Doctor Who: “Mummy on the Orient Express”

I don’t have much to say about this week’s Doctor Who episode, “Mummy on the Orient Express.” Shocking, I know! Especially given the lengthy screeds I’ve been writing about episodes for a while now. “Mummy” is the closest to a classic-era Doctor Who episode we’ve gotten so far this season: outer space, a monster, a mystery to solve, and an enclosed setting. No timey-wimey crap, no “secret origins” for the Doctor or Clara, just a welcome, straightforward adventure. It’s a good one, too. One of the better episodes this season.

The train in space conceit is stupid, and basically only exists because they needed something that sounded exotic when the setup was first mention at the end of the 2010, Eleventh Doctor episode “The Big Bang,” but it’s not so stupid as to be distracting. (Except maybe for the occasional train-snaking-through-space establishing shots, which put me in mind of the Soul Train animation more than anything else.)

I’m still having trouble getting a handle on Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor. I liked who he was in the first four episodes of this season, but then suddenly they started writing him as manic and kooky, which doesn’t work for this Doctor. He needs to be more grounded, and he needs to stay grounded. In “Mummy,” he’s a little bit of both, and it’s no surprise to me that the scenes where he’s grounded and in control are the better ones.

**Very minor spoilers follow**

I also don’t quite understand Clara’s actions at the end of the episode when she decides to continue traveling with the Doctor. There’s no reason for her to lie to Danny about it except to force more narrative tension into the plot. Why not have her own her decision and then let Danny decide for himself how he feels and if he still wants to be a part of her life? Imagine how much better and more mature that scene would be than whatever inflated “confrontation” that waits for us down the line. Also, why lie to the Doctor about Danny being okay with it? The Doctor obviously wants her to stick around and doesn’t necessarily care if Danny is okay with it or not. It all feels very forced.

The TARDIS Data Core mentions there were a couple of deleted scenes for this episode, including one that “revealed that Maisie was present near the campfire on the beach in the end, explaining that when the Doctor implanted Maisie’s pain and trauma into himself, he took them away from her for good.” I think they should have kept that scene in. It would have gone a long way toward explaining how Clara found it in herself to forgive the Doctor for the way he acted in “Kill the Moon.”

No real neepery this time around, except that the Doctor offers somebody some jelly babies and says at one point, “Are you my mummy?” Sadly, the lack of a reference to the classic 1975, Fourth Doctor serial “Pyramids of Mars” is a missed opportunity.

4 responses to “Doctor Who: “Mummy on the Orient Express””

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    Almost just posted “yeah, what you said” on G+ and called it good, but realized I did have a comment or two. But yeah, mostly what you said.

    This Clara/Danny stuff reminds me painfully of the Amy/Rory we’re-splitting-up stuff at the start of the previous season, which came out of nowhere and was mostly off-screen and made no sense and was resolved incomprehensibly. Okay, well, this is probably better in some of those senses, except it’s taking up more screen time. As you say, how interesting might it have been to see a sensible exploration of Clara trying to live both lives up front and dealing with that, say, as a parallel to trying to juggle job and family and social life, which men and women alike deal with all the time? Oh well.

    Agreed about the missing scene, assuming it did exist. That’s an unfortunate choice. They should’ve pulled some random VFX shots to make it fit. I don’t mind the train in space conceit, I guess (although it should have been EXPLAINED as some deliberate nostalgia fare for rich humans looking to approximate their forebears — I’m in the SCA, after all), but I didn’t need to see that much of it. I’m capable of understanding “the train stopped” without then seeing a shot of the train stopping — that one actually aggravated me a bit.

    I loved the jelly babies in a cigarette case. Loved it loved it. I was on the edge of “holy crap, surely he’s not going to actually give someone a smoke” and then it went that way and I hooted.

    Why the hell was the tragic immortal soldier wrapped in mummy bandages, except to be a mummy? Oh well, what would Doctor Who be without a central conceit with a quasi-sf quasi-explanation at the end?

