In the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special, an innocent mistake leads the Doctor to the creation of a superhero. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
Oh, how I missed you, Doctor Who.
It’s been practically three years since my last journey through this show, and at the time, I caught up on series nine. There was a nine month gap (give or take) between my previous viewing, so I do want to say upfront that I at least re-read reviews for series eight and nine before I watched “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” My memory for Capaldi’s run was actually pretty good, but three years is a long, long time to go between watching seasons of a show. A lot has happened in my life in those three years! A GREAT DEAL, I WOULD SAY. But you know what?
I still love Doctor Who.
If I was going to take a break from the show due to scheduling conflicts and general busy-ness, this really was an incredibly fun episode to watch to get right back into it all. I missed the wackiness, the absurdity, each and every one of Peter Capaldi’s facial expressions, and the sheer joy that Doctor Who has given me. I enjoyed Twelve’s run thus far, so after the sad ending to “The Husbands of River Song,” it made a lot of sense that the following special would be one of exuberance and happiness.
And make no mistake, the Doctor is still grieving here; I think Nardole’s interpretation is spot-on. But if you were going to take Who in an escapist direction, to celebrate life and love and the fun of this whole universe, then it fits so well that this story unfolds as a comic book does. There’s a very specific tone throughout “Mysterio” that’s a loving pastiche of things like Superman (and this episode is full of references to that character/series), Batman, Spiderman, and various tropes of the comic book world. We see it in the characters themselves, as Grant and Lucy very easily fall into the archetypes that Superman proliferated. Hidden identities! Characters who love one another, but keep denying it to themselves, and THE HIDDEN IDENTITY ONLY MAKES IT WORSE! Balancing a dual life! All of this is done in such a genuine way, and I appreciated that. Why?
Because this isn’t a gritty, realistic exploration of what it meant to be a superhero. I think we’ve all seen/read a whole lot of those lately. Instead, Grant is just a GOOD PERSON. He really is! Even when he’s a kid and he can’t really control the powers that the gemstone has given him, he is still trying his hardest not to use those powers to be evil. Then, he develops a strong moral code, and he does it by mimicking the very comic books he read growing up. Actually, he even mimics the way superheroes talk, too! It’s adorable. It’s charming. That’s a fantastic summary of the story as a whole: it’s just so SINCERE.
And as I said, I appreciated that because it made for a great re-entry place for me. I came off of “The Husbands of River Song” a few years ago loving Capaldi and Twelve, but feeling that only the second half of that special knocked it out of the park. There’s little in the way of complicated, serialized plot lines here. Nardole is back, and we discover that since that last special, the Doctor rescued him and put him back together. Lucas is pretty funny in this episode, but there’s not much in the way of character insight, is there? He’s just kind of… here? I’m hoping we’ll see something more complicated than this in the future. I believe the whole device that the Doctor was building was to fix all the weird time shit from “The Angels Take Manhattan,” right? But the biggest piece of this that came from the past was the Doctor’s grief. He spent a twenty-four year-long-day with River, and then, she went off to her final adventure, closing the loop on her life.
So what do you do next? How do you find a way to move on from something like that? The bizarrely tragic thing is that the Doctor already saw her die, multiple regenerations ago, and yet, her death was still a deeply, deeply upsetting thing. So I found it fitting that his first big adventure after the Singing Towers of Darillium was in Manhattan. It was in that very city that River Song once told the Doctor that he shouldn’t travel alone, and we’ve seen, over and over again, that the Doctor needs someone by his side. He needs someone to keep him in check, to keep him focused, to remind him of who he is and what he does. And in this case, that was Nardole! And while I still do think we need more from this character, this special did show us that Nardole must mean something to the Doctor. He’s controlling the TARDIS, y’all. THAT IS NOT SOMETHING THE DOCTOR GIVES TO JUST ANYBODY. And while I’m sure the two have done many other things prior to reuniting with Grant, this was the adventure that the Doctor needed.
In many ways, Grant is a reflection, not a foil. Here is a man with a ridiculous power, one that could easily be used for evil, and yet, Grant chose—every day, mind you!!!—to do good. He saved people. He watched Lucy’s child, often at his own expense. He did not take advantage of his superhero identity to get Lucy to love him. Y’all, he was just good. AN ACTUAL GOOD PERSON. And what better reminder for the Doctor than that? You do good because you can. You save Earth because you can.
I enjoyed this, y’all. I could do without seeing people split open their heads (GOOD BYE, THIS GROSSED ME OUT SO MUCH), but I had a blast. I’M SO HAPPY TO BE WATCHING DOCTOR WHO AGAIN!!!
The video for “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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