Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Doctor Who Christmas Special 2016: The Return Of Doctor Mysterio

It's the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas Special!

Hey, I kind of remember that show! Sci-fi series about a guy who's face keeps changing? Flies around in a time machine and always gets into trouble? That was a pretty good show. I wonder whatever happened to it?

Believe it or not, this is the first and only! Doctor Who episode of 2016! There hasn't been any new Who since LAST year's Christmas Special! What the hell, BBC? Did you guys decide you don't like making money? 

I honestly don't know if the BBC's to blame here, or if this was another of showrunner Steven Moffat's cockamamie concepts. Whoever came up with it, it's a bad, bad idea. TV shows live and die by their audience. A devoted audience can keep a show on the air for years. When the show decides to take a year off to "find itself," then the audience is going to find other things to watch. When Doctor Who finally does decide to come back, it may find the audience has moved on, and discovered other things with which to occupy its time.

This year's Christmas Special is a direct sequel to last year's The Husbands Of River Song. Same villains, same sort of companion, and lots of references to the Doctor's last night with his wife River. It's not necessary to have seen the previous Special, but it couldn't hurt. It's been so long since the previous Special aired that I bet most people have forgotten it, and won't even realize this is a sequel.

This episode is also a love letter to Superman, as Doctor Who finally attempts to ride the superhero wave. Too bad they're only eight years too late!

As Christmas Specials so, overall this wasn't a bad one. It was definitely one of Steven Moffat's more coherent scripts, which is always a plus. I could actually understand what was happening here and follow the action. See, Moffat? You CAN write a decent script when you want to.


The Plot:
We begin in New York City, where an eight year old boy named Grant Gordon is awakened by the Doctor, who's dangling outside his apartment window. Seeing as it's Christmas Eve (the only remotely Christmassy thing about this episode), Grant mistakes the Doctor for Santa and lets him in. We see that Grant is a huge fan of comic books, as his room is covered with superhero posters.

The Doctor tells Grant he got caught in a trap he set to protect a device he's building. He takes Grant to the roof and shows him a large, cobbled-together contraption, built to "calm" various time distortions in the city (callback time!). He hands Grant a glowing red gemstone to hold, and checks on the machine. He then lets Grant activate the device, telling him to insert the gemstone in a socket.

Unfortunately Grant thought the gemstone was a pill, given to him by someone calling himself "The Doctor," and swallowed it. The gemstone has the power of wish fulfillment, which in Grant's case means it gives him superpowers.

Years later Grant's in high school, and the gemstone still hasn't, um, passed. He's miserable and embarrassed because he now has X-Ray vision that he can't shut off, and constantly sees through his classmates' clothing. The Doctor tells Grant that the gemstone has become part of his body and his powers are permanent. He says Grant's superpowers don't belong in our world, and makes him promise never to use them.

In the present day, reporter Lucy Fletcher (aka Lucy Lombard, her married name) is covering the opening of the Harmony Shoals Corporation in New York. She believes something shady's going on in the company, and sneaks in after hours to investigate. She overhears Mr. Brock, the head of the company, talking with Mr. Sim, who's the head of the science division or something. Lucy is startled when she sees the Doctor standing next to her, also eavesdropping on the pair. 

Dr. Sim tells Mr. Brock that the brains in the vault (?) are multiplying. Just why a major corporation has a vault full of brains onsite is apparently none of our concern. He says they're not actually brains at all, but alien organisms complete with eyes that plan to place themselves in the heads of every world leader. Sim calls a squad of surgeons, who open Brock's head and implant an alien brain inside.

The Doctor and Lucy discuss what they've just witnessed. He says Harmony Shoals has opened a company in every capital city in the world. Nardole, the Doctor's newest companion (who we first met in last year's Christmas Special), appears and points out that New York isn't a capital, but is ignored. Just then the trio are interrupted by Dr. Sim, who starts monologuing, saying he's going to kill them. 

The Doctor stalls long enough for the Ghost New York's superhero protector to show up. He flies through the 100th story window, knocks out Sim, and flies Lucy home. Naturally she falls hard for the dashing superhero.

Cut to Grant, as he enters a nursery and is surprised to see the Doctor and Nardole there. The Doctor reveals he knows Grant is really the Ghost, and that he broke his promise to never use his powers. Grant spills his guts to the Doctor, admitting he's had a crush on Lucy since high school, but unfortunately she married his best friend. When she had a baby, her husband left (nice guy!) and Grant swooped in, becoming a male nanny to Lucy's daughter. He hopes by doing this that Lucy will see what a great guy he is and marry him, which the Doctor thinks is a pretty pathetic plan (I have to agree with him). 

