Mummy on the Orient Express
SPOILERS SWEETIE – Don’t read if you haven’t watched
This is an immersive tale, told on a gorgeous set – put together with painstaking attention to detail… The opulence of the legendary Orient Express has been captured, then painted into a beautiful part of space overlooking the Magellan Black Hole. All the ladies are slender, well-dressed, being served by well-trained staff, conveying the opulent lifestyle one might need to have in order to travel on-board the Orient Express – which is longer and faster than the Earth version, operating on hyperspace ribbon rails.
Murder on the Orient Express for anyone new to Planet Earth, is a whodunit written by Agatha Christie, whose character was written in “The Unicorn and the Wasp” with David Tennant as the Doctor (and companion Donna). This is evidently a Poirot and Hastings adventure (a bit like Holmes and Watson), with the Doctor’s Hasings in this episode happening to be Perkins (Frank Skinner), while Clara is locked away with Maisie for most of the episode, backlit by a Sarcophagus, talking about feelings.
We begin at the same time as the sixty-six second countdown (a timer widget discretely placed in lower screen view for the audience’s benefit), Mrs Pitt, a bit of a battle-axe, is rambling on about a Mummy heading toward her. He’s not dressed well, she demands that he be removed, that he’s disgusting, and the poor dear never cottons onto the fact that nobody else can see it, and by the time it reaches her, sixty-six seconds of incessant complaining have scratched themselves down your internal chalkboard, before she expires, and it’s hard to feel sad about it.
Her travel companion is a woman we learn is Miss Maisie Pitt (Daisy Beaumont), and from what we can gather, she’s long suffering — nobody else could take that level of moaning without eventually throwing themselves out into the Magellan Black Hole for some lighthearted relief, and is her grand-daughter despite having to call her Mum. There’s a story in Maisie, and through the course of the episode, pieces of information about Maisie fit into place.
Following the credits, we join the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman), arriving in a back passage of the train. Dressed to the nines, it becomes clear that this is a peace offering of sorts following the prior furore in the TARDIS when Clara lost her spinning wing-nut and told him exactly where he and his TARDIS could get off.
Foxes (Louisa Rose Allen) is singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” in a Jazzy style, it’s catchy – been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks now, waving her long fingered hands about, and the Doctor complains that Clara is doing it again, her smile is sad – two emotions at once, it’s like she’s malfunctioning. They aren’t really watching the soaring blackness of the Magellan black hole because Clara keeps trying to talk about her feelings and the Doctor responds by talking about places in the Universe. He’s trying to avoid going down into the details of an already awkward reunion.
D: “There was this planet – Obsidian – the planet of perpetual darkness.”
C: “I did, I did hate you. In fact, I hated you for weeks.”
D: “Good, fine. I’m glad we cleared that up. There was also a planet that was made completely of shrubs.”
Clara needs to confess how she feels, she admits she hated him for weeks and then went to a concert and that the singer said that hate is a strong emotion to waste on someone you don’t like. Then she realised that she likes him, doesn’t hate him, but breaks it to him that she can’t do “this” anymore – not like he does. I can imagine that this speech was rehearsed many times in front of her triple mirrors… I can’t help wondering if she’s decided this because she wants to convince herself that Danny is the one, or that she doesn’t need this, assuming all will be revealed in time, we understand that she’s torn. This is why this show is excellent, over the season the characters are fleshed out by subtext.
“Glad we cleared that up.” The Doctor seems saddened to hear that Clara wants to leave willingly, and at no point does he ask her to stay, to reconsider.
Maisie Pitt overhears the Doctor recounting to Clara about a gas-mask picnic he once had on Thedion Four, and accuses him of lying, commenting that the planet had been destroyed 4,000 years before, that he couldn’t have been there. Clearly she’s never heard of time-traveling despite being on a space-train traveling on hyperspace ribbon-rails.
The conductor Captain Quell overhears, and advises Miss Pitt to rest in her cabin, sending her away with Mr Carlyle before turning his attention to the Doctor and Clara, assuming that they knew what had happened to Maisie’s grandmother. This is a strong introduction of some of the key characters.
