This Train Is In Space
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
I absolutely love The Murder on the Orient Express and essentially any iteration of it. The idea of a condensed space with a murder happening and everyone being a suspect is tittilating, especially as you go along and more and more of their layers of the characters come apart and the murder suspect keeps on changing. The Doctor Who adaptation of that story is naturally sci-fi-esque, the most obvious iteration of that genre change being placing the train in space. The cold open is classic Who, with someone dying in the first thirty seconds of the episode (in this case from an invisible mummy who can only be seen by its intended victim) and setting off a chain of events to be twisted and turned around until the truth is revealed. But where Mummy on the Orient Express shines the most is when it focuses on who the Doctor really is. It’s kind of astonishing that we haven’t gotten the full picture of the Doctor yet, even with all of the regenerations and it’s a testament to how well this show works.
The plot largely revolves around that invisible mummy, known as the Foretold and it’s killing of victims within sixty-six seconds (is that an unintentional Star Wars reference?). The Doctor arrives with Clara onto the train as a sort of “last hoorah” for the two of them. Their banter is fantastic and telling as Clara reveals that she ultimately doesn’t hate him. It’s calm until he mentions that he had been to a planet where it acid rains all day. Suddenly a woman, whose grandmother had died in the cold opening, says that he’s lying. The planet has been uninhabited for a thousand years. The ominous mood begins settling in again as they’re told of the old lady dying at the beginning. “Can you not just take a train?” Clara snaps, sure that the old lady’s death was more than just passing away. “Old ladies die all the time. It’s practically in their job description.” he fires back. But that little mystery begins to seep in despite the both of them trying to avoid it, or at least appearing to. And they’re sucked right back in.
What this episode delivers the most on is the characterizations of the Doctor and Clara. With the Doctor, this episode works because it feels like this was written especially for Capaldi. It’s dark, it’s hilarious, and it shows the Doctor at his perhaps most clinical, cold, and without compassion. There’s a utilitarianism within Capaldi’s Doctor that none of his previous iterations have and what ultimately sets him apart. Helping everybody isn’t what he strives for. Instead what Capaldi’s Doctor consistently strives for is helping the most amount of people, which seems fine on one level but immediately places him in far murkier waters in comparison to his predecessors. His knowing of the imminent deaths arriving but still using the people who are about to die within seconds for more information is so calculated it feels as if the Doctor’s two hearts aren’t functioning. When he realizes that Maisie is the next victim for the mummy, he immediately tells Clara to lie to her that he would be able to save her just so he could study the monster. His engineer companion for episode, Patrick, looks at him with a sort of unbridled, indignant disbelief. It’s the coldest moment for this Doctor, giving poor Maisie false hope purposefully for information that might be able to help him.
Clara once again this season is used tremendously well, even though for most of the episode she is largely off to the side with Maisie, shut off in a compartment where they find the sci-fi sarcophagus of the mummy itself. She’s resourceful, providing him with clues that he would be able to use to solve the mystery. But she is also again used by the Doctor in a way that would make most people severely uncomfortable. She agrees to lead Maisie to the Doctor, understanding full well what she was going to the woman who was to become the mummy’s next victim. She’s being used and betrayed once again by the Doctor but she can’t simply explode at him in rage again as she did last week, and not just because doing so would be narrative repetition. She’s become used to it, but Danny’s telling point last week still rings true. The Doctor still makes her angry and that’s why she can’t let him go, but in this hour in comparison to last week, that anger gives way to a defeated sort of resignation that brings her much, much closer to abandoning any resolve to be angry at the Doctor anymore.
The mummy as it turns out is a sort of vampire, who phases his victims out and drains their energy, leaving them essentially dead. He’s an ancient warrior, whose systems have been forcing him to fight for thousands and thousands of years. The entire ship is an extremely repugnant scientific experiment by a man named Gus. He essentially just wants to unravel the mystery of the Foretold and is willing to go to any lengths to solve it, such as killing off numerous people and disguising a lab as a train, filling it with holograms to give it the appearance of normalcy. The Doctor uses the clock against the mummy itself, who disintegrates with one last salute. The Doctor and Clara land on a beach, where he reveals that he didn’t know whether Maisie would survive or not, even though he ultimately was able to help her. It’s a moment of brutal honesty, even though at the same time it rings of him trying to justify himself to Clara with as much desperation he could muster without truly sounding desperate. And despite it all, Clara has a change of heart you could sort of see coming and she decides to stay, demanding that the Doctor take her to more planets. There’s a great discussion earlier in the episode of addictions truly being so when one attempts to leave them behind but is unable to. Clara, despite everything that has happened between the two, is addicted to traveling with the Doctor. But it doesn’t feel like a triumphant moment for the two. There’s an ominous sort of dread that hangs about the air. It feels like the clock that has been ticking for all of the mummy’s victims is ticking for these two as well. And what happens when that timer runs out of time?
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The Doctor: “The train in space”; Clara: “Of course it is”
+Clara looks amazing in the stylized dress
+Foxes’s cameo covering Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
+Frank Skinner’s casting as the engineer
+Daisy Beaumont kills it as Maisie
+“Your smiling but you’re sad. It’s confusing.”
+“Hatred is too strong of an emotion to waste on people you don’t like.”
+“Can I talk about the planets now?”
+“What kind of Doctor are you?”; “Now there’s a question I don’t hear often.”
+The production design for this episode is absolutely impeccable
+The freezer sequence was thrilling
+Maisie feeling guilty of picturing her grandmother’s death and then her actually dying
+Clara in response: “Difficult people can make you feel all sorts of things.”
+The blank ID making a comeback
+“I’m disappointed in your breakfast bar.”
+“You can just like the people you’re supposed to, but then I suppose there’d be no fairy tales.”
+“Make your end count.”
+“I can’t tell if you’re a genius or just incredibly arrogant.”
+“I told you he’s a good man.”
+“Yeah, let’s keep going.”
Episode Title: Mummy on the Orient Express
Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Image Courtesy: IGN