Monday, October 13, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 8: Mummy On The Orient Express

Well, that's more like it! This week Doctor Who returns to form after the previous misfire of an episode. Mummy On The Orient Express was a fun homage to Agatha Christie mysteries and gave us a cool new creature in the Foretold. It harkened back to Classic Doctor Who, especially the Tom Baker era, which often featured monsters and a Gothic atmosphere.

I was very surprised to see Clara pop up in this episode. After the colossal dressing-down she gave the Doctor last week, I fully expected her to sit this one out. Kudos to whoever edited the trailer for this episode and very cleverly avoided any signs of Clara to keep us all guessing for a week.

The Plot:
After having an epic meltdown last week, Clara's forgiven the Doctor, making us all wonder if we've missed an episode. Even though all is forgiven, she's decided to stop traveling with him. She accompanies him on the Orient Express– a luxury train in outer space, that absolutely doesn't remind us of the Starship Titanic, for one last hurrah before she leaves him for good.

As always, nothing's ever that simple when the Doctor's involved, and they soon find out the train is being haunted by the Foretold-- a hideous and deadly Mummy who only appears to its victims. One you see it, you can't escape it and you only have 66 seconds left to live.

The Doctor is forced to discover the true nature of the Mummy, before he sees it and it comes for him!

• What in the name of David Tennant's Volumizing Hair Gel happened here? At the end of last week's episode, Clara tears the Doctor a new one after he lies and manipulates her one too many times, and tells him in no uncertain terms to shove off for good. It was a shocking moment, and something no companion has ever done before.

Then suddenly in this episode they've apparently kissed and made up– off screen, mind you– and all is forgiven. 

Bad form, Doctor Who! You can't just lay a massive egg like that and then have absolutely no followup! Honestly I thought they'd either skipped an episode or aired them in the wrong order– that's how wrong it felt. 

Granted there was a line about how several weeks have passed since Kill The Moon and Clara's calmed down since then. But you can't just say that; they really should have had the Doctor solo it while Clara sat out this week. It would have made their reconciliation much more believable.

I get that this is a sci-fi action series and not a prime time soap, so there's no way they were going to spend an entire episode showing the Doctor and Clara talking out their feelings. That said, this was a unique situation in the history of the show, and it really should have been dealt with on screen, not shoved under the rug like this.

Saying, "Eh, we decided to skip ahead a bit and this episode takes place six weeks later" is not only lazy writing, it's cheating the fans as well.

• I wonder when this episode takes place? Is it in the future? The advanced tech would seem to indicate so. On the other hand, the Starship Titanic, featured in Voyage Of The Damned, had similar technology and that episode was set in the present. So who knows?

• This episode reminds me a bit of the recent film Snowpiercer. I guess there's no getting around that though, as both stories take place on futuristic trains.

• There were a couple of cameo appearances this week that probably won't mean anything to you unless you're British. The singer at the beginning of the episode who was warbling a slow jazz version of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was played by British pop star Foxes. I liked the song quite a bit.

Also, Engineer Perkins was played by British comedian and talk show host Frank Skinner. 

I've never heard of either of this people in my life, but they're both a big deal in England so I thought they were worth a mention.

• The Mummy effects were very well done, as it looked appropriately scary and decrepit. This isn't the first time the Doctor's faced one, of course. He and Sarah Jane fought a whole platoon of alien robotic mummies way back in 1975's Pyramids Of Mars.

• I've noticed they seem to be downplaying the use of the sonic this season. This Doctor uses it from time to time of course, but nowhere near as much as previous versions.

There's a very vocal group of fans out there who believe the Doctor relies way too much on the sonic, as it's become a virtual magic wand. Did the producers listen to these fans and take steps to limit its use?

• I was very impressed with the countdown clock, and how each victim really did have just 66 seconds to live after seeing the Mummy. This rarely happens in TV and movies. Think about all the times a character has only had thirty seconds to diffuse a bomb, but it takes five minutes for the counter to reach zero.

• Although Jamie Mathieson wrote this episode, there's no doubt in my mind that showrunner Steven Moffat had some sort of input. It's got his greasy fingerprints all over it. A deadly monster that's invisible to everyone but the victim, an ancient rhyme associated with the creature, the countdown-- all elements associated with his various creations.

• Speaking of recycling, there seems to be quite a lot of it going on this season. Pretty much every episode so far has included characters, settings and sometimes even entire plots that we've seen before.

Deep Breath featured the return of the Clockwork Men from The Girl In The Fireplace. All that running away from antibodies in the innards of the Dalek in Into The Dalek was very similar to the Tesselecta from Let's Kill Hitler. In Robot Of Sherwood, a group of robots are using human slaves to build a rocket, very much like the Cybermen did in The Next Doctor. In Listen, a little boy was afraid of monsters under his bed, much like in Night TerrorsThe Caretaker featured the Doctor getting a normal job on Earth in order to ferret out aliens, ala Closing TimeKill The Moon introduced astronauts being menaced by aliens, just like in The Waters Of Mars.

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed this season so far (with one notable exception), but I have to admit it all seems a bit... familiar. 

• At first I thought "Gus" was just the operating system on the train, but apparently he's more than that. I wonder if the monocle icon is a clue? Maybe Gus is secretly Mr. Peanut!

The Doctor's been contacted by Gus before, saying, "Well, he has tried to entice me here before. Free tickets. Mysterious summons. He even phoned the TARDIS once…" 

So now yet another person has the Doctor's phone number. First Missy, and now Gus, whoever or whatever he is. Or are they one in the same? Maybe the Doctor needs to get an unlisted number, or take his phone off the hook.

• By the way, at the end of The Big Bang, the Doctor takes a phone call in the TARDIS and says, "An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express in space? We're on our way!" 

I'm betting this was a just a coincidence, or Mathieson was mining old episodes for story ideas. I seriously doubt they were foreshadowing this episode four seasons ago.

• The Doctor begins questioning Professor Moorehouse about the Foretold, and he seems to know exactly what he's talking about. Moorehouse even knows the little nursery rhyme associated with it. How the hell does he know that? Is this particular myth common knowledge, even though we've never heard of it? It feels like there's some dialog missing here, like an expository scene was cut for time.

• The Doctor still enjoys jelly babies. His tastes are becoming more sophisticated though, as he now carries them in a cigarette case.

• The Doctor's line, "Are you my mummy?" is of course a callback to The Empty Child.

• At the end of the episode, the Doctor offers Engineer Perkins a job maintaining the TARDIS. He politely declines.

A couple things here. First of all, once again the Doctor reveals his true nature to a civilian. Granted he's not Batman and doesn't have a secret identity, but you'd think he'd be a little more careful about who he lets into the TARDIS, less the overwhelming technology on display fry their minds.

Secondly, there was something slightly creepy and... off about Perkins. Like there's more to him that first appears. Could he secretly be Gus? Time will tell, I guess.

Next week... eh, I can't tell what's going on. 

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