“So what are you a Doctor of?”
“Now there’s a question that’s never asked often enough. Let’s say intestinal parasites.”
The Doctor never directly lies, so what is he referring to when he says this? Or is this just a throw away line?
On their way to their cabins – to retire for the evening – Clara and the Doctor go back and forth about whether this is a thing, or if things just happen around him, and the Doctor is reluctant to admit to Clara there’s a ‘problem’ (which his later cogitation suggests was just something he didn’t want to discuss with her), before saying goodnight, he dismisses her speculation about monsters putting the old lady’s death down to “A dying brain, lack of oxygen, hallucinations”.
“Clara, you actually sound as if you want this to BE a thing. Do you?”
The Doctor standing framed between the windows and the cabins looks forlorn when he confirms that this is likely to be their last hurrah, and torn Clara asks for confirmation. This is the first time he’s said anything about her prior ramblings, and she’s taken aback that he’s just accepted the inevitable.
“I thought that’s what you wanted.”
Clara isn’t comfortable that she might not see him again, asks if he’ll come over for dinner. She wants him in her life, but in her normal life, on her terms. She’s worried he thinks it might be boring, he asks her if it is boring, and she denies it – I don’t know if there’s a specific word for this sort of communication phenomenon, if there isn’t there should be, but it’s like walking into a revolving door backward, and being surprised when it knocks you over but trying again anyway.
“To the last hurrah.”
The Doctor can’t sleep, he’s thinking about the Mummy and all his rationalisations, Clara has a chat with Danny intending to turn in soon after.
“A train in space, sounds pretty cool.” Danny doesn’t seem that bothered by her travels with the Doctor when Clara calls him wearing white satin pyjamas before going to bed, he doesn’t sound at all jealous that she’s with the Doctor because he follows with, “Well, one, you can’t dump him because he’s not your boyfriend, and two, dumping him sounds a little scorched Earth.”
I’m wondering where Clara’s need to cut off is coming from. Does she still have uncomfortable, unacknowledged feelings for the Doctor that traveling with him brings out? Does she know something else that we don’t yet? Or is she just tired of the traveling and danger, worried that she’s addicted to it and wondering if she can quit any time.
“You still basically get on. I think you should just enjoy your space train. At least it’s not dangerous.”
While the Doctor is occupying hectares of real estate in Clara’s mind, the Mummy is on the Doctor’s. Deciding that he knows what this sounds like, he gets up, and goes off investigating, pausing at Clara’s door for a moment, wondering whether to take her with him, and then deciding not to, after all if he bothers her, it opens up the whole can of feelings again.
As he disappears Clara sneaks out from her cabin in her pyjamas, knocks on his door and realises he’s not there, so, she does what any good companion would, gets dressed and goes wandering around herself.
The first piece of kit the Doctor finds is the Excelsior Life Extender. The VDU has a similar look and feel to previous episodes where the Promised Land was referenced, and the machine has a blue-lit burbler. The sonic screwdriver is not being used as often as it was before, but is useful for scanning.
The scene where the Doctor meets Perkins (Frank Skinner) does nothing to paint a reassuring picture of Perkins, as he’s drolly standing back with a large prise in his hands, his face in shadow and his body sidelit through slatted vents. The technician stands in his overalls, with more knowledge of the goings on than the doctors and professors who are guests on the train.
The results of the sonic-screwdriver scan were that the machine did all that it could to keep her alive, that it wasn’t as simple as a malfunctioning piece of kit. Perkins confirms, he already knows this and adds that it almost drained the battery while doing it.
Having taken the measure of each other, as equals, Perkins steps forward and introduces himself as the Chief Engineer, and the Doctor follows and introduces himself as a nosey parker eliciting a laugh from Perkins and a slightly warmer greeting, opening the discussion to more pressing matters.
