Where are you, Whovians?
Oh, there you are, still hiding behind the sofa,
I think it's safe for you to come out now. Really, the latest Doctor Who adventure, Mummy on the Orient Express, is over and you have nothing to fear from the
SHAMBLING DEATH MONSTER!!!!!
Uh, sorry 'bout that. Maybe.
Anyway it's time to take a look back at the 8th episode of the 8th series of Doctor Who, a delightful tale of a train that flies through space. But for the happy travellers aboard this fanciful train, there lurks danger and death. And only the Doctor stands between them and the
SHAMBLING DEATH MONSTER!!!!!
I really should stop doing that.
And only the Doctor stands between them and the...
What th...?! Oh, the spoiler warning. Sorry!
All aboard! The review commences now!
The cold open is on a train, specifically on a rather posh and classic dining car. An old woman begins stammering about some strange creature dressed like a mummy which seems rather sensible sense there is some strange creature dressed like a mummy advancing rather menacingly.*
*To be honest, I'm not sure a mummy can advance in any way other than menacingly.
The problem is no one else sees anything. Only the old woman can see the mummy before the mummy takes her head in its hands and she dies. Since no one can see the mummy, it appears to everyone around her that she died possibly of a heart attack or some other natural cause.
Oh, by the way, the train is in space!
After the credits, the TARDIS materializes on the train and out steps the Doctor and Clara. The two of them have...
WAIT A MINUTE!! The Doctor AND Clara?!?!
But what happened to all the angry stuff from Clara, telling the Doctor to go away and not come back? I mean, what the...what?!?!**
**Settle down, fan boy. All will be explained. And I'm a pudding brain. More on that later.
The Doctor and Clara have arrived on the Orient Express...IN SPACE!...for one last hurrah before they go their separate ways. Clara wants to express how she feels about all this while the Doctor would rather talk about space stuff. No matter the face, the Doctor hates goodbyes.
The Doctor and Clara become aware of the strange death of the old woman. Well, maybe not so strange. She was over 100 years old; people that old sometimes tend to just die you know. So no mystery here.
Clara calls Danny to discuss how this "last hurrah" trip is going. Meanwhile, the Doctor is having a conversation as well. OK, more like an argument, it's with himself and he's losing (or winning, depending on the perspective). The Doctor convinces himself that maybe there's something odd going on here and he leaves his compartment. A few moments later, Clara leaves hers as well. So much for a nice, relaxing "last hurrah" train trip...IN SPACE!
The Doctor's investigation leads him to Perkins, the train's chief engineer with a wit keen enough to keep up with the Doctor. Then the Doctor has a chat with Professor Moorehouse, an expert of sorts about an entity known as The Foretold which the Doctor suspects may be the killer that can't be seen. One of the interesting elements of the Foretold's "myth" is that as soon as someone sees the Foretold, that person will die in exactly 66 seconds.
And there's Captain Quell, the chief officer of the ship...er, train, who is quite reluctant to acknowledge anything weird is going on. Meanwhile, a chef has been killed by the Foretold in the same manner as the old woman from earlier, screaming in fright from the attacking mummy that no one else can see. Later when one of Quell's personal guards is also killed the same way, the Captain has to acknowledge, yeah, there's something weird going on here.
I just realized I forgot to mention the interactive computer, a super friendly artificial intelligence (AI) who insists on being called "Gus". That will be important later on.
While all this is going on, Clara has met Maisie, the granddaughter of the old woman who died at the first of the episode. Maisie is in a bit of a state over this, experiencing grief over the death of her grandmother even as she remembers that granny was hell to live with. Clara and Maisie find themselves trapped in a compartment where they find a sarcophagus filled with...bubble wrap?
Meanwhile, the Doctor realizes there are a lot of people on this train with the specific skill sets most beneficial to someone trying to, I don't know, figure out to stop a murdering mummy that no one can see. Then the jig is up. The classic dining car decor vanishes, replaced with a sleek and sterile lab. Then Gus the AI announces that the assemble thinkers better start thinking of a way to capture the Foretold. Sooner or later, the Foretold will work its way through every person on the train.
Later, to show he means business, Gus the friendly AI breaches the kitchen car, causing the people inside to be sucked into space. The message is clear: focus only on the task at hand, capturing the Foretold.
Sure enough, the Foretold comes for another victim, Prof. Moorehouse. Realizing that Moorehouse is certainly doomed and is the one who can see the Foretold, the Doctor tries to get the professor to provide as much descriptive information as possible before he dies. The same happens when the Foretold comes for Capt. Quell. But this proves the pattern the Doctor suspected: each person killed was weakened either by a physical or mental condition. And the Doctor surmises who is next.
The Doctor calls Clara to tell her to bring Maisie to the lab. He can't save her but if she dies in the lab, the Doctor may be able to glean information that can stop the Foretold. At the Doctor's behest, Clara lies to Maisie, telling her the Doctor can save her. But Clara isn't happy about this. Once more the Doctor has placed her in a role she doesn't want to be in. And when they get to the lab car, Clara lets the Doctor know that in no uncertain terms.
But there's no time for that drama because the Foretold has indeed come for Maisie. But before the Foretold move towards Maisie, the Doctor takes a scanner and records Maisie's grief and guilt, her mental anguish that the Foretold is locked on to; then the Doctor scans that anguish into his own brain. The Foretold has a new target. The Doctor can see the Foretold but he only has 66 seconds to figure out just what this mummy creature is all about. And he does with zero seconds to spare.
