Another Christmas and after a year without Doctor Who, we have another Christmas special. 2016 was most certainly not the year of the Doctor.
The previous Christmas special was…well, I enjoyed it. It was Christmassy (kinda). This year, not so Christmassy. It felt much more like a normal episode of the show. Which is a good thing (again…kinda).
Christmas Eve, 1992, and the Twelfth Doctor has decided to bungee jump off the side of an apartment block. Spider-Man he ain’t. He wakes up a little sick child who understandably is somewhat bemused to see a man swinging upside down outside his window.
The boy knows all about Stranger Danger (did they have that in 1992?) so he won’t allow the Doctor in unless his mother says he can. Do you think she says yes? Of course she does. Shades of Jurassic Park 2 here. Also shades of Home Alone 2 with a child in New York at Christmas in the 1990s…
The aforementioned boy, whose name is Grant, toddles off to tell his mother about the Doctor. Mommy says yes because she thinks the child is making things up and because the kid has clearly told her that Santa Claus wants to come in. Somewhat improbable given that this is New York, a city where robbers generally dress up as Santa to steal money…at least according to the straight-to-DVD movies that I have seen.
The Doctor, despite having a complicated thing on the rooftop to sort out, geeks out with Grant about how Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. “Crivens, add glasses and Supermon becomes a soft jessie reporter. Jings”, to which Grant is all, “Dude, I totally knew that.”
The Doctor, being a responsible adult, takes Grant up to the roof with him to see his machine. And yes, even as I wrote that, I thought that sentence seemed dodgy. Ahem. Clean minds, folks, clean minds.
This is not a machine that goes “ding”, this is a machine that looks like a Christmas tree. Wouldn’t be the first machine tree we have seen in Doctor Who. At least this one ain’t spinning around like Aunt Meg after too many eggnog beverages…
The machine, as I understand it, is meant to fix the paradoxes caused by the Weeping Angel debacle. Remember when Amy and Rory Williams bit the big one? This was the problem caused by The Angels Take Manhattan, which had the effect of not allowing the Doctor to visit New York because of timey-wimey issues causing the city to turn into a small rubber duck. Or something similar. Odd though how the First Doctor had no problem visiting New York in the 1960s…
The Doctor had set off a trap on the machine (Silly Doctor), that he had made, and this is why he was swinging around like a geriatric Spider-Man earlier. His Christmas is not off to a good start. But then, when is it ever? This never happened to David Tennant’s Doctor.
The Doctor enlists the help of the sickly Grant, as you do, but the boy has swallowed a gemstone needed for the timey-wimey-paradoxy machine. The Doctor’s Christmas is now going downhill rapidly. Grant’s Christmas may have just improved because the gem has given him superpowers!
Yes, you read that correctly. Not a joke. The gem grants wishes. Having swallowed it, the gem grants Grant’s wishes. Of being a superhero. Not of being made better which is why he swallowed it. The kid thought it was medicine.
The Doctor’s response? A mutter of “Ach, crivens!” And the warning to Grant to not use his superpowers, not even for cheap tricks. Yeah, like that is going to happen.
Before I carry on, make a note that this gem is a gem that grants wishes.
We flash forward to 2016, New York, and a press conference held by Harmony Shoals. You may remember a similar sounding Shoal of the Winter Harmony in the previous episode, The Husbands of River Song? Same guys, head-splitting brain monsters. Lovely.
Oh, yes, spoilers. Brain monsters. Not at all like the ones from the cartoon series Futurama. No sir. These ones have eyes and mouths and monthly subscriptions to the magazine What Brain. Totally different. Plus they can’t fly…probably.
Anyway, the press conference, yes! Reporters asking questions and all that. You know the drill. Blonde reporter asks a pertinent question, more or less fobbed off. A scene you’ve seen done before in a thousand TV shows and every Superman comic book. You know what will happen next, she’ll hide in the building until everyone has gone and then she will do some investigating, then a superhero will save her. This is not me calling out the show by saying it is cliched but that there are precedents.
So the plucky girl reporter, Lucy Fletcher, is playing hide-and-seek with Mr Brock (he being the owner of the business and the guy fobbing off reporters earlier) and Dr Sims of Harmony Shoals and she finds out that brain monsters are scooping out the normal boring brains of their workers so that they can be placed within human skull cavities. A certain non-webslinging Doctor is there too, eating a nice snack, investigating Harmony Shoals.
The Doctor isn’t alone though, he is accompanied by Nardole. Remember him? He too was in the last episode. All we need now is Greg Davies as Hydroflappyflax to make this episode a reunion. Nardole, if you’ll recall, was just a head at the end of that episode but he now has a body again. Which is good for him.
