The Orient Express in space, a mummy only the soon to be deceased can see on the rampage and a carriage load of scientists who do very little: it can only be an episode of Doctor Who.
The episode kicked off with the death of an old lady and ratcheted up a fair old body count as it progressed. However, a high body count alone doesn’t equate to a tense thriller and this lack of real menace is mainly where ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ fell short. The mystery as to what on earth was going on with a shuffling mummy that appears for sixty six seconds before indian head massaging its victim to death was fairly intriguing but, as is becoming a habit in this series, was too quickly resolved too late into the episode. It felt like there was an awful lot of build up for little in the way of pay off; half of the escape from the train (space train, don’t you know) happened off screen. And essentially, The Doctor solved the whole thing himself in a sixty six second monologue.
More of a mystery, of course, was quite what had happened to the significant character cliff-hanger from the end of last week’s ‘Kill the Moon‘. I was convinced Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald wouldn’t appear in this episode and, thanks to her shorter hairstyle, spent the first five minutes after the credits trying to figure out if it was her and, indeed, why she was there. This was a missed opportunity, ultimately wasting the shock of the previous episode and forcing writer Jamie Mathieson to try to claw The Doctor and Clara back to the same emotional place. He does an admirable job and ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is at its best during these character beats, particularly when Clara is forced by The Doctor to lie to Maisie (Daisy Beaumont) and earlier as they discuss the trip on the train as being their ‘last hurrah’.
That is not to say the episode isn’t without other merits as well: the mummy looked great consistently and from all angles, which is hard to achieve – I loved the dragging foot; the doomful sixty six second ticking clock made the deaths of the miscellaneous supporting characters more meaningful, making us feel the time they had remaining slipping through their fingers (although the ticking clock device has been used elsewhere to greater effect) and David Bamber’s Captain Quell was the stand out guest star.
Mention should be made of Frank Skinner’s appearance as Perkins, which wasn’t as bad as I was worried it was going to be. It was just Frank Skinner in a hat though, wasn’t it? Still, he got some decent lines and definitely helped to lift the tone in places.
A solid enough yarn, ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ contained threads of the series-long themes (The Doctor vs Soldiers, who exactly was Gus? We never did find out.) and managed to get Clara and The Doctor back together…for now. However, after the heights of ‘Kill the Moon’ and ‘Listen’, this episode was always going to struggle to dazzle.
Doctor Who Continues Saturday on BBC ONE.