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The Return of Doctor Mysterio was the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special. It was the show's twelfth Christmas special since its revival, and the third Christmas special starring Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. It saw the return of Nardole from the previous Christmas special, this time as the Doctor's companion. The circumstances leading to Nardole's return were not explained until 2017's Extremis. It also marks the first time since the Christmas special A Christmas Carol that the title of a pre-existing story related to the holiday has not been used as the title for a Doctor Who Christmas special.

The following day, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was granted a sequel entitled Ghost Stories. This story made the Ghost, Lucy and baby Jennifer all companions of the Twelfth Doctor.

Steven Moffat was hugely influenced by the comic books he loved as a child in writing this episode—particularly Clark Kent, Moffat's favourite superhero, both then and now. By his own account, he took particular inspiration from the Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 1970s and 1980s.

Though clearly humorous in tone, The Return of Doctor Mysterio explores many common superhero themes, such as the hero's secret identity, his origin story, and a love triangle involving both the hero and the man behind the mask.

Synopsis Edit

The Doctor once more faces off with an alien species that wishes to conquer the planet: Shoal of the Winter Harmony. This time, he has more backup than usual; however, this help was a little twist to it: it's a superhero called the Ghost.

Plot Edit

On Christmas Eve, 1990s, New York City, a boy named Grant Gordon wakes up during the middle of the night to find the Doctor swinging from his ankles in front of his bedroom window. He asks to be let in, and Grant goes to ask his mother; Grant lets the Doctor in. Confused, the Doctor asks what Grant told his mother; Grant said there was "an old guy" at the window. Realizing that Grant has mistaken him for Santa, the Doctor gives a "ho ho ho."

Reading through some comics Grant has, the Doctor is given milk and cookies. He draws Grant's attention to a Superman comic; the Doctor points out how ridiculous it is that no-one can tell that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person just because of a pair of glasses. They head to the roof, with the Doctor now confused about Spider-Man, whom Grant tells the origin story of; however, the Doctor believes getting bitten by a radioactive spider would result in radiation poisoning.

The Doctor reveals a device he is unable to describe in simpler terms than a "time distortion equaliser thingy". There has been a lot of temporal problems in New York, and he's trying to straighten them out. Hearing Grant cough, the Doctor hands him a glass of water from his pocket; when asked how that's possible, the Doctor states he has "skills." He also hands him a red gem.

Grant asks why the Doctor is working on the device; he thought he was setting a trap. The Doctor explains that he accidentally fell into a trap he set to protect from people who would mistake it for a Christmas tree and steal it; it's science, it's supposed to look like something somebody already knows about. When asked for his name, the Doctor states that he is the original Doctor that started the title; "now anyone who wants to be called clever, calls them-self a doctor." Amused, Grant tells the Doctor that if he was a comic book character, he'd be called "Doctor Mysterio". The Doctor is likewise impressed with the title, saying it himself in a dramatic voice.

He asks Grant if he wants to turn on the machine, showing him a slot for a gem stone he handed him. He explains that it's called the Hazandra or the "Ghost of Dreams and Wishes". It takes power from the nearest star to make the wisher's dream come true. The Doctor intructs Grant to put the gemstone inside the device. However, Grant reveals that he thought the gem was medicine for his cough and swallowed it. Grant begins to levitate, as the Doctor tries getting Grant to calm down, but the boy does the opposite, launching them into the air.

Years later, a man awakens to the sound of crying baby. He rushes out of bed and tends to the little girl. He calls the mother, whom works for as a nanny, assuring her that her daughter is safe and sound. A red glow from his chest reveals him to be Grant as an adult.

On top of the Empire State Building, Grant asks what is happening, and the Doctor tells him that the gem has granted what it thinks he wants: superpowers.

Sometime later, a conference is held at Harmony Shoal, where Mr. Brock is questioned by Lucy Fletcher as where the benefactors for the organization are. Brock jokes that he killed them all and buried them in his backyard. Nardole asks where the little boys' room is, but becomes confused by the American terminology. Brock is approached by Dr. Sim, who tells him something is wrong. He tells Sim to meet him at midnight. Lucy speaks to a woman on the cleaning staff at the same time.

