This latest special is a love letter to the Christopher Reeve’s (1978) Superman film with a mix of alien parasites and a grieving Doctor. The self-contained story feels separate from the main series, which is a soothing addition to the light-hearted and comedic stories that are almost always present during the festive season.
The superhero theme embedded throughout the story is a perfect fit within the Doctor Who universe because they both inhabit a sense of imagination and hope, that beings with superpowers can inspire greatness. Film Ink’s (2016) The Age of Heroes: Why are superheroes so popular? article states that during sensitive times in society, it is natural for our consciousness to latch onto the idea of a superhero healing society’s wounds.
Justin Chatwin plays the enigmatic and charming Grant/The Ghost, who meeting the Doctor as a child, swallowed a gem stone which caused his greatest wish to come true- becoming a superhero. Years later, the Doctor and Nardole investigate Harmony Shoal, a classic New York corporate company whose sinister plans to replace human brains with that of the alien parasites- the Shoals of the Winter Harmony, create the antagonistic conflict that the Doctor always finds himself encountering.
The creatures imbue a fearful visualisation as the humans they have killed, unzip their own heads to reveal the parasite inside the skull. Their plans are predictable, they aim to infect every human on Earth so they can thrive, but the focus is intentionally on Grant and Lucy, a reporter who doesn’t realise she is in love with Grant until they are both almost killed.
Charity Wakefield as Lucy portrays a clever, confident, strong-willed and curious character that even the Doctor finds himself impressed with. Her interrogation of the Doctor is one of hilarity as she uses her baby daughter’s squeaky toy to scare the Doctor into telling the truth.
The fact that she doesn’t know who the Doctor is cleverly allows him to become mysterious to the audience again through her eyes. Grant and Lucy’s relationship becomes rather complicated once Lucy arranges to meet The Ghost for an interview, which nostalgically resembles the rooftop scene between Clark Kent and Lois Lane in the first (1978) Superman film.
Once the Doctor discovers the Shoal of the Winter Harmony’s plans, the pace quickens and their spaceship becomes the setting to its eventual demise. As it crashes to Earth, Grant uses his super strength to hold the ship in place, becoming the hero that Lucy has always known him to be which creates a joyful and satisfying conclusion.
Careful consideration has been taken to explore the Doctor’s psychological state as he grieves for River Song. There are snippets of his defensive behaviour as Nardole points out he would rather save a planet then admit his grief. Moffat, Steven (2016) The Return of Doctor Mysterio, “Which is what you always do when the conversation turns serious.”
The story is a brilliant tribute to the superhero franchise, the humour and heart-warming romance between Grant and Lucy is magical and sweet. With the alien foes and the Doctor’s daftness bringing danger, fear and sadness to the narrative, this feels like an exciting beginning for the new series.