It’s been a longer gap than usual between Doctor Who episodes, the last one was last year’s Christmas special ‘The Husbands of River Song’. So the title of this new episode ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ is quite appropriate in that respect, this is the return of the Doctor.
The episode begins in 1992, Christmas Eve, where the Doctor ends up caught in his own trap, dangling upside down outside the 60th floor of an apartment block in New York. The noise wakes up an 8-year-old boy named Grant. Grant decides to help the Doctor out, and they go back to the roof of the building where the Doctor is working on a machine. Grant asks the Doctor who he is, the Doctor simply replies in his usual way, that he is the Doctor. At some point he hands Grant a glass of water and a gemstone, and Grant has a cold so he drinks the water and swallows the gemstone assuming it is medicine. After all, the Doctor told him he was a doctor.
The gemstone appears to give people special abilities they desire, and as Grant is a massive comic book fan – we see his bedroom is full of superhero comics and posters – the gemstone effectively turns him into a superhero with superspeed, superstrength, x-ray vision and flight. The Doctor says that the effects will ware off at some point, but they never do.
24 years later, (i.e Christmas Eve 2016), there is a scientific research company called Harmony Shoals that have set up buildings in many capital cities all over the world, and their latest one to open is in New York City, which while not a capital city is still one of the most famous in the world. They are very hush-hush about what precisely they are researching. The Doctor sneaks in to see what is going on, as does a journalist named Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield). Also there is Nardole (Matt Lucas) last seen in ‘The Husbands of River Song’ and currently travelling with the Doctor and helping him out.
What is in Harmony Shoals research facility is a lot of brains in jars! Though they are in fact aliens who want to replace human brains and take over their body. Very old school sci-fi. One who has been taken over catches up with and tries to shoot the Doctor, Lucy and Nardole, but they are saved by a superhero named The Ghost. The Ghost’s secret identity is, of course, the now grown-up Grant Gordon (Justin Chatwin) who works as a nanny for Lucy, looking after her baby daughter, the biological father having long since walked out on both Lucy and the baby.
Grant has had a crush on Lucy for 24 years, about as long as he has had superhero powers. It also seems Lucy is quite taken with The Ghost, and is eager to find out more about him, little knowing he is right under her nose. Grant confides in the Doctor and Lucy questions the Doctor on what he knows about The Ghost, putting him in quite an awkward position. But he clearly thinks Grant should just tell Lucy his identity and how he feels about her.
The brain alien’s plan is one they’ve already done on several planets before. They will replace the brains of all the world leaders with themselves. Furthermore, they have made the Harmony Shoals buildings able to withstand explosions. They aim to detonate an explosion that will wipe out everything in New York except Harmony Shoals, meaning all the people at the top of the pecking order in society will take shelter there. As the Doctor puts it, what do rich old men do in a crisis? Hide away and send all their young people to die. With it getting out that there has been an alien attack and only Harmony Shoals building withstood it, all the world leaders will head for the Harmony Shoals in their city. The tool that the brain aliens will use to set off the explosion is their own spaceship. But they let it slip that the time isn’t right yet, so the Doctor just presses all the buttons at once meaning the spaceship will crash now.
While this is going on, Lucy has an interview/date with The Ghost on top of the roof of her apartment block. During the conversation it becomes clear that she is realising that she likes Grant as more than a friend. The Ghost tries to remove his mask to reveal who he really is to Lucy, but the brain aliens (within their human hosts of course) arrive, wanting to steal The Ghost’s body. After all, a body with superhuman powers would be useful to them. The Ghost leaves and comes back as Grant before anyone notices.
The Doctor transmits a message only Grant can hear telling him he has to stop the spaceship from crashing. He does, which also means Lucy is now aware of his secret identity. The brain aliens are defeated, and UNIT arrives to shut down Harmony Shoals. Though we see one of the brain aliens has taken over the body of a UNIT soldier…
Grant and Lucy are now happily together as a couple, while the Doctor is pleased for them it also makes him feel a bit sad, having recently seen River Song for the last time.
‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ had a mixed, almost polarising response to say the least. Some gave it a glowing review, some absolutely loathe it. From my point of view, I think I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s a very mediocre, average, bog standard, alright, OK, reasonable enough episode.
The Doctor himself is on quite good form. I liked that he bought a snack of sushi with him while he was spying, and him pointing out that if you got bitten by a radioactive spider if anything you would end up with radiation poisoning, not superpowers. I laughed at him deciding what the hell, and pressing all the buttons on the spaceship.
Matt Lucas was fairly pointless. He only seemed in so they could get a famous guest star in the opening credits, which they always seem to have to do for Christmas specials.
Justin Chatwin and Charity Wakefield were fine, but they were a bit wasted in this episode really. I like them in other stuff they’ve been in, but their characters in this were a little too on the corny side. The geek boy falling for the pretty popular girl and them coming together thing has been done better so many times before. OK, people obviously like that story, and I know it was very much in reference to Clark Kent/Superman (Grant even has glasses like Clark Kent) and Lois Lane, with a bit of Peter Parker/Spiderman and Mary Jane Watson too. But it did occasionally look a bit paper-thin.
The tone of the episode was very cheesy, even if it was intentional, with all the comic superhero clichés and brains in a jar. As brain alien villains go, these are not a patch on the Brainspawn from Futurama. If anything, the episode being so knowingly cheesy didn’t help. I’m not trying to say it was terrible, I thought it was OK, but it felt like a mid-series filler episode rather than a special, let alone a special that has come after a year without the show being on. It was one of the least Christmassy ones they have ever done too, which while not neccessarily a problem didn’t help the general mundane feel of the episode. ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ was not bad, but not great.
Still, roll on series 10!