Doctor Who 8.08: Mummy On The Orient Express
Mummy On The Orient Express is a scary, dramatic, fun, frustrating episode with plenty of mystery dolloped on top. It certainly continues eight's very strong run of episodes, the best since series five in 2010, but like many this year it is sure to divide audiences.
Personally, I really enjoyed it, but then if you’ve read my reviews for The Digital Fix, then you'll know that there hasn’t been an episode I didn’t enjoy. It doesn't hit the highs of last week’s brilliant Kill The Moon and it does suffer for not paying off that electric scene between the Doctor and Clara. As a standalone episode it is really good. As a continuation of the saga between these two…I would have liked more.
So let's approach this review in two halves, starting with how does it do on its own. Well it has a cracking monster, the best of series eight so far. The mummy is genuinely creepy, stumbling towards its victims, with a club foot, reappearing at the worst possibly moment when its victims think they have found safety. We all knew the chef was still doomed when he locked himself in the freezer but it was still a gripping moment as the mummy reappeared beside him.
I also loved the clock ticking away on the screen every time the mummy chose its next victim. It made for a fun, almost interactive feel for the audience. The big reveal is a clever sci-fi twist and explains hows only its victims can see it, though it might be confusing for younger audience members. Heck, the mummy is too scary for younger audience members anyway!
Adding in the gorgeous looking décor of the Orient Express and some very tense sequences, and director Paul Wilmshurst has proven again that he has become one of the best new directors for Doctor Who. Fortunately he came back to direct this year’s Christmas special too. I wonder if that will bring the same darkness and scares that Wilmhurst has brought to the last two weeks?
The guest stars weren't quite as strong these week, but they certainly delivered. Frank Skinner was loveable as conspiracy theorist and eager engineer Perkins; I almost expected him to join the Doctor for more adventures in the end, though I have my suspicions on why he didn't. More of that later. Daisy Beaumont is a sympathetic, likeable passenger who forges a good connection with Clara. I really enjoyed Christopher Francis Villiers’s professor and singer Foxes had a great cameo singing a unique take on a Queen classic.
You’ll notice that Clara was mentioned there and that was genuinely a surprise. The BBC wisely kept her appearance in this episode a secret, from the trailers to an embargo on all journalists not to reveal her involvement. Her initial appearance will leave audiences confused, though we quickly learn that she is there for one last hurrah, having spent a number of weeks calming down after the events of Kill The Moon.
This I didn't have a problem with. Clara has a massive connection to the Doctor – all the Doctors in fact – and it would be a terrible shame for her to leave on such a bad note. It is understandable that she would want to have one last adventure, to see the stars one more time.
But I wasn't so sold on her U turn at the end of the episode. The story suggested that travelling with the Doctor, jumping into danger and saving the universe, was an addiction. It was all laid on a little thickly. I would have preferred for her to leave at the end of the episode and then either a) be absent for an episode or two before realising she needed the Doctor, or b) having the next episode see Clara facing a terrible danger on Earth and concluding that she needs the Doctor to help her. The way she decided to continue to travel with the Doctor threatens her relationship with Danny and undoes a lot of the magic of her final scene with the Doctor last week .
Interestingly though, there was no chance of Clara overshadowing the Doctor this week as Peter Capaldi was on fine form. It was great to see him enticed by the mystery of the mummy, still being as ruthless as ever as he observed the deaths of various victims to unearth clues about the monster. Though I liked how he gradually became a Doctor of old, saving the lives of the passengers and crew at the end and becoming the hero he has often doubted he is.
I also loved the many throwbacks to Classic Who in this episode. The Doctor did a wonderful impression of Tom Baker’s Doctor as he discussed the situation with himself. Does he talk to earlier Doctors when he’s alone on the TARDIS? Add in his cigarette cases containing jelly babies and wearing the First Doctors neck tie for much of the episode and this was an episode that honoured its past very well.
As to the real enemy, Gus, just who is he? John Sessions voiced the mysterious captor, who put everyone on the train and forced them to study the mummy, but we learned no more about him by the end. He left everyone to die on the exploding Orient Express at the end, proving he was even more ruthless than this Doctor. There has to be more to come from this character and as such, I suspect the events of this episode are just part of a larger story.
Is Gus connected to the Promised Land arc? Is he a new threat entirely? My theory is that even though John Sessions voiced him, it was Frank Skinner's character that was the real mastermind and that is why he chose to leave. That or Gus is a rebel Time Lord. There have been rumours that some of Gallifreys least friendly characters might have found a way off their home planet. Perhaps he’s the Master? Perhaps Ms Delphox from Time Heist is the Rani? (Or Missy for that matter). Are they all colluding together to defeat the Doctor?
There are plenty of questions still to answer, from how Danny will react to Clara’s change of heart to Gus’s real identity. The trailer for next week doesn’t seem as enticing as the last two episodes, but then that leaves us with plenty of room for surprise. With just one more month of Doctor Who, it’s going to be a fun final four weeks for us all, even if it is over a little too quickly.