Just then Lucy comes home and is shocked to see the Doctor and Nardole in her apartment. Grant hears a crisis and flies off to save the world. Lucy begins questioning the Doctor, demanding to know who he is and why he's there. He tells her the truth that alien brains are using Harmony Shoals to replace world leaders in preparation for a full scale invasion. Amazingly she doesn't disbelieve him. She asks him who the Ghost is, but he refuses to tell her, hoping she'll figure it out for herself.

Grant, as the Ghost, sets up an interview "date" with Lucy. She then asks Grant if he can watch the baby, and he mumbles an excuse, saying he can't as he has a date. This ignites a small spark of jealousy in Lucy, that confuses her. Could she be developing feelings for mild-mannered Grant?

Meanwhile the Doctor visits Harmony Shoals, warning them to knock off their plans or he'll knock it off for them. Brock pulls a gun out of his head (literally!) and threatens the Doctor. Nardole materializing the TARDIS around the Doctor, saving him. They discover the brains' mothership is in orbit around Earth, and land the TARDIS there. Inside the ship they find the reactor is critical, and the Doctor deduces the brains' plan. They're going to crash the ship into New York, vaporizing everything but the reinforced Harmony Shoals building. World leaders will then flock to the Harmony Shoals branches in the capital cities of the world, and will be implanted with alien brains.

The Ghost meets Lucy for their interview. He answers her questions dutifully, while trying to reveal his secret identity subtly at first, and then more blatantly. Suddenly Mr. Brock appears with a gaggle of surgeons, intent on implanting an alien brain into the Ghost. The Ghost then flees, returning a second later as Grant, who heroically steps in to save Lucy.

The Doctor decides to throw a wrench into the brains' plan by flying their ship toward New York City ahead of schedule, hoping Grant will stop it. Grant sees the ship hurtling toward the city and is finally forced to reveal his true identity to Lucy as he catches the ship with one hand.

The Doctor tells Brock that the plan's all over, as UNIT forces are invading every Harmony Shoals tower throughout the world. Naturally no one notices that the brain inside Sim secretly transfers itself into a UNIT grunt, no doubt so it can return in a future Special.

So the aliens are defeated and Grant and Lucy are finally together. Before the Doctor leaves, Lucy asks him why he's still sad. He tells her "everything ends" and leaves. Nardole explains that the Doctor spent one last night (on a planet where the nights are twenty four years long, but a night nonetheless) with River Song, and it's now over. He says he'll make sure the Doctor is happy again soon.

• For a Christmas Special, there's nothing all that Christmassy in this episode, apart from a brief bit at the beginning. I guess technically it's not a requirement that Christmas episodes be filled with holiday trappings, but it helps!

Actually the same thing happened in last year's Special as well. There was a very brief mention of Christmas at the beginning of the episode, and that was pretty much it.

• The Doctor thumbs through a comic in Young Grant's room, and honestly believes he's made an amazing discovery. He very seriously tells Grant that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person.

Little moments like this that remind us the Doctor is truly alien, with a completely odd and different way of looking at things are why I like the series so much. Or why I did back when it used to be on.

By the way, the Superman comics the Doctor was reading were written and drawn by artist and internet curmudgeon John Byrne back in 1986 (oy, it feels like just a couple years ago that I bought and read his Superman run!). 

For the record the issue he's reading is Superman #19. He also draws glasses on a panel featuring Clark Kent from Superman #7.

At first I thought it was odd that Young Grant would be interested in reading such old comics, but remember, this opening scene happened twenty four years ago from our perspective. That would be in 1992, so it wouldn't be out of the question for him to have some six year old comics. When I was a kid I kept my comics at least that long, and read them over and over until they turned into dust.

• The Doctor and Young Grant discuss other comic characters:

The Doctor: "Why did they call him Spider-Man? Don't they like him?
Young Grant: "He was bitten by a radioactive spider, and guess what happened?"

The Doctor: "Radiation poisoning, I should think."

Young Grant: "No, he got special powers!"

The Doctor: "What, vomiting, hair loss and death? Fat lot of use."

• The Doctor tells Young Grant that there's a lot of temporal disruption in New York, and he hopes the machine he's cobbled together on the roof will make it "calm down."

Obviously this is a reference to The Angels Take Manhattan, a terrible Moffat-penned episode and one I've chosen to pretend doesn't exist.

• Young Grant thinks the Doctor needs a proper comic book name, and dubs him "Doctor Mysterio." That's a little in-joke, as in Mexico the series is actually called Doctor Misterio.

• Moffat does the dreaded "Doctor who?" joke twice in this episode. For years now I've been saying that every time he reuses this tired joke, he owes me $25.

• The Doctor tells Young Grant that the Hazandra gemstone comes from the heart of a "red hole." Yikes.

OK, I get that this was likely a reference to some weird sci-fi variation of a "black hole." But "red hole" sounds kind of... unwholesome. Dirty, even.