Come midnight, Dr. Sim leads Brock to a vault where brains are being held; unbeknownst to them, Lucy has followed, having disguised herself as a janitor. Brock tells Sim that he knows that the brains were donated by the benefactors for a secret project that even he is not allowed to know; Dr. Sim then tells him that there are more brains in there despite no deliveries being made to Harmony Shoal.

Outside the vault, Lucy hears someone eating and turns to find the Doctor next to her. The Doctor tells her he broke in too, and has brought sushi; according to him, bringing a snack is the mark of a pro.

Shoal of the Winter Harmony

Brock discovers the true identities of the "benefactors"

Told to tap the glass of a container, Brock complies and suddenly the brain inside sprouts eyes. Scared, Brock punches Sim in the face, dislodging the right side of his face, and spilling some blue liquid; Sim puts his head back in place, showing he's not human. Sim points to tank without liquid, which he says is the brain of the real Sim; they switched "containers". Brock asks what happened, and Sim states it's the same thing that's about to happen to him: "a change of mind." Surgeons emerge from hidden compartments and surround Brock, and Sim locks the screaming man inside of the vault.

The Doctor and Lucy run away, with her revealing her true identity to him; after her shock, the Doctor jokes it's spooky how that happens. When asked for his identity, the Doctor calls himself "Dan Dangerous of Scotland Yard." He looks at a map showing where Harmony Shoal has set up shop, which is every capital city on the planet. Nardole arrives, noting that New York is not a capital city. Annoyed, the Doctor tells Nardole that he's not there to point out his mistakes; he then realizes Nardole was right.

Sim confronts them with a gun, intending to kill them as security might leave them alive; it would leave too many questions. However, the Doctor makes the situation a stalemate as no-one will believe he shot three people in the back in self-defense, making Nardole and Lucy turn their backs to Sim with him. The situation gets stranger as they hear knocking on the window of the 100th floor. Lucy turns around in shock; it's the Ghost, a superhero vigilante. The Ghost snaps his fingers and the window shatters; Sim is impressed, as that window was designed to withstand the force of four nuclear bombs.

Sim shoots the Ghost, but the bullets fly off of him; the Ghost picks up Sim and tosses him into the map, stating he doesn't like causing long-term harm, but moderate harm is fine with him. He reveals that he knows Lucy's work for the Daily Chronicle, stating it's opinions are too biased; she says she'll have a word with her boss. The Ghost asks about the Doctor and Nardole, to which the Ghost and Doctor exchange greetings that seem to identify themselves to each other. Asking Lucy if she needs a lift, the Ghost carries her out the window and flies into the sky. Heading to the window, the Doctor scowls after the Ghost, muttering "Grant."

In the past, on top of the building, the Doctor tells Grant that once the gem is gone from his body, his powers would go away, and makes him promise to never use his powers.

The Ghost drops Lucy off, before noticing a monitor flashing on his belt. She jokingly asks if the "Bat signal" was an app now, before the Ghost flies off. The Ghost returns home, changing out of his uniform and back into his civilian clothes. He heads to the nursery, where he finds the Doctor cradling the baby, revealing that he tracked him by the gem fused to him. He also states that no superhero should leave a baby unattended; Grant defends this as being able to be back faster than most parents can get to their children. The Doctor hands the baby to Grant, who reveals that he works as a nanny; "got to make a buck somehow; you don't get paid for saving the world." The Doctor tells him that he thinks this is insane, and that's saying something coming from him. Nardole agrees, giving Grant a bottle for the baby. When asked how complicated he needs his life to be, Grant tells them less than it's about to as the mother of the child comes home: it's Lucy!