    I believe I have figured out either what Capaldi’s Doctor is doing with Clara, or what should be the answer — he deliberately doesn’t want her to like him. It’s the only explanation that makes sense to me; he tells her he can save Maisie only to trivially be caught lying — only to turn out to have not really been lying exactly, but prevaricating to cover up his intent to risk himself (not to save Maisie, we must acknowledge, but rather to solve the problem — a number of Doctors have leaned that direction, though.) He pulls crap like this constantly with her, plus insults her, fibs about why they’re going places (okay, also not exactly new to the Doctor), etc.

    So either he wants her to leave (to be with Danny? that seems implausible) or he just doesn’t want her to go all gooey over him like, you know, every female companion since Rose except Donna. Or more likely, Moffat’s a bit of a tool and can’t imagine a woman NOT falling for the Doctor unless he is an utter dick to her at every turn (and perhaps even then.)

    This season is all right, but dammit, Capaldi is better than what he’s getting, even so. And, I’m starting to believe, so is Jenna Coleman. It’s not quite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant all over again — it’d be tough to top that tragic misuse of talented people — but still.

    Wow, I did have more to say, okay. Bottom line, this episode would have been improved by removing any hint of larger story, and I increasingly believe this is true of Doctor Who in general. The Key to Time worked because it was strictly an excuse to get them into stories — often it became immediately immaterial until the last few seconds of the story at which point they say “yep got it” and leave, roll credits. (I think my favorite version of this is Androids of Tara, where Romana IMMEDIATELY finds the segment, but then events happen which have nothing much to do with it.) I blame both Moffat and Davies for this — the latter because he started it, and the former because he is seriously not good at it. That said, he is much restrained this season _in comparison_, where the meta-story isn’t really driving the individual stories nearly as much as, say, season six where it completely dominated with only a few exceptions.

    • Nick says:

      Wow, you really did have a comment or two! LOL!

      I’m with you on all of this. I don’t think the Clara-Danny situation is anywhere near as awful and random as the Amy-Rory divorce threat at the start of last season (that was truly mind-boggling) but it is rapidly approaching the same level of awkwardly forced drama. Which is too bad, because I liked how Clara and Danny seemed to be coming to an understanding.

      I think the jelly babies scene would have been a thousand times better if he’d actually said, “Would you like a jelly baby?” We already know he can channel Tom Baker’s vocal patterns. It would have been amazing if he’d done so there.

      “Or more likely, Moffat’s a bit of a tool and can’t imagine a woman NOT falling for the Doctor unless he is an utter dick to her at every turn (and perhaps even then.)”

      I think you hit it right on the head with that. You also hit it on the head by saying Capaldi is better than what he’s getting. Never having seen Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in anything else, I’m going to have to take your word for it that they are talented actors.

      Hey, at least Missy wasn’t in this episode!

  2. R. Francis Smith says:

    If you can ever get your hands on the Stranger videos (in particular the first three, Summoned by Shadows, More than a Messiah, and In Memory Alone), I highly recommend doing so. They basically start as a thin gloss over “how we think Six COULD have been awesome” — Colin Baker as the Doctor, I mean the Stranger (he’s not actually called that; he’s never named at all in these three, I believe), who starts as a former champion of all things good or whatever that’s become crushed under the weight of all the horrible things he’s had to do and now just avoids everyone… until he meets Nicola Bryant’s character and gets entangled stuff and… well.

    Oh, did I mention her character is, no kidding, named Miss Brown? Yeah, they’re not really pretending.

    After the first three videos it goes off in an entirely different direction (and Bryant isn’t in them after that) which is fine and good, but I really enjoy in particular Summoned by Shadows for that hint of what could have been. Mind you, if Doctor Who was made for petty cash, the Stranger videos were made for pocket change. Anyhoo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stranger_(video_series)

    Also, the Big Finish audios with Colin Baker are the best ones, nearly without fail. Like Tom Baker, his voice is captivating, plus you don’t have to look at the coat.

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