Saturday, 11 October 2014

Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express

"Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose."

What a brilliant episode. This script from newcomer Jamie Mathieson has everything: a brilliant scary premise; a solid plot with a satisfying resolution; and some satisfying character development for both the Doctor and Clara.

The whole thing looks good, too. The Mummy looks amazing, by far the scariest monster we've seen for ages, and it looks as though this was done by good use of prosthetics, rather than the recent overuse of CGI. Good. The 1920s sets and costumes are fantastic, of course, but you expect that with the BBC. The cast is, again, superb, with Frank Skinner standing out (and I noticed, as Mrs Pitt in the pre-credits sequence, Janet Halfrey from The Curse of Fenric). And the nice metatextual touch of having the 66 seconds countdown appear stylishly onscreen as the Foretold bears down upon its victim is not only brilliant but enhances the fear factor hugely.

Every beat of the plot is perfect, with revelation after revelation. The overall shape of the plot is satisfying and, for me, far from predictable. Even the fact that the premise of the story was mentioned by Matt Smith at the end of The Big Bang is satisfactorily explained, and simultaneously fulfils a nice little character point between the Doctor and Clara.

I noticed, though, that the ultimate identity of "Gus" is left as a mystery...

Clara is still upset with the Doctor, and intends this to be her last trip with him. The first scene between them has them speaking to each other but, McLuhan-like, not communicating, and this is reflected in their phone conversation later in the episode.

The Doctor's cleverness is well and truly highlighted here, but insensitive bedside manner, his alien Aspergers tendencies meaning he just doesn't "get" feelings or small talk, is foregrounded here as never before. Several times this season we've seen him calmly telling people that he can't save them but he wants them to do something for him while they're dying so he can save others later. Here we have a premise where he does that again and again and again.

And yet...just when he's about to do the same to Maisie he does something different, behaving like a true hero and taking her place, defeating the monster in 66 seconds ("Are you my mummy?") while being incredibly Doctorish. Clara warms to this, and chooses to believe that the Doctor was only choosing to seem heartless for Gus' sake. And she sees, interestingly, that he's probably addicted to peril. 

For the moment, Clara is mollified enough (and Danny understanding enough) for her to keep travelling with the Doctor. I don't think the rift is even close to permanently healed, though. And I'm sure that the Doctor's insensitivity is something set up to be slowly developed in the way Colin Baker's Doctor was originally supposed to.

The future looks interesting. But, here and now, this is an outstanding piece of television.

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