The first and easiest comparison to make between this week’s episode and the rest of Capaldi’s run comes in the form of the exciting-but-ultimately unimpressive Time Heist. Like Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express was a very conceptually driven episode with exciting premises and a mysterious puppeteer pulling the strings behind the scenes. However unlike Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express actually ends up coming through on the promise its title teases and when all is said and done, I think it’s Capaldi’s strongest classical adventure since Robot of Sherwood.
Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 8, ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’ Review
A callback to the hilarious final lines of Series 5 finale The Big Bang, Mummy on The Orient Express sees the Doctor and Clara attempt to end their partnership with one last (peaceful) adventure – only to find themselves dragged into danger when a supernatural and seemingly-unstoppable Mummy begins picking off members of the titular space-faring luxury train. It’s a fun premise but unlike previous missteps like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, the episode does a good job of not getting too caught up in the premise alone, working very hard to convince viewers that theres more to this adventure than just its fun title.
In spite of Clara’s commitment to ‘one last hurrah’, most of Mummy on the Orient Express sees her locked in a cell musing and contemplating what exactly travelling with the Doctor means to her. The downside to this ‘bechdellian’ situation is that her predicament felt very secondary to the main plot of the episode but the upside is that it made her big decision at the end – to lie to Danny and continue travelling with The Doctor – all the more effective as a story beat.
Her absence also gave Capaldi a lot of room to shine and once again, it saw him challenge our expectations and assumptions about who and what it means to be The Doctor. His performance did a great job of conveying the stark alien detachment from the rest of the passengers. To him, they were less of people and more of just tools and information-pumps he could use to understand and overcome his supernatural adversity. It was good to see the moral surrounding the Doctor’s detachment reiterated in the final moments of the episode where he brushed off Clara’s attempts to dismiss and justify the way he acted – a scene that’s sure to be a wake-up call for Doctor-apologists.
Speaking of the mummy, I think this episode had some of the most on-point special effects of this latest series. The Mummy itself was pretty well animated and it had a very terrifyingly unreal quality to it. Like many of this series creatures, I don’t expect them to make a return visit but a ‘Planet of the Mummies’ affair could be fun in theory.
The visual hook of the clock appearing on the corner of the screen every time the Mummy appeared did feel a little more suited to Moffat’s other ventures that traditional Who but I didn’t mind it too much. Additionally, the costuming and set design was pretty impressive and the flip-over to a more utilitarian aesthetic halfway through was handled pretty well.
Overall, there was a lot to like about Mummy on the Orient Express, it had a fun monster, showed us a different side to the Doctor and took Clara’s relationship with him in an interesting direction.