After the heavy and troubling episode that was last week’s “Kill the Moon,” which was honestly much more troubling in retrospect than it was while I was watching it, I feel like we all needed some kind of breather, even if that breather involved a lot of people getting their energy sucked out by a mummy. I mean, in the Doctor Who world, that’s about all anyone can hope for, breather-wise. “Mummy on the Orient Express” is a Victorian-style whodunit (or whydunit, really) set in space and featuring a really striking monster that’s also incredibly simple. Is it the best episode ever? Perhaps not, but it has an air of Classic Who about it, like it could have easily been done during the Tom Baker era, and it features another great outfit for Clara. Gotta say, Howard Burden’s costume design is the real star this week, despite the two quite-famous-to-British-people guests who graced the screen as well. One of them (Frank Skinner) played quite a huge part in the episode, and the other (pop singer Foxes) sang a jazz version of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and then wasn’t in the show anymore. Hmm.
Jamie Mathieson’s first of two consecutive scripts for this series, “Mummy on the Orient Express” plays like a typical Agatha Christie mystery, with the Doctor serving as the Poirot of the piece (of course he would) attempting to figure out the method of the unseen monster’s madness. However, unlike Poirot, the only way he can learn about it is from the people who CAN see it, and those are the folks marked for death, who only have 66 seconds (give or take for television tension purposes) left to live. And the Doctor isn’t really too broken up about it. I think it’s not so much that he doesn’t care, he’s just realistic enough to know that once they’ve been chosen, there’s nothing he can do to stop it. At least not for awhile. This Doctor doesn’t know how to be compassionate or sympathetic, and that’s what started this whole thing to begin with.
After “Kill the Moon,” Clara (Jenna Coleman) said she was donezo with him, but they’ve been through a lot together and so has decided to go on one final adventure with him, one more somewhere she’s never been as a last hurrah before walking away. And it’s a pretty interesting one to pick — an exact replica of the Orient Express, with exactly replicated garb and decor, only it flies through outer space, seemingly heading nowhere. It also swerves around for no reason other than aesthetic pleasure. However, unfortunately, it’s not as idyllic and picturesque a final go together as it might have been; a woman has died after claiming a mummy was coming to get her but nobody else could see it. This strikes Clara as odd, but the Doctor tries to convince her it’s nothing…even though he knows it’s something and goes off to investigate.
The Doctor is familiar with the idea of this mummy that no one can see through legend. A very old myth about a thing called “The Foretold” which takes exactly 66 seconds to choose a victim and kill them. A very specific number. TOO specific. The Doctor talks to people on board, including Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers), an expert in myth and of the Foretold especially, and Perkins (Frank Skinner), the engineer of the train who is especially bright and ends up being kind of the de facto companion while Clara is elsewhere. Oh yeah, where’s Clara? She’s found the daughter of the old lady who’d been murdered and is with her on the other side of the train, hopefully away from the mummy.
The Doctor realizes that everyone on board the train is an expert of some sort and he then realizes they’ve all been brought there for a very specific purpose: to figure out what the mummy is and how it can be stopped. The train’s computer Gus (voiced by John Sessions) is holding the smart people hostage, threatening to kill innocent staff members if the minds don’t keep working. All the while, the mummy keeps reappearing and killing people within 66 seconds, while the Doctor asks them to describe what they see so he can try to save the next one. Yes, the NEXT one. It’s determined that the mummy is picking off the weakest members, but why? And how does it maintain its 66 second limit… perhaps it’s out of phase with the rest of time and its teleporter only works in short bursts.
Eventually, everything’s figured out (I don’t feel like going in to all of it) and the mummy, or soldier it turns out, is defeated. However, Gus has determined that survivors aren’t needed and hence begins sucking all the air out of the room. The Doctor is going to use the mummy’s transporter to try to save everyone, which is exactly what happens before Clara passes out… and wakes up on the beach somewhere with everything fine and the Doctor standing over her. He apparently DID save everybody, and apparently WAS trying not to get everyone killed. He tells Clara if that’s what she needs to believe, she’s welcome to it. She later asks if he’s ever been tired of it, the traveling and saving everybody and he says he doesn’t know because he’s never stopped. She asks if it’s like an addiction and he says it’s hard to tell since you only know when you don’t do it anymore. She’ll be able to tell him… except what if she doesn’t? She calls Danny but decides she’s okay to keep going with the Doctor so long as he gets her home on time.
So Clara is an adrenaline junkie now. She’s addicted to the thrill of traveling with the Doctor, even if he’s an asshole most of the time. She can’t stop, and doesn’t want to stop. I feel like that’s not going to end well for her. It also, unfortunately, sort of takes the Doctor off the hook for his behavior in the previous weeks. His punishment was going to be Clara leaving, but now everything’s “okay” again so he’s not going to learn. I have a very bad feeling that the fit is going to hit the shan again before the end of the year.
A few other thing’s we don’t know: who was Gus working for? The Doctor had been called about the Orient Express several times, by SOMEONE, the last time onscreen at the end of “The Big Bang,” but we never found out who put the whole experiment together. Missy? Doesn’t seem super likely, but also might be just for the sake of tying things up. Also, how exactly did the Doctor get everybody out. If not for Perkins being there at the end, I might believe the “lie” he tells Clara about only saving her and leaving everybody else to suffocate. And finally, how many people assumed at SOME point he’d say “Are you my mummy?” and are still a little annoyed that he did?
“Mummy on the Orient Express” was perfectly fine, fun, and well-directed Who with some nice dialogue and good performances throughout. It’s not groundbreaking or Earth-shattering, but that’s what happened last week and we all saw the internet explode about that. I like that the Doctor and Clara’s relationship is as complicated as it is and that neither one is entirely doing the thing that’s best for them. The Doctor is her dealer and he’s got her hooked. Not super healthy. As I said, I’m worried how it’s all going to shake out.
Next week, Jamie Mathieson returns for the second of two episodes, “Flatline,” which also sees Douglas Mackinnon’s third and final directing gig of the year. Looks very weird, with two-dimensional figures trying to see what 3D is like. Hopefully it won’t be like “Fear Her,” which is sort of what I hope every week regardless. Enjoy the teaser!
Aaaaaand if you enjoyed Foxes’ rendition of the raucous Queen song, they’ve released a music video for that as well.