So here we are at the midway point of the eighth season of revived Who. And what a ride it’s been. I’m not sure about anyone else but I feel like Capaldi’s first season as The Doctor has flown by and Jenna? Who’d have thought Clara would have developed into the character we’ve seen her become, especially in the last few episodes? Though The Doctor and Clara are most definitely not a couple in the romantic sense, their relationship so far has seen more ups and downs than we’ve seen with a companion in recent times. Following on from Clara’s angry, tearful tirade at the end of “Kill The Moon” (which I’m still trying to work through), we now see the couple onboard The Orient Express, which is hurtling through space. Oh, and there is an invisible mummy killing passengers. Plus Frank Skinner. Plenty to get through, so let’s tackle it, bandages and all.
The whole myth of someone dying within 66 seconds of the lights flickering is a good piece of writing, except it reminds me of that Adventure Time episode where Finn has to discover the murderer on the train in a similar whodunnit fashion. Anyway. It also matches the pace of the episode which needed to be kept fast, otherwise the plot would’ve become incredibly boring. I mean, they’re on a train. Something has to be keeping the plot rolling. Clara and The Doctor’s ‘final hurrah’ was kept out of things quite cleverly, until the end, which was another highlight of the writing of this episode. With all the rumours surrounding Coleman’s possible exit at the end of the season, I enjoyed that the viewer was led to focus on the story, the adventure, more than whether or not this companion would be exiting midway through.
Skinner as engineer Perkins is a great character and when The Doctor invited him to travel with him at the end of the episode, I was totally keen to see where they could have gone together. The rest of the guest cast in “Mummy on the Orient Express” was largely forgettable, if I’m honest. The storyline of The Foretold, while initially interesting, wound up being quite underwhelming, much like the events of “Curse of the Black Spot”. This episode was clearly evident that much of the story was being framed around Capaldi’s Time Lord’s manipulations, his cutthroat approach to solving issues and how he deals with the aftermath. Of course, following on from last week’s episode, wounds are clearly still fresh with Clara who once again, becomes complicit in The Doctor’s plan, even though she is against the lying and the clear leading of Maisie to what seems to be impending death. The way Coleman acts these scenes, you get why Clara wants out.
She’s no longer travelling with the floppy-haired swaggering man-child who would call her ‘My Clara’. She’s now got a man who doesn’t care if people die if it means leading them to a greater good. He takes risks which directly affect her and those who would otherwise be close friends and he doesn’t think twice about it.
You get why it all can get on top of Clara, especially when she’s trying to maintain a relationship outside of the TARDIS (can we also just make Danny a traveller too or get rid of him completely?). Which is why it felt like such a slap in the face when, after one quick phone call to her beloved and a quick chat about addiction, she’s apologised to an understandably confused Doctor and is back onboard as your adventure-ready companion. Really? In the course of two episodes, Clara’s gone from a woman who has made a strong, valid argument as to why travelling with The Doctor is dangerous and emotionally fracturing, to falling right back in the throes of what was rightly called ‘an addiction’. It was a moment where if you were a fan of Clara’s, you looked at her and uttered, ‘Come on, you’re better than that’. She’s now back to lying to both these men and we all know that it can’t end well. I can only hope this is a plot thread which is resolved or at least brought into the open soon because if not, Clara is going to fall further and further out of favour with fans.
In terms of The Doctor himself, it’s nice to see him finally softening and opening up, albeit we’re still only getting snippets of this here and there. I’m waiting for that big episode that’ll show his Doctor shattered emotionally, both Smith and Tennant before him had some beautiful moments where their range really became the star of the episode and considering Capaldi’s started off this strongly, I think there’s still so much viewers have yet to witness from him.
At this stage, I’ve enjoyed the way this season of Doctor Who has unfolded, but “Mummy on the Orient Express” was probably one of its weaker points so far. After “Kill the Moon” proved to be so full on and conversation-starting, this one fell short in many areas. Here’s hoping “Flatline” brings it back up to A-grade level and becomes less about what is now Clara’s affair with normalcy and The Doctor. Nobody likes a cheater.
REVIEW SCORE: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Doctor Who screens on ABCTV every Sunday at 7:30pm.