Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome back to the Doctor Who Review. The Orient Express – a luxury train traversing the cosmos, where the elite wine and dine among the stars. It’s a shame when a party-crasher spoils the fun by killing off the passengers and crew one by one. Left adrift on the locomotive, the Doctor and Clara must uncover the mystery behind the mummy at the behest of an unknown orchestrator. All aboard for an interstellar adventure on Doctor Who “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Warning, spoilers ahead!
One last hurrah – that’s what Clara thought she would have aboard the Orient Express for her final journey with the Doctor. Unfortunately she got more than she bargained for with the Foretold, a terrifying creature that can only be seen by its victims sixty-six seconds before their death. No sooner do they learn of the mystery, they find themselves trapped aboard the train at the behest of Gus, the computerized puppeteer intent on capturing the mummified monster. Will the Doctor unravel the myth behind the mummy before another person counts down their last sixty-six seconds?
‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is the Doctor Who writing debut for Jamie Mathieson, a familiar face in British science-fiction. He brings his telltale flair for set design and atmosphere, creating a beautifully ornate train interior for the first half of the episode. However, it is his first foray into the Whoniverse, and it unfortunately shows in the way he handles the Doctor as he uncovers the mystery and deals with the looming loss of his companion Clara. While the shadowy hand of Moffat guides the story from behind the scenes and Paul Wilmshurst (‘Kill the Moon’) continues to direct the story to his vision, the discrepancies are still very noticeable.
There’s another major shift in the Doctor’s characterization as well – and it is entirely welcomed. Peter Capaldi continues to play a very convincingly distant and alien Doctor in this episode, showing off his mental faculties as he finally unravels the mummy mystery in less than sixty-six seconds and saves the remaining passengers (though not without some snark).
The major change he brings to the character feels more like a call back to former Doctors: he shows a softer side to the cold and callous perception he’s become (in)famous for. He desperately wants to impress Clara with the history of the universe as the travel across the cosmos and ignore the oncoming reality of having her leave his side. The weight of the realization weighs more heavily on him throughout the episode as the ending draws near, to the point where he is almost catatonic and robotic when they board the TARDIS. When Clara states that she’s staying on for more adventures, the overwhelming relief on his face is heart-wrenching; it’s refreshing to see the fear and joy, two very human emotions, reappear in the Doctor who had become so foreign to us.
Clara’s characterization throughout the episode is just as foreign, and not in a good way. Her rage and hurt from the end of the previous episode ‘Kill the Moon’ has disappeared, instead appearing resigned to her decision on ultimately quitting the time-traversing travels. While it’s odd to see such a change in emotions it is not entirely surprising; Danny Pink hinted at such a thing last episode. Her choice to leave only seems to be reinforced as the episode continues, as the Doctor makes difficult choices and misleads her to investigate the mystery. Even after the Doctor’s heart-to-heart (to-heart, if we’re counting his second one) on making impossible decisions (something she can relate to after last week’s episode), it still seems like he’s given little reason for her to stay and inclination that he’ll change his ways. Her sudden decision to not only stay with the Doctor but lie to Danny as well not only seems rash and guilt-driven but completely out of character. It’s a huge step backward for her that has fans scratching their heads and furrowing their brows.
An honorable mention goes to the slow jazz rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” performed by Foxes, a smooth and tone-setting melody to the calmer first-half of the episode.
This is perhaps one of the most disjointed and off-setting episodes of the series. While the Doctor’s glimpse of humanity is endearing and the cover of Queen’s song is iTunes-worthy, it simply felt off and uncharacteristic not only of Clara but of the whole series as well. It felt more like a copy of a Doctor Who episode, catching some of the style but none of the substance. And since Jamie Mathieson is also writing the next episode ‘Flatline,’ the fans must uneasily await the next episode to see what these recent unnerving developments will bring.