Doctor Who Recap
Mummy on the Orient Express
By Edwin Davies
October 20, 2014
The Doctor ultimately succeeds by figuring out that the Foretold is a long dead soldier who is being forced to kill by a faulty piece of technology, so he surrenders to it and ends the "war" that it has been fighting against the passengers. But that success can only come by making some (tragically literal) sacrifices. After saving everyone and escaping from the train (both of which happen off-screen in a necessarily quick but still abrupt bit of storytelling), The Doctor lays out his predicament, and in some ways underlines the terrible nobility of his actions, in one simple sentence: "Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose."
It's in this moment that "Mummy on the Orient Express" reveals itself to be the second part of a two-parter with "Kill the Moon", but not the kind of two-parter we're used to seeing on Doctor Who. The characters only make brief, vague references to the events of the previous episode, and none of the events from "Kill the Moon" directly impact the ones that occur here. They even establish that several weeks have passed between them. But in a thematic and character sense, that line about bad choices closes out an arc for Clara, one that allows her to better understand the responsibility that The Doctor has to take on to help people. She also had to choose between two potentially terrible options, and what she took for The Doctor's callousness may have just been an expression of how much he has internalised the need to make a decision, no matter how dire the consequences.
Taken individually, the two episodes make for a pair of strong, fun and interesting standalone adventures, but taken together they display an emotional intricacy that no two-parter has since "The Empty Child"/'The Doctor Dances" back in 2005. That's immensely good company, but these episodes earned their place alongside them.
- The Foretold itself was impressively and disgustingly designed. Everything from the torn bandages, to the suggestions of rotting skin and the painfully dragging foot made it genuinely scary to look at, even before you add in the stopwatch that accompanied its every appearance.
- The moment when it put its hand through The Doctor's face was also wonderfully creepy. The bigger effects in the episode - by which I mean the shots of the train moving through space - looked pretty ropey, but the relatively simple ones were incredibly effective.
- No scene in the last few years typifies the Moffat approach to the show more than The Doctor having 66 seconds to talk and think his way out of death. That's a situation where cramming as many words on to the page as possible really comes in handy.
- Probably the best moment in the episode - though there is a lot of competition - comes in the scene where Clara reiterates her desire not to travel with The Doctor again, then talks about how they'll still see each other. Capaldi's face in that instant really conveyed The Doctor's sadness at realising that Clara doesn't understand how their relationship is meant to work. If you stop traveling with The Doctor, he's not going to just come around for tea.
- "Hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone you don't like."
- "I can't tell if you're a genius or just incredibly arrogant."
"On a good day, I'm both."
- The revelation that the Foretold is a dead soldier (and, more importantly, the respectful way in which The Doctor addressed it) reinforced how weird and out-of-place his anti-soldier rhetoric was in "The Caretaker". Unless The Doctor believes that the only good soldier is a dead soldier, it really looks as if the show was struggling to come up with an extra reason for him to hate Danny.