Clara has re-surfaced from her cabin dressed in her flashy frock with blings and sparkles, ready to begin. She bumps into Maisie who is carrying her shoe. Apart from the fancy dress and lovely hair, there’s not a lot of difference between her and the mummy as she lurches along, unresponsive to Clara’s questions. At a door she was heading for she stops and turns to Clara explaining.
Clara denies thinking that, before Maisie turns around and asks the computer to open the door. Gus (Computer’s voice – John Sessions) informs them that the door can only be opened by executive order. Maisie tells Clara she wants to see the body, doesn’t understand why they won’t let her. Clara informs her that she’s got a friend who is good with locks and suggests they head off to find him instead. But Maisie isn’t bothered by that, she wedges her shoe heel into the lock, and the door opens.
One of the most important rules about doors, if you manage to get a restricted one open, it’s probably wise to wedge it to avoid being locked inside. The door closes behind Clara, and we cut to the Doctor heading into the train compartment to talk with the honourable guests on-board. Ooh tension!
Presumably, his chat with Perkins had been enlightening and he points a finger at one of the guests, Emil Moorhouse, professor of alien mythology and asks, “What’s the most interesting thing about the Foretold?” before introducing himself. It’s a striking start to a conversation. The most interesting things about the mummy (known as the Foretold) is the time limit, sixty-six seconds.
Perhaps the most popular or endearing move of the episode happens when the Doctor whips out his jelly baby holder, and offers one to the slightly bemused professor. This is a little nod to Tom Baker.
This sets up the expectation for the following scene in which a kitchen worker is approached by the relentless Foretold, and while the Doctor discusses mythology with the professor, we see a counter in the bottom corner of the screen reminding us that someone’s about to bite some Foretold dust.
Clara and the one-shoed Maisie are stuck in the room and we discover that Maisie was traveling with her gran – she just called her Mum – and she admits that she felt guilty, like she’s pictured her dying for years like a daydream, and now that it was done it felt like she’d made it happen.
Clara reassures her that she didn’t do anything wrong, that sometimes difficult people could make you feel all sorts of things. Presumably a tidbit of insight into her thought processes.
The Doctor tries to appeal to Quell, but he’s brushed off. It’s amusing to discover via psychic paper that the Captain’s worst nightmare is a mystery shopper.
“Where would we all be is we all followed our job descriptions? Mm?”
Perkins is conveniently waiting outside the door following the Doctor’s fruitless appeal to Quell, with armfuls of papers – a passenger manifest, plan of the train and a list of stops for the past six months. The soundtrack has so much of the 80’s TV whodunits feel about it, reminds me a bit of the “Love Boat” or “Murder she wrote”… the latter is about a little old lady called Jessica Fletcher that always managed to somehow turn up to trouble, and the less said about the former, the better.
Hmm, I’d never quite considered the congruencies between the Doctor and Jessica Fletcher… (I ponder, drumming my fingers lightly on my chin)…
Although we’re relieved of the burden of believing that Perkins is the Mummy, he’s still an enigmatic character that could be included in any part of the overarching Promised Land / Nethersphere plot. There are stylistic elements similar to the ones in previous episodes, that suggest that the train is connected with this matter.
We flip back to Clara and Maisie sitting in a room. Clara has her wish – she’s safe, out of the action, and this is what it feels like… But it’s a golden opportunity to find out more and we learn that she doesn’t even think of him as a friend anymore. Clara isn’t willing to discuss beyond explaining it as they knocked about, traveling together, and this is a final goodbye to those times. She’s had a lot to consider over the weeks and this is perhaps the conclusion she’s drawn based on what can only have been an unimaginable amount of time and mental-energy spent thinking about it.
M: “Were the good times all like this?”
C: Laughs “Now that you mention it.”
It’s a moment of understanding where Clara is in her head. Their companionship has been action-packed, amusing, and at times dangerous, but they no longer really have the same kind of friendship they had before.
The Doctor on the other hand, has no time to naval gaze on Clara’s decision to end their association. With Professor Moorhouse and Chief Engineer Perkins, they review the footage of Mrs Pitt’s death in the carriage, confirming the mythic 66 seconds. Professor Moorhouse informs them that the Foretold monster is immortal, unstoppable, and un-killable.
