Oh, DOCTOR WHO, how we have missed you.
We last left our Doctor with River Song at the singing towers of Darillium, in the bittersweet Christmas episode “The Husbands of River Song.” Now, one year later, we find him in the TARDIS once more, landing smack in the middle of a superhero origin story.
Yes, the Doctor created a superhero. Just add it to his list, which includes accidentally inventing pasta.
As a huge fan of both the CW’s DC shows and Marvel’s Netflix series, this episode seems almost tailor-made for me. I love the hope that superheroes can inspire, accompanied by the flashy costumes and corny dialogue and endlessly convoluted plot lines. I love this episode’s riffs on all that, from the Ghost’s over-the-top costume, to the gravelly Batman-esque voice he uses, to the terrible puns. To that effect – from the costume and saving the world and inspiring hope – I’ve always considered the Doctor a superhero of sorts, and I think that’s why this medium works so well with the rest of Doctor Who‘s usual MO.
I love the opening of this episode – the comic book panels on screen set the tone right away, and the Clark Kent glasses on young Grant and the Superman regalia around his bedroom are nice nods to the source material.
After Grant meets the Doctor, who is setting some kind of alien trap up on the roof, the impossible happens: Grant accidentally swallows the stone that’s the power source for the trap, and voila! Superpowers.
Cut to twenty-four years later, where Lucy Fletcher, a reporter and our resident Lois Lane, is investigating Harmony Shoal, a research institute whose benefactors seem strangely…not of this Earth.
Enter the Doctor, who sees the jars of both alien and human brains lined up in the lab, and concludes that they have been replacing the brains of humans with those of the aliens. Soon Lucy and the Doctor are surrounded by said aliens, held at gunpoint. It looks like the Doctor can’t save the day, until-
CRASH! Sailing through the window comes the Ghost, New York City’s super-powered masked vigilante. He blocks bullets, disarms the aliens, and absconds with Lucy in my favorite dialogue exchange of the episode:
GHOST: “Can I give you a lift home?”
LUCY: “Do you have a car?”
GHOST: “No.” (picks her up, flies off)
Even just the emphatic way he says “No” had me cracking up. Kudos to Justin Chatwick, who plays both parts brilliantly!
Actually, that’s probably the most interesting part of the episode. For as the Ghost flies away after he drops off Lucy, he flies in a window a few floors up. After executing a glorious Wonder Woman spin, he is revealed in his regular clothes and Clark Kent glasses – it’s Grant, twenty-four years older, and still trying to figure out this superpowers and secret identity thing.
Intentionally or unintentionally, writer Steven Moffat seems to have done a retread of the Girl Who Waited plot line. The Doctor is once again confronted years later by a child whose life he changed forever, and now he must help them find certainty and contentment in the life he has essentially created for them. That’s a lot of responsibility, and, cringe-worthy puberty jokes aside, the Doctor seems to feel the weight of it, and the regret of having to learn this lesson again. Considering the circumstances under which young Grant mistook a power source for a pill, I think the moral for the Doctor is clear: don’t carry glasses of water in your pocket and give them to random children.
The real conflict Grant faces is with himself – his competition for Lucy’s affections lies with, of course, the Ghost. This divulges into a super (heh) awkward “interview” (read: date) between the Ghost and Lucy, which just about won the episode for me. From the Ghost swooping down from the sky with a picnic basket on his arm, to the over-dramatic swish of his cape as he sits, to him lighting the candle by snapping his fingers – I was just sold. With such a ludicrously cheesy, incredibly entertaining first date on screen, I hardly missed the aforementioned alien invasion and the Doctor and Nardole’s efforts to stop it – which is, unfortunately, one of this episode’s main flaws.
Overall, the narrative just doesn’t maintain the balance between superhero parody and sci-fi/action piece. The plot line with the Ghost is well done, but with less compelling storytelling for the alien invasion, the Doctor and Nardole end up feeling dispensable.
Still, I enjoyed myself immensely; it’s no “Christmas Invasion” or “Christmas Carol,” but it’s still a solid piece of lighthearted entertainment, which I think, after this year, is exactly what we need.
As far as the upcoming season, as the Doctor says, “I’ve been away for a long time…but I’m back.” After a year of no Doctor Who, it’s so good to have Season 10 to look forward to in the spring! We’ll meet a new companion (Bill), it will be Steven Moffat’s last season as show runner…and quite possibly Peter Capaldi’s last season as the Doctor? I sincerely hope he chooses to stay on, but whatever happens, it’s always good to have Doctor Who back on our screens!
Season 9, Episode 13 (S09E13)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America
Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring TV writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.
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Cailin Coane | Contributor