen during the rest of the episode a lot more, as that Translight they've got behind him looks terrible. It's not so bad in this screencap, but when they catch it at a different angle it ain't pretty.

The masked hero clicks his fingers to break the glass, which is impressive as we're told that the windows are built to withstand the force of four nuclear explosions. That's another clue that Moffat's cunningly hidden in plain sight, as we're led to think 'wow this guy is insanely powerful' instead of 'why is this building so strong?'

Then he's shot several times, with the bullets all bouncing off his armour instead of his invulnerable skin, which is a bit weird. Not sure how he put together a Kevlar outfit on a nanny's wage.

Also, I wish I had a map like that on my wall, showing the location of all my sinister lairs across the globe. Though I probably wouldn't put lights right above it, casting ugly shadows across the world.

I really like this guy's superhero act as the Ghost, by the way. He's like a cross between Adam West Batman and Christopher Reeve Superman with a hint of Christian Bale gravel in the voice, and he's got a great deadpan delivery.

His costume, on the other hand, is like RoboCop Batman (without the bat nipples), with a weird G emblem where Superman keeps his S. Plus he's got rubbish Green Lantern mask to cover his face because everyone who's seen the teaser knows that the Clark Kent glasses trick doesn't really work in real life. Not that it takes the Doctor 5 seconds to figure out that the Ghost is actually Grant even with his face covered.

Which is why the episode then cuts to the past again to show the Doctor telling kid Grant to never use his powers to become a superhero and just wait for the gem to make its way back out. It shows how alien the Doctor is sometimes, because no one on Earth would expect a kid with the ability to fly to resist doing it.

Back in the present day, Grant flies off with Lucy and lands outside her home, where he drops another Superman reference by saying "Well, I certainly hope this unpleasant experience hasn't put you off a career in journalism," which isn't far off Superman's line of "Well, I certainly hope this little incident hasn't put you off flying," from the 1978 movie. I bet Superman would've stuck around to rescue that guy getting his brain removed in a vault though.

Just then the Ghost's baby monitor starts beeping so he has to race home and change back into Grant with a Wonder Woman twirl.

But the Doctor's there waiting for him, as he tracked the gemstone in his chest. Wait, how do you track someone somewhere and then get there before them? You'd need to have a time machine... oh wait.

The Doctor's not in a playful mood after finding out what Grant's done and he hits him with the line "No man worthy of the title leaves a baby alone." No amount of invulnerability can protect a guy from that, but he does try to put up a feeble defence, pointing out that he can get back when the kid needs him quicker than most people can cross a room. Though that's a fairly good point actually, seeing as he brings the super long range baby monitor everywhere and he's likely not exaggerating about his speed. When you're that fast the whole city is basically next door to the baby's bedroom.

I've noticed that there's no Christmas decorations up, so I guess we've left that theme behind now. Also, on an unrelated note, Nardole's playing with a toy elephant and it's funny.

Just then Mrs Lombard comes home... and it's Lucy! What are the odds she'd have double L initials just like Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor etc. Actually Lombard is the name she had when she was married, before her husband ran off, and Grant keeps calling her that because... he's weird? Grant's got an alliterative name as well by the way, as he's Grant Gordon. Whether the Doctor and Nardole have alliterative names themselves is yet to be revealed.

Lucy has no idea that her nanny is the Ghost and asks the Doctor why he's here, which sets Nardole up to deliver the line "We could ask you the same question, but it’s your apartment so we probably won’t." I don't know why Moffat decided to reattach his head and make him the Doctor's sidekick but I'm glad he did. He's good at this comedy thing I reckon.

The Doctor lies and claims that he followed her, and she fires back with "You followed me and got here first?" which is exactly what I said about him tracking the gemstone!

Cut to a flashback of the Doctor in the past again, checking in on a teenage Grant, who's currently stuck in naked hell as he's suffering from X-ray vision he can't turn off. Seems that even though school teacher Clara's gone from the series, Moffat still can't help going back to the school comedy he started his career with. He even throws in a... levitation joke.

