Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Doctor Who Season 8 Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express

The cold open on this was really solid. Journey to the Center of the Dalek was my previous high water mark, and this blows it away. In rapid succession we get a close up on an old timey analog clock tickers, a flickering light, and a hissing mummy, followed by a stopwatch. This was very nearly perfect in establishing the elements in play for this episode.

The mummy then advances through a train towards an old woman, who is the only one who can see it, and kills her at the end of the 66 seconds. Very stylishly done.

She dies, we see the train is actually flying through space,

Back in my day, Astrotrains transformed into robots!
 and credits.

The Doctor is taking Clara on one last hurrah before she quits traveling with him, and Jenna Coleman is normally a very attractive woman, she's stunning here.Unfortunately, this scene is marred by the way the Doctor treats Clara.

The Doctor: You're doing it again.
Clara: Doing what?
The Doctor: The smile.
Clara: Yeah, I'm smiling.
The Doctor: Yes, the sad smile. It's a smile, but you're sad. It's confusing, it's like two emotions at once. It's like you're malfunctioning.
Clara: Sorry.

And she actually lowers her eyes at this point. I don't think the writers understand how emotional abusive the Doctor's behavior is. They don't understand that Clara is the victim, and like a lot of victims of abuse, she returns to the abuser because he gives her something she needs (or thinks she needs). Ugh.

They begin investigating the murders, the Doctor on his own, then with the ship's engineer, Perkins. Perkins is an interesting fellow, maybe more than he seems. Clara meets up with Maisie, the dead woman's granddaughter, and they break into a secure area with a sarcophagus, before being locked in.

"Oh, snap!"
Meanwhile the Doctor chats with Emil Moorhouse, Professor of Alien Mythology. and I think that a Professor of Alien Mythology is going to be my next Delta Green character. The Doctor offers him some jelly babies. They discuss the Foretold, the Mummy. During their conversation, the Mummy kills a cook.

Masie and Clara have a conversation about Masie's grandmother. Meanwhile, the Doctor begins confronting the Captain for information, but the Captain sticks to protocol. As the Doctor leaves the Captain's room, Perkins is waiting.

Perkins:  Passenger manifest, plan of the train, and a list of stops for the last six months.
Doctor:  Quick work, Perkins.  Maybe too quick.
Perkins:  Yes, sir.  I’m obviously the mummy.  Or perhaps I was already looking into this.

Clara and Maisie then talk about Clara's relationship with the Doctor. The Doctor, Perkins and Moorhouse examine the footage of the death, and find it consisitant with the myths.

Moorhouse:  In all of the accounts conventional weapons have no effect on the Foretold.  It’s immortal, unstoppable … un-killable.
Perkins:  Can we get a new expert?

Man, this episode is full of great lines. The Doctor calls Clara, she tells him that she's trapped, he goes to rescue her, but the sonic screwdriver won't work. He asks the computer, who prefers to be called Gus, but Gus refuses to open the door. The lights flicker again, the sarcophusgus opens, but is empty save for bubble wrap, and the Captain arrives and arrests the Doctor and takes him away while the countdown runs in the corner of the screen.

As they take away the Doctor, he asks the Captain how many people have to die before he stops looking the other way. The Foretold kills another person, right in front of the Captain and the Doctor.  The Captain uncuffs him and says, "It turns out it’s three.  The amount of people that had to die before I stopped looking the other way." I liked that a lot too.

The Doctor then announces his deduction, that the passengers have all been unwittingly assembled for the purposes of studying the Foretold. The period decor drops, revealing advanced scientific equipment. Gus addresses the crew, confirming the Doctor's conclusions, and telling them to get hustling if they want to live. The lights flicker, and this time Professor can see the Mummy. The Doctor tells him to start describing the monster, eventually leading to this exchange.

Professor Moorhouse: I don't know what you want me to tell you!
The Doctor: Listen to me. You can see this thing, we can't. Tell us what you can see. Even the smallest detail might help us save the next one.
Professor Moorhouse: The next one? You mean, you can't save me?
The Doctor: Well, that is implied, isn't it? Yes, this is probably the end for you. But make it count! Details, please.

The Doctor calls Clara, but Gus coerces him to hang out, by ejecting the kitchen staff. They get back to work, eventually figuring out that the Foretold picks out its victims by targeting the weakest. The Mummy attacks again, this time killing the Captain. He fires at it, saying "What kind of soldier would I be, dying with bullets in my gun?" I like this whole part, because the Doctor is constantly experimenting, gathering data, telling the Captain what to do, and the Captain does it, giving back a constant stream of information.

The Doctor and Perkins conclude that the Mummy kills by phase transfer, which takes about 66 seconds, and further, Masie will be the next victim. The Doctor convinces Gus to release the pair.

As they're walking back, Clara sees the TARDIS, but it's protected by a force field that won't let them enter. They talk, and the Doctor admits that he knew something was up, because Gus had tried to lure him to the previous cruises as an expert. Clara is understandably outraged, but the Mummy shows up to defuse the situation.

The Doctor engages in a bit of jiggery-pokery to delay it, and after asking it "Are you  my Mummy?",  he concludes it was a soldier from an ancient war, and further, the magic code word to destroy it, "We surrender." It's worth noting that he treated this soldier with more respect that he has any other soldier this season.

Gus is pleased, but the services of the crew are no longer necessary, so he begins outgassing all the air in the cars into space. However, the Doctor rewires the Mummy's portable teleporter to send everyone to the TARDIS before dropping them at the nearest civilized planet. Last quote of the post.

Clara So you saved everyone?
Doctor:  No, I just saved you and let everyone else suffocate.  Ha ha ha.  Yeah, this is just my cover story.

I like that a lot, particularly since we only see one crew member afterward. (Perkins, and the Doctor offers him a job Doctorin' the TARDIS

but Perkins declines.

Unfortunately, we end on a the low note of the relationship B story. Within the TARDIS, Clara is talking to Danny, who reminds her that the Doctor is not her boyfriend, and asking if she broke up with him. She tells him that she did, and hangs up, then when the Doctor asks what Mr. Pink said, "He's totally fine with it. Show me the planets!" That's a shitty thing to do to everyone involved, and it really does mar the ending.

Overall, I liked it a lot, except for the relationship parts. I liked how their understanding of the creature grew with each discovery they made. This is the kind of grand, fantastic, faintly absurd epic that only Doctor Who can tell.

1 comment:

  1. I think I tend to like the Base Under Siege episodes of Doctor Who, because the threat is more intimate, and more real. Some people died, as they usually do in this kind of episode. In the Stolen Earth/Journey's End, I felt *pretty confident* that the Daleks weren't going to wipe out all of multiversal existence, but I really didn't know which characters would live or die here, right up until the end.