Thoughts on: Mummy on the Orient Express

I think we’ve found our next fan-favourite writer. In his debut script for Doctor Who, Jamie Mathieson has delivered an absolute corker, an undoubted classic in my eyes. Mummy on the Orient Express is 45 minutes of truly inspired writing, production and acting, but mostly writing. I’m actually finding it difficult to put into words how much I adore this script, so good it is. Just to give you an idea, it’s one of the few episodes I think I could watch again, and again, and again, and again… I’ve just seen it (for the fourth time in total, by my reckoning) and I’m already itching to watch it again. I honestly think it’s on par with Blink as as close to a perfect single episode story it’s possible to come. I’m very excited about any writer who can have that effect on me on their first writing stint for the show; the last Doctor Who writer who was able to do it was a bloke—you may have heard of him—called Steven Moffat, whom I’ve heard has done rather well for himself since.

Mummy is another episode that has you totally absorbed for its duration; it’s positively dripping with suspense and conspiracy and urgency throughout, as the plot gradually thickens, the layers of the mystery are stripped away, and the deaths pile up, one after another. It has the compelling intrigue of an Agatha Christie murder mystery transplanted into a bewitching sci-fi setting. I often complain that 45 minutes is too short a time-frame for the average Doctor Who story, that it doesn’t give the various elements of a story enough time to breathe, resulting in stories that too often feel rushed, but Mummy utilises the 45-minute time-frame perfectly; for a script like this, where the Doctor is under intense time pressure to stop the deaths, the kind of urgency created by the 45-minute time-frame actually enhances the story. Moreover, the monster of the piece, the Foretold, was horrifyingly realised, a truly eye-poppingly gruesome menace, the hysterical reactions of its victims entirely believable. It was really a triumph of design, and probably the scariest new monster since the Silence.

Even without the character elements of this story, the episode would be an undoubted classic, but, even doing as much as it is, the episode still finds time to weave in the dramatic fallout from the end of the previous episode, as well as quality character development for both Clara and the Doctor. Clara’s uncertainty about how she felt about the Doctor and what she wanted her relationship with him to be, and her increasingly keen regret over her decision to part ways with the Doctor, was all written really well, and was in many ways as compelling a part of this episode as the Foretold mystery. It’s also increasingly clear that Clara has become as big an adrenaline junkie, as addicted to the dangerous life in the Tardis, as the Doctor is—and there’s a distinctly ominous note in the elation of Clara’s sudden change of heart at the end; there’s the sense that this can’t end well for Clara.

No doubt informing, at least in part, Clara’s decision to stay with the Doctor was her coming to understand her friend’s new self more in this episode. The scene on the beach at the end was a magical, cathartic little character moment for the Doctor and Clara. Clara came to see that her new Doctor did things very differently to the Doctor she knew, but that he was, essentially, the same man, driven by the same desire to save people as her old Doctor. He may be prepared to do things his predecessor wouldn’t in pursuit of that end, but ultimately the Doctor saves people, as he always has. And the Doctor’s day-saving was particularly spectacular this time. I think this is the first time this series we’ve seen the Doctor save the day in as emphatic and heroic a fashion as we’re used to, and, gosh, wasn’t the wait totally worth it? As much as I was enjoying his portrayal, I’ll admit it took me a while at first to accept Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, but I think it was at the moment the Doctor confronted the Foretold, saved Maisie and the rest, that I finally saw Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

Some final thoughts. There are a lot of little bits and bobs knocking about this episode that are worth spending a few words on. Firstly, it was all a real visual treat. I’ve already commented on how fantastic the Foretold looked, but the Orient Express and all the period elements were deliciously sumptuous. With the inclusion of the Foretold, it all actually had a very Hinchcliffe-esque Gothic horror feel to it. And Clara looked just gorgeous dolled up as a flapper. Capaldi was on point, delivering another masterclass of acting; and he looked just fab in this episode, as well, in his tux, and sporting an elaborate Hartnell-style ribbon bow-tie (Eleven would be proud). The Doctor’s offer of jelly babies to Professor Moorhouse was also much appreciated (I would have loved for him to have said “Would you like a jelly baby?” though). I thought Perkins was a brilliant character, played wonderfully by Frank Skinner, a huge Whovian himself who’s clearly just happy to be there. I’m itching to find out more about Gus. Finally, the musical accompaniment of Foxes was nice jazzy inclusion, adding stylishly to the ambiance of the setting.

Rating: 10/10.