I am going to put my cards on the table and admit that Mummy on the Orient Express is my favourite episode of Series 8, and that’s probably why I’ve found it so hard to review objectively.
But here goes…
Mummy on the Orient Express picks up with our intrepid duo, a short time after the events of Kill the Moon.
Mummy on the Orient Express, seeks to blend the conventions of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mysteries, with your common or garden relationship break down.
In many ways Mummy on the Orient Express is one big Easter Egg for fans, the seeds of this episode having been first planted all the way back in the Series 5 finale, when on the eve of Amy and Rory’s wedding, the 11th Doctor receives a mysterious telephone call, relating to an ancient Egyptian Mummy apparently on the loose aboard of all things, the Orient Express train.
Mr Pink’s pep-talk at the end of the last episode, has done the trick, and Clara has been persuaded to go on one last trip with The Doctor, their destination the Orient Express, in space, so far, so average mini-break.
It’s perhaps a shame, that we don’t get the chance to see The Doctor attempting to woo Clara back into The Tardis, because as it is, watching the episode again, there seems to be something of a disconnect in terms of emotion, between the frought finale of Kill the Moon, and the start of this Mummy on the Orient Express.
Just a quick scene, highlighting how The Doctor and Clara went from this…
Would have been useful, and fun to watch.
One of these things, is a little bit like the other.
In many ways Mummy on the Orient Express feels something of a spirital sequel to the David Tennant Era, 2007 Christmas Special, Voyage of the Damned.
Both set in space, aboard two famous names in the history of luxury travel on Earth, surrounded by aliens who could easily pass for humans, or humans from the future, Perkins, Maisie Pitt, and the rest of the supporting cast, could have hailed from the same planet as Astrid Peth.
While, Voyage of the Damned is something of an essay in what happens when the wrong people survive, and the effect that thinking that there are even, right and wrong people that deserve to survive, has on the 10th Doctor, Mummy on the Orient Express is a little less black and white with it’s moralising, and study of the Doctor’s inner conflict.
Rather than being moustache twirling baddies deserving or undeserving, of their fates, the supporting characters in the episode are damaged, vulnerable people, who have been selected as victims.
As in the Voyage of the Damned, the passengers aboard the Orient Express in space, are subject to the shadowy whims and tricks of an unseen, all-seeing eye, in this case in the form of the computer, Gus.
While there’s no actual proof that the spaceship Titanic, and the space train the Orient Express both hail from the same planet of Sto, I’m going to go ahead and head canon it, as the characters and circumstances feel organically similair.
I’ve brought this up previously in my Time Heist review, with the mutant human character of Saibra, but I would really like to see the 13th Doctor team up with a companion from another alien race.
The inhabitants of Sto seem like they might be an interesting and humorous fit, as while they share many human characteristics on the surface, they are kitch, roleplay loving aliens.
Now, I promise I am going to stop secretly lobbying Chris Chibnall for another alien to join the Tardis crew, and I’m just going to get on with the rest of my review.
Level of Threat.
So far in Series 8, the villains of the various stories, have mostly fallen into the forgettable camp, but with The Mummy of the title, episode 8, finds a threat that is both utterly terrifying, and full of pathos.
As imaginary threats go, I for one can’t think of anything scarier than being harassed by something no-one else can see, and something no-one else can save you from.
Unstoppable, unkillable, from the moment the countdown begins on your own personal clock, The Mummy/The Foretold is always coming for you, this is idea will go on to be repeated in many of the later stories, of Series 9, the dénouement of this theme coming in the episodes Face the Raven and Heaven Sent.
Oswald on board.
I am fully aware that this is considered to be one of the Ship-iest episodes for 12/Clara.
Jenna Coleman has even gone on record admitting that it’s The Doctor, who she is confessing her love for at the end of the episode, and not Danny.
However, if I’m honest, at points, having Clara Oswald take part in this adventure, seems in parts, like fan service.
As mentioned before, this episode feels like a big leap from where we last saw The Doctor and Clara’s relationship, and really, after Kill the Moon, I’m not sure she trusts him to take her on a trip around her local shops, let alone venture onto a train in space.
Clara forgave 11 a great deal, but there seems to be, for Clara at least a separation and distinction between the 11th and 12th versions of The Doctor, and she’s a lot less forgiving of Doctor number 12.
While it’s fun to watch Clara and The Doctor pussy-foot around their relationship, Clara on her own is given little to do, and I for one would have preferred to have seen The Doctor going it alone with Perkins, in the same way we saw him mostly Clara-less in the Series 9 episode, The Woman Who Lived.
At it’s heart this is an episode about two people attempting to fight their need to be together, so it seems strange that rather than play with that, they are forcibly, and needlessly kept apart.
The fact that they are kept apart by circumstances is never really referenced in the story, until the point where Clara once again feels betrayed by The Doctor.
The episode ends with Clara being proved wrong, and more importantly this new version of The Doctor, being redeemed in her eyes, as the friend she remembers.
From this moment on it’s back to business as usual for 12 and Clara, with their friendship firmly re-established.
Side-note, and another however, the end of Mummy on the Orient Express lays the foundation stone, which will be picked up again at the end of the series, that both characters are happy to lie, and be lied to by each other.
In conclusion, I am happy to give Mummy on the Orient Express a 10 out of 10.
It’s an excellent episode, which blends a fantastic story with great costuming, an atmospheric score, and brilliant use once again of the guest cast.
My only other real complaint for this episode comes in the fact that we never really discover who Gus is, or what his motives for wanting to capture the Foretold are.
Also this isn’t the first train to have suffered this fate, Maisie Pitt remembers the names of others, so if that’s the case, why is Perkins the engineer, the only person who seems to be investigating the strange case…
In many ways Mummy on the Orient Express was crying out to be an old school NuWho two parter, the story would benefit from being opened up and explored over the two hours, and threads, which are just casually thrown in, like the other missing trains could have been further elaborated upon.
Clara gets a 10 for her flapper dress, my version of her look can be found here.
Clara’s pyjamas are a 8, while they perfectly envoke the period of the 1920’s we just don’t get to see enough of them for my liking.
Clara’s Louise Brook’s bob is another 10, and you can find my hair inspiration post on the subject, here.
Cheer up Doctor, you’re also getting a 10 for your outfit as well.