For Christmas 2016, Doctor Who served up another special which by the time this posts, I will have seen at least twice: once at our favorite regular gathering spot for fellow Whovians, Geeksboro Coffeehouse in Greensboro; and once at the Regal Grande Cinema, also in Greensboro. And that's not counting possibly catching it on the television here in the Fortress of Ineptitude courtesy of BBC America.
It's been a year since our last all new Doctor Who, the 2015 Christmas special that featured the return of (farewell to) River Song. When we last left our wayfaring Time Lord and his time travelling archaeologist consort, they were together for history has taught us as their fateful last night on Darillium. But a night on Darillium last 24 years so... plenty of time for the Doctor and River to say goodbye and for the Doctor to make peace with River's final fate. Right?
Let's find out, shall we?
Be warned! Spoilers do follow, sweetie.
OK, that's your warning. We got on with things in 5...
Our story begins in New York City on Christmas Eve as a comic book obsessed young boy named Grant is awakened by a very strange visitor from another world: the Doctor. Seems the Doctor is setting up some timey-whimey thingamabob to address the temporal disturbances that are mucking up the Big Apple. (See The Angels Takes Manhattan for more about that.)
Things have gone awry as the Doctor is caught in one of his own traps he set to protect the thingy. He extricates himself with some help from Grant (who gives him milk and cookies because a white haired man appearing at your window on Christmas Eve, hey, you make certain assumptions.) The Doctor and Grant go to the roof to check on his newly installed device only to find it won't work because Grant swallowed the alien power gem that was to provide energy to the device.
Now before you think too little of Grant for swallowing stuff, it should be pointed out that:
1) Grant is sick with a really bad nagging cough.
2) The Doctor identifies himself as the Doctor.
3) The Doctor gives Grant a glass of water that the Doctor produces from his coat. (How does he do that? Just accept it, OK?)
4) Then the Doctor gives Grant a gem stone that actually looks a lot like a medicinal gel cap. And the Doctor says, "Here! Take that."
It seems the power gem has the side effect of giving Grant super powers. The Doctor warns Grant off from using these powers. It is a request that a young Grant would love to comply with. Puberty and uncontrollable X-Ray vision are particularly troublesome.
Skip a head a few years. An intrepid reporter named Lucy is investigating a strange high tech company called Harmony Shoals. Lucy finds a secret area where Harmony Shoals is keeping... brains. (BRAINS!) Alien brains taking over human bodies! But she is not alone in her research as she is unexpectedly accompanied by a sushi eating Doctor. (Why is the Doctor eating sushi? Just accept it, OK?) Also, Nardole. Yep, that Nardole from last year's Christmas special. (How is Nardole's head once more attached to his body? Just accept it, OK?)
Unfortunately all three are cornered by Harmony Shoals bad guy Dr. Sim (complete with German accent) who threatens to shoot them all dead. Then a dark figure in a mask and cape appears and incapacitates Dr. Sim. It is... the Ghost, a super powered super hero who swoops Lucy up in his arms and flies her away (the Doctor and Nardole are left to their own means of escaping) and deposits her in front of her apartment building. The Ghost flies off to answer an urgent call, specifically a baby monitor; we watch as the Ghost flies through a window and becomes grown up Grant who is the nanny for an infant. Also waiting for Grant is the Doctor and Nardole. (How did the Doctor and Nardole get to the apartment before Grant? Just accept it, OK?)
Then the mother of the infant shows up and it's Lucy. Well, OK, then. And the Doctor is most incredulous that Lucy who just had a face to very close face encounter with the Ghost does not make the connection between Grant and the Ghost.
The Doctor: "There are some situations that are just too stupid to be allowed to continue.”
Lucy puts on her reporter hat (OK, not a literal hat; it's just an expression) to quiz the Doctor about what he knows. On the subject of the alien brains, the Doctor is quite forthcoming. Lucy is quite smart, insightful and very persuasive. (With a little help from Mister Huffle!)
When questioned about the Ghost, however, the Doctor is not as helpful to Lucy and on the subject of the Ghost, Lucy is still not connecting the dots on her own.
In another room, Grant calls Lucy as the Ghost and sets up a date...INTERVIEW, not a date, an interview with Lucy. Then Lucy asks Grant if he can babysit the baby while she goes on a date....INTERVIEW with the Ghost.
Ooh boy! Complications!
Speaking of complications, Harmony Shoals realizes that the Ghost would make a most excellent vehicle for one of their alien brains.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Nardole have tracked the alien shenanigans to an abandoned space in orbit over Earth. A spaceship that actually has very little to do with spaceshipnosisty and more to do with bombiness. It's a bomb! A big honking bomb!
The Doctor puts the pieces together. The ship is aiming for New York City and would destroy everything... except for the HQ of Harmony Shoals which was established earlier as being able to withstand a force of 4 nuclear bombs. Leaders of the world scared to death of alien invasion would flock to the one place in the world proven secure against alien attack. While there, leaders of the world get their brains swapped out for alien brains! (BRAINS!)
So the bad guys corner the Ghost during his rooftop date...INTERVIEW! NOT A DATE! (Sigh. OK, it's date) with Lucy. The bad guys threaten to kill Lucy if the Ghosts leaves. So the Ghosts leaves. Say what?
