Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 8 review: Mummy on the Orient Express

The Doctor and Clara reunite for a final outing together aboard the Orient Express. In space. Just one small problem. There’s a killer mummy on the loose. And once someone has seen it they’ve only 66 seconds left to live…

There’s a body AND there’s a mummy. I mean, can you not just get on a train? Did a wizard put a curse on you about mini-breaks?
Taking its lead from Agatha Christie’s most famous whodunnit, Murder on the Orient Express, Jamie Mathieson’s impressive debut script for Doctor Who, is one of the most rounded and enjoyable adventures for the Time Lord in quite a while. “The Queen of Crime” meets Universal Horror’s 1932 The Mummy and Hammer Horror’s 1959 The Mummy.

A gloriously lavish, scary, entertaining base-under-siege romp, Mummy on the Orient Express also contains strong echoes of Horror Express, the criminally underrated 1972 Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee starring horror yarn set aboard the Trans-Siberian Express in 1906. This is a film worth hunting down simply for Cushing’s classic line of “Monster? We’re British, you know” in retort to the suggestion that he or Lee may have been infected by the mind transferring monster.

Peter Capaldi’s lugubrious Twelfth Doctor and the fastidious little Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who investigated the original Murder on the Orient Express, are polar opposites in terms of character and appearance. Looking reminiscent of a Victorian undertaker, the Doctor spends much of Mummy on the Orient Express predicting doom, death and destruction. Capaldi’s Doctor owes much to the obsessive anti-heroes that Cushing and Lee played during their years at Hammer Horror, Amicus Productions, and other cinematic horror outings. Ultimately on the side of the angels but unafraid to use dark methods to achieve their victories.

Colin Baker’s original wishes for the Sixth Doctor’s outfit were more in line with what the Twelfth Doctor received. Imagine how better that much maligned Doctor might have been welcomed without his nightmarish multi-coloured apparel. In fact the Sixth Doctor and Peri would have worked pretty well in place of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara in Mummy on the Orient Express.

Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?
After the ferocity of her falling out with the Doctor in Kill the Moon Clara wants to end her travels in the TARDIS on friendly terms with the Time Lord. But that’s not easy when the corpses start piling up and yet again they’re surrounded with the body count that always follows in his wake. It doesn’t help that the Doctor appears to relish the making life and death decisions. Mummy on the Orient Express contains a fundamentally important moment of revelation for Clara. Freed of the righteous anger she felt for him on the Moon, and having witnessed his preparedness to self-sacrifice to defeat the mummy, she finally comprehends why the Doctor makes seemingly heartless choices. No one else in space and time is willing to challenge the forces of evil as the Doctor does.

Clara’s conversation with the Doctor on the beach at story’s close is a fantastic character moment for the two actors as Capaldi and Coleman once again demonstrate what a fantastic dynamic and rapport they’ve built up over the past eight weeks. Since boarding the TARDIS Clara’s realised that it’s dangerous, possibly fatal, to travel with the Doctor but here she finally understands that she’s addicted and can’t kick the habit. It feels as though a new phase in the Doctor/Clara relationship has been introduced for the final third of Series 8.

For a brief instance of time it looked as if Frank Skinner’s Perkins, the Orient Express’ engineer, might be joining the Doctor and Clara aboard the TARDIS. It’d have been quite fun for Perkins to have wandered off into the ship’s infinite interior to check out all of the mechanics and pop up during the next series or three as he unexpectedly returns to the console room. Perkins is clearly a surrogate for the writer Jamie Mathieson and given what a Doctor Who fanboy Frank Skinner is (having already cameoed in Big Finish’s Dark Eyes 2 with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor) the actor and comedian doubtless would have leapt at the opportunity.

Thankfully the secondary characters didn’t come across as cursory plot devices as is too often the case in the fast paced NuWho. Perkins, Captain Quell (David Bamber), Maisie (Daisy Beaumont), Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) - all felt like living breathing individuals. Easy to imagine them having lives before and after (for some anyway) the events on the space-bound recreation of the Orient Express. Even Foxes felt as those she had other gigs to onto after this one. These are the kind of actors you’d expect to find cast in a proper Agatha Christie adaptation.

Sometimes, the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.
Doctor Who works most effectively when it taps into Earth’s history for its settings and this episode’s recreation of the Orient Express will go down as one of the great design successes of NuWho. It was a shame to lose the polished period trappings in favour of a scientific backdrop as dictated by the script, but at least the wonderful 1920s costumes remained - and Jenna Coleman looked particularly fetching in her flapper’s dress.