What the Doctor's doing here seems to be a uniquely Twelfth Doctor trait, as I can't think of any stories where an earlier incarnation of the Doctor made return visits to try to fix his earlier mistakes like this. Not deliberately anyway. He kept checking in on Ashildr in series 9 as well after giving her a superpower from a tiny tablet, he was keeping an eye on the Zygon refugee situation he helped create, and he started this episode trying to fix spacetime around New York. He's the Doctor that sticks around, faces the consequences of his choices, and gets the job finished... well, more so than the rest of them at least.

So it turns out that Grant fell in love with Lucy in high school, but she married his best friend instead and had a kid. Then his best friend ran off to be with someone else giving him an opportunity... to become the kid's nanny. It's almost like he's being a 'nice guy' to her, but it seems more like he's a genuinely good person who's gotten himself stuck in a place he doesn't feel like he can move forward from. When the Doctor learns the full story he raises a bottle and thanks the universe that there's someone worse at this than him, which kind of shows how... human he's gotten. He doesn't need Clara's cards to talk with people anymore, even he's still a little bit of a rude dick about it.

I'm assuming that's a cola by the way. As much as I'd like a scene with the Doctor drinking with a superhero someday, I doubt they're getting drunk outside the bedroom of the baby he's looking after.

Just then a fire truck drives by below, so Grant has to fly, leaving behind a pile of clothes and the glasses he doesn't even need to wear. They did well finding an American style fire truck in Bulgaria for the scene... though I suppose it makes sense a place with a New York isn't going to be the hardest place to find New York vehicles. Anyway, Lucy pokes her head out the window to threaten the Doctor with a squeaky toy and tell him to come to the kitchen. Top journalist... didn't notice or ask about the mysterious pile of clothes on the fire escape.

This is Mr Huffle, who sadly never became as famous as Mr Flibble after this episode. Lucy assures the Doctor that Mr Huffle feels pain and she'll squeeze him every time she gets an answer out of him she doesn't like. She doesn't really mind if the Doctor keeps his own secrets, she just doesn't want him to lie to her anymore, and she wants to know what's going on at Harmony Shoal. Which means we're finally getting back to the brain-swapping invasion plot after seven minutes!

She soon manages to get him to admit that he thinks that Harmony Shoal's goal is to replace the brains of key authority figures from around the world and prepare Earth for colonisation. Satisfied with this she then moves onto to trying to get the identity of the Ghost from him, deducing that he's not used to being spoken to like this, so he mustn't have a boss, and if he's investigating this for himself then something must have happened to him. That kind of hits a nerve, seeing as he lost River Song very recently, though of course that's not what's driving him here.

I'm pretty amazed by this scene, as the writing, directing and acting have all conspired to make me believe that a woman armed with a squeaky toy and the ability to jump to conclusions can utterly unnerve the Doctor and get him to give away more information that he wants to. She put herself in control of the situation from the start by setting up her desk and making him wait, then beat him at his own game.

This serves the purpose of getting out exposition and making Lucy seem smart and perceptive, which makes it ironic that she hasn't figured out Grant's secret, despite meeting the Ghost face to face earlier. She's a lot like Lois Lane in fact... except not really, because Lois suspected that Clark was Superman for years and kept coming up with ridiculous situations to prove it, in the comics and the Christopher Reeve movies this was inspired by.

The Doctor manages to distract her from her interrogation by pointing out that the Ghost's on TV. It's funny, it doesn't seem like this is anything new to people, they're not acting like they've caught the first proof he exists, but Lucy wasn't sure he was even real earlier. Was she been distracted with squeaky toy inquisitions every other time he's been on or did she think he was an elaborate hoax?

She's clearly interested in the guy, and in finding out who he is, but she doesn't quite make the connection that his beeping device goes off on camera immediately after her baby starts crying. Another clue missed. Grant comes in holding the baby a second later (proving that he really is that fast), though he forgets his glasses and the Doctor has to put them on him before Lucy notices. Not that it even matters, as the Ghost wears a mask and plenty of people can find and pick up a baby without their glasses on, but hey they're doing the Superman thing.

Then the episode abruptly turns into a romantic comedy, with the Doctor caught between Lucy, Grant and the Ghost, with split screen phone calls dividing the screen into comic book panels. It reminds me a bit of the Eleventh Doctor episode The Lodger, which was more about the Doctor trying to get a couple together than stopping the alien menace of the week. So yeah, very little alien menace happening right now. The episode's just going to put that on pause for a few minutes. I'm sure it'll be back though. Eventually.

