Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 8: Mummy on the Orient Express

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. With jelly babies and Easter eggs WG reviews Mummy on the Orient Express...

Mummy on the Orient Express was an episode title that didn’t inspire a deal of confidence. It sounds like it should have slotted in with the Dinosaurs on a Pirate Ship phase a couple of years back, though if the old Target novels were still around, this would probably be called Doctor Who and the Foretold by the time it reached WH Smith. After repeat viewings, I’m struggling to find fault with it. Sure, it is pretty much Doctor Who-by-numbers, but after last week’s unsatisfactory goings-on, it was a glorious return to top form. I was sold from the opening scene, with Janet Henfrey’s Mrs Pitt falling victim to the titular mummy. Henfrey was one of a terrific supporting cast in one of my favourite Doctor Who stories from the 1980s, The Curse of Fenric, playing a very similar character and falling victim to vampires. It’s a shame she wasn’t cast in Tooth and Claw, she’d have the full set now.

With Tom Baker references all over the shop (jelly babies in the cigarette box, The Doctor’s conversation with himself), it’d be easy to imagine this story slotting in anywhere in season 13 or 14.

Those were days when every egg was a bird for Doctor Who, and this season has been, in the main, very much of that standard. Peter Capaldi has made this possible by becoming this generation’s Tom Baker, a technically brilliant actor playing a genuinely alien hero. I’d genuinely have marked this episode down if he hadn’t asked “are you my mummy” at some juncture, but of course he did, and he dropped that easter egg in as part of a minute’s work that served to underline the fact he doesn’t waste a single second of screen time.

Of course, a top notch murder mystery requires a strong supporting cast, and MotOE certainly has that. Having had his fingers burnt with the Katherine Jenkins casting, it is perhaps as well that the brilliant Foxes was left to do her day job by Steven Moffat. For every Catherine Tate, there is, sadly, a Lee Evans. With Who’s variable record on casting comic actors in mind I was unsure what to expect from Frank Skinner as Perkins, but his is a delightful, understated performance that just pips Keeley Hawes’ in Time Heist as the best guest star turn of the season so far. John Sessions joins Martin Sheen and Ian McKellen as the most underwhelming guest players in recent years, due to them not appearing on screen. Not that any of those three did anything wrong, it just strikes me as odd to hire such high-profile names, only to have them restricted to voice roles.

The opening titles threw a curve ball with Jenna Coleman’s name appearing; last week’s conclusion and the fact she hadn’t appeared in any of the trailers had clearly been a sneaky Moffat ruse to make us unsure if she’d appear. Clara’s explanation about why she’d chosen to leave The Doctor was met with a deliciously Sheldon Cooper-like response from our hero- “can I talk about the planets now?”, but only after an obscure Timelash reference. Does a Doctor/companion pairing get any better than this? Well, yes it does, right at the end of this very same episode. The beach scene leading to Clara finally seeing sense in the TARDIS is absolutely immaculate, the final shot of the two of them firing up the time rotor even better. I want these two in the TARDIS forever.

The sets and the Foretold itself were brilliantly realised, Michael Pickwoad’s work yet again outstanding. As for the newcomers, director Peter Wilmshurst pulled off some very neat tricks indeed, the on-screen clock and victims’ point of view shots were impressive, with the money shot being the Foretold passing through The Doctor; while Jamie Mathieson’s debut script was an absolute gem, auguring well for next week’s Flatline. He’s written The Doctor superbly, something we now know not all new writers are able to do. Perkins’ quip about being relieved pretty much summed up how I felt by the end, with the mid-season dip in form very much in the past. Season 34 is back on track, or hyperspace ribbons at least.

Image - BBC.

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