Reviewed by Sophie Cowdrey.
Start the clock! When a terrifying mummy attacks poor Mrs. Pitt on board the space version of the Orient Express, there is only one Doctor who can help. Mummy on the Orient Express is a welcome relief and breather from the utter tension and drama seen in the last episode, Kill The Moon, where the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald’s turbulent relationship reached what seemed to be a final breaking point.
The title itself would suggest that Mummy on the Orient Express would fit nicely with previous ‘blockbuster’ themed episodes such as Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, however it could also be very easy to mistake this episode as a mystery period piece in the same vein as The Unicorn and the Wasp, which led the Tenth Doctor into an adventure with Murder on the Orient Express author Agatha Christie. Even with a classic setting, the science fiction element is definitely not lost through stunning VFX shots of the train flying through space and the transformation of the interior set into a laboratory, which may feel more familiar to Voyage of the Damned. These familiar elements blend together into a strong and enjoyable episode.
What makes Mummy on the Orient Express feel unique is how it shows off some of Doctor Who’s finest elements, which continue to grow from strength to strength in each series. There is a constant attention to detail in both the costumes of the leading characters and a gorgeous set design of the Orient Express, both working together to create a perfect immersive picture of a bygone era. Additionally, the work of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Murray Gold is given an extra platform, not only with their stunning soundtrack for the entire episode, but with the very special jazz rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, performed by guest singer Foxes. Although her appearance is very short and feels somewhat wasted, even legendary Queen guitarist Brian May approved of the final rendition!
Ironically, the lyrics of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ reflect the current situation between the Doctor and Clara:
“I’m having such a good time, I don’t want to stop at all…”It’s clear that Clara is seriously considering throwing in the towel, after seeking advice from boyfriend Danny Pink and admitting to the Doctor that she couldn’t keep on travelling in the same way that he does. Viewers were left wondering how the pair could ever patch things up after the explosive argument in Kill The Moon, and the episode is certainly set up as the Doctor and Clara’s last hurrah. However, the story soon builds a level of intrigue and murder-mystery that Agatha Christie would surely approve of. A body on the train, and a mummy that only the victim can see? Neither Clara nor the Doctor could resist such a mystery.
The Foretold is designed as an instant classic monster. Those that bare the Foretold’s stare have 66 seconds to live, and these moments are perhaps some of the most thrilling sequences in the episode. A countdown clock graphic coupled with suspenseful music and hazy, almost dreamlike shots of the victim’s last 66 seconds of terror are perfect to introduce the creepy Foretold. A seemingly disgusting, rotting human creature with protruding skeletal ribs peeking out through tattered, ancient rags, the Foretold is executed to its full potential as a serious threat to those on board the train. Immortal, unstoppable, unkillable… Now that’s a monster to be afraid of!
Peter Capaldi is on top form and Mummy on the Orient Express serves as a showcase in a far more polished, fully-formed Twelfth Doctor. He handles everything from humour as the Doctor’s surprise role as a mystery shopper, to eccentricity with pleasing references of Tom Baker’s portrayal, with the Doctor offering jelly babies from a cigarette box or talking entirely to himself. The Doctor is often sharp, quick and clever, for example being the first to realise that the entire trip had been orchestrated with experts picked out as passengers to analyse the Foretold by the mysterious computer interface named Gus. Peter also effectively portrays a cold and frankly arrogant side of the Time Lord, acting with indifference over the victims being picked off one by one by the Foretold, and simply using their deaths to analyse and gather data. He rubs salt to the wound of his disintegrating relationship with Clara by ordering her to lie to Maisie, the Foretold’s next victim, by telling her that he could save her. Not only that, but their mistrust was also made deeper by the Doctor’s original intent to explore the Orient Express in space, as attentive viewers will remember the Eleventh Doctor’s phone call in The Big Bang regarding the train, which the Doctor had only just decided to follow up on.
Jenna Coleman shines within this episode. Both Clara and the Doctor seem afraid of parting ways for good, and Jenna grasps the opportunity to show a slightly more sombre, regretful side to Clara after her clear anger and distress in the previous episode, grappling with the difficult decision of whether to end the days of travelling in the TARDIS for good. It’s incredible to see the full emotional range that Jenna can handle as she struggles with the Doctor's arrogance and tries to tackle one of the hardest decisions of her life - whether to finally throw in the towel and give it all up, or to keep on going, travelling and having adventures with the Doctor. Of course, she picks the latter! Thankfully so, as it would’ve been a shame to end their relationship on a sour note.
Overall, Mummy on the Orient Express provides us with a well-paced episode that returned to top form. Peter relishes in his role, with the Doctor seeming fully comfortable and established at this point, while Jenna continues to set the bar even higher for her emotional portrayal and Clara’s struggle to give up her addiction for the Doctor. The episode boasts strong guest appearances, in particular guest star Frank Skinner as train engineer Perkins, who proves to be a valuable and witty asset by calling out the Doctor on his arrogance and helping him to realise the Foretold’s true nature. Although the resolution of relieving the Foretold of its duty as an ancient soldier may have been solved too quickly and easily, the monster sequences are among the strongest parts of the episode and cement the Foretold as a fan-favourite.
Don’t stop us now! Join us tomorrow as Suman reviews Flatline!