The Ghost ultimately agrees to an interview/dinner with Lucy on the roof and Grant agrees to babysit for her, because he's a doormat mild-mannered. He does half-heartedly try to get out of it by claiming he has a date, but all that does is make Lucy a little jealous of this mystery woman who she doesn't know is her, while he's jealous of her going to dinner with someone else, even though that person is him. Meanwhile, the Doctor's been stuck on the outside of this, observing a situation that's clearly too stupid to continue but somehow does.

Oh hang on, the alien invasion plot is finally back! I guess Mr Brock's new brain took a while to settle in and make itself at home. But he and Dr Sim are ready to get back to work, checking the security footage of the incident from earlier (which actually has been filmed from another camera, and isn't just edited clips from earlier in the episode). These two are very interested in getting hold of the Ghost's body, even though you'd think its invulnerability might complicate surgery.

They're also curious about the other guy with the grey hair, flicking through their footage of him. And then in one of the clips he turns around and says 'boo', because apparently they got a live feed mixed in by mistake (possibly thanks to the sonic screwdriver in his hand).

The Doctor's come to offer them mercy, but only if they all pack up and leave now.

So the former Mr Brock opens his head to pull a gun out and threaten him, proving that they are the same 'Shoal of the Winter Harmony' aliens from The Husbands of River Song making their second appearance in a row. Though they seem less rubbery and they're doing a lot less hissing in this.

But hang on, they can't be brain-swapping aliens and 'big empty space where the brain should be, suitable for weapon storage' aliens at the same time! Surely those two concepts conflict.

The Doctor reveals that he knows about their plan to lure world leaders over and get inside their skulls, does his 'I've stopped a whole bunch of invasions' speech and then leaves them with a burger as the TARDIS materialises around him.

Wow, he trusts Nardole to pilot the TARDIS now? Damn, I guess he really has been hanging around with him and River for the last 24 years. He probably shouldn't have trusted him though, as he made a few accidental stops along the way and ended up ruling 12th century Constantinople for a bit.

This seems like it'd be a great time to at least get a hint about how Nardole ended up having a body again, but the best we get is confirmation that the Doctor was the one who took him out of Hydroflax's giant metal body and reassembled him, and he did it because he was worried he'd get lonely after River's death. Well, I suppose a vague answer's better than a stupid one. Plus it's nice to get a chance to see the TARDIS control room for a bit this episode.

The TARDIS arrives in the same set, but in a different setting, as this time they've materialised in the Tokyo branch of Harmony Shoal. There are fewer extras walking around here as the Doctor's cleverly flooded the downstairs with Pokémon. Another series might have been worried about dating themselves with an already dated Pokémon GO joke, but Doctor Who's a time travel show so it works for them.

He gets into the computer using the cunning trick of typing in a correct name and password (he presumably got them while snooping around in the New York branch) and discovers that they're sending a signal to an object in low Earth orbit. I must have missed where the lanyards came from though.

Meanwhile, a few time zones away in New York, the Ghost and Lucy are on their rooftop date/interview. Lucy seems to be leaning more towards 'date' as she's wearing her little red dress, the one she made Grant believe she wasn't going to wear.

The situation is obviously a homage/parody of the interview between Lois and Superman in the 1978 movie, though this is significantly less dumb because the Ghost doesn't start giving away his weaknesses to the press. Plus he doesn't tell her the 'correct' way to spell the name of his alien homeworld in English (mostly because he's from New York, but still).

Back in Harmony Shoal's New York branch, it turns out that the former Mr Brock and Dr Sim haven't been entirely idle during their time off screen, as they've used their advanced alien surveillance tech to locate the Ghost and they've let the surgeons out of their wall in the vault to go stick a new brain in him. Also, the Doctor and Nardole have used the advanced alien surveillance tech in the TARDIS to find the Harmony Shoal spaceship in orbit.

I always appreciate a good 'TARDIS with the door open in space' shot, and this... isn't one of the better ones. It's alright though.

