How much can a mystery cost you?
In the case of Doctor Who‘s “Mummy On the Orient Express”: five lives and sixty-six seconds each.
And now: beware spoilers.
From the beginning of the episode, on a futuristic space vessel bearing the name Orient Express, when you see that mummy lurching towards the old woman, a horrible spectre that only she can see and you look at the timer at the corner of the screen you think that you know what you’re going to be dealing with. It’s a monster: a rotting and dessicated creature of the horror film genre in a futuristic Agatha Christie murder mystery novel.
Of course, given the nature of Doctor Who, it is never that simple. In fact nothing is simple in The Doctor’s universe. I mean, there are mysteries, and then there are non-surprises. I suppose I really shouldn’t have been all that surprised to see Clara coming with The Doctor on this cruise: for what is supposedly going to be their last trip before she stops being his Companion… or so the plan goes.
You know that sexual tension we were told about? The one that wasn’t going to be happening between Clara and The Doctor? Well, it’s true: you can take their initial time together on the cruise as something of a father and daughter arrangement but it just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps sexual tension is the wrong term. Perhaps it is a tension of an uncertain relationship: of not really knowing where they stand after everything that happened in “Kill the Moon.” But there is just a way that, when Clara tells The Doctor she thought she hated him but realized she didn’t and never could while nestling herself on his arm that made, at least me, wonder what is going on here? Is this the final moment before a breakup as two people go their separate ways?
I admit I really did like the interplay between them: though I personally think Clara came back far too quickly. In my last review I totally thought they would be separate for at least one episode. That said, I’m glad there wasn’t a scene where he had to apologize to her or vice-versa. We got thrown right back into them being together. But I suppose it’s something we all should have seen coming: that this is not over yet and that this “last voyage” is not as it seems.
Just like everything else in this episode.
Here is what I’ve noticed about Doctor Who episodes should I ever want to write one. Basically, you start off with a weird premise of two ideas that ordinarily wouldn’t go together, but eventually blend well and do. You focus on interpersonal relationships and working dynamics as the characters realize something is strange and try to navigate their way through the situation. The Doctor, in the immortal words of the musician Voltaire “makes some shit up” after a while or throughout the episode while making weird references and banter, the situation becomes inverted and you discover what is really going on. The Doctor tries to reason with “the monster” who becomes relatable as a selfish, pitiable, or misunderstood being, whom he either saves that being or lets it destroy itself, while sometimes he is confronting with his dark side in the process. He ends up resolving some crisis through taking a major risk, there is some wrap up with regards to the other characters, and he and his Companion go off to a new place like “Barcelona” or he leaves alone to deal with his demons: all of which to emphasize just how important a Companion is to getting him to relate to existence. And this doesn’t even include the strange moments of workable paradox that you get by including time or time travel in some of these scenarios.
Does this sound about right to you? I suppose that transdimensional “mummy” only comes for you in sixty minutes instead of sixty-six seconds, but “Mummy on the Orient Express” pretty much follows that strange, weird, and wonderful formula: the invisible mummy on the space liner, the relations between Clara and himself, Clara and Danny on the phone, Clara and Maisie, the suspicion that he and Clara both come to as they sense something is wrong, the reveal that the liner is actually a hidden laboratory to gather scientists (who have been gathered there as guests) to seemingly replicate the effects of the mummy for war-like purposes, the sarcophagus that Clara finds is supposed to be where they put the mummy after successfully capturing it for their kidnapper and jailer, the horror and cruelty of the fact that the mummy attacks those who are sick or have psychological trauma, The Doctor brushing with his dark side in letting all those people die just to find out how to stop the mummy, finding out that the mummy is very pitiable (what is with this theme of soldiers fighting eternal and horrific wars?), and then The Doctor risks his life to deal with the situation.
I will leave the rest to your imagination if you haven’t watched the episode. But let me just add this bit. There is a reversal from “Kill the Moon.” This time, after almost putting Clara in another difficult place and making her think he is using her, while revealing some information that may have been pertinent for Clara to know beforehand, he decides to take it all on himself and put himself on the line. The episode ends where The Doctor is genuinely expressing regret for his seemingly callous actions. And for all he criticizes Clara for displaying two emotions at the same time at the beginning of the episode, he does the same through displaying both clear self-doubt and grim certainty over how he would have attempted to save as many lives as he could: even if some had to die for him to do so.
As for Clara: she still needs to find a healthy medium between her relationships and work on her honesty. A lot. In addition, we are left with more questions as to who arranged this entire situation: especially considering that he seems to have received a call about it at least once on the TARDIS when he was with Rory and Amy as The Eleventh Doctor. Is it Missy and her servant that arranged this? Or someone or something else entirely?
And I wonder if every climax and moment of crisis in Doctor Who has resolved itself in at least sixty-six seconds? Well, look at it this way: at least I didn’t make the obligatory mummy joke.
Until next week, fellow travellers.