“Life’s not a comic book, right?” – Doctor Who Recap – The Return of Doctor Mysterio

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Doctor Who 2016 Christmas Special
“The Return of Doctor Mysterio”
Posted by Kim

I’m a young Whovian. (I’ll be six this December!) I had no idea the show existed during the year of one David Tennant Special every few months. I was too busy bingeing the show during the 9 and a half months between “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” and “Asylum of the Daleks” to realize that existing fans had been without the show for so long. I really had no idea what it was like to wait SO LONG for new Who until this year break between “The Husbands of River Song” and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” and let me speak for all of us when I say it SUCKED. (Could no Who be one of the reasons 2016 ended up being a dumpster fire? Discuss.) So I curled up on Christmas evening to watch Doctor Who and was overwhelmed with a desire to just hug my television. PETER CAPALDI I MISSED YOU SO MUCH NEVER LEAVE ME AGAIN.

Will “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” go down as the Best Christmas Special in Whovian History? No. (My shipper trash self will always go for “Last Christmas” and “The Christmas Invasion” first.) But it was a fun take on a superhero story, filled with charming performances and snappy dialogue, AND no one died, which is all we can ask for from a Christmas Special, really. It also serves as a lovely coda for Series 9 and last year’s special “The Husbands of River Song” while also setting up the Doctor’s emotional state going into Series 10. (Here’s a hint: he’s desperately lonely, but at the same time, he’s afraid to commit to a new Human companion because he’s still reeling from the loss of Clara and River.)



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One of the themes that Series 9 explored was the concept of the Doctor coming face to face with the repercussions of his actions in regards to the people he’s encountered and left. We saw the disastrous results of an encounter with the Doctor in Ashildr/Lady Me; we get the opposite in the story of Grant, a young comic book nerd who saves the Doctor from plummeting to his death on a Christmas Eve in New York City. (Never mind that whole plot thread about the TARDIS never being able to go back to New York after the events of “The Angels Take Manhattan”. It’s Christmas, no one care about continuity.) The Doctor is setting up a trap on Grant’s roof (Why? Details, schmetails! Look at how cute Peter Capaldi is with this kid! Look at how they are bonding over superheroes!) and enlists his new pal to help him finish it.

The Doctor hands Grant a red gemstone as he attempts to explain to Grant exactly WHAT he is doing (“It’s a time distortion equalizer thingy.” Okay, so maybe he’s trying to fix what happened in “Angels Take Manhattan”?). The gemstone is the final element to get it to work but unfortunately Grant mistook it for medicine to help his Christmas Cold, so he swallowed it. (In his defense, I’m sucking on a Halls right now and it looks just like the gemstone did.) Because this is a superhero origin story, naturally this is no ordinary gemstone. No, it’s an intuitive gemstone. “It knows what you want and it draws energy from the nearest star to make it happen.” What does meek little Grant want most in the whole world? To be a superhero. Grant’s chest glows red and he zooms off the building, the Doctor clutching at his heels. Hey, it’s better than a bite from a radioactive spider. The Doctor makes Grant promise that he won’t use his newly found powers but we all know how THAT will turn out. I mean…if you could fly, wouldn’t YOU? Exactly.


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What goes down for the rest of the episode is lovely homage to Superman (The Christopher Reeve films, naturally. AKA the only ones that exist). Grant lives a double life as a glasses-wearing mild-mannered Nanny and the confident protector of New York City, The Ghost. (Grant also proves his knowledge of comics because he completely covers his face as The Ghost, unlike Superman, who only uses glasses to differentiate himself from his Alt-Ego Clark Kent.) We have a feisty Lois Lane heroine in Lucy Fletcher Lombard, Grant’s employer and unrequited childhood love. There are shady alien bad guys, Harmony Shoal, who are a bunch of brains in blue liquid trying to stage a fake alien takeover so they can take over the bodies of world leaders. (Also, they exist solely to show how much the special effects on Doctor Who have improved since the days of the Slitheen.) There are hijinks, there’s screwball romance, and there’s heroism. Grant (with the Doctor’s help) saves New York City AND gets the girl, who loves him, just as he is. The end.

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So why am I even doing an episode recap if I found the plot so basic? Because despite the fluff, I think “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is an incredibly important episode for the Doctor as a character. The Doctor needed a WIN, y’all. Think about it. The Doctor spent four and a half billion years in his own personal hell, mourning Clara, grieving her, and torturing himself trying to find a way to save her. And he STILL lost her in the end. He lost her physically and he lost every memory of the woman who helped shaped this regeneration into the man he is today. (*Dark Kermit Meme* He totally remembers her though, which makes it worse.) Sure, “The Husbands of River Song” was a wacky good time adventure but how did it END? It ended with The Doctor spending a 24-year-long night with someone he loved, only to send her off to her imminent death in the library. I may never buy into the great love story of the Doctor and River Song (nope, can’t do it) but I will NEVER deny the fact that he loved her, wholeheartedly. So he lost her too. All the Doctor has done lately is LOSE and it’s heartbreaking.

