Doctor Who S8 Ep8: Mummy on the Orient Express

A space-borne Orient Express. One last hurrah. And a murderous mummy that only its intended victims can see.

What do you mean, I look just like William Hartnell? (Image: BBC)

What do you mean, I look just like William Hartnell? (Image: BBC)

Honesty is the best policy?

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones – but you still have to choose.

A week after Kill the Moon, where Clara was faced with an impossible choice, here we see things from the Doctor‘s perspective. For the first time this season, the consistently brilliant Jenna Coleman takes a back-seat, giving Peter Capaldi space to make the episode his own, bringing the Doctor’s personality into sharper focus.

The Doctor’s reaction to the unfolding drama as the mummified Foretold kills, in turn, Mrs Pitt, a chef, a guard, Professor Moorhouse and finally Captain Quell, is everything we have come to expect from Twelve so far. There’s glee and excitement as he realises there’s a puzzle to be solved – without Clara to talk to, he instead chats to himself and quickly latches on to Perkins (Frank Skinner) as a companion-in-waiting. He’s as impatient and intolerant as ever. And there’s a callous detachment as he focuses solely on solving the mystery at the expense of mourning each successive death and comforting others.

What he is, though, is honest. He doesn’t deny Perkins’ accusations of being incredibly arrogant. He tells Clara he needs her to lie to bring Maisie to him. And yet this is also his way of not making a promise to Clara to save Maisie that he knows he cannot guarantee. However, he ultimately subverts expectations by showing that he’s not being as callous about death as he has been in the past – he’s really planning to substitute himself in Maisie’s place as the Foretold’s next target, banking on his own genius to resolve the puzzle in time.

His actions here don’t necessarily make him any more likeable. But they do start to make a little more sense. This is not a Doctor who sugar-coats the truth just to make it more palatable for those around him and win friends. He simply does what he needs to do to get the job done, and if that means a few bruised egos along the way so be it.

Rough times ahead for Clara?

Is it like … an addiction?

Clara parlays Danny’s advice about not finishing with someone when they can still make you angry into an excuse for one last hurrah and a final trip with the Doctor which, to absolutely no one’s surprise (and as the Doctor himself hoped), turns out to be another adrenaline-filled adventure.

Despite her protests, even the usually unempathetic Doctor notices the sadness in her smile when she talks about this being their last journey and the sparkle in her eyes when she senses there’s something untoward occurring on the train. She loves the thrill of the chase with an intensity that borders on addiction. When she asks the Doctor about whether he can give up the life he leads she’s really talking about herself as much as him. And her decision to lie to the Doctor about Danny approving of her staying in the TARDIS can only spell future trouble and, at the very least, heartbreak. But for whom?

Gone in 66 seconds

This season continues to produce some excellent standalone stories (this one by Who first-timer Jamie Mathieson), with this one in particular containing some top-notch production design, with both sets and costumes providing a convincing recreation of a 1920s journey on the Orient Express.The mummified Foretold also looks great – and for once makes a virtue of having a slow-moving adversary as its lumbering gait only makes it more terrifying in the confines of a train carriage that no one can escape from.

The continual use of the 66-second timer injects pace and jeopardy to proceedings without ever feeling repetitive. And Perkins successfully walks the tightrope between being a promising proto-companion and being more than just a little bit creepy in the manner of a typical Christie red herring character. However, I’m not entirely sure why, in such a precise 1920s reconstruction, we’re treated to a 1970s Queen song, but hey.

Finally, it may not ultimately go anywherebut the truth behind Gus is never made clear. Was it really him who wanted to capture the Foretold, or was he just acting on behalf of someone else pulling the strings in the background? And what exactly were they hoping to gain by capturing it? Questions, questions.

Fun stuff, references & quotables

  • The episode title is derived from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery Murder on the Orient Express, first published in 1934. In the Tenth Doctor adventure The Unicorn and the Wasp, Donna Noble inadvertently plants both the title and the idea for the book in Agatha Christie’s mind.
  • Was it just me, or did Peter Capaldi’s costume in this episode look just like it was borrowed from William Hartnell’s First Doctor?
  • Pop singer Foxes performs Queen’s 1979 song Don’t Stop Me Now. It was once voted the Greatest Driving Song Ever by viewers of Top Gear and McFly’s cover version topped the charts in 2006.
  • “Old ladies die all the time. It’s practically their job description.”
  • The majority of previous Doctors have carried or referred to jelly babies at some point. As far as I can recall, the last reference was in The Almost People, when the Ganger version of the Doctor uttered, “I’ve reversed the jelly baby of the neutron flow.”
  • “We apologise for any distress you may have just experienced. Grief counselling is available on request.”
  • The Doctor tells Clara that this isn’t the first time Gus has tried to lure him. This could be related to the end of The Big Bang, where an unknown king or queen called the Doctor to help with an Egyptian goddess on the loose on the Orient Express.
  • “I’m the Doctor. I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?” This last line is a reference to the Ninth Doctor story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.
  • “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones – but you still have to choose.”

Rating: 9/10

Doctor Who season 8 reviews

8.1 Deep Breath

8.2 Into the Dalek

8.3 Robot of Sherwood

8.4 Listen

8.5 Time Heist

8.6 The Caretaker

8.7 Kill the Moon

4 Comments on Doctor Who S8 Ep8: Mummy on the Orient Express

  1. Jelly. Babies.

    • I know! That alone was enough to make me smile. I liked the way they just slipped it in unobrtusively and didn’t make too big a deal of it.

  2. A really strong episode. Capaldi was ace and I also loved his bad choices speech. He is now my favourite new series Doc by a mile. My only real gripe was that the pace meant it was very easy to miss plot points. I think I followed it all but you had to keep up! My review is in the usual place…

    • I thought that ‘bad choices’ speech went a long way to humanising this Doctor without making him soft. Unlike his immediate predecessors, he doesn’t always pluck answers out of thin air and he’s more concerned with reaching the right result than making a good impression.

      Quietly, this season is building up a strong portfolio of standalone episodes that I think will stand the test of time well. There’s only been one episode (Robot of Sherwood) I didn’t like, and the rest have varied between perfectly decent and really rather excellent. While everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, I’m amazed by how polarised many fans seem to be this year. I’m thoroughly enjoying it – while my wife isn’t.

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