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Mummy on the Orient Express

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

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The Doctor and Clara are travelling on the most beautiful train in history, the fabled Orient Express, but this is a train thundering across the stars on a voyage in the distant future – and a fearsome creature on board has begun killing the passengers. Once the helpless victim sees the terrifying Mummy they only have 66 seconds to live, there is no escape, and no reprieve. As the Doctor races against time to defeat this undead enemy, the train becomes stranded in space. Clara has seen the Doctor at his most ruthless and her now mind is made up, even if the Doctor figures out how to stop the Mummy, this will be their last adventure…

Mummy on the Orient Express sees the Doctor and Clara embark on their most dangerous adventure yet, in this exciting story written by Jamie Matheson (Being Human and Dirk Gently), and Directed by Paul Wilmhurst (Kill The Moon). The dark, menacing tone of series eight continues unabated, in this eighth episode, as the Doctor’s and Clara’s interstellar journey on the Orient Express, a faithful recreation of the original train travelling along hyperspace rails, where the Mummy has already killed Mrs Pitt (Janet Henfrey), and the passengers remain oblivious to its presence. Another death quickly follows and the Doctor’s little grey cells are soon called upon to solve the seemingly impossible mystery of the ghostly Mummy as it relentlessly stalks the train and its specially chosen passengers in search of its next terrified victim.

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Jamie Matheson has crafted a wonderfully dark and macabre story, one that sublimely melds horror and sci-fi, to deliver a thrilling mystery with an uncanny supernatural twist. Set on a futuristic recreation of the Orient Express, the original setting of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express, the Doctor and Clara soon find themselves embroiled in all the mystery, intrigue, and mayhem on board.

Knowing this trip will be their last hurrah, the Doctor and Clara are intent on enjoying their final adventure. Some time has passed since Clara’s outburst at the end of Kill the Moon. As they observe the majesty of the Magellan Black Hole with the other passengers, she explains to the Doctor that she doesn’t hate him, but she cannot continue to travel like this anymore. This beautiful scene conveys just how much their friendship means to them, despite their recent differences, with Clara’s “sad smile” speaking volumes as they seem to reach a poignant understanding here. After meeting the late Mrs Pitt’s distraught granddaughter, Maisie (Daisy Beaumont), the Doctor and Clara learn more from Captain Quell (David Bamber) about the elderly Mrs Pitt’s death and the Mummy. When the Doctor and Clara wind up exploring the train separately, the Time Lord enlists the help of chief engineer Perkins (Frank Skinner) and discusses the five thousand year old story of The Foretold and the mythical Mummy with Professor Moorehouse (Christopher Villers), while Clara and Maisie become trapped in a baggage car with a strange high-tech sarcophagus.

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Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor doesn’t seem quite as fiercely intense during Mummy on the Orient Express, at times its almost like he’s challenging the essence of the 4th Doctor, highlighting the Doctor’s distinct alien qualities and manic eccentricities, and he even offers Professor Moorhouse a jelly baby at one point. Capaldi’s Doctor still dominates every scene he’s in and this episode once again showcases how unpredictable the 12th incarnation can be, but this time we also gain a startling insight into the Doctor’s reasoning for decisions that sometimes have to be made – especially when there are only bad choices and you still have to choose anyway.

After the Mummy strikes again the Doctor realises most of the passengers are scientific experts that have probably been gathered here by a being of tremendous power to study something. Following his announcement the train suddenly shudders to a halt and the hard light hologram façade of their carriage is transformed into a laboratory. The trains computer, Gus (John Sessions), explains that have been brought here to study the Foretold – along with the ancient scroll that somehow makes the Mummy appear in the immediate vicinity – informing them they must assess and contain the creature before it kills them so that its abilities can be reversed engineered.

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Mummy on the Orient Express features an impressive guest cast: Frank Skinner is great as chief engineer Perkins, then we have the brilliant David Bamber as Captain Quell, along with Daisy Beaumont who plays distraught granddaughter Maisie, with Christopher Villers (Hugh Fitzwilliam from 1983’s 5th Doctor story The King‘s Demons) as Professor Moorhouse, the elderly Mrs Pitt is played by Janet Henfrey (Miss Hardaker in 1989‘s The Curse of Fenric), and the singer / songwriter Foexs performs a cover of Queen‘s Don’t Stop Me Now. As well as David Bamber‘s excellent performance as Captain Quell, I also thought Frank Skinner was really good as Perkins, and it was great to see the chief engineer and the 12th Doctor working together to solve the mystery of the Foretold in so many of the episodes most dramatic moments.

