This story in a nutshell: The show is fond of these self-explanatory titles these days...
'I'm the Doctor and I will be your victim tonight. Are you my mummy?'
'Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones...but you still have to choose.'
* I may have mentioned it several times before but I just love stories set on trains. I couldn't explain what it is beyond the boyish obsession with transport, the urgency of drama taking place on a rapidly moving vehicle and the general atmosphere that comes with the clickety-clack of the wheels bouncing off the track. Trapping a bunch of characters in a confined space with a threat coming at them is hardly a new idea in Doctor Who (it was the Troughton eras bread and butter) but how sparkling is the notion of a Mummy savaging the passengers of the Orient Express that is worming its way through space? That's a purely Doctor Who notion that should get any fans toes tingling. The first time I spotted the train cart gliding through the stars and heading towards a nebula I clapped with excitement. The boldest, nuttiest setting for some time. Inside is pure 1930s and as we all know from experience that is where the BBC designers absolutely shine. Plush decoration, elegant costumes, subdued lighting, food and drink aplenty and even some catchy entertainment, the Orient Express is stunningly realised to be the height of luxury.
* Foxes version of Don't Stop Me Now is delightful. Doctor Who isn't usually the sort of show that has the time to play out an entire song within it's economic time frame and I would therefore suggest you check out the full song on YouTube which comes dressed with plenty of clips from this season. It's one of the most impressive trailers for Doctor Who I have ever seen.
* Decompressing the kitchen and sucking the staff out into space because the Doctor made a phone call? That is harsh. I proper kick in the gut for the Time Lord. In an era where it looked like nobody could die, Moffat has returned the show to it's roots of murdering innocents in creative ways. About damn time.
* The exquisitely shot and scored scene on the beach. One of the best Doctor/Clara moments, highlighted as such because it is followed by one of the worst.
* After heaping praise on the general look of this episode I have to admit I wasn't impressed by the lab set. It was over lit and reminded me a lot of 80s Who, offering no shadows for the mummy to hide in anymore.
* Who the frick was John Sessions' character? How can something that important to the plot (especially after the whole affair is exposed as a scientific expedition posing as a luxury trip) be conveniently left blank?
* Perhaps any explanation would have been a disappointment? Remember earlier in the season when I discussed the nature of horror and how the reasoning behind the unnatural occurrences often spoils the level of threat? That's exactly what happens here. A slavering zombie decked in mucky bandages stalking innocent victims. That's scary. A soldier of a war that we've never heard about re-animated for no good reason and convinced by the Doctor that the conflict is over. That's just puzzling. I'm not sure the situation is adequately explained at all but Capaldi talks with confidence and speed you might just be bewitched into thinking it all makes sense. I was left scratching my head as to how any of this was relevant. The Doctor says 'we surrender' and the mummy stops killing and is reduced to ashes? Worst soldier ever. Surely those that filled it 'full of kit' thought of that? Who modified it in the first place? And what was up with the 66 seconds malarkey? Did I miss the explanation for that? And who controlled Gus? Why did they want the mummy reverse engineered?
* Clara's off. She's definitely off. She's had a massive barney with the Doctor. She's had an adventure with him that practically serves as a coda to their adventures. She's resolved to leave the heartless man the Doctor has become and enjoy her relationship with Danny. Whilst it has held up the action at times this character arc for Clara has been woven into the season rather nicely, right back as far as Deep Breath where she began trying to understand who this man was again. This is an effective way of proving just how alien Capaldi's Doctor is, that he has alienated his companion enough to leave. And now she's off. Definitely off. Oh wait, no she isn't. In one of the most obscene moments of character reversal Clara decides actually she wants to keep hanging with the Doctor just because and never mind about the wobble that she had. What. The. Hell? The climax of Kill the Moon worked so well because the Doctor has been acting so callously, something he keeps up in this episode. To wipe away Clara's reaction to all this so glibly makes the whole journey we have been going on seem so pointless and it makes a mockery of the previous drama. Oh yeah, sorry, I was angry but I want to make it to the end of the season so everything is okay now. I was dumbfounded. Just at the point where Clara has started to exhibit some personality she is dialled back to her factory settings in the most unconvincing manner. Mind you if it came to a choice between travel with a callous bastard and a life with a funless maths teacher... Creating drama that you simply shrug off when it has done it's job? The whole thing feels off and utterly unnatural.
The Shallow Bit: How do they do it? Every time they give Jenna Coleman a makeover they somehow manages to make her look even more gorgeous than the last time. This time she is dressed for the period (mock 1930s). Anyone who is persuaded by the female form claiming that Coleman is the most gorgeous creature to have graced Doctor Who could quite possibly be telling the truth.
Result: 'To our last hurrah...' Another strong episode, albeit for completely different reasons to Kill the Moon. I was a little hesitant about Mummy on the Orient Express after my first viewing because I was so appalled by the climax - it is the reverse season six syndrome. Back then I was convinced that a handful of sub-par episodes were good because they ended on a humdinger of a cliffhanger that blew my mind away (The Almost People, A Good Man Goes to War). With Mummy you have a generally very engaging episode that reduces that frustratingly refuses to provide any decent answers and climaxes on a moment of character reversal that obliterates any character development for Clara in an instant. Like Flesh and Stone, an arc intrusion in the last scene threatens to leave a lingering feeling of disappointment in a piece that has so much to offer. Maddening. However I want to focus on the positives because this claustrophobic chiller is packed to the gills with them. A stylishly attired, captivating, occasionally genial and fascinating twelfth Doctor with ample opportunities for Capaldi to impress for one thing. A genuinely frightening monster with a catchy twist (gone in 66 seconds) for another. Setting the episode on a train scores it instant marks from me (its a childhood obsession I cannot shake) but the realisation of the setting deserves high praise too. You can see precisely why the Doctor chose this spot to say ta-ta to Clara. There are a handful of well-drawn characters to push the story along and the set pieces of the mummy stalking its victims are genuinely ghoulish. Director Paul Wilmshurst captures the stifling feeling that you cannot escape this nasty creation no matter what you try and do. For the first 40 minutes the episode juggles its plot, shocks and characters with real skill and it's only when it comes to wrapping everything up (hoho) that the narrative falters. Simply put, the answers are non-existent and make very little sense of what has gone before. As much as I can praise this story for getting so much spot on, I cannot offer full marks to a writer who dazzles with frights in the one hand but has no reasoning to back it up in the other. Funny, scary and engaging...but frustratingly kept from being absolutely top dollar: 8/10