The Doctor and Clara are on the most beautiful train in history, speeding among the stars of the future. But a deadly creature is stalking the passengers.
Once you see the horrifying mummy, you only have 66 seconds to live. No exceptions, no reprieve. As the Doctor races against the clock, Clara sees him at his deadliest and most ruthless.
Will he work out how to defeat the mummy? Start the clock!
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Mummy on the Orient Express.
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Peter Capaldi (The Doctor)
Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald)
Frank Skinner (Perkins)
David Bamber (Captain Quell)
John Sessions (GUS)
Daisy Beaumount (Maisie)
Janet Henfrey (Mrs Pitt)
Christopher Villers (Professor Moorhouse)
Jamie Hill (The Foretold)
Written by: Jamie Mathieson
Directed by: Paul Wilmshurst
Gifs by: J-Ru
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It’s your standard formula any science fiction or adventure series. Take a classic monster. Put them in an exotic setting. Throw in your cast, in this case the Doctor and his companion. And mix it all up with a ticking clock and a deadly deadline.
Mummy on the Orient Express is a throwback to the “classic” William Hartnell days with some modern sensibilities thrown in for flavor, as the Doctor and Clara find themselves trapped with a deadly creature that only the Doctor can defeat. As another solid episode in a memorable season, Mummy drips with atmosphere and tension, while somehow managing to push the Doctor/Clara dynamic while feeling like said dynamic is running in place.
It’s the “last hurrah” for the Doctor and Clara. After the events of Kill the Moon, the Doctor and Clara have agreed to part ways, though one of them is having a harder time coming to grips than the other. Their final destination is the Orient Express, now running the rails of deep space, filled with glamor and an exotic air. But there’s another passenger; the Foretold, a mummy that only its victims can see for the final 66 seconds of their life. No amount of pleading, begging, bargaining, or threats can dissuade it from its task. The Doctor finds himself forced to solve the mystery of the Foretold, and once again Clara finds herself both horrified by the Doctor’s actions and drawn into his schemes…
While this is the first episode of his to air, this is actually the second episode by Being Humanwriter Jamie Mathieson. After turning in the script for the upcoming episode Flatline, Mathieson was asked to pen a second episode, and Mummy on the Orient Express was the result. Teaming up with Paul Wilmshurst, who’s direction was one of the high points of Kill the Moon, Mathieson’s script takes a familiar setting and gives it a very neat twist. The Orient Express was a long-distance passenger train that ran from Paris to Istanbul (or Constantinople) from 1883 to 2009. In a time when traveling was still rough and dangerous, the Orient Express redefined the art of luxury travel. One of the most famous detective story involved the Orient Express as well; Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Mummy on the Orient Express combines both the luxury and the mystery of the famous train, establishing the setting from the very beginning with a meal in the dining car, a mysterious Egyptian-esque artifact in the storage car, and rolling right into the Doctor and Clara arriving in stunning outfits while meeting the train’s head of security, Captain Quell. There is a disconnect, however, as the Doctor and Clara arrive on the train together, something unexpected considering Clara’s outburst at the end of Kill the Moon. While it’s made clear very early on that this is supposed to be the last journey on the TARDIS for Clara, the lack of any indication of a time jump is just a bit jarring.
The second half of the episode throws away the exotic setting in a neat twist. Instead of a space-borne train, it turns out that the Orient Express is actually a mobile laboratory, and the AI in charge of the train, GUS, has brought together some of the greatest scientists in the universe in an attempt to solve the mystery of the Foretold. Sadly, it seems the greatest scientists in the universe are just the Doctor, the train’s engineer, and a history professor. The supporting cast really doesn’t hold up in this serial, save for the performance of Janet Henfrey (who older fans might remember from the essential Seventh Doctor story The Curse of Fenric) as the Foretold’s first victim, Ms. Pitt. The rest of the cast – David Bamber’s Captain Quell, head of train security, Daisy Beaumont’s grief stricken daughter Maise, and Christopher Villier’s Professor Moorhouse, and even Frank Skinner as train engineer and temporary companion Perkins – exist only to tell the Doctor just how wrong he is, or just how wrong they were for not believing in him before dying at the hands of the Foretold. “Dying” is actually a strong word. It’s more like “scream, close their eyes, slump over, and stop acting for the remainder of their screen time.” The Foretold itself, a mummy-like creature, looked both scary and silly at the same time, to the point where my stepdaughter was laughing even as she had the blanket pulled up to just under her eyes. When the Foretold appeared, a “countdown clock” appeared in the corner, counting down from 66 seconds until the victim’s death at its hands. Kudos to Wilmshurst and the editing team for making those 66 seconds exactly 66 seconds and perfectly encapsulating a victim’s fear, grief, and pleading. The standout performance was by noted British comedian John Sessions, best known in recent times for his work on QI, as the AI GUS. He absolutely nails the polite and sinister sense of evil the best villains have, politely telling the Doctor to end his phone call even as he’s depressurizing the kitchen car to kill the staff. I really hope we get to see him down in a future episode, maybe if he’s tied with Missy in someway?
