The 2016 Christmas Special The Return of Doctor Mysterio was the first new Dr Capaldi episode since the 2015 Christmas Special The Husbands of River Song. So was Doctor Who Does Superman worth the wait? Mostly.
I hadn’t intended to fan edit this story but work on The Power of the Daleks was proving to be such a slog that I decided to take a break and work on this instead, since it would be a lot easier to do and it was. This edit was made from the TX Version so there were no individual audio tracks, which restricted the editing choices somewhat as working with final mix audio means you are more likely to get a nasty glitch in the background music when you cut something out, meaning you have to leave it in.
I must admit that I didn’t remember that the scarheaded baddies of Harmony Shoal had been in the the previous Xmas Special until it was pointed out online that they’d also been in the previous Xmas Special. So that was one thing we’d seen before that I didn’t recognise. Something that I did recognise was the fact that brains in jars was something we’d seen before…
The first problem with the episode comes right at the start with the comic strip panels that take us into the story. If you look at them they are clearly a comic strip version of the episode itself, which is fine if Grant turns out to be a comic strip artist who subsequently turns his adventure with the Doctor into a comic strip… but he isn’t and he doesn’t. He’s a nanny with no artistic skills whatsoever, which takes the mild mannered persona to a ridiculous extreme. So they get cut, which then left me with the problem of how to get into the story. The answer was to start with the sound of the Doctor swinging outside the window and then cut to Young Grant waking up, removing the matching shots of the Older Grant.
The next cut came to the Doctor’s improbable entrance through the window, which is as ridiculous as Pierce Brosnan falling faster than the plane he clambers into in the pre-credits sequence of Goldeneye. For the Doctor to actually make it into the window after he falls, he would have to flip himself in mid-air and fall upwards in order to be able to grab the window ledge and haul himself in. Nuts! So now I just jump cut the sequence to give the impression that Grant opens the window and the Doctor manages to clamber in before the rope snaps.
The next cut was to the rather too obvious signalling that Lois Lane is going to disguise herself as a cleaning lady in order to get after-hours access to the building for her journalistic snooping. The next bits we didn’t need was the X-ray vision flashback and the ridiculous Dallas-style split-screen effect during the Lucy & and The Ghost’s phone call [actually, Lucy And The Ghost is quite a good alternate title, dontcha think?] which distracts from the action thanks to the director trying to be a bit too clever and having it act like a comic strip panel border: one minute the Doctor is walking in front of it, the next he’s behind it. It calls attention to itself, I didn’t like it, so it had to go.
Getting rid of it involved some re-arranging of the scenes, such as chopping the scene between the two scarheaded baddies in half. When Lucy asks Grant if he can babysit we go to Nardole rescuing the Doctor in the TARDIS as per the TX original but then we cut back to the first part of the scene setting up Lucy’s red dress, cutting the continuity error where Grant tears open his shirt Superman-style. Such a blatant Superman homage would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve already seen him do his spinning top routine when changing from the Ghost back to Grant after saving Lucy, so why do that if his Ghost cossie is under his clothes? And if his Ghost outfit is under his clothes, where does he keep his cape? Clearly Grant has never seen The Incredibles…
In order to make that cut, losing the shirt-ripping moment, I had to move the scene where Grant flies onto the rooftop to after the Doctor & Nardole in the Tokyo branch instead of before it. When when we cut from Tokyo back to the roof, I had to play around with the audio levels to get a smooth-ish transition into the scene. The idea was to keep the rooftop stuff to the absolute minimum, as action with two geeky misfits is always preferable to romance with two interpersonal relations noobs.
Personally, I’m not convinced that having a superhero in the Doctor Who universe is such a good idea. I know the continuity implications of this story will simply be ignored when the Moffverse becomes the Chibnallverse next year, but now that we have Grant to defend us, why do we need UNIT or even the Doctor himself to keep an eye on things here? Okay, so most aliens prefer to invade Kent, and Grant seems to be restricted to New York, but for Twelvy to simply tell Grant to stop being a Superhero and leave it to him from now on doesn’t really work. If it had been me I would have put a line in about Grant’s crystal gifted powers fading with time. If we know that Grant won’t be the Ghost forever then that would have closed off a plot hole that the story leaves open. And it might have made for a more dramatic conclusion if Grant’s powers are getting weaker the more he uses them…
The Moff has said that the tonal inspiration for Doctor Mysterio was the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. The way the Secret Identity thing works in the superhero genre is that Superman and Clark Kent are really the same person. With notable exceptions such as Thor and Doctor Strange, almost all superheroes in this genre are Men with Hero Men alter-egos: Peter Parker is Spiderman, Bruce Banner is The Hulk [a riff on Jekyll & Hyde], Tony Stark is Iron Man [even though actual iron would make that suit of his a bit on the heavy side] and so Grant is really The Ghost.
The most interesting take on the whole alter ego thing came from Batman: The Animated Series. Following the usual paradigm, Bruce Wayne is really Batman, but The Series Bible for the show tells us that the series’ writers should take the alternate approach:
So in BTAS Batman is Bruce Wayne, it’s not Bruce Wayne is Batman.
That’s a much better take on the whole superhero alter-ego thing and it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before. And yet is was there in plain sight with Superman all the time. It’s not that Clark Kent is really Superman, Superman is an alien from the planet Krypton who pretends to be mild mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. This sort of dual identity stuff gives psychoanalysts a real buzz but for this fanboy, I reckon the Doctor himself is the superhero with more alter egos than anyone else in fiction.
But in Doctor Mysterio we get the usual take on the genre, that Grant is really The Ghost. Having him be a Nanny makes him a wimp, and having him be Nanny to the girl he fancied at school makes him The Ultimate Wimp. Yes, I know this is Moff riffing on most male Who fans finding social interaction with girls awkward, but this is stretching storytelling credulity to its limits. And again, we get the boringly familiar trope of a strong woman and a weak man, so clearly masculinity is a problem in the Moffverse version of Who as this is the umpteenth time we’d had this one rolled out in one of his stories. Just for the record, the key to success with women is appearing confident even if you’re not. You’d think, given the persona he adopts as the Ghost, Grant might have worked that one out. But no.
As for Nardole, his return is glossed over in a single line about the Doctor re-attaching his head to his body, something seemingly as easy for Twelvy as replacing the leg of the kid who gets his cut off in Class with a steampunk prosthetic. It’s a bit strange that the Doctor would choose to resurrect Nardole as his first companion after he finally says goodbye to River, since he would be a constant reminder of her and his loss. Unless that’s the whole point? But that’s what happens when you do a Terry Nation and kill off a character that you then wish you’d kept alive. It’s contrived, but it sort of works.
Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit of a Grinch about this story but this isn’t The Incredibles, a superhero story that works on its own terms as an homage to the genre, this is Doctor Who Does Superman and the homage-ing here is a bit too blatant, too clearly signposted, to work on its own terms as a Doctor Who story. Okay, so the Doctor is indirectly responsible for saving the world since it was him who accidentally created The Ghost in the first place, and it’s the Ghost who stops the ship from crashing, but at times this feels like the Doctor is a guest star in his own series…