They're peering out at this fake-ass looking spaceship, floating (or maybe hanging from a string) in orbit above the US. The shot looks so bad that I have to wonder if it's meant to be a joke about 70s superhero movie special effects. The Doctor's pretty sure the ship's empty, because the lights are all off, so he and Nardole go over in the TARDIS to wander the moody damp sci-fi hallways... followed by two guards with blinking antennas sticking out of their hollowed out heads.

The episode continues to cut between their mission and the Ghost and Lucy on their interview, which kind of highlights how few of her questions relate to evil brain swapping aliens residing in that skyscraper they both broke into the other day. She's more interested in who he's dating right now (the rubber suit with a G on it has gotten people speculating it might be a guy), but the conversation soon turns to the nanny looking after her baby right now. She makes a point of mentioning that it's a male nanny, just so that she can immediately get upset at the possibility that he might find that funny (he doesn't).

In fact, she's so upset that she has to step away from the table for a moment. I guess this is the first time she's ever defended Grant to someone and it's made her realise how awesome he is, putting off his date to look after her baby so that she could interview a superhero. Even though Grant's not actually looking after her baby, he's sitting there in a mask on the other side of the table.

Though seeing how much she cares about him, Grant decides to take off his mask and reveal who he is. The trouble is that she's too distracted with her feelings for him that she keeps looking everywhere but at his face. He's there with his mask off for a good 35 seconds as she lists all the things she likes about Grant including that he never lies, not once, ever.

The camera angle switches back to her as she finally looks up at him and... she has absolutely zero reaction to seeing him there maskless. Because he got his mask back on in the fraction of a millisecond between cuts. Possibly the best joke in the episode, though we aren't given long to dwell on it, as the former Mr Brock and his surgeons suddenly barge on to the roof to cut out the Ghost's brain.

The Doctor and Nardole have found their way to the ship's bridge by this point, and have discovered that it's got a very weird green tint to it. Also, the reactor core is at critical and the ship's basically a bomb about to explode. Escaping to the TARDIS will be a challenge though, as there's a handy monitor on the wall showing the arrival of the hollow head goons coming down the corridor they just entered from. Reminds me a bit of the monitors in Heaven Sent, though this one's not first person view.

The Doctor works out that ship couldn't do any serious damage to the Earth but it could wipe out a city... like the one place on that map that wasn't a capital for instance. He thinks back to what Dr Sim said about the glass earlier when the Ghost smashed his windows and this time Dr Sim's the one to surprise them on a monitor screen as he appears to repeat the line for them. Which amused me.

So the Doctor's suspicions are confirmed: the aliens are going to wipe out everything in New York aside from their nuke-proof skyscraper to trick the leaders of the world that an all-out global assault is about to take place and the only safe place for them to be is their local Harmony Shoal building conveniently situated in their city (their own bunker's being untested with regards to alien assaults). We already knew their end goal 10 minutes ago (lure world leaders over, get inside their skulls), now we know how they plan to achieve it.

One of the things that convinced me to stick with Doctor Who after the first few episodes I saw was the cleverness of it. I like clever schemes from the villains and clever solutions from the Doctor, or at least something that makes any kind of sense. It's a big reason I'm a fan and a big reason why series 9 was often a let-down to me. I like this alien plot though; it actually kind of works and it pays off the capital city joke/clue from earlier in a satisfying way. It does date the episode though, the idea that replacing our leaders with aliens planning our destruction would make any difference whatsoever.

Back on the rooftop, the former Mr Brock and the surgeons are preparing to cut the Ghost's head open... somehow. They seem pretty confident they can do it, but I'm not seeing any kryptonite around, well except for Lucy. The Ghost decides that maybe hanging around for this is a bad idea, so he fights the surgeons off and heroically... flies away and leaves Lucy alone with them. Uh, okay.

But then he comes back up the stairs as Grant!

So now he's in the same situation, except he can't openly use his superpowers... nice job hero. It's not like he's trying to save the day as Grant to steal her affections away from the cowardly Ghost, because all he does is immediately get captured. It does mean that the former Mr Brock's not going to use Lucy against him anymore, but he's all set to shoot her now and use the baby as a hostage instead, so the situation hasn't exactly improved.