The conversation with Clara and Maisie has clearly opened up where we catch the tail-end of a chat where Maisie agrees with Clara that the Doctor was wrong, high-handed, thoughtless and arrogant beyond belief. Maisie shoots down Clara’s belief that you can’t end things on a slammed door, saying that you can, that people do it all the time, but then acknowledging that sometimes you can’t. It’s useful for Clara to have the female companion to give her a mirror into which to reflect her thoughts. The Doctor is not great at emotional discussions as evidenced earlier, and although it could be considered a waste of Clara’s time sitting in a locked room the whole episode, perhaps this is the conversation that changes her mind… or perhaps makes her so confused that she lies.
Clara is experiencing a classic case of being torn between her head, and her heart.
The Doctor is still in Perkin’s cabin when he hears the morning bell and thinks to rouse Clara. Which if you think about it, is thoughtful considering he’s been a bit busy with mummy matters? He starts the conversation off on the assumption that she’s just woken up and tells her breakfast is going to be amazing but something interesting has cropped up, before she gets in an edgeways word that she’s trapped. He drops everything to find her.
He can’t open the door, so asks the computer to let him in.
“Call me Gus!”
“This door can only be opened by executive order.”
The Doctor attempts to sonic his way in, but it doesn’t appear to work on the outer door, Clara is stuck just down the hall from him, straightforward – it’s a train. He bangs on the door and they begin bickering about the interestingness of the trip again, but the sarcophagus door begins creaking open slowly, and quickly puts a stop to it.
The atmosphere in this episode is mummy-perfect. The narrow corridors, low roofs and long thin compartments are almost suffocating while the vast reaches of black-hole space (if I can call it that?) give us the sense of exactly how small everything is.
The lights dim, counter begins again, we’re aware of the time ticking down while several things happen – Clara discovers that the sarcophagus is empty – Captain Quell briefly arrests the Doctor (for all of thirty seconds) who hangs up the phone – but at least he can say, hand on heart that Clara was safe, with bubble-wrap.
The Foretold takes another victim, despite Captain Quell’s orders for the cursed man to follow orders and get up – can you say denial? Luckily, there’s a Doctor in his white coat nearby to proclaim the death, or Captain Quell might have gone all re-animator on us all. But to the Captain’s credit, he promises to stop looking the other way and the Doctor is freed to get on with the investigation.
The Doctor explains the scenario, there’s a monster and if anyone sees it they will have sixty-six seconds to live, but he points out that this is not the strangest aspect of the situation… He points out that there are experts in alien biology, mythology, and physics and they’d make the perfect team to analyse the problem, proposing that the trip has been arranged that way all along.
The Wizard of Oz was just a man behind the curtain pulling all the strings. The Doctor challenges whoever to come forward, the engines stop, the carriage is transformed into a white walled laboratory, and extra hard light holograms are removed, leaving only the living behind.
“And the façade drops away because what use are a bunch of scientists without a lab?”
Gus’s voice comes over the tannoy, psychotically cheerful. They’re informed that theya re expected to ascertain the Foretold’s true nature, probe for weaknesses with a view to capture, after which it’s abilities will be reverse-engineered. Stuck between a rock, and a hard place, much? Help us shut down the mummy so that we can shut you down with it and if you don’t help us, we’ll kill you, and even if you do help us we’ll kill you anyway. When in doubt, stall for time.
Glorious shots of the Orient Express in Space whipping across screens between scenes. It’s fun, adds impact, is atmospheric, thematic, wunderbar as the extension of space between stations is emphasised, with the train’s velocity. It’s beautiful, look at that!
If Gus is connected to the Nethersphere, and the Robot transformation activities (as explored in “Deep Breath” with the half-faced man, and the sheriff in “Robot of Sherwood” and before that the Autons, and the clockwork men in “Girl in the Fireplace” and …………….. – which may or may not be related) then being able to reverse engineer the Foretold might not be the best idea of all time.
