Dear Steven Moffat: The Return of Doctor Mysterio


Dear Steven,

By common consent 2016 has been one of the worst years since blogging about Doctor Who began. People talk about Brexit, Trump, the remake of Ghostbusters, but these were just iceberg tips that resembled bellends. This was a year when the worst people in the world got shriller, more self-righteous, condescending, self-promoting, boorish and confident. And those were the people I agreed with.

It made me nostalgic, in a Doctor Who free year, for my good clean internet opposition to your honestly inept, but arguably benign contribution to popular culture. When you’re making bad Who and I’m writing about it, all is well with this ugly rock. But strip us out and the planet plunges into unenlightened darkness – you know, the worst kind of darkness; a new gloomy epoch with no obvious readymade designation.

It’s been such a long year that I’d almost forgotten how much I dread your festive Who specials. It would be unfair to call them an obligation. For me it’s tantamount to an act of self-harm, like spending Christmas with my joyless family and their enviable collection of personality disorders.

The cat’s enlarged pupils and outstretched claws point to alarm and confusion at the perennial decision to seek out the start time for your Christmas episode in the Radio Times, ring said listing, then seek the appropriate clearances to watch in relative peace, unencumbered by the usual inane questions I can expect throughout every other yuletide show. But would your annual efforts play better with enquiries about Peter Capaldi’s hair? And why, if you have an actress called Charity Wakefield, wouldn’t you just call her character the same thing?

We’ve now watched enough of these tinsel time series fag ends to know how they’re conceived. Locked in your den, head in hands, a half-empty bottle of port casting a long shadow over a blank notepad, you finally let those mitts fall away, the nails bitten back and splintered, and your rubbed red eyes, sore from leaking panic, fall on that unrivaled DVD and Blu-ray collection – the pride of the Moffat household, that you promised you’d never raid again for inspiration, but must now turn to one last time.

Was it blind luck that your copy of Mr Nanny starring Hulk Hogan, was sandwiched between Back to the Future and Superman: The Movie? Was it destiny that the shelf below contained every Marvel movie to date, and that just as your mouth fell open your young son ran into the room in his Spider-Man pyjamas, asking if you’d come and watch “The Very Best of Shooting Stars”?

Oh, how you loathe the parenting thing sometimes. And you thought of that old Channel 4 shithouse, Supernanny, and somehow it all just clicked. Within ten minutes you had the premise for this year’s episode. In an hour you had a draft. It’s incredible how these things work out. You wouldn’t have to drink yourself to death after all.

So “The Return of Doctor Mysteriostarred an actor who looked exactly like a 30-year-old Michael J. Fox playing 18, as a comic book geek who swallowed a wish-fulfilling alien power source, which the Doctor set up housing for on the roof of a residential apartment block for no reason, and became a DC style superhero with a Marvel backstory. We learned he was obsessively stalking closely following his childhood fantasy fuck; a Lois Lane proxy; nannying her baby by day and attempting to impress her journalistic faculty by night, in a fashion influenced by, but NOT, DC’s hawkish lawyers, simply derivative of the books he read as a kid.

There was every reason to worry that this oddball’s romance was supposed to be the beating heart of the story, after all he hadn’t changed his haircut, PJ’s or glasses since he was eight years old (but then how would we recognise him as an adult – by intuition and understanding of narrative conventions alone?), and his persona was based entirely on comic book clichés. But I was prepared to accept this as an affectionate ribbing of the material you were ripping off. It was also nice to see a story based on comic book heroes, because there’s so few of those nowadays.

I’m sorry to read as a curmudgeon, Steven – particularly at Christmas, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of this shit. Justin Chatwin’s creepy Marty McFly impression aside, there wasn’t any intrigue here. The Harmony Shoal corporation (I think I’ve eaten in one of their restaurants) was a pretty anaemic rent-a-threat, consisting as it did of brains in jars. And though it all hung together okay, the A-story of this would-be Clark Kent successfully completing the family (yawn) of his jilted Lois, integrated without drama or consequence with the invasion B-story, it was hard to escape the conclusion that “Doctor Mysterio” was less than the sum of all the junk that inspired it.

You got a reference in to The Rocketeer, the dinner scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – movies I’m sure you’ve plundered before, if only I could be bothered to raid the letter archive, but I couldn’t have been the only person sitting at home, too tired to move, too broken to change channels, wondering why you couldn’t have written an original piece of, oh I don’t know, Doctor Who?

We’re left wondering if your successors will take your approach to these specials – making them light, irrelevant (autocorrects to irreverent in your brain) and self-parodic – or if they’ll interpret “special” the way we used to think of movie spin-offs from TV shows; an epic adventure with mythos deepening complications. An event. Remember those?

It’s likely no one will be talking about this episode in the weeks to come. In fact, by the time the new series begins, your last, we may have forgotten it completely. Generating that kind of indifference is, I suggest, highly dangerous for the prospects of a show with a fan base as big and obsessive as the Doctor’s. In a superfluous hour of TV, the only question likely to be torturing the internet in the weeks to come is, what does Matt Lucas want, and why did you imagine we’d ever want to see him again?

Yours in time and cyberspace,


P.S: “Vomiting, hair loss and death.” If that’s not a pitch for a Spider-Man reboot…

P.P.S: Just so you’re clear, no one can remember Lucas’s character from last year, so reviving him here was tantamount to introducing a new character sans context or background. There was just this curious degenerate following the Doctor around. George Dawes without the spite.

P.P.P.S: “We’ll be laughing all the way to the slab.” Wishful thinking on your part.

P.P.P.P.S: Once again Capaldi’s world-weary cynicism won us over for much of the time. But it’s dangerous to have an audience proxy who so closely mirrors their viewing experience. Every time he did a double take, looked bored, or plain confused, I didn’t expect to occupy his consciousness so completely.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Might the aliens have tried a little harder to perfect their surgical technique? Once word got out that the imposters each have an incision scar across their heads and flashing eyes, I think the round up would be short and brutal.

P.P.P.P.P.P.S: You’re to be congratulated. New companion Bill looks awful in just about every way. I can wait to meet her. For years if necessary. As a parting gift to critics of your work like me, it couldn’t be better. I can see our last episodes together will be the most difficult yet. It really is going to be a fight to the death; a fight I’m already prepared to concede.

Last Christmas (literally, not the episode of the same name):

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

Published in: on December 26, 2016 at 12:52  Comments Off on Dear Steven Moffat: The Return of Doctor Mysterio  
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