Meanwhile, the Doctor learns that anything he presses in the cockpit will just make the ship crash sooner... so he starts mashing buttons. This is not a clever solution, this is the opposite of a clever solution! All he's doing is ruining Harmony Shoal's schedule by triggering events before they're ready. Well to be fair, he was planning to use their impending doom as a distraction to get back to the TARDIS and save the day, but the goons outside haven't actually moved so now they're kind of stuck.

Which means that we've got yet another Christmas special featuring the threat of a spaceship about to crash/explode!
  1. The Christmas Invasion: The Sycorax ship got blown up by Torchwood.
  2. The Runaway Bride: The Racnoss ship was blown up by Mr Saxon's forces.
  3. Voyage of the Damned: The Space Titanic was on its way to crash into London.
  4. The Next Doctor: ------
  5. The End of Time: ------
  6. A Christmas Carol: Amy and Rory were trapped in a crashing spaceship the whole episode.
  7. The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe: Began with the Doctor falling from an exploding spaceship.
  8. The Snowmen:  ------
  9. The Time of the Doctor: The Doctor blew up a Dalek ship overhead with his regeneration energy.
  10. Last Christmas: ------
  11. The Husbands of River Song: Started with a crashed ship, ended with a ship crashing.
This is also the second Christmas special in a row about a smart, insightful woman being comically unaware of the real identity of a man who loves her.

Fortunately, the Doctor's now able to aim the crashing ship very slightly, so he points it directly at Grant's roof, trusting that he'll be able to catch it in a way that doesn't demolish the building or destroy the ship and wipe out New York. He needs a complete nullification of momentum here and that's apparently in the Ghost's power set, so the day is saved!

It seems utterly ridiculous he can do this, but then Superman lifts planes and boats around without snapping them all the time and fans let him get away with it. Plus the Ghost doesn't have the powers of a superhero, he has the powers of someone who subconsciously wished to be a superhero and made it true, so he's got more potential than your average bloke in a cape. We already know he can casually shatter glass that can withstand the force of four nukes by clicking his fingers, without wiping out the rest of Manhattan in the process, so he's clearly got a degree of immunity from the laws of physics.

We learn that the Doctor and Nardole have both survived their sudden halt without being turned into paste, which is cool. First time I watched this I was concerned that Nardole would end up losing his head again, but no he's survived the crisis intact this time.

Oh, check out that cinema on the left by the way. They're showing Mind of Evil, which is both a reference to the episode's villains and the title of a Third Doctor serial from 1971.

Lucy gets over the fact that Grant is the Ghost pretty fast, though she does say that she prefers him in his superhero costume... before putting the glasses he wears as a nanny back on him. You see, the person who tirelessly looks after her child is the real hero, even if he's usually been out all night saving people as a superhero. I suppose it makes sense that she'd be okay with what he's been doing, after seeing him disappear off the news and immediately walk in holding her baby earlier. She knows what his priority is.

But when the two of them fly off together to throw the spaceship/bomb into the sun he drops the baby monitor! That thing was so important to him that he caught the city-killer bomb-ship one-handed but now he's successfully got the girl he can't get rid of it fast enough.

Though to be fair he did drop it at the Doctor's feet, so Grant's actually handing over babysitting duties for the night so he and Lucy can have some time alone together (exactly when the baby started crying too). Seems fair to me. Plus what's the worst that can happen by letting the weird alien look after a baby? Apart from her accidentally getting superpowers I mean.

Well, I suppose the former Mr Brock could shoot the kid, seeing as he's still on the roof with them (no clue what happened to the surgeons). But the Doctor just zaps his gun with his sonic screwdriver, lets him know that UNIT's on its way to close them down, and then walks off and leaves him standing there!

At least Dr Sim is going to be apprehended for all that murder he was involved with. The real Mr Brock will get justice yet!

Oh no, one of the UNIT agents at Harmony Shoal's head office has been taken over by the brain previously infesting Dr Sim! It's almost like a shocking cliffhanger, except this is UNIT so there's nothing surprising about it. This is the organisation that nearly got themselves wiped out last series by being incredibly incredibly stupid, so of course none of the other soldiers here have noticed that one of the people they know and work with has suddenly developed a huge scar across his face in the exact same place that all the aliens have them. Even if the Doctor forgot to tell UNIT about the distinctive scar, they can plainly see it on Dr Sim's brainless corpse.

