Doctor Who: 808 “Mummy on the Orient Express” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
You know when you come across one of those Doctor Who episodes that has a title that basically sums up the story, that’s what you get with this. A Mummy on the Orient Express. I’m sure Moffat’s ambitions will never cease and I do enjoy seeing what madness he’ll come out with next. The Orient Express in space with an Egyptian killer stalking the passengers, it just spells a great story.
The Mummy itself was quite creepy to say the least. I’ll give the BBC due credit for pushing the episode back a bit and warning us that the Foretold’s design was dark and potentially scary for younger viewers. With the more serious line-up we’ve been given this year it’s safe to say that Doctor Who has become more adult again, something Moffat has been pushing for throughout his tenure and with Capaldi in the role it can be taken a step further. I just really like what’s gone on behind-the-scene and it’s having a great contribution to the show and where it’s heading.
I did love the clock in the corner every time the Foretold appeared. It added in that extra bit of tension to each of those scenes, allowing us the viewer to view time running out for the victim, knowing too well they can’t escape and that death is imminent. It’s a sinister concept really and was played out well. In a sense it became an extra threat to the story. I find what added to the tension and scares was the idea that the victims are always in a public domain. They aren’t alone which is the frightening part for their last seconds alive. Nobody can see nor do anything about the approaching creature. They can only watch in confusion as the victim freaks out and panics for their lives as the Foretold moves closer and closer to them, until finally it kills them.
The side-story was that the Doctor and Clara were on their last journey together. Now I found Clara’s appearance a complete surprise after the end of last week’s episode and the fact the BBC kept it quiet about her appearance. It was a strange thing to do really but understandable because they wanted viewers to be unsure about her future on the show (or at least whether she was on it this week because she’d already been confirmed for ‘Flatline’). Anyhow they appeared to be on good terms at the start of the story with the Doctor, as usual; totally alien to Clara’s reactions to the point he claimed she was malfunctioning. I liked the speech about her claiming she was mad with him but was eventually convinced to take that back due to hatred on someone you hate being a waste, a point made to herself that she didn’t fully hate him for his actions. Upset maybe, but never hate. The interesting part was that Clara still wanted to see him, asking if the Doctor would still pop round for tea like a good friend would. Though the Doctor did seem unsure, mostly because it appeared he just didn’t know how to react to Clara. It was evidenced at the end of ‘Kill the Moon’ that he was confused at Clara’s anger towards him and was unsure as to what he’d done and how to react to Clara, let alone how to come back with a response.
‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ was all about bringing the two back together and perhaps in many ways for Clara to understand her space friend. In the meantime the Doctor, whilst Clara spent some of her time trapped elsewhere, tried to deal with the killer bog-rolled covered corpse. As well as being a public place the setting was also isolated. The characters were trapped not only on a train but also in space. They had nowhere to run, made worse by the fact that the Mummy could follow them anyway. It became a horrible game of countdown where instead of trying to make words you was trying to describe your killer and at the end of the countdown you perhaps gave the next victim a chance to survive, or at the very least gave them less to spell out.
At first it’s led to believe that the story would play out like a usual murder mystery, as it seemed obvious that perhaps something or someone was behind the creature (I mean it hardly bought a ticket and walked on), but instead turned into an inhuman game to see if the characters could outsmart the Mummy. The clever part was that we weren’t introduced to the enemy and instead was left with the annoying computer Gus who spoke for the villain. This led to the Doctor being alien again with how he operated, to the point where you really did question him. I suppose in that circumstance what else could you have done but still, the unemotional response of witnessing people die and using them as test subjects is quite distasteful. None the less it’s what I like about this incarnation: he’s unafraid to say something and isn’t afraid to do what is necessary, making him more challenging to accept and understand.
It was interesting to discover the pattern taking place within the victims and that the Foretold was picking off the weakest first, identifying any illness, mental problem or irregularity within them and then bumping them off in search for the next weakest. Also it was good that the Foretold was written as an actual legend and not just a random mock-up. It gave the creature more status in a sense and made its threat all the more powerful knowing it’s been around for centuries killing victims in this horrific manner.