The Foretold is a lost soldier from a long forgotten war so the Doctor deduces that this soldier would stop if it knew its war was over. So the Doctor says two words that halt the mummy: "We surrender."
The mummy stops. And with its war over, the old soldier falls into dust. In the dust, the Doctor finds a piece of tech that kept the soldier's corpse going along with its war.
Yay! Mystery solved. Except Gus the AI is not a team player. He really has no need for this lab scientists any more so Gus begins blowing out the life support. However the Doctor is able to sonic the soldier mummy's tech into teleporting everyone to his TARDIS as the Orient Express...IN SPACE!...explodes.
And in the aftermath, Clara realizes that the Doctor is not heartless but he does have the burden of making life and death decisions when there are no good choices. So Clara opts to keep travelling with the Doctor.
Now before I go any further, I have to deal with this.
In yesterday's blog post, I pontificated on the angry departure of Clara Oswald and compared it to the emotional exit of Tegan Jovanka at the end of Resurrection of the Daleks. Of course, I knew Clara wasn't gone for good. Jenna Coleman's still on the show, right? At least through the Christmas special.
But still, I though this might play out a bit, maybe one episode being very light on Clara and the Doctor realizing how much he needs a companion (and particularly this companion) to be at his side. But what to do, what to do? Meanwhile the next episode would have Clara dealing with a problem where she has no choice but to summon the Doctor.
And I am a pudding brain because what was done in this episode was way more original. The tensions that arose between Clara and the Doctor last week were not swept away or waved off. Clara's decision that the Doctor should go away is still one she's going to see through; her issues with the Doctor have not changed. But instead of the soap opera histrionics that I was laying out in yesterday's post, we have two people approaching their "break up" in a grown up fashion as the Doctor takes Clara on one last trip.
There's a point just before the denouement of the mummy plot when Clara is forced by the Doctor to do something she doesn't want to do, lie to Maisie. She has to tell Maisie the Doctor can save her when the Doctor has told Clara he can't. Clara is seeing the Doctor use Maisie as a lab rat. And once more it appears the Doctor is using Clara. Again.
But then certain things happen.
One is that the Doctor takes Maisie's guilt and grief into himself so he can draw the Mummy's attention away from Maisie and towards the Doctor. The Doctor deliberately places himself in a 66 doomsday count down because maybe (MAYBE!) he can figure out the crucial knowledge he needs to save everyone on the Orient Express.
The other thing is the Doctor and Clara conversations at the end on a rock strewn shore and inside the TARDIS. Here is where the Doctor does something that the Doctor has always had trouble with but particularly this Doctor: he talks talks to his companion. Not being a glib, arrogant or condescending. No, the Doctor talks to Clara.
So kudos to everyone taking the less expected path.
In fact kudos to everyone pulling together a most excellent episode.
- The Foretold is gruesomely realized, a true horror in the Gothic style.
- That the killer mummy is unseen except by the doomed person provides the Doctor with a unique challenge.
- Adding to the pressure of this challenge is the 66 second time frame in which the mummy kills its victims; this is very effectively underscored by the countdown clock in the corner of the screen that appears whenever the mummy strikes.
- The guest characters are well rounded, becoming more than just cannon fodder.
- Particularly of note is Perkins, the train's chief engineer. As wonderfully portrayed by Frank Skinner, Perkins is a bit of a mystery: kind of creepy at the beginning but very helpful along the way. The Doctor actually invites Perkins to join him in the TARDIS but Perkins declines. I wonder if we haven't seen the last of him?
- The affably evil Gus the AI is also intriguing; we do not learn who or what Gus really is or was working for which seeds a mystery for the future.
- Call backs to the classic series: Peter Capaldi does a Tom Baker impression in one half of the Doctor's argument with himself; the Doctor's 1920s attire looking very much like the 1st Doctor; the Doctor offering jelly babies.
- Call backs to the recent past: The Doctor asking the Foretold, "Are you my mummy?"; and we finally see the Orient Express...IN SPACE!...as referenced in the last scene of The Big Bang from Series 5.
- Clara in a 1920s flapper girl outfit. Just sayin'.
All in all, a rocking episode jam packed with goodness. If there was any complaint, it may have been the episode was too jam packed with a few scenes feeling a bit rushed.
Peter Capaldi is really in a groove now as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman is wonderful as Clara and the two of them together have a rather odd but in a good way chemistry. After Clara's big blow out last week, one wondered about the fractures in her relationship with the Doctor. Those fractures were present this week but Clara works through them in a unique and rather adult fashion, even as the Doctor infuriatingly remains the Doctor. But as Clara seeks to heal the cracks between her the Doctor, the Doctor actually reveals some cracks in his facade. He wants to help people, save people but sometimes the only choices are bad choices and the Doctor has to make them.
The episode ends with Clara opting to keep joining the Doctor on his adventures but there is a fly in that ointment. Clara has lied to both the Doctor and to her beloved Danny Pink in making this decision. Do you think that won't come back to bite her in the posterior? No, I didn't think so.
Next time on Doctor Who Weekend...
Saturday: In light of the Doctor's invite to Perkins to join him in the TARDIS, I'll look at that most rare of creatures, the male companion.
Sunday: A review of Saturday's episode, Flatline.
Until then, be good to one another.
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You