In fact wouldn't all the world leaders on Earth having the same scar on their face be kind of a giveaway as well? Maybe this wasn't such a clever plan after all.

But there's still three minutes of episode left, so everyone gets together back at Lucy's place to drink some of whatever is in those cups and discuss how the Ghost has finally been laid to rest. Amazingly it's not because Grant burned himself out stopping the bomb, he still has all his powers, he's just realised that real life isn't a comic book. Which I guess means he's okay now with hearing the screams of people getting attacked or dying in a fire etc. without lifting a finger to help. I dunno, maybe he's just telling the Doctor what he wants to hear so that he'll go away.

So now that they've answered the question of why the Ghost doesn't show up to help the next time the world is at risk from aliens, the scene can move on to the subject of the Doctor being sad. Lucy does one last bit of super-intuitive sleuthing and figures out that it's because of a woman. Turns out that it hasn't been long since his 24 year last night with River Song and he's very much not over the fact that he's lost her. I usually appreciate a bit of continuity even in the most stand-alone story, but c'mon! After a series with Clara's impending death hanging over it, immediately followed by a Christmas special with River's impending death hanging over it, I would've been totally okay if this story had just been happy.

Though it does mean that the Doctor gets to make a short speech about how everything ends, and how that's always sad, but then everything begins again too and that's always happy. He probably should've saved it for his regeneration next year though.

And Mr Huffle goes on to become the new companion, the end.


CONCLUSION

The Return of Doctor Mysterio isn't the most highly regarded of Doctor Who episodes. IMDb user ratings place it in the bottom half of the run, and if you limit it to just modern stories it drops to the bottom 25%. It got a lower rating than Voyage of the Damned! But then so did The Runaway Bride and I remember liking that one, so screw what IMDb voters think! This isn't going to rank as being one of my all-time favourites, it kind of dragged at times for me, but I found it entertaining enough. I'd put it just a little below The Husbands of River Song, but way above crap like Sleep No More.

It claims to be a Christmas special, but really the only thing Christmassy about it (aside from a Santa joke at the start) is how lightweight and goofy it is. Instead, it's shamelessly jumping on the superhero bandwagon, right at the peak of their cultural saturation... at the point where people are maybe getting a little tired of them. Better this than zombies though. Looking at series like Travelers, Timeless, 12 Monkeys, Frequency, Future Man, Dirk Gently, Legends of Tomorrow, Time after Time etc. the latest TV fad these days seems to be time travel, so maybe the series can do something with that next time.

It's an interesting episode of Doctor Who as it's an actual straightforward superhero story... written by a guy who seemed to have really enjoyed that first Richard Donner Superman film but apparently lost interest in comic heroes after that. I mean for all I know Steven Moffat watches ever Marvel movie and is a huge fan of the CW's Arrowverse showsbut the episode is very much about the superhero tropes of three decades ago. I suppose that could be the point though really, as it's not a modern superhero movie parody, it's a story about a guy who was inspired to do good by the comic books he was obsessed with as a child. They make a point of establishing the specific era that influenced him at the start, so we understand how he hasn't grown up (he's still wearing the same pyjamas!)

Grant is very much a shy Peter Parker type of character who suffered during his school years and can only act the part of a confident charismatic hero when he's wearing the mask. It just happens to be that the hero he cosplays is a cheesy self-aware Superman type, except with a Batman voice, and despite this being the real world where stories about superheroes have been around forever, everyone seems pretty okay with going along with this. I'd want to go along with it too, to be honest, as I love the lines he comes up when he breaks into Harmony Shoal to save Lucy... during one of only two times this story that he actually intersects the alien plotline in any way.