The brains kill off Mr Brock and snuff him out like a candle in the wind… They then repossess him unlike a candle in the wind. More like a squatter getting out of the wind.
Lucy and Nardole and the Doctor return to the room where the press conference was but Dr Sims has followed them there. Of course he already has a brain monster inside his Nyderesque noggin.
Sims whips out his gun but the Doctor has a plan. Turn their backs to him! Erm, as plans go this one is a bit sketchy but just think about it. Turning their backs upon someone with a gun is actually a great idea. Because who would believe he shot them in self-defence? “Officer, they walked towards me, um, backwards. So I protected myself fairly by shooting them in the, erm, back.”
They hear a tapping, not at the chamber door but at the window. “It is a flying man,” quoth the raven. And it is, it is a flying man. Hooray!
Does it sound like somebody tapping on a window to you? I wasn’t so convinced. Sounded a little fake to me. I know this is a mere quibble but still…
This window-tapper is the Ghost, a real superhero. The only superhero in a world of normal human beings, Zygon suckery doppelgangers and Donald Trump. A unique fellow this Ghost, which is proven when he shatters the nuclear-proof, asteroid-proof, toddler-proof windows.
“Oooh, nuclear-proof and asteroid-proof, very nice. Mind you, you need to fire the windowcleaners, just look at that smear.”
Everyone is surprised at this, the Doctor included, but none so much as Dr Sims who proceeds to shoot the heck out of the Ghost.
Three points about the Ghost:
1: The Ghost’s mask is similar to the one that Kyle Rayner wore as Green Lantern in the 1990s. Possibly a coincidence but if not it is a hell of an obscure reference.
2: The gravelly voice of the superhero is far too Batmanish. Especially coming from someone who looks like he should be on The Only Way is Essex or Baywatch.
3: He looks like a brunette Thal although some Whovian Greybeards may dispute this.
As I was saying, Dr Sims, or rather the alien brain beastie nestling inside his gulliver, pulls out a gun and starts pumping lead into our hero but, as with Tobias Vaughn, the bullets bounce off. Unlike Toby he doesn’t give out a maniacal chuckle. The ghost shrugs his shoulders and says, “Yeah, bullets. So what?” The Doctor whispers a quiet little “jings” from behind Nardole who is turn behind Lucy who is herself behind the sofa.
There is the usual posturing between the goodies and the bad guy which results in the Ghost flying off with Lucy. The Doctor and Nardole beat a hasty retreat.
The Ghost returns Lucy to her stylishly faux-bohemian apartment. There is a little bit of flirty stuff going on here but I guess you readers will want me to skip the yucky parts, right? As you wish. They arrange an interview sans yucky stuff.
Lucy enters her home. The Ghost enters her home too and undresses into his civilian gear. They don’t enter together. The Ghost is actually her billionaire boyfriend Bruce Wayne. Or her nanny Grant Gordon (whose name possibly refers to comic writer Alan Grant and that police chief that Batman frequently romances) or is it Gordon Grant? I could research it but I feel that I am right with this name. Knowing my luck, he’ll probably be called Dwayne Dibbley.
Grant is nannying Lucy’s baby. Or would be if the Doctor and Grant hadn’t got there first. The TARDIS is much faster than a speeding bullet. Supes eat your heart out. With a time machine, speed is relative.
But don’t think Grant is being neglectful by flying around when he should be looking after Lucy’s baby, oh no! He has a baby monitor and given that he can be back within seconds, no problem. Although it does raise the question: what if the Ghost is busy saving somebody when the baby cries? I can imagine him flying back, burping the baby and telling the victim to untie themselves as he looks after the kid.
The Doctor (And Nardole! Don’t forget Nardole!) and Nardole (thank you) track down the Ghost by looking for the weird alien energies which the gem, that Grant swallowed, emits. And yet he suffers no digestion problems…
Lucy, plucky girl reporter, returns and with he help of a squeaky googly-eyed Ken Dodd phallus called Mr Huffle, she gets him to reveal to her that alien brain monsters are planning on taking control of Earth’s most powerful leaders. The brain monsters were planning to transplant themselves into Donald Trump’s head but apparently they have a nut allergy.
Lucy is agasp, the Ken Dodd sex toy is not happy about it either. These aliens have a habit of invading skulls and planets and colonising them with more of their gooey chums, and all to the tune of Bob & Earl’s Harlem Shuffle so zero out of ten for evil but ten out of ten for musical taste.
Lucy leaves for her interview with the Ghost after making herself looking like a million dollars. No, not green and crinkly but super attractive.
