The Return of Doctor Mysterio was the 2016 Doctor Who Christmas special. It was the show's twelfth Christmas special since its revival, and the third Christmas special starring Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. It saw the return of Nardole from the previous Christmas special, this time as the Doctor's companion.

The following day, The Return of Doctor Mysterio was granted a sequel entitled Ghost Stories. This story made the Ghost, Lucy and baby Jennifer all companions of the Twelfth Doctor.

Steven Moffat was hugely influenced by the comic books he loved as a child in writing this episode—particularly Clark Kent, Moffat's favourite superhero, both then and now. By his own account, he took particular inspiration from the Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 1970s and 1980s.

Though clearly humorous in tone, The Return of Doctor Mysterio explores many common superhero themes, such as the hero's secret identity, his origin story, and a love triangle involving both the hero and the man behind the mask.


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Christmas Eve, 1990s
New York City

A young boy named Grant wakes up during the middle of the night to find the Doctor swinging from his ankles in front of his bedroom window. Grant, believing the Doctor is Santa Claus, lets him in and feeds him cookies. The Doctor hands Grant a red gemstone and a glass of water, and two discuss superhero comics, of which Grant is a fan. The Doctor leads Grant to the roof of the apartment, where he reveals a device that he is unable to describe in simpler terms than a "time distortion equaliser thingy". He instructs Grant on how to power up the device, the final touch being the alien gemstone he had given Grant, which grants an individual his desires. However, Grant reveals that he thought the gem was medicine for his cough and swallowed it. Grant begins to levitate, as the Doctor realizes that Grant's love for superheroes has combined with the power of the gem, giving the young boy superpowers. Abandoning the device, the Doctor makes Grant promise to not use his new superpowers before he leaves.

Present Day

The Doctor returns to New York City whilst being accompanied with Nardole, whom The Doctor recovered from King Hydroflax's robot body. The Doctor is conducting an investigation into Harmony Shoals, a multinational research company, and soon stumbles across Lucy Fletcher, an undercover newspaper reporter performing a similar investigation. The trio discover that the company is being secretly run by a group of living alien brains that transplant themselves into any living creature they need for their plans. Killing the company's owner, Mr Brock, for his body. Tracked down by Dr Sims, an employee the brains already took over, the group suddenly are rescued by a masked superhero named The Ghost, who carries Lucy close to her home. Returning to her apartment before her, Ghost transforms back into Grant, who works for Lucy as a nanny, only to be shocked to find the Doctor and Nardole waiting for him, having tracked him down via the gemstone fused to him.

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Popular culture

  • Young Grant Gordon is a comic book fan, and becomes a superhero in their vein. He owns a Superman comic, and has posters on his wall of superheroes including Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Batman, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Superman and the Flash. His duvet depicts Captain America and Iron Man, among others.
  • Gordon nicknames the Doctor "Doctor Mysterio"; the name appears to be a mix of the Spider-Man villains Doctor Octopus and Mysterio.
  • Grant Gordon's name is alliterative, like Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and many other Superman characters. Alliteration was even more frequently used by Marvel's Stan Lee when naming superheroes such as Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, and Stephen Strange.
  • To make the point of Superman and Clark Kent being the same, the Doctor draws glasses on Superman. Lois Lane did the same in Superman II.
  • Mr. Brock mentions Miss Shuster and Miss Siegel. This is a reference to the creators of Superman, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel.
  • The episode has a Marvel style comic book opening.
  • Below Lucy's apartment, a Joe's Pizza is situated. A pizza parlor of this name featured in 2004's Spider-Man 2, and was where Peter Parker worked.
  • The Harmony Shoal building has a globe on top with the name. This is a reference to the Daily Planet building from Superman, which is also topped with a globe with its name on it.
  • The episode was also heavily influenced by the 1978 film Superman in particular. Both Grant Gordon/The Ghost and Clark Kent/Superman wear glasses to hide their superhero identities, particularly when rescuing a reporter they are close to, and have feelings for, in their everyday life. They then arrange a rooftop interview in which they attempt to reveal their dual identities. Then are also contacted via a specific frequency which only they can hear.
  • The Doctor tells Grant off for leaving the baby unattended, using the words "With great power, comes great responsibility". These words were used by Uncle Ben to Peter Parker, and they later became Spider-Man's mantra.
  • The Ghost tells Lucy "I hope this unpleasant experience hasn't put you off a career in journalism". This is a wonky reference to Christopher Reeve's Superman saying in the 1978 film, "Well, I certainly hope this little incident hasn’t put you off flying, miss. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel."
  • In the 1960s Batman TV series, Adam West's caped-crusader would often give very heavy-handed PSA-style speeches to Robin, and seemingly, the audience. This is referenced when the Ghost tells a reporter that every good citizen should "get a smoke detector."
  • When the Doctor accidentally gives Grant a gemstone, which Grant swallows, the Doctor says the gemstone is giving him "what he always wanted". The first Captain Marvel (later known as "Shazam") was actually a child named Billy Batson who can become a superhero. The metafictional influence in "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" may also be a reference to the Mark Millar comic series Superior in which a young boy literally becomes a popular fictional flying hero.
  • When Grant calls Lucy as the Ghost, the screen is divided, just like in a comic book.

