Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express
(1 episode, s08e08, 2014)
One minute to doom.
A sixty-six-second clock begins ticking as Mrs. Pitt and her grandaughter Maisie are enjoying a meal in a luxurious train dining car. Mrs. Pitt spots a “mummy monster” but no one else seems to notice. Even a train official is oblivious.
At 6 seconds, the mummy gets closer. At 5 seconds, it has its face in hers. At 4 seconds, Maisie begins to worry as her grandmother panics. At 3 seconds, everyone in the car is staring. At 2 seconds, Mrs. Pitt screams in terror. At 1 second, the mummy has his hands on her forehead.
At zero seconds, she dies.
The Doctor and Clara arrive at the TARDIS materializes on the train. It is the Orient Express, one of many trains to hold the name, but this is the first innnnnn spaaaaaaaace. The Doctor is in a tuxedo and Clara is in a dress from the 1920s. As a singer offers a jazzy rendition of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”, the travelers enter the dining car where the Doctor questions Clara’s confusing sad/happy smile. It’s understandable since he chose this journey as their last together.
Clara admits that she hated him for weeks, but she received some advice: “Hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like.” Clara realized then that she doesn’t hate the Doctor, but she can’t keep traveling with him in this form. They are interrupted by Maisie who calls the Doctor on what she sees as a lie. The train’s conductor, Captain Quell, apologizes as Maisie is escorted away. He then explains what happened to the young woman.
Later on, Clara begins to question her decision to leave the Doctor when she realizes that she may never see him again. The Doctor ponders the mystery of Mrs. Pitt’s death while Clara calls Danny about her quandary. The Doctor can’t refuse a good mystery, but he decides to leave Clara behind.
In the engine room, the Doctor finds a life extender – a device that tried and failed to save Mrs. Pitt – and Chief Engineer Perkins. Meanwhile, Clara gets dressed and finds Maisie, who is walking the halls in her nightclothes and carrying a shoe. She’s denied access to her grandmother’s body until she beats the lock with her shoe. Clara makes friends with Maisie as they work the problem at hand.
The Doctor finds a passenger named Professor Emile Moorhouse, an expert in alien mythology, and asks about the Foretold. This mythical mummy’s stare offers only sixty-six seconds to its victims, but victims can only see the creature when it appears to them. As they chat, the mummy attacks a chef.
After Quell orders the staff to cover up the chef’s death, the Doctor interrogates him with help from the psychic paper. Talking with Quell doesn’t pan out, but Perkins gives the Doctor a trove of documents and information. After meeting up with Moorhouse in the engineer’s room, the three watch the footage of Mrs. Pitt’s death.
The search for Mrs. Pitt comes up fruitless. The body is missing. Clara and Maisie are trapped in the room in which she was supposedly stored, and Maisie questions whether or not Clara is really done with her travels. The Doctor calls Clara’s mobile on the train’s communicator and rushes to her rescue when she tells him that she’s trapped. A suppression field blocks the sonic screwdriver, so Clara and Maisie are alone when a sarcophagus opens in the storage room. The box only contains lights and bubble wrap, and as Captain Quell apprehends the Time Lord for trespassing, another passenger is killed. The captain has no choice but to trust the Doctor with the case.
The Doctor realizes that someone has orchestrated the trip since the passenger list is stacked with brilliant scientists. When the Doctor questions this, the train stops and various passengers disappear as a lab appears in their place. Those passengers were hard-light holograms and the train’s computer Gus is in charge of this examination of the Foretold. Moorhouse suddenly catches sight of the mummy and is able to pass some information about its appearance before succumbing to fear and dying.
Clara calls the Doctor with the papers and schematics that she found. The Foretold appears to be targeting weaker passengers first, but this avenue of analysis is stopped when Gus sacrifices the entire kitchen staff to persuade the Doctor to return to work. As the team of scientists crunches through the data, Quell is the next to die as the Foretold exploits his post-traumatic stress. Quell describes the creature in detail and Perkins realizes that the specific time is related to technology to bring victims out of phase so it can consume their energy.
Also, Maisie is the next most likely target. The Doctor arranges for Clara and Maisie to come to the laboratory so the scientists can study her death, and Clara notes that the TARDIS is trapped behind a force field. Clara also confronts the Doctor because he knew that something might happen on this trip.
As Maisie sees the mummy, the Doctor transfers her grief to him so he can confront the mummy. During his 66 seconds, he deduces that the scroll that the scientists were analyzing is actually a flag. The mummy is an ancient soldier augmented with stealth technology to allow it to kill only its victims by pulling them out of phase, and it is trying to protect the flag. The Doctor declares that the war is over and surrenders, thus ending the mummy’s watch as it salutes and collapses into a pile of dust.
Gus congratulates everyone for solving the mystery, then decides to kill them all. The Doctor works the teleport technology in the mummy’s remains and saves everyone as the train explodes. Clara discovers this as she wakes up on an alien world, also understanding that the Doctor had to pretend to be heartless in order to fool Gus. The Doctor explains that he couldn’t save everyone, and he had no idea if he could succeed. He also has no idea who was manipulating the train’s computer. He tells Clara that sometimes, all your available choices are bad ones, but in the end, you still have to choose.
Back on the TARDIS, the Doctor offers to travel with Perkins but he refuses. Clara asks the Time Lord if he loves being the man to make an impossible choice. When the Doctor says that it is his life, Clara wonders if it is an addiction. But you can’t truly tell if something is an addiction until you have tried giving it up, and the Doctor has never done so.
Clara takes a call from Danny, then lies to her boyfriend and chooses to continue her travels with the Doctor.
This story swings back upward after the character decline of Kill the Moon. It effectively removes the tension between the Doctor and Clara by framing this adventure as Clara’s last hurrah and then reframes it to provide room for epiphany. Clara realizes that the Doctor is now a realist – sometimes all of the available choices are bad ones, but there is still no choice but to choose – and the Doctor realizes that Clara’s empathy forces her to mourn every death and failure, no matter how small.
The Doctor is still abrasive and detached, but at least they’ve met on common ground. Unfortunately, that leads Clara to forgive by lying to the man she loves. Not a good look, Clara.
Otherwise, the monster feature is a fun horror romp with a twist. I actually enjoyed that the Doctor had to scientifically prove what the monster was, even though it meant sacrificing people for the methodology. The story is also another dip into the well of Agatha Christie’s oeuvre, which we previously visited in The Robots of Death, Terror of the Vervoids, and The Unicorn and the Wasp.
This story also features a music video due to the cameo of real-life singer Foxes covering Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”. The BBC released an official music video with clips of Series 8 episodes, which was a first for Doctor Who. Foxes herself then uploaded a second video consisting solely of her performance and music mix.
Of course, we have ties to the history of Doctor Who. Following Amy and Rory’s wedding, the Eleventh Doctor received a call regarding an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express in space. Meanwhile, the Doctor manipulates Clara in a similar fashion to how Seventh Doctor manipulated Ace in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor’s respiratory bypass also came into play once again, as it had in The Ark in Space, Four to Doomsday, Smith and Jones, and The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe.
Considering mummies, the previously encountered them (in one form or another) in Pyramids of Mars (the source of one of my favorite Doctor Who “nope” GIFs) and The Rings of Akhaten. Oh yeah, and that question… of course, he had to ask “Are you my mummy?”
This story is a big step up from the previous outing and provides a good stepping-off point as we barrel toward the finale and the resolution of Missy’s plan.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Flatline
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.