The Doctor and Nardole, who no doubt will turn out to be some kind of secret bad-ass, track down the alien’s ship by tracing pizza delivery guys who have been sent up to give the brain monsters cheese-and-feline pizzas. This may sound improbable and you’d be right to think so. I was lying. The brain monsters ordered Chinese.
Our heroes, super in their own way, TARDIS themselves aboard the ship where they discover that the ship’s reactor is not looking too good. In fact it is about to explode. With the recollection of the Harmony Shoals building being nuclear-and-asteroid-proof, the Doctor twigs that Dr Sims and his evil brain cohorts plan on crashing the spaceship into New York. Their building would be intact and the city would be vaporised. The world leaders would then all hustle into other Harmony Shoals buildings in the mistaken assumption that Earth was being attacked and then brain squatting ahoy! Simples!
The spaceship is to crash at a certain time but the Doctor moves the schedule to now and the spaceship will splat into New York right now. Um, not sure this plan is any better than the brain monster’s plans. But you can’t judge a book by its cover even if the cover is covered with tigers, submarines, Voord and Peri in a bikini.
On Earth in pre-splat New York, Lucy is interviewing the Ghost.
“What is your favourite colour?”
“What is your favourite animal?”
“If you were to be a superhero for the day, what superpower wou… Oh, sorry.”
“How did you get your powers?”
“I was bitten by a radioactive ghost.”
This scintillating interview is interrupted when the alien brain monsters arrive to plant one of their number into the Ghost’s cranial apartment. Mr Huffle is murdered at this point when the Ghost accidentally sits on him in a bid to escape and then come back as his normal Grant self. Which probably makes more sense to Grant than it does to me. Go figure.
Grant receives a message from the Doctor via the ghost of Mr Huffle and reveals himself to all and sundry (Lucy and nonplussed Brain monsters) as the Ghost. Ta-dah! A tumbleweed drifts past.
Grant stops the spaceship from crashing just by holding it. Yeah, now that is a truly ta-dah moment, yeah?
To cut a long story short, the Doctor calls in UNIT, Torchwood and the Boy Scouts of America to sort out Harmony Shoals. Doctor Sims’ monster brain escapes in the head of one of the UNIT soldier boys and this is never picked up again in the series so make of that what you will. Moffat says, “To hell with closure, deal with it!”
Grant promises the Doctor that he will no longer use his powers. To which the Doctor, Lucy and Nardole give a hollow laugh. Yeah, right.
Lucy asks the Doctor why he is sad because apparently he has been sad throughout this episode. Sad-ish maybe. He doesn’t answer her. But Nardole does. He says, “Her name was River Song. She ate his last Rolo.”
Oh, Grant and Lucy also end up together romantically. So that is nice.
Question: the wish-granting gem grants wishes, right? Why doesn’t it grant Grant’s wish of making Lucy fall in love with him? Or maybe it does given that she does fall in love with him by the end of the story.
So what do I think of the episode?
Peter Capaldi is excellent as usual. Yes, I know I keep praising him but he really is pretty damn good. Faultless performance. Love him, love him, love him. I really do love him.
Justin Chatwin as Grant Gordon AKA The Ghost? He was alright. I liked how he approached the role as a cross between Christopher Reeve and that Maguire guy from the Spider-Man films. Not great but passable. but Logan Hoffman and Daniel Lorente steal the show as younger versions of Grant. This is just my opinion.
Charity Wakefield as Lucy Fletcher is less of a character than a loose amalgam of every version of Lois Lane you may have seen or read. This is not a bad thing but she needed to be fleshed out a little more. Performancewise excellent but she deserved better.
Adetomiwa Edun as Mr Brock was good but all too brief. But Aleksandar Jovanovic played Dr Sims brilliantly. He reminded me of Brent Spiner as Data in the way he actually convinced me that he was non-human. It is a pity that Sims (or was it Sim?) doesn’t make it out of the episode with his human body intact. Oh well…
So is The Return of Doctor Mysterio any good. Erm. Yeah. Kinda. Not as good as The Christmas Bride but no seasonal story has been, so it is all fine.
The beginning of The Return of Doctor Mysterio is a little slow but that is fine. I wouldn’t expect every episode to be crash-bang-wallop. It was a nice build-up, I thought. The beginning is the most Christmassy part of the story. As soon as it comes back to the modern-day, Christmas isn’t in sight. Or is it? No, I don’t think so. Hmmm.
The episode neatly plays with the superhero tropes. All within an hour. The Clark Kent/Superman/Lois Lane love triangle, the origin story, secret identity, and unmasking. The great thing about this is how it underplays all these themes so that they don’t interfere with the story too much.
So should you watch this? Yes, you should. Watch it. Watch it now!