The Doctor asks how the Mummy was brought on board and Gus informs them of the flag, a spotlight is shone on it as he explains that for some unknown reason the Mummy appears in its vicinity. Captain Quell walks forward to snatch the flag and throw it away, but finds out painfully that it has a force field around it.
“So, hurry up before it kills you.”
The mummy lurches forward, arm outstretched and Professor Moorcroft is the one seeing it this time while the countdown is ticking. He describes the Foretold as he sees it, saying it is not as impressive as he imagined, trying to think what the secret word is that’ll stop it. He wants to bargain for his life. In the last ten seconds of his life, he starts by offering his soul, all his sins, and all his possessions. Fatally, the Foretold declines.
“This is not a myth. This is real. Forget your superstitions. Tell us what you can see.”
The Doctor is so good now. He’s strong without Clara, decisive and has come into his regeneration. He completely owns the room and he is wholly believable. I still don’t think I’d travel with him yet, but there may come a time when I change my mind.
The sarcophagus is intended for the captured Foretold and Clara reports that this is not the first ship into which the Foretold was released and nobody has been successful. Gus is listening to the conversation and kills people to prove the point that the history is not to be discussed. What this does is lead the Doctor to an important question making the discovery that the Foretold is picking off the weakest, most ill passengers first.
Captain Quell admits he suffers from post trauma and nightmares as a result of being the sole survivor in battle. The Doctor demonstrates his wonderful bedside manner again, pointing out that while Quell dies, he can give them more information. On cue the lights dim and Perkins starts the clock again.
Almost feels out of focus, getting heavy just looking at it, shoots him, asks for Perkins to shut up, notes that the Mummy didn’t flinch at the bullets, the Foretold passes through the Doctor (hehe nice), Quell moves away and the Mummy teleports, and he thanks the Doctor before he goes, mentions hands on his head and then he’s gone.
“Well Doctor, I can’t tell if you’re a genius or just arrogant.”
“We’ll on a good day I’m both.”
The Doctor has an epiphany, realises that it’s technology keeping the Foretold alive. Calls it ancient tech – but I’m not sure what constitutes ancient tech for the Doctor – what’s he comparing it to? The Doctor notes that the Mummy has technology that leeches all corporeal energy right down to cellular level.
It’s not so much a whodunit as a howdiditdunit Between the Doctor and Perkins (Poirot and Hastings) they figure out that the Mummy changes phase, the energy transfer takes sixty-six seconds and the Doctor identifies that the Foretold’s technology takes the victim out of phase so it can drain their energy.
Perkins discovers who they suspect will be next and it’s Maisie. The Doctor calls Clara to get her to bring Maisie to the lab, and this time Gus doesn’t have a problem with that. Clara tries to get an assurance that he’ll save Maisie, but he refuses to give it.
“If it happens in there it’ll be a waste so bring her to us.”
The Doctor tells Clara to lie to her, tell her he can save her, just get her to them whatever it takes. An uncomfortable look passed over Perkins’s face as he hears the Doctor say this.
“I told you he’s a good man.”
Maisie arrives and the Doctor begins scanning her as Clara informs him there’s a force-field around the TARDIS, preventing escape. We then discover that the Doctor has been invited on this trip before with free tickets, mysterious summons and even had a phone call on the TARDIS number, and Clara gets annoyed because she knew that he’d come here because there was something beyond normal to deal with.
“You knew this was no relaxing break.”
This gives Clara the opportunity to have another go at him, accuses him of lying to her, and making her lie. She’s still processing Maisie possibly dying and the Doctor possibly letting her.
Perhaps inspired by the dread of listening to Clara complain about the outcome all the way home, the Doctor has a brainwave and picks up a device getting Maisie to focus. He harnesses it within himself and swaps phase-state with Maisie, and gets excited when he can finally see the monster coming toward him.
“I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”
In between the action of the mummy, there’s some further characterisation about Maisie – her gran really did poison her pony, and her father… well the Doctor just says he’s sorry about that, in between figuring out that the Foretold is a soldier and the artefact it appears near is a flag.
