It's funny, considering my many ultra-nerdy interests, that few things leave me as stone cold as superheroes. Occasionally I wonder whether I may be a little hard on this genre out of sheer ignorance. Look at all the articulate geeks on Youtube whose theories on Disney, Pixar, Star Wars and yes, even Harry Potter I'm happy to get into. They're intelligent, and at the same time genuinely interested in who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. Am I missing something?
It is just possible: after all, when I grew up, superhero fare was a far cry from the high-budget CGI-ed blockbusters of today. I think I saw two of the Superman films, plus some episodes of the old Batman TV series which even Caped Crusader fans consider a joke. It's only reasonable to assume that more thought went into recent superhero films than the one where Superman goes back in time one day by reversing the turning of Planet Earth (even as a kid, I thought that a bit rum). At least a slice of those multi-million budgets must have gone into scripts and storyboarding, especially considering all the fans out there who will be only too adept at finding holes in the plot. And if it's possible to make fairy-tale characters complex (which it is), then it should be possible to add complexity to just about anything, including superheroes, right?
Yes, maybe, but I still can't bring myself to give this genre another try. Perhaps the concept of a heightened version of the brawny hero with boy-scout morals who sticks it to the baddies, receives adulation from the crowds, sees the world in black and white - because in his case it is - and never has to bother his thick head about nuances, or about anything really, is just too appalling for a lover of brainy villains to ever get behind, no matter how much thought or money they throw at it. Heroes are, for the most part, a pain. Superheroes are a superpain. Then it's just so silly. Secret identity? Those outfits? Edna in The Incredibles (one of my least favourite Pixar films for a reason) strongly advises her superhero clients not to wear capes, which invariably get in the way and suck you into aeroplane engines etc. ("no capes!"). Hey, why not scrap the whole ridiculous gym one-piece look while you're at it?
Given my superhero scepticism, I wasn't too thrilled to learn that Doctor Who would be flirting with the genre in the 2016 Christmas special The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Still, as it's the only new Who available to us poor Swedes at the moment while the Brits are enjoying a brand new series, I eventually and reluctantly invested in the DVD. It turns out that it's quite nice: they can say what they like, Steven Moffat knows how to turn out a zingy script, and Peter Capaldi is as always a superb Doctor. What puzzled me, though, is that Moffat doesn't seem to know much more about superheroes than I do. The story's protagonist Grant, who is accidentally turned into a superhero by the Doctor then enjoined not to use his powers (give it up, already! Special powers will always out), bears a marked resemblance to the old-style Superman of my childhood days. He can fly. He has superstrength. His everyday persona wears glasses as a camouflage and yearns for a female reporter, who has a bit of a thing for the superhero (called The Ghost) and doesn't twig that he and her supportive male nanny are one and the same person. There's also some rather lame jokes about X-ray vision. If even I can pick up on these references, then they're pretty darn obvious, and also somewhat long in the tooth. I just don't quite get why Moffat wanted to do a superhero story in the first place if he's not more into the genre than this. Having said that, the romance between Grant and the female reporter Lucy is sweet, especially when she acknowledges that it's Grant the nanny she truly loves, not the glamorous Ghost. The enemy aliens are acting under the cover of a Big Scary Corporation, which is in no way unoriginal but makes for some pleasingly eerie ultra-modern office set pieces, and there's a bit of a twist at the beginning concerning who the mastermind behind the alien plot is, or rather who it isn't. A doubtful line or two from the Doctor which displays a rather simplistic view of world politics is set off by other lines that work better ("It's a good plan. I like it. Why doesn't our side ever have plans like this?" he says approvingly about the evil alien plot).
The Doctor is always the Doctor, or at least I hope so. I'm not looking forward to the end of the Moffat era - The Doctor Who episodes penned by his successor Chris Chibnall are not among my favourites - and it saddens me no end that we're to lose Capaldi as well after series ten. To be fair, though, three series are about the average for a Doctor actor, so he's not jumping ship indecently early. All Doctors I've seen since I started watching the series back in Eccleston's day have been great, so in this instance one just has to trust the casting director.
Superheroes, though. What do those bright female reporters actually see in them?