Doctor Who Christmas Special 2016 Recap: The Return of Doctor Mysterio


Doctor Who returns for Christmas in a comic book movie inspired adventure, where the Doctor finds himself in New York City, partnering with a superhero.

One of the things about Doctor Who having lasted all these years is that over those decades it has reflected back our own culture’s obsessions. The Third Doctor, for instance, was as much a James Bond type as he was an alien with extra hearts. The Fourth Doctor reflected back the wild and wooly 1970s, and his companion, Sarah Jane, the equalizing of women. Even the collapse of the Who franchise at the end of the 1980s, reflected the nadir of nerd culture after the conformist decade.

"The Doctor: “I’ve been away for a while. But now I’m back.”"

So it shouldn’t be that surprising that, a full five years after Marvel revolutionized the comic book movie into an all-consuming franchise, that there would be a Doctor Who special that reflected that cultural obsession. Not just the storyline, starring a masked crusader with a nebbish alter ego and his female reporter love interest in New York City, but also the dialogue, the camera cuts, and the bad guys, one of whom keeps pulling a gun out of his skull.

Image via BBC

In this case, the superhero in question, who goes by the name “The Ghost” is actually a creation of the Doctors, made about 24 years ago one Christmas, when he was allowed into the apartment because the kid, Grant, mistook him for Santa. After accidentally eating the jewel the “Doctor” handed him with a glass of water, mistaking it for cough meds, he got an accidental case of superpowers. Despite the Doctor’s admonishment that Grant never use these powers ever, as we all know, that’s just not how it works when you have superpowers. Especially when you’re the kind of kid who grew up reading comic books.

"The Doctor: “There are just some situations that are just too stupid to continue.”"

In terms of concept, it’s not a bad one. The problem is that such tropes like “the girl doesn’t recognize the superhero because of the glasses” is actually incredibly dumb. Especially once the show threw in the extra complication of Grant being her kid’s nanny. Perhaps in the 1950s, it was fine for Lois Lane to be so unobservant. But for Lucy to be so defied credibility. Thankfully, the show acknowledged how ridiculous the situation was at every turn.

Image via BBC

But once we left the faux American-accented lovebirds and their flag randomly hanging off a New York tenement to remind UK viewers we were in America now, where they like to fly flags everywhere, this episode was actually quite glorious.The Doctor facing down the brain trading monsters, with his “That’s Who I Am” was classic reboot Who, a line in the sand we’ve seen drawn by Doctors over the decade, and still never gets old. The brain trading monsters, by the way, are right from “The Husbands of River Song,” suggesting that Moffat hasn’t had his fill of them yet.

And Nardole! I can’t say enough good things about the slowly chill Nardole, who alternates between comic relief and so supremely confident in the TARDIS, he would flick the Doctor’s hand away from the controls. He could have been a minor stop gap companion between Clara and Bill, who arrives next season. Instead, he’s the reason I’m looking forward to Season 10.

"Lucy: “You’re kind of wet.”Grant: “I prefer mild-mannered.”"

And there were plenty of easter eggs to go around, starting with “Doctor Mysterio” which is what “Doctor Who” translates to in Mexico. But for most of us, the resonation of “24 years” puts this, chronologically as the Doctor’s first adventure since, well, the last Christmas special. Those 24 years were the length of the last night he spent with River Song, before she died in a Library, a long, long time ago.

Image via BBC

As for where this will stand in the pantheon of “Doctor Who Christmas episodes” this one was not as Christmasy as some. Though the opening was set at Christmas, and the Doctor forced to let out the grumpiest “ho ho ho ho” ever ho’d, there seemed to be no indication that the events in the present were set in any time or place other than “comic book New York City.” And in terms of weep-fests like last year, or gut-busters like “The Runaway Bride”, this didn’t really land in either category. It was the old school rom-com type story that Moffat cut his teeth on before landing the franchise. And of course, it had a happy ending. After all, every superhero gets the girl in the end. Sometimes when he’s holding up a bomb he’s going to need to go toss into the sun in a few minutes.

"The Doctor: “Everything ends. And it’s always sad. But everything begins again too. And that’s happy.”"

And with that, the Doctor has returned to our universe, our televisions and our lives, ready to face Season 10, for what will be Moffat’s final round at the helm, and perhaps Capaldi’s final round in the TARDIS as well. From the sounds of it, Osgood may also make an appearance again, since we saw UNIT calling for her on the radio. As will our Shoals of the Winter Harmony baddies, since the kicker included the fact that one has already transferred himself into the brain of a UNIT officer. Let’s just hope they keep Mr. Huffle. He can feel everyone’s pain next year too!