To keep Grant's identity a secret, the Doctor lies that he came to see how she was out of concern; he got to Lucy's home before she did as a show of how concerned. Lucy accepts this, taking her daughter from Grant to put her back to sleep. The Doctor and Grant talk out on the fire escape. Grant has been in love with Lucy for 24 years, but never had the courage to confess to her. Then a few years back, they met again; however, Grant's best friend was with him as well, and Lucy married him instead. However, once baby Jennifer came along, the father ran off with another woman; Grant saw his chance to get close the Lucy again, becoming Jennifer's nanny. Amused, the Doctor points out Grant left the field open for others to try dating Lucy instead of him. The Doctor yells "Thank you!" to sky, confusing Grant; the Doctor states that he is thanking the universe for letting him meet someone who is worse at having a normal life than him. Hearing a siren, Grant takes off as the Ghost, leaving his glasses behind.

Lucy Fletcher

Lucy realizes the Doctor isn't an agent

Jennifer arrives moments later, asking the Doctor to come in for an interview. Using the squeaking noise of a Mr Huffle to torture the Doctor, Lucy gets him to confess to not working for any agencies and that the Ghost is not involved with the goings-on at Harmony Shoal. Catching sight of the Ghost on TV, the Doctor directs Lucy's attention to it; the Ghost is being interviewed after helping stop a fire, telling the viewers to get smoke detectors for fire safety.

Throughout the night, Grant takes off to help out. Lucy asks the Doctor if he can set up a meeting with the Ghost; that moment, Grant calls her as the Ghost, setting up an interview the next night. Lucy catches Grant just after he hangs up, telling him that she needs him to watch Jennifer tomorrow; Grant tries to weakly protest he has a date, but gives in.

At Harmony Shoal, Sim greets his brother alien now in Brock's body. Despite Brock's skull being too small, Sim assures his brother that it will soften with wear. Sim shows him footage of the Ghost, who they believe is the finest "vehicle" available on the planet. They watch footage of the Doctor, who suddenly shouts "boo!" It turns out he's right in the next room. The Doctor tells the duo that he offers them mercy, and won't follow them off the planet if they leave now. Taking this as a declaration of war, "Brock" opens his head and pulls out a gun. The Doctor tells them that they are just another attempted invasion of the planet, which will fail like all the others.

The Doctor holds out a burger, which is confiscated by Sim. He reveals to them that he knows what their plan is: "unzip" the heads of the world leaders and place their alien comrades inside to conquer the world. However, the White House and the Kremlin would be the hardest places to break into due to "big fences, shouty people and cross dogs." Sim reveals that they plan to make the leaders come running to them. The Doctor whistles, telling that it won't work. Sim wonders what he took from the Doctor, to which he is told it's a burger; "Always carry a snack; don't want it now. He's put me off my lunch." The TARDIS materializes around the Doctor.

Tokyo (The Return of Doctor Mysterio)

Tokyo Branch of Harmony Shoal

Inside, the Doctor finds Nardole in robes from 12th century Constantinople; it took a few hit-and-miss tries to pick up the Doctor. The Doctor asks for the facts, as he's saving the planet; Nardole states that's what he does whenever the conversation becomes serious. Annoyed, the Doctor tells him to be nice to the person who "glued" his head back on. The Doctor pilots the TARDIS, landing "where they were, except not." They head outside, into the Tokyo branch, where everyone is rushing out of the room. The Doctor explains that the flooded the downstairs with Pokemon. The Doctor searches the computers, finding a signal being sent into space.

In New York, Grant wishes Lucy luck during her interview; she's wearing a trench coat, stating that it's not a date. When she leaves, he changes into the Ghost and heads to the roof with a picnic. To his surprise, Lucy arrives in a red dress she keeps for dates. They start the informal interview, with Lucy asking some too-personal questions, such as the Ghost's sexuality. The conversation then goes to the superpowers that the Ghost has: he has flight, super-strength, invulnerability, super-hearing, pyrokinesis, and x-ray vision. When asked if x-ray vision is tempting, the Ghost states adolescence was difficult because of it. The Ghost tries revealing he's Grant to Lucy, who keeps looking in the wrong direction when his mask is off; at the same time, Lucy reveals that she has been developing love towards Grant for always being there for her. When she turns back, the Ghost is masked again, telling her Grant must be admirable.

