Mummy on the Orient Express reviewed

Clara and the Doctor on the beach in Mummy on the Orient ExpressI’ve started watching episodes twice, so a short delay for this, my review of Jamie Mathieson’s  Mummy on the Orient Express. This did have Clara in it as well as the Twelfth Doctor with only brief, but important, moments for Danny Pink. If you want the punch-line this is my favourite episode so far (ok ties with the more mythically significant Listen). Foxes made her appearance, minor though it was. Still it added to the atmosphere and there have been some great videos produced as a consequence (see the link).

You want more? It’ll take longer than 66 seconds…

The story

Clara is giving up on galavanting with the Doctor and he has decided to treat them both to one last experience – a trip on the Orient Express. Of course this is the future and while the interior looks (at first) like the classic 1920s experience, a glimpse outside the window shows us the vista of space, black holes and other such interstellar frippery. Nothing is ever simple and people are dying. The Doctor appeals to Captain Quell (David Bamber – very well acted) to help put down the growing panic (there’s a pun in there somewhere) but gets more help from Perkins (Frank Skinner) in his investigations. He also gets some assistance from a mythologist, Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers – another excellent character well acted).

As the body count rises we learn that this is all a setup to get a crew of scientists in an isolated location where they can study the Foretold – a mummy that appears individually to its victims, 66 seconds before it drains their life force. Of course the only solution is for the Doctor to arrange to be a victim, this he does after getting Clara to lie to one of the passengers and make them think he had a solution to the curse of the mummy.

Once the mystery was solved the passengers were superfluous and Gus the computer (John Sessions) took great delight in evacuating the air as the Doctor raced against time to get a teleport working to save them.

We then have a superb scene on a beach (pictured) where the Doctor gives Clara two outcomes so she can pick the one she likes best. But did he really save the passengers?

After a short scene where Perkins declines the chance to join the TARDIS crew, Clara lies to Danny (and the Doctor) and after eight episodes as now fully committed to the new Doctor.

The storytelling

The BBC made sure we didn’t get the beginning of this story. Clara left last week and Jenna Coleman isn’t listed in the credits. The trailers avoided Clara and the story dived straight in. This did take a few moments away from following the emerging plot while viewers adjusted to what was actually going on.

Visually this was glories from the costumes of various characters (including Clara’s 1920s dress), the depth of space and even the matte of the alien city. The plot was tight and allowed room for some characters – not only Perkins but a decent stab at a story for Captain Quell. It may be a bit formulaic – soldier gets his mojo back in the face of death – but it did work.

Various threats here and not all of them neutralised – who is Gus working for?

Why also was Capaldi channelling Tom Baker all of a sudden? It added to the story somehow and I did like the jelly babies in the cigarette case.

[pullquote]hundreds of times more nuanced[/pullquote]

The Doctor’s inability to get emotional about death still grates on those around him but now I detect more balance. In the superb beach scene he gives a clear set of options to Clara and allows her to take a view on what she believes. This was, for me, hundreds of times more nuanced than the way he gave her a choice in Kill the Moon. Hands up who thought the episode would end with the passengers in Missy’s waiting room?

Frank Skinner was fine though his character took over all the minor parts. I did think the passengers were not even one-dimensional. Apart from holding a few clip boards and twiddling a fed dials they did nothing. The much publicised Foxes appearance was also very minor in the end.

These are minor grumbles; the story was fun, acting great, superb directing and use of shadows and good plotting for Clara as she has to move from companion to fellow manipulator.

The series arc

No Missy and unless Gus re-appears this was about Clara and the Doctor finding a new resonance in their relationship. Roll on Flatline.

And there’s more…

How did I not mention the reference to Empty Child? Did anyone else think Capaldi was very First Doctor fiddling with the stick in the sand at the end? These and other post-publication tweaks brought to you by Mr Forgetful!

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