Going in I was expecting there to be some kind of twist to the Ghost and his powers, like he was a construct from someone's imagination, or they were all in a simulation, or he was part of an alien plot, but nope he is exactly how he appears: a genuine superhero with the power set of Superman operating openly on present-day Earth. In fact, he probably has powers way past Superman; he's more of a One Punch Man in that he appears to be absolutely unstoppable. He's powered by pure wish fulfilment. But that's fine with me as the problems he faces as a superhero aren't the point at all; they're off-screen and irrelevant. It's all about Grant living his childish dream of being Superman to distract him from pursuing the more risky and challenging adult dream of starting a relationship with Lucy. It's a bit unfortunate that he eventually wins her over by being a creepy 'nice guy' who looks after her kid instead of getting the courage to make a move, but I got the impression he wasn't consciously trying to win her heart with his tireless devotion to her child. In fact, he seemed like someone who'd got stuck in a dumb situation thanks to his friend marrying and then bailing on his own childhood crush, and was tormenting himself by trying to do the right thing for someone he cares about while ignoring his feelings for her.

Trouble is that once the two of them inevitably get together, thanks to Lucy realising mid-interview that she loved Grant all along, the episode doesn't do a great job of making the case for why he should give up being the Ghost. He says that 'life isn't a comic book', but everything's worked out exactly like it did in the comics and he's been doing a lot of good. Lucy never said she wanted him to quit, he doesn't want to quit, only the Doctor wants him to quit and I don't see him rescuing people from burning buildings in his place. The moral of the story is that a real superhero is someone who takes care of his responsibilities, like looking after a kid, but it was his relationship with Lucy that was the problem, not juggling his babysitting and hero work. They forgot to show that his superheroics were an unhealthy fantasy.

They also forgot to include him in the alien invasion plot and even Lucy loses interest in Harmony Shoal after getting all that exposition out of the Doctor. Their romantic comedy seems very separate to what the brains are up to, and I was left wondering if the episode was ever going to get around to being Doctor Who again. Not that I didn't enjoy their scenes together, as they're both likeable characters played by good actors. I also found Nardole likeable, which came as a bit of a surprise. Well not that much of a surprise as he was alright in Husbands of River Song, but he's considerably more interesting and less stupid here, and has an interesting relationship going on with the Doctor. He's not a stranger to the weirdness of time and space like most companions, and their eccentricities complement each other well. Plus it's nice to get another alien travelling in the TARDIS for the first time since... Turlough in the 80s I think. Though the downside is that he also knew River Song and can bring up how miserable the Doctor's been since her death, which is exactly what I needed after two series mired in stories about death and the soon to be dying.

I mentioned that I liked the episode, right? All right, I think I'm done here.



COMING SOON
Doctor Who will likely return with the series 10 premiere The Pilot at some point this year. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, Discovery's back with Despite Yourself.

Please remember to leave a comment. Unless you weren't actually planning on commenting, in which case you should remember to change your mind.

4 comments:

  1. I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong with it

    That "comic book" is either printed on extremely wide paper, or the panels are tiny.

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  2. There's something a bit weird about having a superhero running around the Doctor Who universe, and that downbeat twist ending with the infiltration of UNIT seems superfluous, but maybe I'm just being grumpy.

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    1. There's something VERY weird about a 100% no-bullshit actual legit superhero in the Doctor Who universe, but I can't find a reason for it to annoy me, and I'm well practised in finding reasons to be annoyed. He got the powers because of the Doctor bringing sci-fi weirdness to Earth and he's a superhero because he's imitating actual comic characters like Superman. Plus this is a world where the dead came back as an army of cyborgs and the planes all stopped one day, so Doctor Who's present day Earth is already a few steps removed from our own and has been reacquainted with weirder things than a man wearing a cape since the last timeline reboot. It feels wrong but my brain's giving them a pass.

      Plus I've only seen UNIT in the Moffat era and a couple of Pertwee serials, but it seems like getting outwitted or infiltrated is a tradition for them, so I just expect it at this point. I doubt this'll ever lead to anything or be mentioned again. Though then again I doubted that the Zygon thing in Day of the Doctor was going to lead to anything and I was wrong there!

      (It led to UNIT being outwitted and infiltrated.)

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    2. I think that's a good way of putting it; a superhero in Doctor Who feels wrong, but it's not annoying as such, just weird. I think maybe DW is so British and superheroes are American, or maybe superheroes -- even clever ones like Batman -- solve problems by hitting them and the Doctor doesn't -- unless it's the Third -- so it's a bit of an incongruous match. But not bad, as you say.

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