Nearly 39 years earlier the Doctor crossed paths with mummies in 1975’s classic Pyramids of Mars. These bandaged cadavers proved to be the protectively wrapped robotic servants of Sutekh, the last of the Osirians. Here the mummy was the Foretold, a former solider kept alive for thousands of years and armed with phase-shifting technology in order to act as an assassin. In the run up to the transmission of Mummy on the Orient Express the BBC refused to show the mummy of the piece in early evening trailers, citing that it was too scary. For once this wasn’t simply hyperbole on the part of Auntie Beeb. This the monster-of-the-week was truly grotesque and frightening. There now exists the classic image of the mummy passing through the Doctor, an unstoppable instrument of death.

The notion of Mummy on the Orient Express had been hanging around unrealised since the close of The Big Bang, when it appeared to be trailed as the concept for 2010’s Christmas Special. Though the Eleventh Doctor’s dialogue is at odds to what was ultimately delivered:

…Excuse me a moment. Hello? Oh, hello! I’m sorry this is a very bad line. No no no. But that’s not possible. She was sealed into the Seventh Obelisk. I was at the Prayer Meeting. Well no, I get that it’s important. An Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express. In space…
Perhaps another recreation of the Orient Express exists out there amongst the stars? Or the Doctor was fed dud information as a temptation. He said there’d been previous attempts to get him aboard the train. Odds are it’s the mysterious Missy behind the extension of the Foretold’s life span and being Gus, the computer orchestrating events. It’s likely she’s the mysterious woman who gave Clara the TARDIS’s telephone number in The Bells of Saint John. She’s probably been interfering in the Doctor’s lives for a time and with just four episodes remaining in Series 8 it must be about time for “The Promised Land” story arc that commenced in Deep Breath to come to the fore.

Here’s a prediction. Come the Series 8 awards season Mummy on the Orient Express will trail in the wake of other fare such as the sinister Deep Breath and the psychological Listen, but over the years it’ll come to be more and more highly regarded as a premier entry in the Peter Capaldi canon. As the writer of next week’s Flatline (commissioned on the strength of his debut’s draft scripts) Jamie Mathieson joins the short list that’ve penned consecutive scripts for Doctor Who. Let’s hope he’s back for Series 9 and beyond.

It’s once again time for that new Hallowe’en tradition of All Hallow’s Read. On 31 October, or the days preceding, give away a scary book or three rather than handing over tricks or treats.

More information on All Hallow’s Read can be found here. Use the hashtag #AllHallowsRead on social media.

And once again Introverted Wife has done splendid posters for All Hallow’s Read. Posters for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 can be found at the blog too.

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 7 review: Kill the Moon

As terror stalks the Moon and the Earth’s constant companion faces destruction, the Doctor’s alien nature finally becomes too much for Clara to cope with.

We have a terrible decision to make. It’s an uncertain decision, and we don’t have a lot of time. The man who normally helps - he’s gone. Maybe he’s not coming back. In fact, I really don’t think he is. We’re on our own…
If this series of NuWho had been split in two, as happened with Series 6 and 7, then Kill the Moon would have been the obvious point of separation. Although it’s nice to have a straight run of episodes once more (for the first time since 2010) this would’ve been a hell of a cliffhanger to leave viewers on at the end of Series 8, Part 1. Imagine the echoes of Clara’s storming out of the TARDIS in the wake of the Doctor’s actions on the Moon remaining unresolved for seven months instead of seven days.

Peter Harness’ first script for Doctor Who was a curate’s egg of delights, horror and atrocious humour. Told to “Hinchcliffe the shit out of it” for the first part of Kill the Moon, i.e. deliver the kind of spine-chilling horror that infused Doctor Who when the legendary Philip Hinchcliffe was the producer. With cobwebbed-festooned corpses, goosebump-raising scuttlings and giant spider-like killer bacteria, this horror-tinged quota was fulfilled and exceeded.

The increasingly later transmission time of Doctor Who isn’t simply to accommodate Strictly Come Dancing. Series 8 pushes the boundary of pre-watershed Saturday night television. In some areas of the media new Mary Whitehouse-style “Is Doctor Who suitable for children?” campaigns are fermenting. The viewing figures and audience appreciation for Doctor Who remain healthy so people are watching - even if it’s from behind the sofa again.

