Friday, 30 December 2016

The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Chapter The 40th, after one year - and a few more days - it's finally here...

[Beware: spoilers, sweeties!] The Doctor inadvertently messes up the life of a child in the past, then has to deal with the consequences when he meets that person later in adulthood. No, not The Girl in the Fireplace or The Eleventh Hour, but - you know - similar. This time it's a boy, Grant, and he gets superpowers. In present day New York, the Doctor and Nardole help him with his overcomplicated love life, and he helps them defeat an overcomplicated invasion plan by some alien brain-in-a-jar face-aches running a front corporation called Harmony Shoals.

As this was the only new episode of Doctor Who broadcast in 2016, I thought I should blog it. Random selection will be reinstated in the new year. A couple of days after Christmas, following my first viewing (see below), the whole family gathered round to watch The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Eldest child (boy of 10) was annoyed that he had to turn off Mario Kart 8 to allow us to watch, but within about two minutes was staring, mouth agape, happy with the comic book shenanigans. Everyone else enjoyed it too, the Better Half enjoying the romance parts particularly.

First-time round:
Each year, at least in my family, Christmas Day sees less and less TV being watched. At the time of writing, we still have a PVR hard drive stuffed full of TV specials and films, which we'll catch up with slowly throughout January and onwards (we may still have stuff on there from last year we haven't watched yet). I know it sounds disgustingly straight-laced and Waltons Christmas special, but on the big day itself, we tend to play games. While Doctor Who was being broadcast this year, a fiercely contested table croquet tournament was underway chez Perry.

It may come to pass in the next few years that my children develop into Mike Teavee Mini-Mes, but until then I'm happy to catch up with the Xmas specials time-shifted. This year, that meant tuning in after everyone else had turned in on Boxing Day evening, and watching while stuffing my face with port and blue cheese, both of which were presents from my lovelies. The seasonal gift from Steven Moffat did not go down quite as smoothly. I enjoyed it much more the second time, though; it can't have anything to do with the necessary Yuletide alcohol levels - I was pretty well lubricated on the second watch too (I love Christmas!). So, it must be something to do with the company - Doctor Who, and a Christmas special particularly, gains from being shared. Which is nice.

There was an interesting recent discussion on a movie podcast to which I subscribe about how there are three types of Christmas movies: movies about Christmas, movies set at Christmas time, and movies that are merely associated with Christmas because of the quirks of historical TV scheduling. Superhero movies fall firmly in the third category, just like disaster movies, which also previously formed the basis of a Doctor Who Christmas special: Russell T Davies gave us his version of The Poseidon Adventure; Steven Moffat does Superman The Movie; it must be very hard after so long to think of new takes, so I applaud the invention; however, I don't think it's that good a fit.

The scientific explanation for Grant's super-powers is borderline magic and has to be - the logic of the two genres being incompatible. And just getting these two worlds together proves to be enough work that there's no real room to do anything particularly new with the superhero or intrepid reporter characters, while the standard invasion plot is relegated to the B storyline. In the climactic sections there's no blending at all - the Ghost and Lucy's bits are completely separate from, though intercut with, the Doctor and Nardole's outwitting of the aliens.

Unless I missed it, the bad guys didn't even get a name. This was the biggest giveaway that they weren't the main reason for proceedings. I suppose their species might be called the same as the corporation, but Harmony Shoals sounds more like a bunch of top-end 1960s session musicians, and - intriguingly - also has echoes of the 'River Song, Melody Pond' naming scheme. Other hints - the bit at the end where one is shown to get away, and (if I'm remembering correctly) a character in last year's Christmas special, referenced throughout this year's, who similarly opened up his head to retrieve something from within - make it look like there will be a rematch with these guys in 2017.

This might be a good thing, as their plot did seem sketchy with a few loose threads left hanging. Or, of course, it might just be sloppy. I doubt we'll get an explanation for how the alien brain creature, if it is positioned so its eyes line up with the sockets of the human host, as was consistently shown, can also sometimes not be there at all, so a gun can be kept in the head to look cool. Lesson for the Harmony Shoalians: you could shoot people much quicker if you invested in a shoulder holster. Just sayin'.

The most successful parts were the twisty rom-com bits, depicting a man in a love triangle with his alter ego; these verged on farce at times, in a good way, with Grant disappearing off, only for The Ghost to turn up instantly stage left. It reminded me a lot of a ghost of Moffat past: his sit-com Coupling. And one would have to have a heart of stone not to cheer or punch the air when Lucy dresses Grant up as a "superhero" at the end. The quibbles come if like me you're overfamiliar with Superman The Movie: the 1978 film did the romance and the comedy incredibly well indeed - those parts of the movie have arguably aged much better than the action, which has been bettered in the decades since (even on a Doctor Who budget). What Moffat and director Ed Bazalgette intended as homage, comes over as pale imitation.

Again, the villians' plan involves pretending to be beneficial so they can later take over. Both stories start with a sequence before the main plot gets underway where a character is transformed. If we include the series trailer at the end of the Christmas special, they both include Daleks.

Deeper Thoughts: 
Travelling into the future. It has been an awful year for the world: seismic political shocks, multitudinous celebrity demises, and only one episode of Doctor Who broadcast. Terrible. At least on the Doctor Who score, we know things will improve (at least mathematically): there will be 13 episodes shown next year, completing Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner, introducing Bill, the new companion (who from the trailer seems refreshingly down to Earth, which would be a change after Amy and Clara), and including Matt Lucas in a semi-regular role (I'm still in two minds about whether that will be effective). The series trailer didn't give much else away: there will be Daleks, aliens, and trips to the past, but that much could have been guessed, anyway.

The blog's had a reasonable year. Unexpectedly, I have covered a Doctor Who event, holidayed in a Doctor Who filming location, and reviewed a new Classic Who DVD, when I'd thought the range was dead and buried. They had not come up randomly at all last year, but 2016 has seen me watch  three wholly missing stories; none this year where only some of the episodes were missing - it's been an all or nothing sort of year, has 2016. I've seen at least one story of each Doctor, with the exception of Peter Davison (Paul McGann doesn't count - he got finished off early on last year). Hopefully, the fifth Doctor will make an appearance at some point in 2017.

Having done the maths, if I keep up the current rate of Doctor Who stories - and Chris Chibnall does likewise - it will take twenty more years for the blog to catch up. So, I might try to speed up a bit. Blogging doesn't take too long, it's finding the time to watch the episodes that's a challenge. But maybe 2017 will be slightly less eventful than this year was; it couldn't be the opposite - could it?! Regardless, have a happy New Year! And I'll see you in the future...

In Summary:
Not quite super, man.

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