Doctor Who: The Return of Dr. Mysterio was a first in the long history of Doctor Who – it tapped into the global appreciation of superhero comics and movies by introducing one into the Whovian mythos for the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas Special.
The combination of Time Lord and superhero worked– it holds up to repeat viewing extremely well. It’s just a shame that, as usual, there is a paucity of bonus features on the home video release (in stores this week).
Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio runs a number of arcs that fuse together in a gloriously sly hour of family fun – we see The Doctor meet precocious kid, Grant (Logan Hoffman); we see reporter Lucy (Charity Wakefield, The Player) stumble onto a story about an alien invasion, and we see The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) meet Lucy just before they are saved by The Ghost – a Superman-type superhero, cape and all (and, of course, we know that The Doctor knows who he really is).
The alien invasion is unique – alien brain creatures plan to take over human world leaders by replacing their brains with themselves. Icky and ingenious…
Because of a misstep when The Doctor first met Grant, he pops by to visit during the boy’s (Daniel Lorente) adolescence – which is not playing nice with Grant’s x-ray vision…
Written by series showrunner Steven Moffat, The Return of Dr. Mysterio is a smart, loving parody of Superman/Clark Kent combined with what should be considered a classic Doctor Who adventure – highlighted by The Doctor’s amazement that Lois Lane can’t seem to figure out that they are one and the same (the comic used is a John Byrne classic), and juxtaposing that with the way The Ghost avoids such problems by wearing a full mask.,
Director Ed Bazalgette plays The Return of Dr. Mysterio like a Christopher Reeve Superman film – with Grant/The Ghost constantly zipping back and forth between superheroics and his day job as nanny to Lucy’s baby girl, Jennifer. There’s even a reference to Superman in the way that Grant is jealous of himself as things play out – and a bit of a surprise for The Doctor in regard to that relationship.
Justin Chatwin (Shameless, Orphan Black) does a lovely job of portraying Grant/The Ghost in a manner that recalls but doesn’t mimic Reeve’s work as Clark Kent/Superman.
One of the smart little details that add extra fun to the special is the way the title reads like a comics story in which a favorite supervillain comes back to bedevil the hero, but the real creation of the name Dr. Mysterio is completely different (and dropped very nonchalantly into the story).
Another cool thing is the return of River Song’s associate, Nardole (Matt Lucas) as The Doctor’s new companion. Lucas adds a bit of clownishness to the episode that works really well – and sets up some devastatingly emotional moments later on.
Then there are the special effects – a good superhero story needs good effects, CGI and practical. Both are extremely good here (a couple are addressed in the featurette, Doctor Who Extra and were achieved in unexpected ways).
Partly because of the superhero angle, I enjoyed The Return of Dr. Mysterio a great deal. It’s nice to know that Doctor Who can muck about in that playground and be as satisfying as ever.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the bonus material is pretty thin (would it have killed Moffat to do a commentary track on such a unique adventure?): A New Kind of Hero (Charity Wakefield hosts an eight-minute look at what makes The Doctor something new and different), and Doctor Who Extra (a 25-minute look behind the scenes).
Grade: Doctor Who: The Return of Dr. Mysterio – A+
Grade: Features –C+
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