• There are quite a few references and nods to Superman The Movie in this episode, which I guess makes sense, since the Ghost is pretty much the Man Of Steel.

At the Harmony Shoals opening, Mr. Brock says, "Any questions after today can be handled by Miss Shuster or Miss Siegel, who can be contacted on the e-mail addresses provided in your welcome pack." I assume I don't have to point out the significance of those two names?

"Lucy Lombard" is a nod to the fact that all the females in Superman's life have alliterative "L" names (Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, etc).

The Harmony Shoals building looks very much like the Daily Planet, complete with spinning globe on top.

The Ghost flies Lucy through the city before dropping her off at her apartment (fortunately she doesn't start reciting a poem in her mind). Before he takes off, he says, "I hope this unpleasant experience doesn't put you off a career in journalism." Superman said something similar to Lois after rescuing her from a falling helicopter, saying, "Well, I certainly hope this little incident hasn't put you off flying, Miss. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel."

Lucy conducts a rooftop interview with the Ghost on their date. Lois did pretty much the same thing with Superman in 1978.

As the mothership speeds toward New York, the Doctor contacts the Ghost on a special frequency that only he can hear. Lex Luthor did the same thing with Superman.

• There are also several Marvel comic and movie references in the episode.

When the Ghost flies off to save the world, Lucy says, "Go get 'em!" That's just one word away from Mary Jane Watson's catchphrase, "Go get 'em, tiger!" from the Spider-Man movies.

The Doctor tells Grant that "with great power comes great responsibility." That's traditionally been Uncle Ben's line to Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comics and movies.

In the opening scene the camera pans past Joe's Pizza. I'm not sure if this is a deliberate reference or just a coincidence, but that's where Peter Parker works in Spider-Man 2.

And the red Hazandra jewel, which can actually grant wishes, seems a lot like the Infinity Stones of the various Marvel movies.

• This isn't the first time we've seen this episode's villainous alien brains. They actually showed up last year in The Husbands Of River Song, where they were members of the "Shoal Of The Winter Harmony." In that episode, the Doctor and River are surrounded by a restaurant full of Shoals, including one called Scratch, who wants to buy the Halassi Androvar diamond.

Scratch had the same distinctive diagonal scar across his face as the Shoals in this episode. He even opened his flip top head and pulled out a money orb, much like Sim and Brock did in this episode.

Honestly it's been so long since The Husbands Of River Song that I completely forgot about all of this until I rewatched the episode in preparation for this review.

• The Doctor scolds Grant for leaving Lucy's baby unprotected while he's out saving the world. Grant says he could zoom back to the nursery before most people could cross the room, plus he uses a "long range baby monitor."

This is one of those things at which Moffat definitely excels coming up with answers to questions no one would ever think to ask (not even me!). 

No one would have ever thought about the fact that a normal monitor has a range of a hundred feet or so, but by bringing it up, suddenly the audience stops paying attention to the story and starts thinking about it. Where did Grant get a "long range" baby monitor? Is there even such a thing? Did he build it himself? Does he also have super intelligence and super engineering skills?
When we last saw Nardole (in The Husbands Of River Song) he'd been decapitated and his head was placed atop King Hydroflax's robot body. The robot also decapitated River Song's husband Ramone and placed his head inside its body as well.

Suddenly in this episode Nardole's in one piece again, and none the worse for wear. Nardole mentions that the Doctor "cut him out of Hydroflax" and reassembled him so he wouldn't be lonely, and that's as close to an explanation as we get. So I guess the Doctor can now reattach heads?

These "non-explanations" are another hallmark of Moffat's scripts.

• It was nice to see the Doctor finally put his new sonic screwdriver to use. Let's all hope we've seen the last of last season's horrible sonic sunglasses.

Note: After rewatching The Husbands Of River Song, I saw that the Doctor actually used his new sonic several times in that episode as well. Sorry. I tend to forget details like that when there are THREE HUNDRED & SIXTY FIVE FLIPPING DAYS BETWEEN EPISODES!

• At least the Ghost doesn't wear black makeup around his eyes, like so many other TV and movie superheroes. Now he can take off his mask and not look like a raccoon.

By the way, Grant Gordon/The Ghost is played by actor Justin Chatwin. You may remember Chatwin as Tom Cruise's son in the 2005 War Of The Worlds remake.

• When UNIT locks down the Harmony Shoals offices, one of the grunts mentions putting in a call to Osgood. We've seen Osgood before, in The Day Of The Doctor, Death In Heaven and The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion.

1 comment:

  1. Just finished watching this one. It was fun, though really the Doctor was almost incidental to the action. BTW, in last year's special, Christmas was mentioned again at the end (it's when the Doctor was able to get a reservation at the restaurant for him and River).


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