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article imageReview: Doctor Who on the Orient-Express (VIDEOS)

By Mathew Wace Peck     Oct 14, 2014 in Entertainment
Season 8, Episode 8, the highly anticipated “Mummy on the Orient Express” has now aired. Was it any good? And, did it live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
For some time prior to transmission, Mummy on the Orient Express had been described as possibly one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who ever; with all of the early television trailers of the series omitting to include the story’s monster, a rather gruesome-looking emaciated mummy (in reality, a being known as the Foretold). In the episode:
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’s seen at his deadliest and most ruthless. Will he work out how to defeat the Mummy? Start the clock!
Appropriately, the adventure was screened between 8.35 and 9.20 p.m. — the latest time the series has ever been broadcast on first screening in the UK — but was the episode the scariest ever?
“Are you my mummy?”
I don’t know. Certainly, I found the mummy creepy, and I’m sure plenty of younger viewers watching would have been scared by it.
Also, there was far less humour than many of the episodes have experienced this year. There were two exceptions that stood out, however — both of which were subtly delivered, in my opinion. First up saw the Doctor, without a word, opening a cigarette case, only for it to contain not cigarettes but jelly babies, the confectionery of choice of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
The second was when the Doctor, facing down the mummy (a.k.a. the aforementioned Foretold), asked — in retrospect, rather obviously — “Are you my mummy?”, a line used to chilling effect by the little boy in Moffat’s first Doctor Who TV script almost a decade ago, in the Christopher Eccleston-starring two-parter, The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances.
Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Moffat has re-used this particular line — or, at least, an approximation of it. For, in 2007, in the BBC drama series Jekyll, its star, James Nesbit as Tom Jackman, at one point asked of his alter ego, Hyde, “Are you my daddy?”
The Doctor and Clara were on board the Orient-Express, for one last hurrah!, Clara having decided that she didn’t want to travel with the Time Lord any more. This being Doctor Who, though, this Orient-Express turned out to be a space-train!
However, what was supposed to be a holiday, turns out to be another dangerous adventure for the time-travelling duo when they come face to face with the mummy of the title. Otherwise known as the Foretold, the mummy is a supernatural being who claims its victim 66 seconds after they clap eyes on it.
Who's Who?
Joining Peter Capaldi (the Doctor) and Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) this time were guest stars Christopher Villiers, David Bamber, Foxes and Frank Skinner. Meanwhile, Samuel Anderson — who has been playing Clara’s new love interest, Danny Pink throughout this season — was relegated to just a couple of small scenes, speaking to “the Impossible Girl” on the phone.
Foxes' part in the show was earlier reported as being the singer’s acting debut. However, in the event, that description seemed a little inaccurate, given that her sole appearance required no actual dialogue other than to sing; which, nonetheless, was very good.
All of the assembled scientists — bar Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) himself, of course — were obviously extras, as they, like Foxes, had no dialogue. Committed Who fans will know that Villiers has been in Doctor Who before, playing Hugh in The King’s Demons, a 1983 serial that starred Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. Also returning to the series was Janet Henfrey — here playing the Foretold’s first victim Mrs Pitt — who, in 1989, appeared alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor in the four-part serial The Curse of Fenric.
As for Bamber, surprisingly, Mummy is his first foray into the Who universe, despite the actor having been oft-mentioned as a possible Doctor himself.
But what of Frank Skinner? Having been peripherally aware of him for a number of years, and apart from his small part in one of last year's Doctor Who specials (The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot), I’ve never actually watched anything he’s appeared in — most of his TV appearances, seemingly, being for things such as Room 101 and Fantasy Football, which are not really my cup of tea. And, despite his being a stand-up of some repute, I must confess to never having seen his act either.
So it was with some ambivalence that I approached the news earlier this year of his casting. I need not have been concerned, however, as, for my money, his part as the Orient-Express’s Chief Engineer Perkins was an understated delight.
All aboard the TARDIS … or, not!
Last week, KpopSt*rz described Skinner's character as possibly a one-off Doctor Who companion; and my only real quibble with the adventure itself, is that Perkins declined the Doctor’s offer at the end of the episode to stay aboard the TARDIS and effect repairs … for the time (and relative dimension in space) being, at least.
Am I the only one who thinks it would have been fun to have a companion who spent much of his time aboard the TARDIS out of sight in the engine room, popping up from time to time, to report on how his repairs were going?
It struck me as a particularly cruel scene to give Skinner, given that he’s as much a die-hard fan of the series as Capaldi himself and would, no doubt, have jumped at the opportunity.
And talking of Capaldi’s credentials as a bona-fide Doctor Who fan, the Scottish actor recently appeared on the Graham Norton Show, whereupon he was subjected to having to relive his most embarrassing Doctor Who Fan Club letters. Courtesy of BBC America, see him squirm in the following video:
Mummy on the Orient Express was written by a new writer to Doctor Who: Jamie Mathieson (ALT). However, this isn’t his first script for the show. That would be Flatline, as Mathieson explained to Benjamin Cook (Tofu) for Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), recently.
“I’d written Flatline first […] and then I got a phone call [from the Doctor Who production office], saying, ‘Got something to offer you. Do you want to do another episode?”
Mathieson confirmed to DWM that the title — Mummy on the Orient Express — which itself is based on the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot novel, Murder on the Orient Express, was the idea of Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat.
Flatline, then, will have its television premiere next weekend. According to the official synopsis, Clara, separated from the Doctor, “discovers a new menace from another dimension. But how do you hide when even the walls are no protection?
“With people to save and the Doctor trapped, Clara comes up against an enemy that exists beyond human perception.”
As has become the norm in the UK for this season now, Flatline will be followed immediately afterwards by the episode’s accompanying edition of Doctor Who Extra, the albeit-in-name Doctor Who Confidential making-of documentary series.
Season 8 of Doctor Who — Capaldi’s first in the role — continues throughout October before taking a short break. The show will then be back on TV screens for its now regular Christmas special — Capaldi’s first but the tenth such since 2005 — which is currently in production.
Filming of Season 9 is then scheduled to begin next January, for transmission later in 2015, which is, incidentally, the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who’s full-time return to television. Whether or not the BBC are planning an anniversary special à la 2013’s 50th-anniversay special, The Day of the Doctor, is still not known; but, given the former’s world-wide success, both on television and in the cinemas, it must surely remain — fingers crossed! — a distinct possibility.
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