Drama relies upon conflict and a serious falling out between the unpredictable and callous of Twelfth Doctor and the compassionate and humane Clara had been gathering momentum ever since Deep Breath. In Kill the Moon Clara’s resentment of the usurping of the Eleventh Doctor by the Twelfth Doctor erupted in a scene that was a tour de force of fury-laden acting from Jenna Coleman. She’d finally had enough of the Time Lord’s manipulative actions. Clara considered herself to have been abandoned by the Doctor with the decision as to the fate of humanity foisted upon her when she was in no way equipped to make such history-turning choices. After stumbling through the close of the Matt Smith era armed with a paper thin character and lightweight material, Coleman has truly come into her own paired with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.

In the mid-21st century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy to the very edges of the universe and it endures until the end of time. And it does all that because one day in the year 2049 when it had stopped thinking about going to the stars something occurred that made it look up not down. It looked out there into the blackness and saw something beautiful, something wonderful and for once it didn’t want to destroy and in that one moment the whole course of history was changed. Not bad for a girl from Coal Hill School and her teacher.
For all Clara’s justification for splitting with the Doctor it’s all too easy to sympathise with his perspective. For hundreds and hundreds of years he’s been called upon to provide near-impossible last minute solutions to prevent potentially universe shattering events. Now he’s faced with a decision that he can’t predict because his usual insight into the unfolding of time, history and consequences is denied to him. To the Doctor it’s eminently logical to place the fate of humanity into the hands of a human. Clara’s decision to ignore humanity’s wishes and allow the creature within the Moon to live justified his faith in her. Or so he believed.

Not all parts of Kill the Moon were wine and roses. Whilst the regulars had prime material to sink their teeth into, the secondary characters were unmemorable to the point of being superfluous. Hermonie Norris (Cold Feet, SpooksKingdom) is a superb actor but here she was completely wasted with a non-existent character to play. As expected the presence of Courtney Woods (Ellis George) made zero difference to the narrative. She only seemed to have been present to provide poorly written so-called humour at the start of the episode. Clara’s dilemma over whether or not to detonate 100 nuclear weapons would have played out just the same without one of her dullest pupils on hand. Why does the Doctor keep allowing whiny children aboard the TARDIS?

In light of the events of Kill the Moon it seems that the Moon the Tenth Doctor visited in Smith and Jones was Moon Mk 1, but the Second Doctor visited Moon Mk 2 in The Moonbase and The Seeds of Death. Er…

Now is the point where any serious examination of physics in relation to Kill the Moon doesn’t occur. Time to go with Sir Terry Pratchett’s assertion that “Doctor Who’s science is pixel thin”. The Moon being an egg for a massive outer space creature that’s being gestating for hundreds of millions of years is patently ludicrous. Almost as ludicrous was the notion that once said creature was hatched it’d immediately replace the fragmented Moon with an identical egg/satellite. It’s a nonsensical concept that belongs in the bargain basement Space: 1999, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or a particularly dire episode of Star Trek: Voyager (which was 99.99% of that series).

Tell me what you knew, Doctor, or I’ll smack you so hard you’ll regenerate.
If Kill the Moon had been Jenna Coleman’s Doctor Who finale it’d been a hell of a departure and one of the most memorable companion exits: telling the Doctor where to go and settling down to life and children with Danny. But there’s another five adventures left in Series 8 and Clara’s in them, so a reunion and reconciliation of sorts with the Doctor is on the cards. Let’s hope that it’s not an easy rejoining of the two characters. The Doctor once again has to prove to Clara that he’s the same Time Lord she first met, and there’s not likely to be another telephone call from the Eleventh Doctor on Trenzalore to reassure her. Unless Steven Moffat really planned ahead when Matt Smith filmed The Time of the Doctor

More and more people whom I once considered friends are utterly boring the life out of me. #bipolar


guyplayfair asked: If you could hug any Doctor Who writer, which one would you hug? I think personally I would go for Robert Shearman, he looks cuddly and that beard would probably feel nice rubbing on your head. Russell T Davies also looks quite huggable but his propensity towards suits and lack of facial hair might not make it as pleasurable as Mr Shearman.


I would like to hug all the women who have written for Doctor Who since 2008. All of them! I would start with…

What, nobody?  That can’t be right…. (goes off, puzzled).

Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 6 review: The Caretaker

It’s a comedy of errors and confusion as a mysterious Doctor with a Scottish accent once again tries to save Coal Hill School from an alien incursion.

