Doctor Who Re-Watch: Mummy on the Orient Express
This episode sees the debut of newcomer writer, Jamie Mathieson, who wrote two of the most fun and most original episodes of Series 8. Mummy on the Orient Express sees The Doctor and Clara on board Christie’s famous train in space, even down to the 1920s attire and the gang of suspicious intellectuals. The episode gets bonus points for a zany plot and pace which none the less made perfect sense and the Queen remake, Don’t Stop Me Now.
The Return of Good Old Fashioned Who Horror…
The episode kicks off with a clock starting a countdown on screen from 66 to 0 before death at the hands of an invisible mummy and the tension doesn’t let up. For a fun episode, there is a lot of dark death, flickering lights and even an empty sarcophagus. Creepy stuff.
Clara’s ‘not’ exit
Last episode, Clara had all but committed to leaving the TARDIS behind forever until push came to shove on the phone with Danny and she opted for one final adventure… as The Doctor says, the Orient Express is, ‘a good one to end on.’ We have the theme of Clara’s innate anger with The Doctor continued. The Doctor is confused by her smile being a sad one and she responds with, ‘I hated you for weeks… hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like.’ Though I’d warmed to Clara by this series, I wasn’t a fan of this direction – it made Clara seem a bit too bitter and unkind – but she soon bounces back by next week’s Flatline. I also wasn’t a fan of The Doctor’s comment that Clara couldn’t dump him because he wasn’t her boyfriend. Enough with these kinds of comments already show!
Companions Who Never Were
Is that Mary from Sherlock? Either way, who didn’t love Maisie opening a door lock with her stiletto? Perkins was also a wonderful character (What are you a Doctor of? A question The Doctor isn’t asked often enough as the episode points out) and I enjoyed his quiet Doctor rejection, ‘riding the TARDIS could change a man.’ As usual this series, characters inner lives reflect moral dilemmas of The Doctor and his companion. Maisie’s feelings about her mother are a case in point with her feelings mirroring Clara’s feelings about The Doctor.
Maisie: Do you ever wish bad things on people? I just felt really guilty, picturing her dead for years, just picturing it, not really meaning it, and now I feel like I did it.
Clara: People, difficult people, make people feel complicated things.
It is Maisie’s story which helps Clara to understand her relationship with The Doctor. Later, after Clara claims she isn’t friends with The Doctor any more, Maisie responds with, ‘life would be so much easier if you liked the people you were meant to like, but then I guess there’d be no fairy tales.’
By the end of the episode, Clara understands.
Learning About 12
Now that we’re mid way through the series, loads is happening with 12: the man who doesn’t like soldiers yet acts like one, the man who can’t find his way back to Clara, the man who likes to solve puzzles coldly and dispassionately even when human death is involved, yet still does so with a strange innate humanity. I love that The Doctor introduced himself as a ‘nosy parker’ and offered a professor jelly babies. I loved it when he told the train manager, ‘if people did their job descriptions you wouldn’t be drinking into your cup’ and his follow-up of ‘why am I even bothering?’ (to lecture you) before he goes away to start solving The Foretold problem. I also quite like this colder Doctor. He gathers the scientists and professors together and uses the deaths to ‘study our own demise’ to discover that The Foretold picks off those it considers weak through disability, PTSD and illness first. I was reminded of Into the Dalek when The Doctor tells one man, ‘you are probably next… good for us, you’re going to die.’ This colder Doctor is offset by a kinder ending where he offers himself to the mummy with a reference to Moffat’s two parter in Series 1, ‘I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?’ I like that Twelve is a quieter hero than previous incarnations and Capaldi does quiet pain well. I was deeply moved when he admitted to Clara, ‘I didn’t know if I could save her… sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you have to choose.’
This episode continues the trend of Clara finding The Doctor’s life in the TARDIS a hard addiction to shake. She convinces Maisie to follow her to her potential death and later says, ‘is it like an addiction?’ Her final exchange with The Doctor is the stuff which makes Doctor Who such an alluring concept:
Clara: Have you ever been sure?
The Doctor: No
Clara: Then let’s go.
Correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but this episode has Gus painted as the villain trying to lure The Doctor to the exploding Orient Express at the intervention of another hidden entity. Who made Gus malfunction? Missy or some other hidden hand? Perhaps Series 9 will reveal more.
Mummy on the Orient Express: 10/10 inky stars