Sunday 12 October 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Mummy on the Orient Express

Doctor Who s08e08 - Mummy on the Orient Express

You know how last week I said I was looking forward to how the Twelfth Doctor was going to act in an episode that didn't feature Clara Oswald at his side? Well it seems I might have jumped the gun a bit on that assessment, as Mummy on the Orient Express picks up some weeks after the events of last week's Kill the Moon. Written by another Doctor Who first time writer Jamie Mathieson, this episode places the duo on a rather silly but appropriate setting for a good old fashioned murder mystery adventure.

On a space-faring version of the famous Orient Express, a mysterious mummy is picking off victims one by one and the only person who can see it are the ones about to die. Once they first see it, they have precisely 66 seconds to live. Arriving with Clara on what is meant to be their final journey together, the Doctor soon starts investigating (and naturally, takes charge) of the situation as the mummy is believed to be the legendary Foretold. As the Doctor discovers there's more to this mummy on the Orient Express that everyone believes, Clara sees the Doctor at his most ruthless as he only has 66 seconds to stop the mummy taking its next victim.

The Twelfth Doctor
Dashing in a tux

The initial for this setting sets things up for another campy Doctor Who adventure, but as the murder mystery evolves the episode begins to show a serious side amidst this fantasy backdrop. A creature picking off innocent victims one by one usually carries more weight than a larger body count, and as usual the Doctor's newly discovered bedside manner (or lack of one) makes the deaths all the more effective. The style also begs for a number of strong side characters, with comedian Frank Skinner giving off a surprisingly good performance as train engineer Perkins. Following his casting I was expecting a pretty throwaway role, but part of me was actually a little sad when he declined an invitation to take a trip on the TARDIS.

Frank Skinner as Perkins
Frank Skinner as Perkins

Peter Capaldi has no doubt currently been wowing audiences with his performance as the Doctor, but this incarnation's personality shift has certainly been a cause of contention amongst some fans (myself included). This episode continues he trend of him being rather short with people about their incoming demise, but reveals that this is mostly because for once the Doctor acknowledges that his way of life requires him to make the hard decisions. Very often he won't be able to save everyone, so he just keeps trying and trying until he can save everyone left. There's no time to mourn when there are people still alive who need help. After the mostly cheery attitudes of Smith and Tennant's Doctor, it's great to see a Doctor who's a bit unsure of himself and so hides behind an exterior of grumpiness and un-caringness. This is a Doctor that will be able to develop, rather than one that starts and ends the same person.

Like Robot of Sherwood this is an episode where the monster is mainly there as a plot device for the character drama going on rather than to be centre point, but arguably this episode does a better job of making the monster a little more memorable. It's simple yet brilliant in it's execution - it's a mummy on a space train, how much more memorable can you get than that? The whole "66 seconds before you die" element is a really nice set up, and the design of the mummy is nice and classic rather than trying anything daring. The gradual build up is well-handled with a little bit more information coming with each death, but the eventual resolution is a little too rushed. As soon as the answer is found everything involving the mummy ends, and also raises a few questions about why exactly what it is looks like a mummy. Set up is great, but explanations need a little work.

Foxes' cameo in the episode
Also featuring a cameo by singer Foxes (if you're into that)

But once again the biggest flaw with the episode is just how fast the show is going through Clara's current arc/development, with her sudden dislike of the Doctor's methods and decision to no longer travel with him failing to come across as wholly believable. After her huge outburst at the end of last week's episode, a story where the two spend some time apart would have really benefitted the drama here. Clara talks about how she "hated the Doctor for weeks", but for the audience she's gone from a loud outburst to being right by his side again. Sure there's a bit of tension where she calls the Doctor out for lying to her again, but that's all but resolved in a matter of minutes. Throw in another few lines to hurriedly progress her relationship with Danny, and Clara's back at square one labelling her very reasonable outburst as "a bit of a wobbly". It was pretty obvious that Clara was not going to be permanently leaving the Doctor yet, but it would have been nice to spend SOME time unsure about her status in the TARDIS.

The Foretold Mummy
The Foretold

Despite its rather rushed development, Mummy on the Orient Express is an extremely enjoyable episode. It isn't the first Doctor Who to place some sort of famous mode of transport in space and it surely won't be the last, but unlike previous efforts it captures some very real tension with its claustrophobic setting, with great side characters. Most importantly, it's given some much needed development to the Doctor to show that he's still the Time Lord we all know and love behind his grumpier exterior. With all this post regeneration angst finally behind us, maybe now it's time for he Twelfth Doctor to shine.


Chris said...

Also the villain in the mummmy on the orient express got away scott free and still ight be able to do it again

Alex said...

No it didn't, it disintegrated into dust.

hugo said...

Well, maybe he means SPOILER Gus ;)

Alex said...

...yeah, I completely forgot about Gus for a moment there! I dunno though, unless it ties into the whole Missy thing I'm not expecting anything to come of Gus unless he/she/it is back by popular demand. The Doctor seemed very nonchalant about it once they were off the train.

hugo said...

The doctor said he was invited before, so maybe it will tie in to Missy (and the common enemy this season being all "robots")

After a bit of wobbly with Clara, I'm afraid she won't leave, I think maybe she'll die, but since that happened already, something even worse could happen...