TV Review: Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express (S8, E8)

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Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Screenwriter: Jamie Mathieson
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Frank Skinner, David Bamber, Daisy Beaumont, Christopher Villiers, Janet Henfrey & Samuel Anderson, with the voice of John Sessions

A vast improvement over last week’s tawdry offering (which I couldn’t even be bothered to review…), “Mummy on the Orient Express” is an enjoyable and dramatic affair that manages to strike just the right balance between laughs and thrills.

Set on the Orient Express – but in SPACE – the episode chronicles what is meant to be the last adventure for The Doctor and Clara. Having been so horrified by his actions on the Moon, Clara has decided to leave the TARDIS but, like an addict who needs one final kick, she decides to join him for one “last hurrah” on what he promises will be a safe trip. Yeah, right… they’re barely on the train for five minutes before they find themselves thrust into a battle with an ancient, mythical entity known as the Foretold; a Mummy that is only visible to those it is about to kill. See the Foretold and you have just 66 seconds left to live.

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“Mummy on the Orient Express” combines the gothic sensibilities of Hammer Horror with some of the most recognisable tropes of the Agatha Christie mystery upon which the episode is based. The enigma of the Foretold is played to great effect, with the Doctor running around frantically and taking centre stage in a series that has so far seen Clara as the main driver of stories. The design of the creature is superb and it oozes an eeriness that really gets under your skin, especially in the final moments of the 66-second countdown when it pounces on its defenceless prey.

Now, Capaldi has been at the top of his game since his very first appearance, but this might well be his most Doctor-ish performance to date. The sharp one-liners, the quick wit and a welcome detachment from the trivialities of humanity are present as always, but there’s something extra on top this time. He seems, perhaps for the first time this series, like The Doctor. Marvellous touches, such as his note-perfect Tom Baker impression, his cigarillo case full of Jelly Babies, and his giddy glee at the sheer notion of the Foretold being on the train, make for his best performance of the series to date.

Coleman, similarly, continues to dazzle as Clara who, while still not a great companion, is definitely growing on me. A buffer episode between “Kill the Moon” and this episode might have helped, as her immediate return took some of the drama out last week’s furious departure, but the developing difficulties in her relationship with the Doctor remains intriguing. The two of them wipe the floor with everyone else in the episode, as they always do, though that’s not to say that Skinner, Bamber and Beaumont don’t do a decent job of providing some light laughs where necessary, because they do.

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“Mummy on the Orient Express” is a very solid episode with some touches of greatness. It deftly combines two quite disparate stories – the mystery of the Foretold and Clara’s enduring discomfort with the new Doctor – and gives them both lots of room to breathe, even though the resolutions to both threads ultimately feel a little bit rushed. It is an episode that makes the most of its gothic influences, and director Paul Wilmshurst – whose visual flair for the horrifying was one of the few good things about “Kill the Moon” – does a fantastic job of getting to inherent terror of the story. The clock ticking away in the corner of the screen whenever the Foretold was about to attack was a further lovely touch as it granted the drama a sense of urgency that might otherwise have been missing. When the Doctor declares that someone has 66 seconds to live (I’ll never get bored of Capaldi saying “start the clock” in his Scottish accent…) we endure those 66 seconds in real time, and it’s genuinely quite thrilling.

As we enter the final act of this series, “Mummy on the Orient Express” has put us right back on track. Let’s just hope the final four episodes can maintain the pace and quality of this one…