Mummy on the Orient Express
The Doctor: Clara, you actually sound as if you want this to be a thing. Do you?
Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep8).
Story Number: 249.
“I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I’m gonna go go go
There’s no stopping me”
– so sings Foxes (playing “Singer”), glamorous pop-star, adding even more glamour to an already glamorous episode. Clara is in love with the glamour, the thrill of it all.
Before all the singing, the monster of the episode is introduced right at the start – “Start the clock”!
It’s the second episode in a row that has begun with something said in-story that’s also a commentary on the runtime of an episode that will be over 45 minutes from now. (For the first victim of the Mummy, no-one on the train is actually starting a stopwatch. So the voiceover is a preview of an idea that we will become familiar with. Which is sort-of odd. If we can accept we have an onscreen countdown – which is actually very cool – it seems less odd.)
It’s a while before the next time the Mummy strikes, and that time is taken up with dealing with the implications of the last episode’s showstopping (potentially literally showstopping) final few scenes.
The end of the last episode was not nothing. It’s a surprise to see Clara in her eveningwear accompanying the Doctor on this train. Why is she still with the Doctor after the previous episode?
To explain: we have the long heart-to-heart about Clara’s conflicted emotions about their TARDIS-travels. The Doctor would rather try and steer the conversation back to a more regular Doctor Who episode, with him talking about the planets he want to impress Clara with, not messy human emotions.
The heart-to-heart continues in the corridor before they go to their rooms for the night – there’s an awkward atmosphere as we get the idea that this Doctor might not relish the idea of popping by for a lasagne of a Wednesday evening, once Clara has quit the TARDIS for good.
If there is a time when the Doctor & companion have ever gone on a relaxing TARDIS-trip with nothing more eventful than relaxing and enjoying the space-sights, we’ve never seen it. Like when Hercule Poirot arrives on the Orient Express, a passenger has died. Is the game afoot, or were her complaints of a monstrous Mummy a hallucination?
“Clara, you actually sound as if you want this to be a thing. Do you?”
No, she says, it’s fine by her if there’s no mystery for them to solve, no monster to defeat, but the actual answer to this question will be given by the episode’s end.
The Doctor – after talking to himself, or seemingly one of his previous selves that had experience with Mummies (“Pyramids of Mars”, remember that story-title as this review will be ruminating more on it), thinks the best course of action is not to rouse Clara. She’d be fine with that.
There’s a lot in this episode in its 45-minutes, including an array of delightfully characterful fellow passengers (and computer Gus, played by John Sessions with polite menace) for the Doctor to interact with.
So the Doctor goes off into the throng of people by himself – he’s a citizen of the universe, and a gentleman to boot – and he’s full of worldly style when talking Doctor-to-Professor. Start the clock.
When Professor Moorhouse is offered the silver case – with Jelly Babies not, say, cigarillos – it hilariously undermines their sophisticated tête-à-tête they’re having over the mythology of the Mummy, but it doesn’t seem to faze Moorhouse. It’s a clever sequence of exposition to have the Doctor mull over the myth of the Mummy intercut with the second victim succumbing to it’s clutches.
“We could do something to stop it. Why am I even talking to you?” – the Doctor tries to stir Captain Quell to action once it’s clear there has been a second Mummy-victim.
“I’m burning through the sky
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m trav’ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic man out of you”
Clara, thinking it’s all a bit boring snoring goes off by herself and manages to get herself trapped with a sarcophagus, but has Maisie to keep her company.
The Doctor’s by himself, companion-less, for the most of the episode and it’s the Laurence Scarman scene from Pyramids of Mars turned up to 11, no, 12, as with each human death he becomes more flippant. With that Fourth-Doctor-era, Sarah was there to express surprise. If Clara was here she’d be admonishing the Doctor – it’s up to Perkins (Franks Skinner with a pleasingly enigmatic acting-style) to look askance at the Time Lord.
The exclamations of “Start the clock!” are now coming thick and fast, and it’s a nice bit of misdirection for us the think Clara’s in jeopardy as she’s beside the sarcophagus for the next one. It’s OK though, no problem – all that it contains is: bubblewrap.
This surely *cough* is another shout-out to The Ark in Space, and not the first one this season.
Doctor Who Seasons 12 & 13 – a time when it was the Doctor & Sarah, (with Harry Sullivan sometimes), a time that produced many iconic moments – and it’s these that this 2014 season seems to be riffing on and sometimes subverting. The Ark in Space included bubblewrap too, but not bubblewrap as bubblewrap, but as part of a “special effect” – its more-celebrated moment though was the Doctor’s speech about indomitable humanity, (alluded to during the previous episode). It’s Pyramids of Mars this week which is the main influence.
Start the clock. The next character-death is shocking. It’s Professor Moorhouse, who had dreamed of seeing a myth such as the Foretold, but of course isn’t actually keen to be it’s next victim.
The shock is the Doctor’s complete refusal to see this death as anything other than a way of gathering a better idea of the Mummy.
His “pfft” face of exasperation is a picture.
Start the clock. The next death – the stoic death of Captain Quell – is the end of a beautifully crafted character-sketch from Jamie Mathieson’s script, with David Bamber in the role absolutely making him of one of Doctor Who‘s most memorable guest stars of recent times.
Start the clock. While on one level it’s great television entertainment to see this Doctor being so rude and arrogant, when he compels Clara to trick Maisie into becoming the next scheduled Mummy’s victim, it’s a shocking moment to trump all previous shocking moments of the episode.
These sequences of 66 seconds are always superbly thrilling but when the Doctor transfers Maisie’s neuroses to himself, to position himself as the next person to see the Mummy – even more so. It’s a giddy treat to see the Doctor have just seconds to figure out the final pieces of the puzzle.
“Don’t stop me now
I’m having such a good time
I’m having a ball
Don’t stop me now
If you wanna have a good time
Just give me a call
Don’t stop me now
Don’t stop me now, I’m having a good time
I don’t want to stop at all”
Beaches: places of contemplation. Another one after last week.
The beach scene is absolutely gorgeous. The production designers really have crafted a great-looking episode, and curiously it’s all quite reminiscent of the Sixth Doctor’s & Peri’s adventures, Clara tucked up in a yellow-and-purple blanket with the beach infused with a pink glow from an alien sky. (Very Mindwarp, except this isn’t the character’s last episode. Also the passengers’ surroundings are much more sumptuous than Terror of the Vervoids).
The Doctor had to trick Maisie to fool Gus.
“So you were pretending to be heartless.”
“Would you like to think that about me, would that make it easier?”
So the single-minded focus that means the Doctor discards social niceties to save to day is part of what makes this Doctor tick now.
The Mummy was driven by its war-tech. A war-machine at heart.
“I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars
On a collision course
I am a satellite I’m out of control
I am a sex machine ready to reload”
What makes Clara tick? She’s stayed onboard the TARDIS. Why has she “dunnit”? She’s driven on to the next adventure.
SHE DON’T WANNA STOP AT ALL.