Doctor Who 10.0: “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” (Christmas Special) Review

Superhero Silliness

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

Doctor Who returns from a year-long hiatus with an episode that lacks the poignancy and heartbreak of the episode it had left us with last Christmas.“The Husbands of River Song” was a triumph in every way an episode of the BBC flagship show could be, combining a complex storyline with an emotional pathos and legitimate heartbreak, something that could arguably be termed as being the perfect Who trifecta. It is a bit difficult to expect every Christmas special from the series to be of that perfect caliber but the memory is still powerful enough to considerably bite into this particular episode’s pleasant charm. The bite in part is quite a chunk as the wait for this episode has been a particularly lengthy one, thanks to some charming hats over at the BBC (unless I’m mistaken, in which case feel free to correct me in the comments below). But in spite of the wait, it is an absolute pleasure to see Peter Capaldi bracing the screen again, delivering the most logical sermons with his trademark sarcastic wit. When that wit isn’t on screen, however, the rest of the episode sinks a little bit and it disappointing to ride that ebbing wave of excitement towards what feels like diminishing returns as the episode continues towards its close. In all fairness, “The Return of Doctor Mystery” is a fairly entertaining episode of Who, hilarious and sprightly but it’s simply not much more than that. It is clearly intended to be a spoof of the superhero genre, right down to specific camera angles and visual cues (there’s a couple of shots of jammed streets and civilians all rushing together that is hilariously on point). The episode, however, simply never truly grabs ahold of its ideas of being and turns them into a tangible story that can entirely stand on its own as well.

The primary problem with the episode is that the characters never really become more than types, even if they are thoroughly charming. The opening is quite nice, even if the logic doesn’t entirely hold up. Logic aside, the Doctor finds himself dangling upside down the window of a little boy named Grant, who is under the cute impression that the Doctor is Santa. Grant is obsessed with superhero comics and finds the Doctor’s hilarious grasp of plot twists that everyone already knows with the exact same reaction I have when someone doesn’t know the secret identity of Strider (spoiler alert: it’s Aragorn, the future king of a united Arnor). Grant, assuming that the Doctor is an actual medical doctor, accidentally swallows a gem and that’s the beginning to his own superhero journey. There are snippets of his agonizing adolescence but the majority of the episode is largely concerned with Grant as an adult, traversing the familiar narrative route of an adult Grant trying to balance his life as an adult nanny and the Ghost. Neither character makes nearly as much of an impression as the child Grant does, to be quite frank because neither version of the adult has the charm and curiosity of young Grant. It necessarily isn’t more difficult to write charming and curious adults than it is to write kids, as a show literally centered around an adult male should know. As it is, Grant is in love with an intrepid reporter named Lucy Fletcher, who is an unabashed copy of Lois Lane and true to narrative stereotype, he’s been in love with her since high school. I appreciate intrepid, clever reporters now more so than ever before, but Moffat’s script is largely content with waking towards the audience instead of actually providing Lucy with character substance.

Moffat has come under considerable fire for being a misogynist show runner and writer and not just in his handling of Doctor Who. To a certain degree, that’s true, regardless of whatever his intentions were in regards to those specific characters and circumstances that come under fire. His reversal of the ending to the Irene Adler introduction in Sherlock was a massive misfire in this regard, for example. He tried to correct course in “The Abominable Bride” but that effort was a lukewarm success at best. Once again, Moffat tries to address those controversies here and while it’s good to see that he is still understanding of where he went wrong, he simply has to stop making his efforts so blatantly obvious that he forgets to actually write three-dimensional characters. There’s a big deal made of Grant being a nanny and I applaud Moffat for bringing in the reality that men have an equal responsibility towards taking care of children and that a male nanny really shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. It’s a job and it shouldn’t be relegated exclusively to women. Moffat, not trusting the audience to understand the issue, almost screams it out of the screen. A similar writing mistake happens with Lucy. We can tell the Doctor finds her to be clever but the episode literally spells it out. The ending, however, is notably poignant and it was good of Moffat to keep in mind that River’s loss is not one the Doctor so easily forgot. Capaldi executes that scene brilliantly and I, in spite of this episode, eagerly await his return with his new companion.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same person!”

+“It’s not your job to ask questions. Stick to science.” I think Mr. Brock needs to look at the definition of science.

+“The rich old men… will find the safest place…”

+The thematic undertone of world leaders literally having their brains replaced by an alien life form that looks like brains was fantastic, if unfortunately timely considering the politics of the era

+“Things end… that’s all.”

Above Average

6/10

Episode Title: The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: Ed Bazalgette

Image Courtesy: Vox

Musings:

Every review from now on will have links to organizations who are in need of resources. Please contribute if you are able:

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