Grief is not an easy process and it’s not something that anyone can put on any sort of time-table. You can be fine one day and the next day it can sweep over you and leave you incapacitated. The Doctor in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is a portrait of grief. Sure, he’s there with his sarcastic remarks and his heroic acts of defending the earth, but it’s almost like his heart isn’t fully in it. He’s trying to put one foot in front of the other, telling himself that he’s “fine” (Okay, Scully.) when he’s not. The cracks in the facade show whenever the concept of time comes up or whenever Nardole tries to push him into talking about his feelings. He pushes through and carries on as normally as possible because that’s the only thing he knows how to do.

I think the encounter with Grant is so important because it’s a reminder that he’s not a monster who destroys everything he touches. Grant took how the Doctor changed him and he used it for GOOD. He’s a reminder for the Doctor that there will always BE good in the midst of all the bad. The Doctor always retreats into himself after he’s faced with loss (see also: “The Snowmen”) and he always needs the little push to put himself back out there. Grant and Lucy are that push for him. They are the “just this once, everybody lives” that he so desperately needs. He will always carry River and Clara with him in his hearts and the pain of losing them may never fully leave him, but it WILL get easier. But I think Grant and Lucy’s happy ending gives him the strength to really be THE DOCTOR again. Nardole really puts it best when he says “He’s the Doctor. He’s very brave and he’s very silly and I think, for a time, he’s going to be very sad. But I promise, in the end, he’ll be all right.” Quite right, too.

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“Some days are special. Some days are so so blessed. Some days nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while—every day in a million days when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call—everybody lives.”

Timey-Wimey Observations

  • Capaldi’s “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas” was delightful. This episode may have been light on the whole Christmas aspect but I DID love that. Also, I wonder if, like Clara says in “Last Christmas,” if Grant grew up with an entirely different concept of Santa, thanks to that one Christmas Eve. Excuse me while I go weep.
  • “I always get a cold at Christmas.” “Me too. Or an invasion.” STOP MAKING THESE CALLBACKS IT HURTS.

  • Can The Doctor adapt “Mysterio” as one of his many aliases because I loved it and I loved his reaction to Grant naming him.
  • “You can’t go round swallowing things? What age are you? 36?”
  • I would like The Doctor constantly snacking on things to be a running gag in Series 10, thanks.

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  • Did anyone else find it really disconcerting for the Doctor to be surrounded by American accents the whole time?
  • “Special Agent Dan Dangerous.”

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  • I’m not fully on board with Nardole as a full-time character yet. Most of the episode, he was only there to provide cute commentary that we didn’t need. I appreciated the emotional moments he had but they also felt a little forced to me. I realize he was the only one THERE who could offer commentary about the Doctor’s emotional life but at the same time I didn’t feel like he had earned the right to do so. Listen, anyone who has ever talked to me about Doctor Who knows that I felt the same way about Clara in “Time of the Doctor,” so clearly, I am just a stingy bitch when it comes to when characters get the right to have deep emotional connections with The Doctor. (Also maybe I just patently reject Matt Lucas as an actor, who knows?)
  • I loved that The Ghost carried a long distance baby monitor so that Jennifer was a constant presence as opposed to being forgotten about when it was convenient for the story.
  • I cackled when the Doctor busted out with “With great power comes great responsibility.”
  • If there aren’t Mister Huffle toys on shelves by spring, no one in the BBC Marketing department should keep their jobs.



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  • Considering the state of the world, I totally buy into the whole aliens taking over the brains of world leaders concept.
  • Peter Capaldi’s face during the whole split screen phone call scene should be immortalized on the side of a mountain.
  • Even in the midst of personal grief, The Doctor is still all “Bitch back the fuck off this planet” when it comes to Aliens attacking Earth. I love it.
  • “I flooded downstairs with Pokemon.”
  • “I’m the Nanny!” is on par with “Don’t fuck with the Babysitter”.

  • I love love LOVED the Doctor and Grant bemoaning their romantic ineptitude on the fire escape.



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  • “I LOVE BUTTONS AND SWITCHES.”
  • “I know you miss her but couldn’t you just write a poem?” = The only aside of Nardole’s that made me LOL.
  • In Lucy’s eyes, Grant’s superhero costume is his glasses. Girl, same.
  • “You’re not the only one who’s full of it.”
  • Will Harmony Shoal return in Series 10? We saw them take over one of the UNIT soldiers.
  • Speaking of UNIT, we got an Osgood shoutout!
  • “Everything ends and it’s always sad. But everything begins again too and that’s always happy. Be happy.”
  • THIS. IS. A. LOOK.

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  • We got our first glimpse of Bill in the trailer for Series 10. I’m so excited and CURIOUS to know how she becomes a companion.

Did you miss Doctor Who as much as we did? What were your thoughts on “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”? Let us know in the comments.

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