“That means you are a soldier, wounded in a forgotten war, thousands of years ago… filled you full of kit. State-of-the-art phase camouflage, personal teleporter… and all that tech inside you it just won’t let you die, will it? It won’t let the war end. It just won’t let you stop until the war is over.”
The Foretold moves into their common phase state, the Doctor relieves the soldier and it crumbles to dust. From the remains the Doctor retrieves the teleporter and begins working on it while air is removed from a train of unnecessary survivors, Gus is such a cheerful fellow about it all.
“My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Especially when he has a built in teleporter.”
The train explodes in space and the scene flips to a rocky beach where Clara is sleeping. She looks around and is confused by her surroundings. We don’t really know that the Doctor saved everyone. The Doctor tried hacking Gus to find out who set it up, resulting in the train blowing up.
Throughout the final stages of that epically amazing tale, Clara falls asleep (a bit like Bilbo Baggins at the end of the Hobbit), the Doctor fills her in, he dropped everyone off at the nearest civilised planet. When Clara asks him if he’s being honest, he flippantly suggests that he let them all suffocate in space. Clara asks him about his instruction to lie to Maisie, and he explains that he couldn’t let Gus know his plans.
This is a defining moment where we understand more about this complicated Time Lord. He hoped he could save people, but since he’d already lost Moorhouse and Quell, there was a chance that they’d lose Maisie too. Then he pointed out that it wouldn’t have stopped there, that he’d have kept on going until he beat it.
Perkins is in the TARDIS looking under the hood (so to speak) and comments that it’s quite a vehicle, but that the drive stacks need replacing. The Doctor offers him a job and he reluctantly declines, his mouth twitching a little. He leaves us with an enigmatic observation.
“That job could change a man”
“Yes it does. Frequently.”
Clara observes, perhaps she can relate to how Perkins feels. It’s an exciting life, but it comes with a cost that it has an impact on the normality of everything else. For whatever reason, Clara feels she needs to choose. Perhaps she’s worried she’s addicted, doesn’t understand the pull, or maybe she’s afraid of Who she’s becoming along the way.
“Do you love being the man making the impossible choice?”
Danny calls, he’s operating under the assumption that Clara’s going to end things and revert to a normal life with Danny (settling for second best?). The Doctor pretends he’s not listening, but it seems by the expression on his face that he is. Then Clara lies to the Doctor, it’s not an evasion or an omission, it’s a blatant lie. The Doctor is delighted at
Danny’s Clara’s change of heart and references the planet made entirely of shrubs again.
“Mummy on the Orient Express” is the eighth episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, written by Jamie Mathieson, and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. The episode stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, with Frank Skinner guest starring.
This was an amazing episode! Wow! This season just keeps getting better. There were so many elements to the story that enriched the telling, the detailed sets, the wonderful atmosphere. I could almost smell that train smoke. The monster was fantastic, lots of monster action means many victims, but that’s part of the murder-mystery genre.
This is the episode I’ve recommended to the elderly relatives who aren’t comfortable with the complexity of the series compared with how it was when they first started watching. There weren’t too many past references that I picked up, which although I enjoyed in the previous episodes, I feel that might have encumbered this one. There was enough going on.
This was the Doctor flying solo, up until now Clara has been the one that’s brought things back around, but as time passes and the Doctor is settling into his body, he’s operating with a lot more tact, taking time to explain things despite thinking that they’re obvious. Clara is important to him, sometimes I think there might be something more to his feelings based on his irrational aversion to Danny Pink because of the awkwardness that her talking to Danny in the Doctor’s company engenders. Other times its as if he can’t be bothered, he’s an enigma and he’s timeless, ageless and focused on whatever it is that catches his attention.
Clara’s behaviour confuses me a little. It’s as if by her lying to both of the men, both of whom aren’t likely to stand in the way of whatever decision she feels she ought to make, she’s indirectly admitting that she’s got something to feel guilty about if she makes a choice either way.