The Good: Fun, Decent performances, Engaging plot development, Hints of character development
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" brings The Doctor back to Earth where he essentially acts as a sidekick to New York City's mysterious masked superhero . . . The Ghost!
When it comes to Doctor Who, the last few years have been pretty rough on the franchise. Peter Capaldi has stepped into the role of The Doctor and there have been few moments of brilliance in the writing equal to his talents. While there has been some restructuring on the creative end of Doctor Who, the show has been on hiatus, having taken the year since "The Husbands Of River Song" (reviewed here!) off. But now, Doctor Who is giving us a new Christmas special with "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio."
"The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" follows the events of "The Husbands Of River Song" as closely as it conceivably could, though this Christmas episode bookends the events of "The Husbands Of River Song" in a way that makes one want to go back and watch last Christmas's episode. Despite the connections to "The Husbands Of River Song," "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" stands alone as its own entity with a mostly-new cast of characters. In many ways, "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" is the superhero episode of Doctor Who and perhaps what is most surprising about the episode is how effectively it blends genres and makes a distinctive episode of Doctor Who!
Opening in New York City with The Doctor hanging from the rooftop of an apartment, dangling before young Grant's window, The Doctor asks the boy if he can come in. The Doctor is allowed in and he and Grant go back up to the roof where the Doctor is working on a device that would stop some of the temporal anomalies in New York. When The Doctor notices the boy is coughing, he offers him help and a glass of water and Grant mistakenly thinks the artifact The Doctor has given him is a pill and swallows it. The artifact bonds with Grant and gives him super powers and does not pass from him.
The Doctor returns to Earth with Nardole, whom he has taken as a Companion following his adventures with River Song coming to an end. In New York, the company Harmony Shoal is being investigated by reporter Lucy Fletcher, when she decides to sneak into the building one night. The CEO of Harmony Shoal has his brain replaced by an alien when Fletcher, The Doctor and Nardole sneak in. They are confronted by the aliens and are in dire peril when they are rescued by a new superhero, The Ghost. The Doctor quickly realizes that The Ghost is Grant and Grant is working as Lucy's nanny. When Lucy scores an interview with The Ghost, the aliens use that as an opportunity to lure The Ghost into a trap. While Grant works to keep his identity safe and not confess his love to Lucy, The Doctor and Nardole have to stop the aliens from destroying New York City and entrapping world leaders in their fiendish plan to conquer Earth!
The Doctor is initially presented as fun and kind when he first encounters Grant. The set-up with Grant very clearly establishes the tone and concept of "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" as this is very much the Doctor Who adaptation and commentary on the current U.S. obsession with super hero films based on comic book heroes. "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" is Doctor Who payback for Marvel/Disney hiring so many BBC actors for their new blockbusters. As such, "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" utilizes a number of conceits and catch phrases from key comic books like Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman.
The villainous aliens are just practical enough to have a decent diabolical plan with a pretty awesome fail-safe in the form of an orbiting ship that is prepared to wipe out New York City. The aliens are absurd enough to feel a lot like a comic book villain and a Doctor Who enemy that makes things creepy. The brains are a pretty decent special effect.
Nardole returns to Doctor Who in "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" as comic relief, which frees Peter Capaldi up to play The Doctor as very wry. "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" allows The Doctor to have a very distinctive voice, separate from the character interacting with holdover Companions from prior incarnations of The Doctor and it works quite well.
In fact, all that does not work exceptionally well is the initial mood for The Doctor in "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio." The Doctor's twenty-four year night with River Song has come to an end and he is supposed to be experiencing loss and that is not immediately evident as The Doctor pops up eating sushi while sneaking around Harmony Shoal. Capaldi manages to never make The Doctor sound or feel as ridiculous as Matt Smith's goofy portrayal of the character, but "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" misses some real opportunities to make The Doctor moody as a result of his loss. After all, he had Clara as a Companion for only two years (with an additional couple months for her as Matt Smith's Companion) and he became so determined as to fight his way through Gallifrey's security system with the loss he felt for her! River Song is a much more significant relation to The Doctor and the fact that he arrives in the narrative without it appearing very clear that he is wrestling with something important - or that his time with River changed him in any demonstrable way - is troubling.
That said, "The Return Of Doctor Mysterio" is a lot of fun and allows Doctor Who to return to being something fun, smart, and engaging!
For other Doctor Who Christmas episodes, please visit my reviews of:
"The Christmas Invasion"
"Voyage Of The Damned"
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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