In space, the TARDIS floats outside of a ship. The Doctor states that it's empty because the lights are off. They land inside, only to be attacked by androids that chase them to the bridge. Sim contacts them via the monitor, with the Doctor curious as to why the ship is pre-programmed to fall on New York. Sim states that when the time is right, they will drop the ship on New York, destroying everything except the Harmony Shoal building; the world leaders will be tricked into thinking it's a safe haven and will get their brains replaced when they arrive. Seeing Sim just told him the time is wrong, the Doctor starts messing with the controls, which causes the ship to start falling towards Earth prematurely. Telling Nardole to say "Whee!", the Doctor smiles madly.

Brock The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Brock smirks at his dark humour.

Back in New York, Brock arrives at the rooftop to switch the Ghost's brain with an alien. Brock assures that the procedure will be painless, before telling the Ghost that he was talking to his fellow alien. The Ghost flies off, leaving Lucy behind on her suggestion. Brock threatens to bring Jennifer up as another hostage as Grant arrives as himself, telling Brock he's not going to touch that baby. With another hostage, Brock calls for the Ghost to come back or Lucy will die. Suddenly, everything begins shaking; Brock looks up to the sky with horror, knowing it's his ship. Grant hears the Doctor; he's using the sonic screwdriver to speak to him on a frequency only he can hear. The Doctor tells Grant to stop the ship or all life in New York will perish. Seeing he can't keep his dual life secret anymore, Grant tells Lucy to duck in his Ghost voice.

Moments later, the Doctor shakes Nardole awake, telling him that a "shock-absorber" stopped the ship from blowing up. In the streets below, hundreds of people and police watch in amazement at the sight of a spaceship seemingly floating on a rooftop. On the roof, Grant tells Lucy he's sorry for not telling her, and to not slap him as he's holding a bomb. The TARDIS arrives, with a happy Doctor walking out, telling Brock they couldn't defeat Grant because he's left-handed; Grant never let's go of the baby monitor in his right hand out of habit. Lucy tells Grant she preferred him in his superhero outfit, putting his glasses back on and kissing him. The joy from this has Grant flying off with her. The Doctor tells Grant to toss the ship into the sun when they're done.

The Doctor reminds them that Jennifer is still in the apartment. Grant tosses the baby monitor to the Doctor, who hears Jennifer calling for something. Brock holds the Doctor at gunpoint, but is told to give up as a helicopter from UNIT has been sent to close their "head office". Brock warns that Harmony Shoal's vengeance is known and feared throughout five galaxies, the Doctor scoffs at this, telling him Jennifer needs changing "You're not the only one whose full of it."

UNIT solider of Harmony Shoal

Sim's new host

At Harmony Shoal office, the workers are being forced to leave the premises. A UNIT solider comes upon Sim's body, which is now empty of the alien that replaced his brain. He asks the soldier who found it if the body was already like this; he confirms it. The officer states that he'll put a call in to Osgood; UNIT needs to be on alert for the presence of this rogue alien. The soldier turns around after his superior leaves, revealing a long scar on his face; to avoid capture, Sim transferred himself into this soldier's body.

Back at Lucy's apartment, she and Grant are now a couple; both now happy to have someone who truly cares for them. Grant has also decided to quit being the Ghost unless he is absolutely needed again. The Doctor heads for the TARDIS after giving some bitter-sweet advice. When asked if there's something bothering him, Nardole explains the situation to them. The Doctor is still grieving for the loss of his beloved wife River Song; for some time, the Doctor is going to be sad. However, Nardole is with him to make sure the Doctor doesn't stray from being who he really is. He leaves as well.

New York (The Return of Doctor Mysterio)

The city in safe hands.

Lucy turns to Grant, telling him he never really explained who the Doctor was. Smiling, Grant tells her "Doctor... Mysterio". Having seemingly heard Grant, the Doctor smiles and starts up the TARDIS. The last scene of the episode show New York at night, as the TARDIS flies away, taking the Doctor and Nardole off to their next adventure.

