After the conclusion of Kill the Moon, the Doctor takes Clara onboard a replica of the Orient Express in space for their final trip together, where the passengers are terrorised by a mummy.
Well, this is the second review in as many weeks to feature Mummies!
In the show How I Met Your Mother, it is stated that one of the leads is able to watch Star Wars in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. Doctor Who fills that criteria for me, and this episode is certainly one that never fails to lift my spirits. The story comes at a crucial time for the Twelfth Doctor heading towards the end of his first series as the titular Time Lord and seems to see him beginning to soften from his harder persona from the start of the series. That being said, he still does let a lot of people die in order to get answers!
Jamie Mathieson deserves a lot of plaudits for his work here. Although not his first script for the show (the following story, Flatline was Mathieson’s own idea and his first script), it feels as though he is a veteran scribe for the show. There is an argument that Mummy on the Orient Express is one of the perfect jumping on points for new viewers to Doctor Who and this is in no small part down to the script. The story requires very little foreknowledge of the show or even the series it fits into – besides the fact that Clara and the Doctor have fallen out. Mathieson’s script moves through moments of melancholy (Clara and the Doctor realising that this is their final adventure together), to moments of sheer terror (pretty much any moment the Foretold appears on screen) and finally to moments of humour – the whole cast, especially Capaldi and guest star Frank Skinner, get opportunities to show off their comedic abilities. The director, Paul Wilmshurst certainly deserves credit for making this story as strong as it is, especially when it comes to the Foretold. I especially like the use of the sixty-six second countdown which intercuts between scenes of the Foretold advancing, usually with characters delivering exposition about it.
I’m not a passenger. I’m your worst nightmare.
A mystery shopper. Oh great.
Really? That’s your worst-? Okay, I’m a mystery shopper. I could do with an extra pillow and I’m very disappointed with your breakfast bar. Oh…and all of the dying.The Twelfth Doctor and Captain Quell
The main villain of the piece is the computer, Gus, who is manipulating the Foretold to attack the passengers onboard the Orient Express. John Sessions is perfectly cast as the initially innocuous and gentlemanly train’s computer, who gradually reveals himself to be ruthless in his pursuit of his ultimate goal of analysing the Foretold. The murder of the kitchen staff purely because of the fact that the Doctor will not terminate his call with Clara perfectly highlights this, and it is further reinforced by his destruction of the train after the Doctor has figured out the truth behind the Foretold. The Foretold in itself is suitably sinister, similarly to the Mummies in Pyramids of Mars. There is something about the way it shambles along which is particularly creepy. In 2015, my then-fiancée now wife bought us tickets to go and see the Symphonic Spectacular at Wembley Arena where one of the performers was dressed as the Foretold and I was absolutely obsessed with how creepy the foot drag is. I like the idea of it picking off passengers by frailty, be it physical or mental, as it is with Maisie.
This story has a particularly strong cast, led by Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, even though the episode sees them spend most of the episode apart. That being said, I’m not a massive fan of the resolution of the Doctor and Clara’s spat with her lying to both Danny and the Doctor, but I think that’s probably best addressed in a later review when this really comes to a head. I distinctly remember the outcry when the news of Foxes’ casting was released, which seems ridiculous now as it is purely for a brief cameo and I quite like her cover of Don’t Stop Me Now. Frank Skinner really steals the episode as Perkins though, becoming the de facto companion for the episode and it still makes me sad that we didn’t get more of him in the rest of Capaldi’s run. Having listened to his radio show for a long time, I know how sad he will have been to have seen that moment in the script, as Skinner is a huge fan of the show.
It’s quite a vehicle you’ve got here, Doctor. I won’t pretend to understand half of it. Having said that, I did notice that you have a couple of drive stacks need replacing.
Oh you did, did you?
Yeah. You should get someone in. And a job like that takes forever.
Really? Well, I suppose whoever I did get in, might be easier to have them stay on board for a while. I don’t suppose you’d know of anyone?
No, Doctor, I don’t think I do. That job could, er, change a man.
Yes, it does. Frequently.Perkins and the Twelfth Doctor
Verdict: If the above review isn’t clear, I love this story. A highlight of Capaldi’s era, if not Doctor Who as a whole. 10/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Frank Skinner (Perkins), David Bamber (Captain Quell), John Sessions (Gus), Daisy Beaumont (Maisie), Janet Henfrey (Mrs Pitt), Christopher Villiers (Professor Moorhouse), Foxes (Singer) & Jamie Hill (Foretold)
Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Behind the Scenes
- The Foretold was deemed to be too scary for Doctor Who and meant that the story was broadcast at 20:35, the latest transmission time for a televised Doctor Who story. Producer Brian Minchin attempted on multiple occasions to have footage included on the Series 8 trailer, but was unsuccessful.
- Like The Robots of Death, Terror of the Vervoids and The Unicorn and the Wasp, this story utilises elements from the works of Agatha Christie.
- One of the few examples of a non-digetic visual appearing on Doctor Who – the timer can only be seen by the audience and not the characters in the story.
- The character of Perkins was based on a friend of Mathieson’s who is a train buff and helped him with details of the Orient Express.
- Steven Moffat approached Mathieson to write this story whilst he was working on Flatline, giving him the title to work with.
- Christopher Villiers previously appeared in The King’s Demons.
- Frank Skinner is a self-professed die-hard Doctor Who fan and had previously appeared in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot as well as making a brief cameo appearance in Dark Eyes: Eyes of the Master for Big Finish and would later go on to appear in the Fourth Doctor audio The Sinestran Kill.
- Janet Henfrey previously appeared in The Curse of Fenric and also appeared in Big Finish plays An Eye For Murder and The Day of the Comet, amongst others.
The scene of the Doctor talking to himself in his cabin, where Capaldi channels his inner Tom Baker.
Because you know what this sounds like? No, do tell me. “A mummy only the victim can see?” I was being rhetorical! I know exactly what this sounds like.The Twelfth Doctor
Oh, I remember when all of this was planets as far as the eyes could see. All gone now. Gobbled up by that beast. And there’s that smile again. I don’t even know how you do that.
I really thought I hated you, you know?
Well, thank God you kept that to yourself. There was this planet, Obsidian. The planet of perpetual darkness.
I did. I did hate you. I hated you for weeks.
Good, fine. Well, I’m glad we cleared that up. There was also a planet that was made completely of shrubs.
I went to a concert once. Can’t remember who it was. But do you know what the singer said?
Frankly, that would be an astonishing guess if I did know.
She said “hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don’t like”.
Were people really confused? Cos I’m confused. Did everybody leave?
Shush. Shut up. Look, what I’m trying to say is, I don’t hate you. I could never hate you. But I can’t do this any more. Not the way you do it.
Can I talk about the planets now?The Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Kill the Moon
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