“Mummy on the Orient Express” replaces “Listen” as my favorite episode of series 8 Doctor Who. It does almost everything right, including a cover of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Foxes. It lasts only a few seconds in the episode, but thankfully BBC uploaded the full song to YouTube:
The song sums up the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and his relationships with Companions over the years, including the problem with Clara (Jenna Coleman). He’s on a rocketship to Mars, and he’ll make a supersonic man/woman outta you.Comparitive Geeks has a great article on Clara’s character, and the best I can do is repeat one of their points: Clara falls flat because she’s only traveling with the Doctor as a hobby. Someone – I suspect the new writer, Jaime Mathieson – realized Clara slows the story and does not connect with the audience. So as soon as possible, Clara accidentally locks herself in a train car far away from the Doctor and lets him get on with the episode, on board the Space Orient Express.
The lack of a real Companion has made the 12th Doctor one of the most human. Despite his brusque manner, Capaldi softens the Doctor just enough to be likeable, and since he can’t connect with Clara he has great moments with other characters on the train. The banter between the Doctor and Chief Engineer Perkins (Frank Skinner) is great. The stories told by Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) and Captain Quell (David Bambers) frame the overall story of the group trying to understand and stop the Mummy. Moorhouse travels to see amazing things, much like the Doctor. Quell is a soldier, recovering from PTSD on an easy assignment. The Mummy kills both.
I think the Doctor is forced to learn and change his attitude toward soldiers, as the two most sympathetic victims – Quell and the Mummy itself – are both soldiers. Though the Doctor liked Moorhouse, the professor tries to bargain with the Mummy and dies uselessly. Quell acts like the Doctor and tries to solve the problem even as the Mummy kills him. His last words indicate that he feels an obligation to try every solution he can think of, though he’s not as smart as the Doctor: “I wouldn’t be much of a soldier if I died with bullets in my gun.”
Best of all, the Doctor solves the problem with his intelligence rather than feelings, and is actually at risk. The end is similar to “Time Heist”, but with more at stake and a more active role by the Doctor. The Doctor arranged the end of “Time Heist” so when the Teller read the Doctor’s mind everything fell into place. This removed all tension from the episode, however, and the setup occurred off-screen.
When the Doctor lured the Mummy to himself it kept trying to kill him. Instead of winning by default, the Doctor still has to find the solution. The Doctor surrenders and grants the Mummy-soldier peace. The Mummy’s final salute is slow, sad, and a little heartbreaking, similar to Handles’ death in series 7. It feels like the most genuine, deserved win of series 8, and a very Doctor Who-style victory.
Whether he meant it, or if he only lied to save his own life, the Doctor acts much more heroic, while remaining true to his new, more selfish character. I loved when he flat-out told Clara to lie to the Mummy’s next victim.
I like the Doctor’s arc this series. Twelve has lost things, including Clara’s love and respect. At the end, she lies to Danny and the Doctor. She uses the Doctor’s loneliness and dependence on a familiar face to continue her “hobby.” Her best line in the episode is: “Someone told me, hate is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like… I don’t hate you.” This doesn’t have the impact it could have if Clara had more character, but I connected with Clara a bit because of it. I understand that she doesn’t like the Doctor, but uses him to travel. I also have high hopes that this sets the stage for a bad breakup between Clara and the Doctor.
The episode wraps up strangely. The Doctor draws diagrams in dirt while Clara sleeps nearby. Given the last we saw of them was on an exploding train, I initially mistook this for the Doctor’s idea of “heaven.” He explains the loose ends to Clara, drops off Perkins (who, like Psi and Saibra, I hope we see again) and takes Clara home. She changes her mind and asks to stay, and the pair continue traveling.
Other things of interest: Did GUS kidnap Einstein?
Clara mashup via The Galaxy. Episode images © BBC Worldwide