Story notes

  • The name Doctor Mysterio comes from the name in Mexico for Doctor Who, Doctor Misterio (as a literal translation of the title, "Doctor Qué", would make less sense in Spanish than in English), which Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi encountered when they visited there in the Doctor Who World Tour. Capaldi in particular fell in love with the name, so Moffat decided to use it in an episode title. Capaldi noted that he was quite taken by the deep voice that announced the title on the overdubbed soundtrack, and in fact when the Doctor utters the name in the episode, this is Capaldi impersonating the delivery of the announcer.[1]
  • Matt Lucas is the first comedy writer to play a companion in a television story since James Corden as Craig Owens in Closing Time. The last comedian to play a full-time companion, though, was Catherine Tate as Donna Noble.
  • Daniel Lorente (Teen Grant), Sandra Teles (Reporter), Tanroh Ishida (Operator) and Vaughn Johseph (Soldier) are not credited in Radio Times.
  • The previous story, The Husbands of River Song, is also a Christmas special. This marks the first time two full consecutive television stories have both been broadcast on Christmas Day.
  • This is the first Christmas special since The Snowmen in 2012 to have a coming soon trailer at the end.
  • This story was the third Christmas special to star Peter Capaldi and the first not to feature any Eleventh Doctor companions since The End of Time.
  • Unlike the two previous Christmas specials, the title sequence has no Christmas-themed changes. Matt Lucas is also credited as "And Matt Lucas" before the show's title (like Nick Frost in Last Christmas), unlike previous companions whose actor's name immediately followed the Doctor's.
  • Keoki's "Pass It On" plays in the scene where the Doctor catches up with teenaged Grant in high school.
  • One of the things the Doctor and the young Grant discuss is Spider-Man. In Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks, the character of Frank is played by Andrew Garfield who played Spider-Man in The Amazing Spider-Man movies.

Production errors

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.

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  • Characters from Class would appear in a crossover. False.
  • Clara Oswald would appear or be referenced in a substantial way. False. Originated from fans interpreting comments made by Peter Capaldi at a June 2016 convention appearance in Washington, DC, that he had "just filmed something" involving Clara as indication of an appearance or reference. Ultimately, this ended up being a reference to his appearance in the Class episode TV: For Tonight We Might Die, which also featured a Clara reference.
  • Pearl Mackie would make her first appearance. False, the Series 10 trailer notwithstanding.
  • Alex Kingston would appear as River Song. False, though River is referenced.

Filming locations

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Home video releases

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  1. Video: Doctor Who - Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi joke about 'Doctor Mysterio' Christmas special. Belfast Telegraph (14 October 2016). Retrieved on 25 December 2016.
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