Doctor Who Recap: “Mummy on the Orient Express”

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So Clara was bluffing. She’s not actually ready to quit the Doctor. She may know quitting would be a good idea. She may be planning to quit, at some point in the near future. (Or the distant past, if that’s where she finds herself.) But she can’t go cold turkey. And as this week’s episode made clear, time-travel is an addiction.

As a last hurrah, Clara and the Doctor step aboard a star-bound version of the Orient Express. It’s got it all: ladies in flapper dresses, sultry jazz singers (i.e. Foxes), fine meals. Oh, and a teleporting mummy who kills its victims 66 seconds after appearing out of nowhere. Here’s the hitch: only the mummy’s victim can actually see it. Which initially makes it very hard to convince the train’s captain that any funny business is going on.

At first, even the Doctor and Clara aren’t sure. But after several passengers meet the mummy’s chilly stare, they can’t resist getting involved. This episode is an open homage to Agatha Christie, whose mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express was published in 1934. Doctor Who revives some of the basic details of Christie’s tale: there’s a murder in a fancy place, and it needs a debonair detective to solve it. Though ultimately, the Doctor is more Einstein than Poirot: a bit of sleuthing proves he and Clara are not, in fact, aboard a relaxing cruise, but in the middle of a lab experiment. Someone has placed them there—the Doctor, along with several experts in alien mythology—with the aim of learning what makes the mummy tick. Literally: there’s a ticking countdown whenever this bandaged bad guy arrives on the scene.

This was kind of an easy one for the Doctor. It took a little redirection, but he quickly learned that the mummy was a fallen soldier. One “I surrender” and it and burst into ash. More complicated are his ongoing squabbles with Clara. To make the redirection happen, he had to use Clara’s new friend Maisy as bait. And to get Maisy to agree, he made Clara lie: she told Maisy the Doctor could save her, but he wasn’t sure. Clara is okay with dishonesty under duress. But when she learns that the Doctor probably knew there was trouble on the Orient Express—though he told Clara it was a vacation—she is furious. How could he lie again after their beef on the moon? But this Doctor, as we learned last week, cannot be trusted. His final goal may be decent—i.e. getting rid of the mummy—but his means to an end operate on flexible morality.

And it’s rubbing off on Clara. At the end of the episode, she decides time/space travel is just too sweet to give up. So she lies to both Danny and the Doctor. She tells Danny it’s over with the Doctor, and she tells the Doctor that Danny is cool with it not being over. This is not the first a companion has lied to their loved one: deception almost goes with the territory if you want to hang in the TARDIS. Lying to the Doctor, on the other hand, is more rare. My hunch says this one can see right through it.

And if the Doctor wasn’t already suspicious enough of Danny, this week’s encounter with the mummy/soldier won’t help things. Another soldier, messing things up. Again, it would be great to have some clarification on why the Doctor has such a hate-on for soldiers this season. Do they not apply enough individual thinking? Is it because they kill? It seems unlike the Doctor to be unable to see past a person’s profession to the individual under the gauze.

And the question remains: who lured the Doctor to the Orient Express? Missy, probably. Whoever that actually is.