Another thing I must commend is the characters within the story. With having a huge cast of characters like within this story you risk falling into a trap of having bland and unrealistic characters that stage a stereotypical role and that is their only purpose. But this episode, and nearly the whole of Series Eight, proved that the characters can be written well, contain depth and meaningful characteristics that help progress the story. Professor Moorhouse contained the knowledge about the Foretold and was able to aid the Doctor with useful information. What I liked about his character was he always seemed to be a calm character, filled with a sense of knowledge and ever-growing adventure but in the face of death showed a different side, becoming a coward. Maisie showed off her emotions through her guilt towards her Gran, though from what the Doctor stated after he gained her breakdown one can hardly blame her for disliking the woman, and proved to be a vulnerable character. Captain Quell showcased a whole lot of development throughout the story from being a man who dismissed the dangers around him to a man who tried to help. When he opened up to the Doctor about his past traumas you felt like his character had a back-story and was more than what met the eye and this went on to showcase his bravery when the Mummy came for him.
Perkins proved to be the best of these separate characters as he constantly proved useful throughout the situation, whether it him being helpful in providing the Doctor with equipment, him aiding the Doctor with ideas about the Foretold through observation or him actually challenging the Doctor’s somewhat questionable actions. Frank Skinner really did play the part and was a delightful character that could’ve, in another circumstance, fitted the bill of being the Doctor’s companion. I did for a moment think the Doctor was going to take him onboard as an engineer who simply popped up every now and again to say hello before pottering off again to fix another part of the TARDIS but it was just not meant to be.
It was surprising to see Twelfth being so heroic when he took Maisie’s place and faced the Foretold instead, which allowed him to see the creature and discover how to finally put an end to its onslaught. As it turned out the creature was malfunctioned through faulty equipment and the body of the creature was an old soldier being made to kill out of no fault of its own. It reminded me of the Minotaur scenario in which the creature killed its victims but wasn’t actually a killer, merely made to do so through backwards programming. The Foretold was put to rest after the Doctor spoke the magic words ‘surrender’ and with one final salute the creature turned to ash in order to pass on in peace. However the true villain of the piece was left unanswered for and managed to escape, but not before attempting to kill everyone onboard through blowing up the Orient Express. It’s unclear who the enemy was, whether it be Missy or one of her associates or someone completely different but unfortunately with all of Moffat’s secrets it’s unclear how long we have to wait to find out the answers to his riddles. So until then it’s up to speculation as to who was the man behind Gus.
By the end of the episode I felt Clara learnt a lot about herself and the Doctor. She saw that the Doctor is still himself despite his change and he can still do the right thing. Yes the way he does things has changed and become debatable but his outcome will always stay the same. Her speech about him being addicted to his lifestyle was an interesting point and something worth thinking about. Maybe the Doctor is addicted to his dangerous lifestyle. It’s always come across to me that he becomes confused as to why people object to his lifestyle and becomes saddened when he is pointed out for being dangerous, even though he himself will admit to companions it’s not safe with him. But you’ve got to think about this carefully, I mean this lifestyle is pretty much all the Doctor knows, he hasn’t got another life. This is his life. He ran away from Gallifrey to seek out adventure and to gain a new life where perhaps he could find himself an identity, a purpose beyond the dull politics of the High Council. With Gallifrey gone now even if he wanted to give up this life he has nowhere else to go. His home and the life he once led is gone. He hasn’t got a choice but to keep moving forward and if he did stop and think about his life it could lead to him questioning himself. Maybe he put Clara through what she did last week because he wanted someone to understand what he goes through and what his life entails and hoped that someone would understand him.
Fundamentally though a companion, whether they like it or not, become too addicted to the lifestyle, and like the Doctor becomes a part of their lives to the point of them asking themselves if they could go back to their old lives and leave the Doctor’s life behind. Perhaps for the Doctor it’s something he could give up. But having lost his home he knows what it feels like to have a life taken from him and being unable to go back even if he wanted to. It’s that old saying of ‘you don’t know what you have until you lose it’. Maybe this is what Clara thinks and now having gained an insider on the Doctor’s lifestyle, having experienced it firsthand last week, she understands the Doctor more and wishes to continue having her two lives like she previously attempted. It must also be nice for the Doctor to have a friend he can count on and he did seem pleased that he persuaded Clara to stay onboard. Here’s hoping their friendship can last for as long as it can although this change of heart could be the countdown to Clara’s doom. Let’s hope I’m proved wrong.