Mummy on the Orient Express is the eighth episode of the eighth series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, written by Jamie Mathieson, and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. The episode stars Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara, with guest stars comedian Frank Skinner and pop star Foxes singing a cover of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.
Following from Clara’s admission that she does not want to see the Doctor again after the events of “Kill the Moon“, several weeks have passed, and Clara realises she doesn’t hate the Doctor, and allows him to take her on one “last hurrah”, taking her to a space-bound recreation of the Orient Express with passengers dressed in period pieces. Aboard the train, they find that an elderly woman, Mrs. Pitt, had recently died, claiming that she was attacked by a mummy that no one else could see. They retire to separate cabins for the evening, where Clara calls Danny in her present and gets advice how to deal with her relationship with the Doctor, and then later, encounters Maisie, Mrs. Pitt’s granddaughter, who is distraught over the death and frustrated with the inability to see her body. The two get trapped in the luggage car, where the mummy’s sarcophagus sits, and the two bond while waiting for help.
Meanwhile, the Doctor starts to investigate the murder, meeting the train’s engineer Perkins who is also curious about the death. The Doctor speaks to Professor Moorhouse, who explains about the mummy that is being transported on the train, and the myth that once lights flicker nearby, the mummy will take its victim 66 seconds later, which they are able to confirm when the train’s chef dies in a similar manner as Mrs. Pitt. The Doctor discovers of Clara’s situation but when he tries to rescue her, the lights flicker and the sarcophagus opens; before he can save her, Captain Quell and his men arrest him for falsifying his credentials. When the 66 seconds are up, they find that one of the Captain’s men is dead instead…
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“Mummy On The Orient Express is filled with a palpable sense of fear, both heightened and weakened by the fact that it’s effectively impossible to escape the titular mummy and that as soon as it appears its next victim will be dead in exactly 66 seconds. Fittingly, the episode has a strikingly high body count for what is meant to be a show for kids. That mummy’s pretty terrifying too, all loose flesh, exposed bones and dangling bandages, with a creepy, relentless shuffle that sees one foot dragged along behind the other. It’s a great Doctor Who monster, reliably scary (enough for the BBC to move the show into a later time slot) and with a compelling method of attack and origin story.” Simon Cocks, Twitchfilm
Guardian columnist Dan Martin was positive towards the episode and praised the Mummy saying, “At last, a proper new scary monster to get us behind the sofa,” something he felt had been lacking so far in the current series. He called it “a triumph of production design matched with imagination,” and praised first time writer for the show, Jamie Matheson for blending “cool monsters,” and “awkward Tardis dynamics.” He did however feel that the reveal of the monster’s true nature was “underwhelming.” Ben Lawrence of The Telegraph was positive of the episode and awarded it four stars out of five. He praised the stylisation of the episode and its ability to make the viewer a part of it, “as a viewer you felt hemmed in by the train’s narrow corridors, stalked by an invisible creature that could strike at any moment.” He believed that Skinner “started well,” but more impressive was David Bamber, describing his performance as “poignant,” and praised the development of the relationship of the Doctor and Clara.
Morgan Jeffrey of Digital Spy praised the episode, giving it four stars out of five. He praised the chemistry of the two leads, “Capaldi and Coleman remain an utterly magnetic coupling on-screen,” citing the final Tardis scene and the beach scene as “magic.” He felt that the main problem of the episode was the decision to keep the two apart. He was positive towards Frank Skinner’s “genuine love for Doctor Who, that meant he was “practically beaming throughout,” and called him “an endearing replacement,” for Clara in the episode. Like the previous episode he thought that it had a Hinchcliffe vibe to it and felt that “‘Mummy’ is a joy, with excellent production design and a roster of perfectly-pitched performances all adding up to create an enchanting atmosphere,” and believed it had a “wonderful mood,” that felt like “vintage Doctor Who.”
Tim Liew writing for Metro was positive towards “Mummy”, calling it “another strong standalone story.,” praising the “period costumes helped create a distinctive look and feel, the mummified Foretold was well realised and the repeated use of the 66-second countdown clock injected a real sense of pace and jeopardy.” Neela Debnath of The Independent praised the guest stars of the episode, Foxes and Skinner, saying “he [Skinner], acts his socks off.” She remained critical of Clara, arguing that “her poorly conceived and written character fails to charm,” despite praising Coleman’s acting. Overall she felt that the episode was “a delightful outer-space romp.”
Forbes gave their first real positive review of the series, saying “that’s more like it.” They felt the episode was very classic Doctor Who. They praised the “fantastic core principal” to the plot. However they were disappointed with the run time, believing it would’ve benefited from another five minutes, citing some areas that could’ve been explored further, particularly the escape from the train. They praised the cast, particularly Capaldi, “The Doctor infects Capaldi’s performance. Drawing on his love for the series I could see the influences of many of the previous actors to take on the role,” and praised the development of the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. They called Mathieson’s script “an impressive debut.”
The A.V. Club also heavily praised the episode, awarding it another perfect “A” grade, particularly praising Capaldi’s performance. They said “When the time comes to write the final accounting of the 12th Doctor—and hopefully we won’t need to do that for a little while yet—“Mummy On The Orient Express” will loom large. This episode is a triumph for Peter Capaldi”. They also add that the episode was “the latest superb episode in a strong season” and that “Peter Capaldi’s performance is enough by itself to elevate this story to classic status, but Jamie Mathieson’s script provides him excellent support”.
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