It’s become traditional for the Doctor Who Christmas Day special to retell an old story in a vaguely seasonally-relevant way. This year, for reasons known only to Stephen Moffatt (who, inevitably, wrote the episode), the show has taken on Superman.
One magical New York Christmas Eve (the episode begins promisingly), the Doctor accidentally turns a small boy obsessed with Superman into a superhero, through the intercession of a glowy space gem. (It has a hand-wavy pseudoscientific name but to be honest it doesn’t deserve it.) Fast forward twenty-odd years later, and the small boy (Grant) is a nanny by day and thinly-disguised Superman analogue the Ghost by night, saving errant New Yorkers from disaster. The episode’s really about his relationship with his employer, Lucy, a journalist who secretly Lurves him. There’s also a thin bit of plot involving aliens from a sinister corporation stealing people’s brains in a quest for World Domination, which raises many questions not the least of which is why??
Essentially, The Return of Dr Mysterio amounts to the Doctor farting around in the background shouting technobabble while Grant and Lucy gaze adoringly at each other while manfully (womanfully?) repressing their feelings: because Their Love Can Never Be.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, my thoughts on the episode are less than charitable. It’s not that I mind the superhero story, particularly: mercifully, the Ghost does not seem to have trained in the Exciting Explosions school of superheroing which is so popular in Hollywood superhero films, and his dorky attractiveness is well-calculated to appeal to a sozzled geeky audience. It’s just that I can’t see the point, in this particular instance, of nodding quite so vociferously at Superman in particular.
There are parallels to be drawn, of course, between the Doctor and Grant; questions to be asked about, say, the relationship of superpowered individuals to those they aspire to protect. Those questions are ones that Moffatt’s asked before in relation to his moody, morally ambivalent Doctors, especially Twelve. But I don’t think the episode goes far enough to make those connections and ask those questions, more interested as it is in the predictable schmaltz of Grant and Lucy’s budding romance.
Equally, some elaboration on the plot involving the brain-stealing aliens could have made the episode into something like 2007’s Christmas episode Voyage of the Damned, a fairly classic romp with appropriately schmaltzy undertones (you have to have some schmaltz in a Christmas special, after all). But, again, this remains underdeveloped and inessential.
Ultimately, my feelings about the episode are represented by the fact that, after seven glasses of wine and a very large lunch, I could hardly be bothered to watch it. Call the Midwife was a much better bet.