‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ started as a cool idea, a possibly undead creature murdering seemingly random victims in a 66 second time period. Ultimately, however, even with a monster that has a strong visual presence, this didn’t feel like a standalone episode, instead it was one that felt like it’s intention was to fill in the main storyline’s obsession with the Doctor and Clara’s relationship rumbles, a purpose that it just felt flat on.
The Orient Express has been a setting many fans have been desperate to see for years, and here it came…in space. The whole ‘in space’ thing doesn’t really contribute to the events at all and feels much more like a gimmick to play off. However, the eventual mystery behind the AI Gus and the more sinister nature of the train and its predecessors may provide an interesting future narrative.
The aesthetic within the space train is actually surprisingly refreshing. For a season with a succinct lack of historically based episodes, one that hearkens back to the roaring 20s while still placing us forward in time definitely more than welcome. Additionally, the 20s style cover of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ upon the Doctor and Clara’s initial entrance was a nice little touch that said a lot about the episode melding of past, present, and future.
Even though this episode worked, it only just about managed it. Peter Capaldi does shine again, with Clara’s role slightly diminished but much more genuine and down to earth than usual. The drama caused by last week’s episode still has some fresh relevance and the wounds are apparent- this week’s episode being their apparent last adventure. This whole idea though is promptly, disappointingly, and very suddenly just remedied at the end of the episode and was a massive let down considering the potential developments it could have brought to their relationship.
Another obscure, and frankly mystifying choice for this episode was the cramming in of guest actors, especially in the case of Frank Skinner. Although, it’s easy to see that these recognisable faces would be fun for family viewers, it felt like they were just doing it so they could get a reliable amount of viewers. Doctor Who usually handles guest actors well; it may have just taken the wrong approach this week.
It wasn’t an absolutely awful episode though. Instead of having a mysterious monster, it had a mysterious train and a mysterious method. The process of the Doctor and Clara figuring out the train was some sort of experimentation for discovering the true nature of the ‘Foretold’ it mixed up the usual formula of figuring out the ominous threat in the background. Even though the death sequences for the Foretold’s victims was repetitive, it became interesting as soon as the Doctor started utilising the sequences in order to find out more about the creature. It highlighted a less morally obligated Doctor that Peter Capaldi has moved away from since the days of his introduction.
Generally, there was a lot to like about the episode. The Orient Express’s placement in space is a bit annoying and the annoying finale to Clara’s questioning of her ongoing travels with the Doctor just falls flat. The monster, the exploration of the moral obligations of the Doctor, as well as the excellent use and execution of the 1920s aesthetic really pick the episode up. It’s nowhere near as strong as other episodes have been, but it was still a typically enjoyable episode.