As for the cameo appearance of British pop singer Foxes, who sang a 20’s lounge cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” all I can say is that I treated it in the same vein as Lorde’s cover of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” I vastly prefer the original version from the soundtracks to Shaun of the Dead and Real Genius, respectively.
Once again, we get a great example of the chemistry between the Doctor and Clara, and by extension Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. Previous regenerations of the Doctor have gone out of their way to save lives if they could, and the Twelfth Doctor is no different. Despite being very rough around the edges, he won’t put people in harm’s way if he can help it. But, he also know when a person is in a situation where there’s no way out, like the soldier from Into the Dalek and the victims of the Foretold in this serial. “People with guns to their head have no time to mourn,” he tells Perkins, and even when a person is pleading for their life and staring down their fate, he’s trying to get information from them, not because he’s being a dick, but because he’s trying to save the lives of any future victims.
The script by Mathieson touches upon something that’s come up very often throughout the history of the show; plot-necessary deaths, be they by murder, assassination, or self-sacrifice. Many a time, someone has to die in order for the serial’s story to advance. In Mummy on the Orient Express, the deaths are something the Doctor CAN’T stop. Normally, it’s the Doctor who puts himself in harm’s way, but here he has no choice but to stand on the sidelines until he can figure out a way to MAKE himself stand in harm’s way. All he can do is gather information from the impending deaths, without emotion. It’s very pragmatic…and in a way, very military. One life for a hundred. Two lives for a thousand. Three lives for…how many? The soldier thing keeps following him. Part of me wonders if Missy is somehow involved, the vengeance of all those who died at the hands of the Doctor during the Time War.
Clara isn’t willing to let go of the Doctor. Aside from simply looking absolutely SMASHING in that dress, Jenna Coleman portrays someone who, time and time again, says they’re going to stop, some who’s going to leave, but simply just can’t, as seen in her conversation with Maise in the storage car. The inability of a companion to willingly leave the Doctor has been a theme of sorts in the revival. Rose loved the Tenth Doctor, seeing him as his ideal man. Donna was becoming a better person the more and more she traveled with him and saw life outside of Chiswick. Amy had known the Doctor nearly her entire life, his initial visit ingrained in her psyche, and their fates were woven together thanks to River Song. And pre-Season 8 Clara was the anchor through his regenerations and many of her lifetimes as the Impossible Girl. With the myriad of experiences from traveling with Twelve, Clara has seen him be rude, brash, pragmatic, jerkish, standoff-ish, and at times lying, even if in the end the day is saved and everything works out for the best. By the end of Kill the Moon, she had had enough and was ready to leave…but there had to be one more trip. One more journey. One more adventure, she told Danny. She was right back next to the Doctor, and even LIED for him in order to get Maisie to the train car. Viewers can see the changes that being with the Doctor have inflicted upon Clara; some good, some bad, some borderline toxic. And yet, she lies to Danny, a lie she knows she’ll have to reveal somewhere down the line, for another adventure. It’s one of the classic cycles of addiction. Even when you know something is bad for you, you’re lying to loved ones and rationalizing to yourself to keep getting your fix. With the season coming to a close, it’s not a question of if Clara’s decision is going to come full circle, but when…and how.
On the other side of things…the Doctor brings Clara into a obvious trap, not a “last hurrah.” Maybe he knew the rush of adventure would entice her to stay. And even if he didn’t, the Doctor should have picked up that Clara was lying to him…maybe, for the first time in a long time, it’s the Doctor who is having trouble saying goodbye?
On the surface, Mummy on the Orient Express is a simple episode. Dig a little deeper, and one can find a very rich episode with long-term implications. A few years down the line, there’s a very good chance that this episode will be considered one of the “essential” stories for the Twelfth Doctor.
Next up – The Doctor discovers a new menace from another dimension…
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Flatline.