On the D/L – Doctor Who
Season 8 Episode 8 – “Mummy on the Orient Express”
In this episode of Doctor Who, The Doctor takes Clara on -supposedly- one final journey in the TARDIS before they part ways forever. They find themselves on a version of The Orient Express that flies through space and have to deal with a Mummy on board that is slowly killing all of the passengers.
I found the opening of the episode really effective, there’s a tense countdown and a slow lumbering creature stalking towards a victim before finally claiming her. It was atmospheric, mysterious and exciting which makes it probably the best teaser the season has had thus far. The Mummy looks great as well, a far cry from the cheap monster costuming that Modern Doctor Who has been known for.
The episode plays out like a mystery with one of the answers given to the audience right away. We already know that it’s a Mummy killing people but we don’t know why it can’t be seen by anyone other than the victims, what the purpose of it killing specific people is or where it comes from. Let’s not forget the most important mystery of all, why is there an Orient Express train that flies through space? That makes absolutely no sense to me. It even gives off steam; it just strains credibility even by Doctor Who standards.
As mysteries go this plays out effectively enough; many of the passengers act suspiciously enough to have the audience be suspicious and there’s plenty of intrigue as The Doctor goes about solving it. The claustrophobic setting of the train was a good decision to ramping up the tension and the 66 second timer added a great sense of urgency to the scenes where the Mummy claimed the next victim. When the mystery was resolved it was all wrapped up a little too neatly and the solution was a bit lazy. I’m getting a little tired of The Doctor solving a problem at the very last second and have it all wrap up nicely from that point. It brought down what was otherwise a really engaging story.
Character wise The Doctor was all over the place here. We got to see more of his detached pragmatist as he coldly accepts that people are going to die and there’s nothing he can do. This side of him hasn’t been seen since Into the Dalek so it’s good to see again and I would have expected this to be more at the root of his character than it has been. I like that he tells people point blank that they are about to die but they can give their death purpose by providing some useful information that can help prevent others from dying. We also get to see more of the insulting eccentric who has no consideration for people’s feelings and pretends not to care about anything when he really does. The script has Capaldi’s Doctor say a lot of -apparently- clever things but there’s no underlying wisdom behind the words, I never get a sense that he knows what he’s actually talking about which is something that his predecessors all had nailed down. I don’t know whether Capaldi’s not connecting with the dialogue written for him or if he’s just really bad at this role in general but in every episode the character has been uneven. It doesn’t help that he feels like a different character in every episode so I’d like the producers to agree on what this Doctor is and develop him that way.
Frank Skinner’s guest role as Engineer Perkins really didn’t work for me. His acting was a bit dry and it made the importance of the character obvious. There was also something very Mary Sue about his character when he manages to help The Doctor solve a crucial part of the puzzle or suggesting that he could repair the TARDIS. Not the best use of famous British guest cast.
Clara annoyed me in this episode as well. After her impassioned speech last week that she was done with the way The Doctor was treating her and wanted nothing to do with him I was confused to find her exiting the TARDIS with him right at the beginning of this episode. I felt like I had missed part of an episode where there was some kind of resolution but the dialogue suggests that this was the last time and they were doing something fun to say goodbye. This doesn’t work for me at all because it makes Clara look weak and indecisive. What would have been better is if she hadn’t been here at all to really give what she said meaning. This episode could have been a turning point for The Doctor where he realises how he has treated her and seeks to make amends but instead we get an off screen resolution as well a complete reversal by the end of the episode.
An effective mystery plot with some good moments from The Doctor. His characterisation is still very uneven as is Capaldi’s performance but aspects of the character that I liked from a previous episode were brought back. The episode suffers from a poor non-resolution to a major plot point last week involving Clara as well as a disappointing resolution to The Mummy resolution. Using a 66 second countdown before people were killed by the Mummy was very effective and helped to raise tension in the claustrophobic setting. There’s still a lot the show isn’t doing right but at least the episodes are getting a little more watchable.