Monday 26 December 2016

Reviews in Time & Space: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

2016 has been a pretty strange year all around, and one without a full series of Doctor Who in sight. There has of course been the "young adult" spin-off series Class on BBC3, but otherwise the show has been on hiatus while filming takes place for the next full series which will introduce new companion Bill to the fold. However it wouldn't be Christmas without the annual Doctor Who Christmas special, and this year the show is tackling something new. Forget about robot Santas and snow that is actually just ash, this year the Doctor comes face to face with a real-life superhero in The Return of Doctor Mysterio.

The Doctor
Doctor Mysterio in the flesh!

It's Christmas Eve 1992 in the city of New York, and the Doctor is here to reverse the paradoxes he inadvertently created on his last visit to the city. Here he meets eight-year-old Grant Gordon, avid comic book reader and superhero fan. After Grant accidentally swallows a gemstone given to him by the Doctor (which he mistook for medicine), Grant receives the main thing his heart desires - superpowers. Unable to take these powers away from him, the Doctor makes Grant swear that he won't use them and leaves.

24 years later, the Doctor (along with a reassembled Nardon from The Husbands of River Song) are investigating the multinational scientific research company Harmony Shoals when he comes face to face with the Ghost - the city's mysterious superhero who is of course a grown up Grant. As the Doctor investigates Grant and his relationship with intrepid reporter Lucy Fletcher, the three must also go up against Harmony Shoals as they reveal their true motive - a plot to invade by taking over the bodies of the world's leaders.

The Ghost
It's the 90s all over again

The news that Doctor Who would be crossing over into the world of costumed superheroes was something unsurprisingly met with a fair amount of skepticism. The two worlds have always seemed so far apart, and with the show suddenly jumping on superheroes in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's popularity it simply seemed like a case of Doctor Who desperately jumping on a bandwagon. But then again, Doctor Who these days is repeatedly marketed as a show that "can be absolutely anything" and to some this may simply seem like an extension of that.

The Return of Doctor Mysterio gets off to a particularly strong start, as the Doctor shares some wonderful scenes with the child Grant and his love of comic books. This is the 12th Doctor at his very finest, (mostly) free from any angst or darkness and just generally having a fun time as he's off saving the Earth. Meanwhile Grant is on top form both as a child and an adult, thanks to some great acting by Logan Hoffman and Justin Chatwin (who you may remember, or rather want to forget, as Goku from the universally-panned Dragonball Evolution). Obvious Lois Lane pastiche Lucy isn't quite as commendable, but plays her part well in the story and shares some good scenes with both the Doctor and Gordon/The Ghost.

Lucy Fletcher
Lois Lame

It isn't until the time skip that the episode's mediocrity begins to murk the waters. The problem isn't that the episode is especially bad, it's that it's completely uneventful and does almost nothing interesting with this unique (for Doctor Who anyway) set up it's created. As likeable as Grant is as a character (casual leaving of a baby alone aside), both he and the whole situation are just painfully cliche. From the obvious Superman pastiches to Grant's alliterative name, everything this episode does is about as stereotypical "comic book story" as you can get. Considering Moffat also teased this episode as being akin to a "blockbuster", it's also incredibly underwhelming visually as well. The costume is straight out of Batman's darkest days, the special effects are basic and it's all essentially stuff out of a silver age comic book. Which isn't always a bad thing but doesn't lend itself particularly well to the drama department.

On top of that you have Harmony Shoal, who are thoroughly unremarkable for a bunch of aliens Moffat seems to have additional plans for if the end of this episode is meant to indicate anything. While the episode does have some wonderfully schlocky moments like brains in jars with eyes, the villains are extremely underdeveloped and their plan half-baked. The whole time the plot with Harmony Shoal just feels like background noise, with the episode far more dedicated to the human drama surrounding Grant and Lucy.

Harmony Shoal
You'd think somehow this would be more memorable

On the more random side of things is the return of Nardole, Matt Lucas' side character from The Husbands of River Song that's now a full blown companion. The explanation behind his reappearance is both flimsy and throwaway, but with Lucas' general eccentricities kept in check the character isn't actually that bad of an addition to the TARDIS crew. He doesn't really do anything in the episode, but his inclusion doesn't feel like a misfire and makes for a nice link to the previous episode (which for the Doctor this comes almost straight after). With the news that Matt Lucas will be appearing in numerous episodes of the next series, this episode gives hope that this won't be a bad thing.

Perhaps the cleverest thing about the episode is actually its title, with "Doctor Misterio" originally being the title the show went under in Mexico - a fact discovered by Moffat and Capaldi during the Doctor Who promotional world tour. It's a nice little nod to the worldwide spread and appeal of the series, and something that fits especially well in an episode that takes place entirely outside of Britain. As much as Doctor Who is a British show that will primarily be set in (or places that look like) Britain, it's become a show of the world and this has become especially true since the show returned in 2005. This episode has shown that off better than any other.

Not the first character you'd expect to come back semi-regularly

The Return of Doctor Mysterio can best be described as "Doctor Who tackling the superhero genre and doing absolutely nothing interesting with it". The episode itself is passable and something of an oddity in that it's a Christmas special with next to nothing to do with Christmas, but does very little outside of the most obvious of pastiches to be particularly noteworthy. With Christmas specials tending to be a little more lighthearted (for the most part) than the standard Doctor Who episode this works as a standalone piece, but had it been part of a full season probably wouldn't stand out very much at all. Still, some Doctor Who is better than no Doctor Who and with a nice little series 10 teaser at the end of the episode it'll be exciting to see the show properly back on its feet sometime in 2017.

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