When the Doctor discovers the Foretold is drawn its victims weaknesses, targeting their illness or psychological state, it becomes apparent the creature moves them out of phase and leeches their energies away on a cellular level. Knowing that it’s likely Maisie will be next because of her trauma the Doctor gets Clara to bring Maisie to them, despite Clara’s reservations about lying to Maisie, and the Time Lord then takes the risk of implanting Masie’s mental issues into his own mind – effectively making him the Mummy’s next target so he can confront it. This isn’t the first time a Mummy has appeared in Doctor Who, the 4th Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith were menaced by lumbering servicer robots disguised as Mummies in Pyramids of Mars (1975), and the 11th Doctor fought against a Mummy-like creature in The Rings of Akhaten (2013). When the 12th Doctor is finally face to face with the Foretold in Mummy on the Orient Express, he asks it: “Are you my mummy?”, echoing the chilling words of the resurrected gas masked child in The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances (2005) as it searched the streets of London for its mother during the blitz.

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The Mummy / Foretold (Jamie Hill) has a very unique and disquieting way of dispatching the passengers. Once this ethereal horror has clapped eyes on it victim, they only have 66 seconds to live, and nothing can save them from the Mummy’s wrath. This in no shambling terror that can be easily outrun. The fact that the Mummy can only be seen by those who are about to die make it seem even more threatening, and the way that it closes in on its horrified victim while everyone else is oblivious to their plight is brilliant. When the Doctor glimpses markings on the Foretold’s body he realises the scroll is actually a flag and the Foretold is really an ancient soldier from a long forgotten war that has become trapped by the malfunctioning technology that gives it advanced camouflage and teleportation abilities. Mummy on the Orient Express presents us with a creature that is grotesque, unstoppable, and utterly terrifying. The special effects are superb, the Mummy’s abilities are ghoulishly horrible, and it’s certainly one this seasons most memorable monsters.

Jenna Coleman’s character has undergone something of a reinvention over the course of series eight. We’ve seen Clara balancing her adventures with the Doctor and her life as a teacher at Coal Hill School; she’s also found romance with Maths teacher, and former-soldier, Danny Pink. However, everything was thrown into chaos when Danny and Courtney found out about the Doctor in The Caretaker, and when Clara was forced into making a life-changing decision to save the Earth in Kill the Moon her faith in the Doctor began to crumble.

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Mummy on the Orient Express is another great episode for Clara. What began as her final adventure quickly becomes a situation that puts her danger again, and she angrily confronts the Doctor when he coerces her into brining Maisie to the lab and realises that Gus must’ve known about the Time Lord because of the force field around the TARDIS. After the Doctor manages to stop the Foretold by surrendering to it, the creature salutes him before it disintegrates, whereby Gus begins to expel the air from the carriage as the passengers have outlived their usefulness – leaving the Doctor only moments to rig a teleporter from the Foretold’s remains to save them.

The intriguing mystery of Gus and the unknown force that lured the Doctor and the other passengers to the train remains unresolved for now, although the Doctor does tell Clara that it has contracted him before, even phoning the TARDIS on one occasion – which probably refers to a call the 11th Doctor received in The Big Bang (2010).

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Afterwards when Clara regains conspicuousness on a nearby planet, the Doctor sits with her and explains how they escaped from the train as they mull over recent events and the choices the Time Lord has had to make. I really like the ambiguity surrounding the Doctor’s explanation about how they escaped from the Orient Express, which exploded after the Doctor attempted to hack into Gus to find out about the mysterious force that brought everyone to the train, and this magical discussion with Clara certainly gives us plenty to ponder over.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor offers Perkins the chance to stay and maintain the time machines systems, but the engineer politely declines and bids them farewell. After Clara receives a phone call from Danny (Samuel Anderson), who believes this is her last adventure with the Time Lord, but the Impossible Girl makes a momentous decision after the call, one that results in her lying to Danny and the Doctor, when she decides to continue travelling with the Doctor. I don’t think any of us really believed that Clara’s adventures with the Doctor would end during Mummy on the Orient Express, however, after the way she likens the Doctor’s adventures to an addiction, it does make you wonder if the choice she that makes here might eventually come back to haunt her.

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Mummy on the Orient Express is another fine addition to this eighth series, the story by Jamie Matheson is tense and exciting, and Director Paul Wilmhurst keeps the episode rattling along at a cracking pace. Peter Capaldi continues to impress on every level as the 12th Doctor, and Jenna Coleman gives another great performance as Clara. With its great sets, impressive guest cast, excellent special effects, and claustrophobic atmosphere this episode a real highlight of the season. There is a distinctly classic series feel about Mummy on the Orient Express, which also really plays to this episodes strengths, and the closing scenes between the Doctor and Clara also provides a deeply moving and emotional coda to this excellent episode.

Images Belong BBC