I still remember the evening of 25th December 2016, and my excitement towards the new Christmas special. Since I absolutely loved The Husbands of River Song, there was no doubt in my mind that I would equally enjoy The Return of Doctor Mysterio, especially since I’m a Marvel super-heroes fan.
Numerous Whovians were disappointed by the Christmas special that evening and I was amongst them. At the time, it felt like watching a crossover between Superman and Spiderman in which the Doctor had an accidental part of it. It felt like the Doctor had been outsmarted by someone else, and that he was no longer needed. I still remember my initial disappointment, and that’s why I insist: don’t let disappointment get the best of you! Take some time, let it fade away, and then give whichever episode you didn’t like another chance. You never know, you might get surprised!
Note: in light of my recent reviews of Series 11, rest assured that I’ll follow my own advice and get the series another chance someday.
So, why is The Return of Doctor Mysterio worth watching?
First, because it’s the first super-hero movie involving the Doctor! It has all the key elements to be a Marvel (or a DC comics) movie: an average main character who turns into a super-hero, a journalist who isn’t afraid to take some risk but who is a single mom at the same time, a super-villain, and some supernatural (notably: aliens and alien tech). Not only does it have the key elements, but it’s also filled with comic books and super-heroes references. Many fans have spotted them already, you can find them easily, like on this website, for instance.
Second, while you might consider this movie to be a parody at best or a big cliché at worse, remember this: super-heroes are very popular in the United States. In fact, it’s kind of their trademark. Someone says “super-hero”, and you instantly think about any American super-hero, depending on which one you prefer. Now, think about Doctor Who. He is clearly the United Kingdom’s super-hero. He is as British as Superman is American (pun intended). Therefore, when the British super-hero meets his American counterpart, you get The Return of Doctor Mysterio!
Only, let’s not forget that it’s because of the Doctor that Grant becomes a super-hero, which makes sense if you consider this from an historical point of view as America was a Bristish colony until the late 18th century. The Doctor represents the Brits, caring for Grant, helping him get along with his powers, until he eventually masters them to the point where he surpasses the Doctor, until they finally manage to work hand in hand. Sounds familiar?
While I consider The Return of Doctor Mysterio to be an historical tribute, it also presents us with a real continuity, and some nice Whovian references.
One of my favourite references is that theatre screen showing Mind of Evil. As it happens, The Mind of Evil is one of my favourite serial from the Jon Pertwee area, so I was quite eager to try and theorise a link between those two episodes. It’s pretty straight-forward if you think about it. It’s all about mind control (or brain control in the Christmas special) by villains, in order to achieve a goal that will affect the entire planet. In the serial, the idea is to stop a peace treaty and start WWIII, in the Christmas special it’s to bring the leaders of the world together and replace their brain. As you can see, there is a similarity in both stories: the peace treaty means that leaders will gather together, while WWIII is an equivalent to the leaders having their brain removed. And then, the fact that Mind of Evil is on a theatre screen is just a reminder that it’s all fictional. Mind of Evil is just a movie, and so is The Return of Doctor Mysterio.
Then, we also have the continuity, between The Husbands of River Song and The Return of Doctor Mysterio. The first hint being of course, Nardole’s presence; then there is also the fact that the Doctor is still grieving for the loss of River Song. Such an emotional continuity helps defining the Doctor through time, by keeping his persona rich and complex, a way to assert that he is the sum of his life experiences despite his regeneration process that might turn him into a different person.
So while The Return of Doctor Mysterio storyline might sound weak, there is much more to this Christmas special that meets the eye. So much, in fact, that I’m pretty certain that when I watch it a third time, I might come up with new facts, references and theories.
In the meantime, why don’t you tell us what you thought about The Return of Doctor Mysterio on social media or in the comment section?