Monday, December 26, 2016

In Which I Review the Doctor Who Christmas Special (2016)

It has been far too long. For an entire year, I have been without my very favorite TV mythological hero and his wonky, wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey adventures through all of time and space. After such an extended period away, this year's holiday extravaganza "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" felt like nothing short of a Christmas miracle. If I'm being up front and honest, the Christmas episode could have been down right terrible and I'd probably still praise it to the hilt (my show has been off the air for a year! I get all sentimental and gushy after 365 days) but thankfully for me, and for all of you reading my review, the special this year was delightfully cheeky with its winks and nods to comic books, over the top villains, and outlandish origin stories of superheroes. After all, why not? It's Christmas, a time for all mythological heroes to come home to roost and The Doctor is the best superhero of them all. And, as usual, he, his TARDIS, and everything that comes along for the sleigh ride are my favorite Christmas gifts. Put on your secret identity glasses and let's go! 

No one is born a superhero. Not Superman, not the Doctor, and not even Grant Gordon, known by his more flashy moniker, The Ghost. No, most of the time those we recognize as superheroes become such through extraordinary measures: sent to a far off distant planet as a baby, bitten by a radioactive spider, struck by lightening, an encounter with an alien or divine race, or they chose to live a life of adventure out there amongst the stars saving the lives of strangers as they pass by. The superhero story follows the same path as the hero of myth or legend--mild mannered and unimportant, they are pulled out of the known inexplicably by something or someone greater than themselves into the realm of the unknown, the "other," where magic and cosmic forces collide; there they are asked to save the very fabric of reality from an agent of chaos and death. Harry Potter gets a letter from Hogwarts, Buffy gets a visit from a Watcher, Luke finds an android, and Henry knocks on Emma Swan's front door. All of these are moments that beckon the superhero within, that allow the mundane to transform into the mythical and it's actually something Doctor Who does on a pretty regular basis with the Doctor and his companions. In religious schools and communities there is a principle known as transcendence in which the subject is vaulted above their mental and cognitive plane of existence to, at the very least, glimpse the divine. At the same they are witnessing the divine in this moment of transcendence, they are able to touch their own sense of divinity, to find that inner spark of the divine that resides in all of us. To paraphrase the last show I reviewed: to find the center of the Maze and touch their version of the creator. The companions of the Doctor have been transcending their own humanness for ages; just look at Rose Tyler or Donna Noble or Clara Oswald. The Bad Wolf, the DoctorDonna, the Impossible Girl, mythical names for the mythical creatures they become after their adventures with the Doctor who allows them to glimpse the other side, to see beyond the veil and into the magical and mysterious. This year, however, it's not a long time companion, but a little boy with a cough who doesn't just transcend cognitively but physically as well. Grant may have had a slight cough but he came down with a case of levitation all in the span of one night. A single moment that changes his life forever.

Grant Gordon is a heady mix of Clark Kent (mild-mannered), a young Peter Parker (down on his luck), and Barry Allen (enthusiastic do gooder) all rolled into one giant DC/Marvel comic hero but his story is as old and as classic as it gets. A young boy is called off on an adventure of epic proportions by a mysterious stranger who grants unto him (accidentally because it's the Doctor....) strange and wondrous powers that he channels into helping New York City, saving children from burning buildings and rescuing reporters who fall into the wrong hands. If you're getting a major Superman feel then you're on the right track. After all, Superman is the iconic American hero in his red/blue uniform standing for individualism and self-determination. That's what I like so much about this year's Christmas outing--well, one of the things I like. As a lover of all things comic book-y, it was hard for me to not like this episode. But one of the strongest points is that this episode is about the superhero that resides in all of us. We need not swallow a magical gem of love and wishes to be super; Grant's actual act of superheroism isn't his ability to fly or his super strength. It's his super heart, the one that babysits a young baby so a mom can go to work; it's a heart that can't let go of the baby monitor for fear that something will happen to the tyke while he's working his night job. It's the super heart that loved comic book superheros and followed in their footsteps when he realized that his powers weren't going to pass. Lucy, the Lois to his Clark, put it's best when she wants him to don his superhero outfit and puts on his glasses, not his cape. At Christmas time, we're reminded that superheros come in all shapes and sizes and that we all have the ability to be one; we all have the capacity to have a good heart and stand up to corruption and greed and tyranny. Some years the Christmas episodes get a bit too schmaltzy, a bit too on the nose with their themes of hope and family. This one gracefully stepped back from those heavy handed tendencies and instead told the best story Doctor Who can tell. No Santa, no snowmen, no Victorian costumes, no tear inducing Christmas miracle; just a simple reminder of the special nature of humanity and what happens when we encounter the divine. What's more Christmas than that?

Miscellaneous Notes on The Return of Doctor Mysterio 

--The Doctor thought he was the first person to ever stumble on to the truth that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Bless.

--The alien invasion plan involved placing foreign and hostile brains into world leaders and staging a takeover from inside the system. I'm not saying this part of the narrative was a little bit inspired by Brexit and the 2016 American Presidential election but...this part of the narrative was inspired by Brexit and the 2016 American Presidential election.

--"You're kind of wet." "I prefer mild-mannered."

--I was surprised at how much I liked Nardole given that he was in last year's Christmas episode for a hot second and nothing more. He's unassuming and he didn't get in the way or really contribute except to point out the Doctor's loneliness which allows the Doctor to still play the hero but have responsibility to another which he will always need.

--"They have the same plan they always do--me!"

--"He never explained. Doctor Who?"

--Season 10 will likely start in the spring of 2017. It's Steven Moffat's final season before stepping down as showrunner. It's probably time for fresh and new blood to run the show but before then, one more season to see the universe anew!

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