Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio
(1 episode, Christmas Special, 2016)
With great fandom comes great tributes to nostalgia.
It’s Christmas Eve in 1990. In New York City, a boy named Grant meets the Doctor in the middle of the night as the Time Lord dangles by his ankles in front of Grant’s window. The Doctor was testing a trap and inadvertently set it off. After some hijinks, the Doctor is finally let in because he is “expected.” Turns out that Grant and his mother believe that the Doctor is Santa Claus.
The Doctor flips through Grant’s Superman comic collection, discovering that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. The Doctor also learns about Spider-Man before taking Grant to the roof to work on the Doctor’s trap. Grant names the Time Lord “Doctor Mysterio” as he works on the “time distortion equalizer thingy” that will take the edge off of his frequent incursions near the area. It will also help protect a glowing gemstone in the Doctor’s possession. The gemstone is one of four left in the universe and is known as the Hazandra. This “Ghost of Love and Wishes” uses power from a nearby star to make the wisher’s dreams come true.
Unfortunately, Grant swallowed the gemstone after mistaking it for medicine, and now has superpowers. Fast-forwarding to the future, a now-adult Grant works as a nanny. Elsewhere in the city, a man named Brock is hosting a press release at the Harmony Shoal building – which looks a lot like the Daily Planet – and fields questions from a reporter named Lucy Fletcher and Nardole.
Brock later meets with Dr. Sim at midnight, missing the fact that Lucy and Nardole have both independently sneaked back into the building. Sim and Brock enter a vault full of brains and Sim questions where some of the brains came from. Lucy overhears this and meets the Doctor as Brock discovers that Sim and the brains are aliens. The aliens swapped the brain of the real Dr. Sim with an invader, and a surgical team soon does the same to Mr. Brock.
Lucy and the Doctor retreat to the lobby where they meet with Nardole before being discovered by Sim. Sim threatens to kill the intruders but they are interrupted by a superhero knocking on the window of the 100th floor. This superhero is known as the Ghost and he saves the protagonists. The Doctor recognizes Grant as the Ghost before the superhero flies Lucy home.
On the day that Grant swallowed the gemstone, he promised not to use his powers as he waited for the stone to pass naturally. The Doctor tracks Grant back to the apartment where he works as a nanny to confront the hero with a Spider-Man catchphrase. It turns out that Grant is working for Lucy, and when she arrives home she is surprised to find the Doctor and Nardole in her dining room.
The Doctor checked in on Grant from time to time. One of those times was in high school when Grant knew Lucy and had x-ray vision. It was then that the Doctor knew that the stone had bonded with Grant’s DNA. In the modern day, the Doctor chats with Grant before sirens call the hero away and the Doctor meets with Lucy.
Lucy investigates the Doctor while using a Mr. Huffle toy – later sold as a Doctor Who-branded collectible! – to persuade him to tell the truth. The Doctor reveals everything about Harmony Shoal and the brain-swapping operation, and Lucy wants to know how the Ghost is related to the plot. She deduces that the Doctor knows the Ghost’s identity, but she’s oblivious to Grant’s secret. Grant overhears Lucy’s demands and calls her in his Ghost persona. Hilarity ensues as the Ghost agrees to have dinner with Lucy and Grant agrees to watch her daughter for the night.
As Sim and Brock hatch a plot to take over the Ghost’s body, the Doctor confronts them. He figures out the plan to assimilate the world’s leaders and warns the body-swappers as Nadole materializes the TARDIS around him. We learn that the Doctor extracted Nardole from Hydroflax because he was lonely. They travel to the Tokyo branch to search for clues while Grant and Lucy have their dinner on the roof of her apartment building. The Doctor and Nardole track a signal in orbit and find a spaceship.
Brock tracks the Ghost and leads a team to assimilate him while the Doctor and Nardole investigate the ship. The ship has been rewired into a floating bomb and has been targeted toward New York City to stage an attack and lure the world’s leaders. Luckily, Harmony Shoal has been designed as a bunker that can withstand the blast. The Doctor decides to crash the ship into the planet’s atmosphere.
Brock attempts to assimilate the Ghost, but Grant breaks free and returns in his civilian guise to confront the aliens. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to communicate with Grant, asking the hero to use his powers and stop the ship from crashing. Of course, Grant is forced to reveal his true identity to Lucy, but the city is saved from nuclear disaster. The Doctor and Nardole arrive in the TARDIS and confront Brock. Grant and Lucy kiss and fly into the sky with the ship as UNIT arrives to close down Harmony Shoal.
Unfortunately, the brain-swappers escape (as the baddies in the comic pages usually do).
As the Doctor and Nardole say goodbye to Grant and Lucy, they discuss how things end and begin again, alluding to the Doctor’s final night with the woman he loved. Nardole explains as the Doctor returns to the TARDIS. Together they set course for adventures unknown.
In typical Christmas Special fashion, this was a light and fluffy piece with plenty of room for the actors to have fun. Steven Moffat’s love of the Superman comics is on full display, making up most of the homage here. Grant puts off definite Clark Kent and Peter Parker vibes as he dances between his personas, and he acts like Batman with a serious and gravelly voice while in the cape and mask. There are several other elements, particularly from the 1978 Superman film, including the rooftop interview and being contacted on a specific frequency that only their super ears can hear. The x-ray vision sequence in the high school reminded me of the Smallville episode “X-Ray” from 2001, though Clark Kent seemed to enjoy the power a bit more than Grant did.
The Superman comic that the Doctor reads is Superman Vol. 2 #19 from July 1988. In that issue, “The Power that Failed”, the villain Psi-Phon removes Superman’s powers one by one. It’s an ironic choice given how young Grant is shown as gaining his powers sequentially in this episode.
The superhero homage is embellished to the extreme in young Grant’s bedroom, complete with tributes to Superman, the Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Captain America, Iron Man, the Defenders, and more. All of them are apparently canon in the Doctor Who universe, and Batman was previously mentioned in Inferno, The Time Monster, Remembrance of the Daleks (where Ace’s earrings were outstanding!), Sky, and The Curse of Clyde Langer. It’s all capped by the nods to Miss Shuster and Miss Siegel, which pays tribute to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the parents of Superman’s legacy.
Brain swapping is a storytelling trope with a long history behind it. In fact, the first supervillain in a DC Comics story was the Ultra-Humanite, a mad scientist who tangled with Superman in Action Comics #13 (“Superman vs. the Cab Protective League”) in June 1939, and that ne’er-do-well transplanted his brain into an actress after supposedly dying in battle against the Man of Steel. He transplanted his brain multiple times over the years before settling on the body of an albino gorilla. Doctor Who fans will recognize the trope as part of the story The Brain of Morbius.
A fun bit of trivia that I didn’t know until I started diving into this story relates to the name Doctor Mysterio. When Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi were doing the Doctor Who World Tour, they fell in love with the show’s Mexican title Doctor Misterio. Peter Capaldi’s delivery of that name in this episode is an impersonation of the announcer’s voice on the overdubbed soundtrack.
Finally, I loved how the Doctor brought snacks to his investigation. I also loved the callback to The Green Death as Lucy disguises herself as a cleaner just like the Doctor did to infiltrate Global Chemicals.
Overall, this ends up as a wholesome fluff story and a lovely tribute to the superhero genre.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Pilot
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.