Meanwhile the Doctor figures out the best way to keep Harmony Shoals from blowing up New York City with their spaceship bomb is... to blow up New York City with their spaceship bomb? (Just accept it, OK?)
Then Grant comes back... as Grant, I should point out; I guess the thinking is Lucy is in danger because Harmony Shoals wants to put an alien brain inside the Ghost but maybe they're not so much interested in our mild mannered Grant. Really doesn't work out too well. Good thing there's a spaceship bomb heading their way.
Speaking of which, back on the spaceship bomb, the Doctor aims it at a certain New York City rooftop where in a dramatic flourish Grant catches it with his left hand. (His right hand is still on the baby monitor.) Grant figuring that Lucy might be a bit upset over his dual identity deception urges her not to slap. "I think I might be holding a giant bomb." But Lucy kisses him and up they go in the air, Grant and Lucy and spaceship bomb makes three. As for the baby, looks like the Doctor is on babysitting duty.
We have a wrap up where it looks Grant and Lucy are a couple now and Grant is giving up the Ghost.... maybe I should rephrase that. Grant is giving up being the Ghost... unless the world is in really big super danger or something.
But Grant and Lucy are not so caught up in their happiness to not see that the Doctor is not alright. The Doctor being the Doctor avoids the subject and leaves. But Nardole, before following the Doctor, stays back a bit and explains to the couple: the Doctor lost someone very important to him, River Song. And the Doctor is going to be sad for awhile but he will be OK. Nardole says he'll make sure of it.
Steven Moffat has stated his love of comic book super heroes from his youth and that is definitely on display in The Return of Doctor Mysterio. (Grant's suggestion of the Doctor's own super hero name.) Steven creates a world that any comic book fan (such as yours truly) would recognize as a love letter to the world of super heroes.
Is it possible that the world of Grant with his super powered alter ego is too lovingly realized? There's a magic in these super shenanigans that jostles for prominence with the Doctor himself.
Make no mistake that nobody puts Peter Capaldi's Doctor in the background but from a story structure perspective, the stories of Grant and the Doctor do not mesh. We can determine that the Doctor has reached the end of his 24 year night on Darillium and is still struggling with the loss of River Song. But there's no arc for the Doctor in coping with this loss. It's hinted at somewhere near the middle and Nardole helpfully spells it out for us at the end.
But it's clear where Steven Moffat's true passion lies with this story. This is his chance to write a Superman story and he wrote a good one with charm and wit. Then he had to figure out how to get the Doctor into it. Which he did but not without a few seams showing.
We have a lot of fun with the conventions of comic book super heroes. For example this exchange between the Doctor and 8 year old Grant on the night they first met.
Doctor: “Why do they call him Spider-Man? Don’t they like him?”
Grant: “He was bitten by a radioactive spider. And guess what happens?”
Doctor: “Radiation poisoning, I should think.”
Grant: “No, he got special powers.”
Doctor: “What? Hair loss, vomiting, and death. Fat lot of use.”
I really got a kick out of the tossed in reference to people named Siegel and Shuster (as in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the co-creators of Superman). There's even actual Superman comics with pages from John Byrne's run on the book, an appropriate choice for Doctor Who has Byrne was born in the United Kingdom.
Let's talk about Grant and his masked alter ego, the Ghost; more specifically, let's give some kudos to Justin Chatwin who carries the day very well as the mild-mannered Grant (nebbishly cute but not in a klutzy off-putting way) and the overtly earnest Ghost. (Having saved people from a fire, the Ghost looks into a news camera to urge everyone to get smoke detectors.)
Charity Wakefield is good in her role as Lois Lane stand-in Lucy. While her rooftop date (INTERVIEW! Oh, give it up!) with the Ghost provides her (and Justin) with wonderful moments, Lucy really shines while questioning the Doctor about what he knows about the alien brains and, maybe more importantly, the Ghost. Her interview aid of choice? A squeezable squeaky toy named Mister Huffle. It is a very effective tool in getting answers from the Doctor.
And what about Nardole, the Doctor's new companion? Portrayed by Matt Lucas, Nardole is an odd contradiction of a man; easily distracted, he nonetheless can read the Doctor like a book. Nardole doesn't seem too smart but he's smart enough to pilot the TARDIS on his own. We do get a line of dialogue explaining how Nardole got his head reattached to his body. Otherwise, Nardole is just... there. Which is weird but appropriate for someone like Nardole.
By the way, there is just one reference to Christmas when the Doctor first visits 8 year old Grant. Otherwise, there are no other references to the holiday. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because the Doctor Who special airs on Christmas Day, references to Christmas can sometimes be awkwardly shoehorned into the script but in the case of this special.
Overall, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was an enjoyable episode. While light on the Christmas stuff, it was nonetheless a mostly perfect concoction for the time of year, bright, cheerful, fun and hopeful. While the super hero stuff and the Doctor stuff didn't always come together perfectly, it worked well enough for me to say I had a good time watching it...twice.
By the way, I very much liked what I saw of the Series 10 trailer and incoming new companion Bill. Let us begin once more the anxious tick-tocking of the clock to the debut of Series 10 in the spring.
Thanks for dropping by. Tomorrow's post, sorry, gotta bring the room down a bit as I address some of the hits our pop culture icons have been taking of late, especially the passing of Carrie Fisher.
Until next time, remember to be good to one another.