Cast Edit

Crew Edit

to be added

References Edit

Popular culture Edit

  • Young Grant Gordon is a comic book fan, and becomes a superhero in their vein. He owns a Superman comic, and has posters on his wall of superheroes including Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Superman and the Flash. His duvet depicts Captain America and Iron Man, among others.
  • Gordon nicknames the Doctor "Doctor Mysterio"; the name appears to be a mix of the Spider-Man villain Mysterio and the hero Doctor Strange.
  • Grant Gordon's name is alliterative, like Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and many other Superman characters. Alliteration was even more frequently used by Marvel's Stan Lee when naming superheroes such as Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, and Stephen Strange.
  • To make the point of Superman and Clark Kent being the same, the Doctor draws glasses on Superman. Lois Lane did the same in Superman II. The interior artwork shown is from Superman #7 (July 1987) and #19 (July 1988) by John Byrne.
  • Mr. Brock mentions Miss Shuster and Miss Siegel. This is a reference to the creators of Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.
  • The episode has a Marvel style comic book opening.
  • Below Lucy's apartment, a Joe's Pizza is situated. A pizza parlour of this name featured in 2004's Spider-Man 2, and was where Peter Parker worked.
  • The Harmony Shoal building has a globe on top with the name. This is a reference to the Daily Planet building from Superman, which is also topped with a globe with its name on it.
  • The episode was also heavily influenced by the 1978 film Superman in particular. Both Grant Gordon/The Ghost and Clark Kent/Superman wear glasses to hide their superhero identities, particularly when rescuing a reporter they are close to, and have feelings for, in their everyday life. They then arrange a rooftop interview in which they attempt to reveal their dual identities. Then are also contacted via a specific frequency which only they can hear.
  • The Doctor tells Grant off for leaving the baby unattended, using the words "With great power, comes great responsibility". These words were used by Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, and they later became Spider-Man's mantra.
  • The Ghost tells Lucy "I hope this unpleasant experience hasn't put you off a career in journalism". This is a wonky reference to Christopher Reeve's Superman saying in the 1978 film, "Well, I certainly hope this little incident hasn’t put you off flying, miss. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel."
  • In the 1960s Batman TV series, Adam West's caped-crusader would often give very heavy-handed PSA-style speeches to Robin, and seemingly, the audience. This is referenced when the Ghost tells a reporter that every good citizen should "get a smoke detector".
  • When the Doctor accidentally gives Grant a gemstone, which Grant swallows, the Doctor says the gemstone is giving him "what he always wanted". The first Captain Marvel (later known as "Shazam") was actually a child named Billy Batson who can become a superhero. The metafictional influence in The Return of Doctor Mysterio may also be a reference to the Mark Millar comic series Superior in which a young boy literally becomes a popular fictional flying hero.
  • When Grant calls Lucy as the Ghost, the screen is divided, just like in a comic book.

Story notes Edit

Writing Doctor Who Part 1, the 2016 Christmas Special02:32

Writing Doctor Who Part 1, the 2016 Christmas Special

The origins of The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Production errors Edit

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • Grant wears glasses even thought he doesn't need them (to see properly or to conceal his identity like Superman). His mask as the Ghost covers most of his face, so he wouldn't be recognized out of uniform.

Ratings Edit

  • 7.83m (UK final)

Myths Edit

  • Characters from Class would appear in a crossover. False.
  • Clara Oswald would appear or be referenced in a substantial way. False. Originated from fans interpreting comments made by Peter Capaldi at a June 2016 convention appearance in Washington, DC, that he had "just filmed something" involving Clara as indication of an appearance or reference. Ultimately, this ended up being a reference to his appearance in the Class episode TV: For Tonight We Might Die, which also featured a Clara reference.
  • Pearl Mackie would make her first appearance. False, the Series 10 trailer notwithstanding.
  • Alex Kingston would appear as River Song. False, though River is referenced.

Filming locations Edit

to be added

Continuity Edit

Home video releases Edit

  • This story was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 23rd January 2017.

Footnotes Edit

  1. Video: Doctor Who - Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi joke about 'Doctor Mysterio' Christmas special. Belfast Telegraph (14 October 2016). Retrieved on 25 December 2016.

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