Mummy on the Orient Express (8×08)

Synopsis: For what is planned to be their last grand adventure together, the Doctor takes Clara aboard the Orient Express—in space. Little do they know the train is plagued by a mythological mummy who is claiming more victims by the (literal) minute, and the Doctor is placed under a strict time limit to solve the mystery and save everyone on board.

Rating: ★★★★☆

You have 66 seconds to live. Flickering lights, tight quarters, and an evil that only the victim can see; the ingredients for this week’s Doctor Who cooked up a thrilling train car mystery that did not disappoint. Following in the vein of the series’s recent interstellar adventures, “Mummy on the Orient Express” takes viewers on a fast-paced adventure that hit the mark yet again in a season that’s shaping up to be one of the best we’ve seen from Doctor Who in a long time.

Last week left our companion livid with her unsympathetic Time Lord, but things seem to be as normal as they can be as the two board the Orient Express for what Clara claims is their final adventure together (so she can settle down with Danny or do whatever it is that ex-companions do). But the state of Clara and the Doctor’s relationship quickly takes the back seat to the more pressing issue of an invisible mummy that’s been making its rounds in the intergalactic express, picking off passengers using methods inexplicable even by the Doctor and resident mythology expert Perkins (Frank Skinner).

“Are you my mummy?” How long do you think Doctor Who creators have been waiting to make that reference again?
“Are you my mummy?” How long do you think Doctor Who creators have been waiting to make that reference again?

Well they soon have no choice but to find out, as the train screeches to a halt and the Doctor and several other scientists find themselves trapped in a compartment, prisoners of mysterious hijacker “Gus”. Subjects of this faceless enemy’s twisted experiments, the Doctor and company face a very literal ticking clock, the mummy (now called “the Foretold”) choosing a new victim about every minute. Clara and fellow passenger Maisie Pitt are helplessly trapped in a separate compartment, where they have an equal chance of being preyed upon by the Foretold or being thrown out the airlock. The tension—and in turn the excitement—never really let up, and it’s a thrill to watch.

The Doctor and fellow prisoners soon discover that the mummy is targeting sick or weak passengers first, and sapping them of their energy on a cellular level. Again, much to Clara’s discontent, we are shown Capaldi’s cold, calculating Doctor, who doesn’t so much as blink when given the choice of sacrificing people in exchange for information on his enemy. We’re never given details on exactly who “Gus” is or why he is experimenting with passengers of various spacecraft, but perhaps that is a different mystery better left unsolved for now.

The Doctor continues to show his true colors under pressure. A couple deaths is a small price to pay for valuable data.
The Doctor continues to show his true colors under pressure. A few deaths? A small price to pay for valuable data.

In the end, it turns out the killer mummy was just an ancient soldier who couldn’t find peace. Again the soldier imagery returns—likely a foreshadowing of what is to come. What will be revealed about the Doctor’s military past? Or about Danny’s? Something mysterious is afoot, and my bets are on a metaphorical bomb being dropped before the season is out.

When their life-threatening adventure comes to an end, things still aren’t right between Clara and the Doctor. However, Clara has an unexpected change of heart and suddenly decides to continue going along with the Doctor after all, seeming to forget her previously voiced concerns about his methods. As a result. this final scene was a point of confusion for me. Coleman’s performance as Clara seemed forced (not to mention she lied about Danny’s feelings on the matter), so I have a feeling we haven’t seen the end of this issue, and one can’t help but wonder if Clara is up to something.

Just watching you sleep on this deserted beach like a creeper, nbd.
Just watching you sleep on this deserted beach like a creeper, nbd.

I found “Mummy on the Orient Express” more believable than last week’s “Kill the Moon,” (also directed by Paul Wilmshurst), with fewer plot holes, quicker transitions, and a tighter series of events. The prospect of a ticking clock and victims knowing they had less than a minute to live gave the plot a sense of urgency, and kept viewers guessing who would be next. There are no miracles this time around, no lucky breaks for the mummy’s chosen victims. And like this season’s several other no-nonsense plots, this week’s episode follows suit. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: series 8 is a refreshing break from the zany antics of the Smith era. Adorable as Eleven was with his fezzes and bow ties, Capaldi is one hundred percent badass, and I love it.

Next week, the Doctor and Clara face an enemy from another dimension. “Flatline” airs on October 18 on BBC America and BBC One. Don’t miss the trailer below!


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