08 “Mummy on the Orient Express” (Doctor Who series 8)


doctor who peter capaldi

After a shaky start, I think that the new Doctor may be starting to find his feet.

I haven’t out and out hated any if this series’ episodes, but a few of them have…disappointed. There is a potential to Capaldi’s acting which hasn’t always been fulfilled. I can see that ability, and watching the stories steer away from it has been infuriating.

But the last episode, although others didn’t like it, I definitely did. It finally felt like the writing and the acting had melded into a story worth following. The question is whether “Kill the Moon” was the new rule, or an exception?

“Mummy on the Orient Express” does exactly what you’d expect. Except, it doesn’t actually. The Doctor takes Clara, after their fight last episode, to a reproduction of the Orient Express in space. It is intended as a last hurrah, Clara’s last trip with the Doctor. But there is an ancient, spectral mummy stalking the train, and once you see it, you have sixty-six seconds to live. And for some reason, the train is crammed full of people who are experts on the mummy.

From the title, I expected not to rate this episode. An old concept, taking the format of a ‘creature-on-the-loose’ episode and pairing it with one of the oldest “monsters” going. Surprising, then, that it actually feels among the freshest.

The Doctor’s cold-hearted alien routine works to its maximum effect here. As passenger after passenger is claimed by the mummy, he calmly (Well… -Ed) and scientifically picks apart each sighting, comparing it to the legend and searching for the answer. His dispassionate quest to save lives by not focusing on the ones he loses plays into his relationship with Clara, and the deterioration of it.

The talky-feely bits between the pair seems to be getting some criticism elsewhere, but I much prefer it to the Impossible Girl nonsense of riddles which we had to endure between Clara and the Eleventh Doctor. The fact that Clara rails against the Doctor’s ‘meanness’, before ultimately deciding that he is a good person — or at least good enough, the actual question of whether he is a good person being the strain running through the show — and that she wants to stay with him is completely natural.

Because yes, the Doctor is occasionally rude and standoffish, and you can never quite know if he is being sincere or deceiving you as part of some scheme or other. And yes, that is a price worth paying to travel with the Doctor.

The actual episode itself, the meat of the story, was genius. The mummy, not a creature I usually find particularly scary, was very well designed, and seen in fleeting, tense moments really does seem sinister. More sinister, though, was the force behind the whole enterprise, the computer named “Gus”. Only in little hints did we get any idea of what this was, and I am looking forward to the exploration of this as a theme.

Frank Skinner, too, was a delight. An odd choice of casting I thought, but as the engineer he shone. His dry wit, and serving as a foil to the Doctor when Clara is away, left me wishing that he would accept the Doctor’s offer and join the TARDIS and its journeys. Perhaps he will reappear later on?

This was exactly the episode that the series needed. It was the antithesis of “Listen”, and more fun than “Kill the Moon”, but managed to combine the seriousness and the comic excellence of Who at its best. It didn’t push the concept too far, but knew what it wanted to achieve, and above all used Peter Capaldi more to his full potential.

Closing thoughts

  • I need to get a cigarette case filled with Jelly Babies.
  • The Doctor’s “planets as far as the eye could see” line gave a me a definite giggle.
  • The premise of this episode was initially mentioned in the final scene of “The Big Bang”; and it is actually referenced, that Gus called the TARDIS in an effort to recruit the Doctor. I like that they’re actually making these nods to the continuity.
  • The darkness of the Doctor really does start to come out here, in the momentary ambiguity of whether he did save everyone, or just Clara. It is, at times, easy to forget that this is in fact the Doctor. And that is an exciting change of pace.
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One comment

  1. I just could NOT AGREE MORE when it comes to this episode. I, too was, let’s just say… slightly disappointed and blue after watching episodes from this series – I have a thing where I’m not hating on these, because I’m a Whovian, BUT I was just sad really that they weren’t using Capaldi’s reservoirs of potential, kept the incohesive storylines and most of all – Doctor Who didn’t FEEL like Doctor Who (shoot me, this is my very literary criticism of it.)

    This one was MUCH better. And Kill the Moon left me hopeful too. I absolutely loved watching the shift (not only in these two episodes of course) from 11th’s and Clara’s Impossible Girl mumbo-secretive-jumbo to this, even if talky-feely interaction. I’ll take anything over Impossible Girl.

    The mummy WAS brilliant and when I read the title I expected, well, dare I say RECYCLED monsters? You’re abolsutely right, that the 66secs make the mummy just eons better and the impact stronger.

    But my favourite part was 12th in this one – alien, BUT thoughtful, and we start accusing him of being completely unfeeling and cruel. Capaldi was brilliant.

    Two highlights? Frank Skinner, definitely. Also, his character proved how smart he was in the last scene really – how much he read from the events and Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship.

    Secondly, ‘Are you my mummy?’.

    RIGHT?!

    : ) Great review, always a pleasure to read and compare with my opinion!

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