TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E8: Mummy on the Orient Express

I’ll be honest, I sighed a little at the trail for this episode, the first of two by Being Human’s Jamie Mathieson. The title is great. But on top of the potential for horror, we’re shown that the Orient Express … is in Space. With Frank Skinner. Also somebody I should apparently know about called “Foxes”. These gimmicks generally fall a bit flat for me. Maybe this is the exception? Read on to find out.

 

 

The Doctor is on the most beautiful train in history, speeding among the stars of the future. But a deadly creature is stalking the passengers. Once you see the horrifying mummy, you only have 66 seconds to live. No exceptions, no reprieve. As the Doctor races against the clock, he is seen at his deadliest and most ruthless.

Will he work out how to defeat the mummy? Start the clock!

Despite the gimmick, the general premise here is quite solid. Following last week’s angry resolution, The Doctor and Clara head off for one “farewell” trip. The Doctor decides to take Clara on the Orient Express. In space. It just so happens (and the writer cleverly makes the point later that their arrival isn’t entirely a coincidence) that passengers on the train are being mysteriously killed by a Mummified creature that only the doomed can see.

I’ll admit that I was all set up to completely dislike this episode. A guest star who’s a comedian. Another who’s a singer, and a gimmicky setting. I was mainly wrong. The plot takes an unexpected turn half way through that added a further layer to the events which I enjoyed. The premise of an alien mythology being true is one that is familiar but well realised – a Mummy is a great choice of creature as it fits the 1920s feel of the setting perfectly and is a believable alien legend. There are many humanoid creatures in the Doctor Who universe and it makes sense that mummification would be a practice on some worlds.

The plot isn’t perfect and suffers from a (in my opinion) massive leap of logic by our hero at the resolution that softened my enjoyment somewhat. All of guest characters this week were somewhat two dimensional. Skinner played the canny engineer well enough, but there was little substance to be brought to the role. Another of the guest roles (Daisy Beaumont as Maisie) seemed as if she had a whole sub-plot removed. I thought this character would be far more involved with the story than she ultimately was. That said, there was nothing inherently bad about the characters and they were certainly not quite the caricatures we have seen in previous episodes.

Paul Wilmshurst’s direction was well pitched. There was a feeling of movement throughout the episode which helped sell the train-based setting and the scenes in which the eponymous mummy appeared were well shot, showing three perspectives of the event. One element I thought that detracted from the effect was the inclusion of a timer whenever the creature appeared. While intended to add an element of inevitable tension to the proceedings, for me this pulled me out of the story. It’s the same effect as having a very visible Heads Up Display in a video game – the viewer can’t fully immerse themselves in events.

The visual design was excellent – the sets and costumes looked superb, lending a period feel that contrasted nicely with the future setting. The occasional glimpse of future technology looked delightfully anachronistic. Finally, the Mummy creature itself was everything a mummy should be. It didn’t seem quite human at all – being taller and (it may be my imagination here) with a larger jaw than seemed natural. The decaying bandages and glimpses of decaying flesh beneath was very well executed indeed.

This is one of those episodes that is difficult to praise and difficult to criticise. On the whole it is a perfectly fine piece of television and an acceptable entry to the Doctor Who franchise. I may be being tempered by the fact that I expected it to be one of the disasters of this series or perhaps that expectation is making me feel more positively about precisely it because it didn’t disappoint as I expected it to.

Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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