So, if anybody needs me just, you know, give me a shout. I’ll be in the storeroom just getting the lie of the land. Yes, nobody’s taking any notice at all. Absolutely good news because it means I must be coming across just as an absolutely boring human being like you. Deep cover, deep cover.
The Caretaker is a science fiction romantic comedy. At its heart lies a bizarre love triangle between Clara (Jenna Coleman), Danny (Samuel Anderson) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). Clara loves Danny romantically and the Doctor platonically; Danny loves Clara romantically and dislikes the Doctor for his superior attitude; the Doctor needs Clara to reign in his recklessness and can’t understand why she’s chosen Danny over Eleventh Doctor lookalike Adrian (Edward Harrison).

Clara’s efforts to balance her dual identities of plain old English teacher and voyager through space and time have an air of almost Shakespearean farce and superhero concealment to them. Her desperate attempt to forge a loving relationship to balance out the madness experienced with a wandering mad man in a box. The Caretaker is where the wheels come off as Danny and the Doctor meet. And immediately hate each other…

A Skovox Blitzer. One of the deadliest killing machines ever created. Probably homed in here because of Artron emissions. You’ve had enough of them in this area over the years. There’s enough explosive in its armoury to take out the whole planet.
Since 1963 Shoreditch’s Coal Hill School has experienced its fair share of surreptitious alien visitations. An Unearthly Child revealed the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) studying at the school. Then, mere days after Susan’s sudden departure (along with two teachers), the school was evacuated in Remembrance of the Daleks as it became a battleground for a conflict between Imperial Daleks, Renegade Daleks and the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Now there’s an extraterrestrial war machine called the Skovox Blitzer roaming around - attracted to the school due to all the artron energy gathered there from time traveller visitations…

In comparison to pretty much every other robot or cyborg glimpsed in Doctor Who, the Skovox Blitzer is a massive disappointment. A trundling gun-totting amalgamation of the robotic cleaners from Paradise Towers and the demented Jeeves service robot from the What’s New Scooby-Doo? episode High-Tech House of Horrors.

But the Skovox Blitzer doesn’t exist to challenge the Daleks, the Cybermen or the Weeping Angels for the crown of top Doctor Who monster. It’s a MacGuffin to bring the Twelfth Doctor, Clara Oswald and Danny Pink together in one location to allow the sparks of interpersonal conflict to ignite.

So - there’s an alien who used to look like Adrian. Then he turned into a Scottish caretaker and every now and then when I’m not looking you elope with him.
Whatever the quality of the material they’re given Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman continue to generate a fantastic dynamic as the not-so-user-friendly Twelfth Doctor and the now-a-proper-character Clara Oswald. Armed with his caretaker’s coat and broom Capaldi’s a wonderful scowling presence stalking the hallways of Coal Hill School, desperately attempting to save ignorant human apes from matters beyond their understanding. Balanced against the Doctor’s exasperation of the “otters” (as he terms the humans inhabiting the school) is the near manic desire of Clara to keep the Time Lord’s antics until control, keep him well away from Danny, and safeguard the children.

The Doctor attempting to pass himself off as an ordinary human, and failing massively, were cornerstone of two Eleventh Doctor adventures, The Lodger and Closing Time. Both of those fish-out-of-water escapades were written by Gareth Roberts, who returns to Doctor Who after an absence of several years with The Caretaker. Whilst the two Matt Smith outings were amusing enough in their own way Roberts’ talents are far better utilised when handed a “celebrity historical”. His The Shakespeare Code and The Unicorn and the Wasp are amongst the very best adventures of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. Perhaps significant is Steven Moffat taking a co-writer credit for the third time in Series 8. How much of the final script for The Caretaker is Roberts’ vision compared to Moffat’s?

I know men like him. I’ve served under them. They push you and make you stronger till you’re doing things you never thought you could. I saw you tonight, you did exactly what he told you. You weren’t even scared … and you should have been.
At several points the Doctor’s attitude towards Danny bordered dangerously close to racism. The intention was clearly meant to reflect the Time Lord’s disbelief that someone with a military background could be intellectual enough to teach anything other than Physical Education. But Danny’s implication that the Doctor was an aristocrat used to ordering “cannon fodder” into battle, and a black man’s abilities berated by white man, generated uncomfortable resonances of racial prejudice.

Moffat needs to tread carefully. Having successfully dumped the unfortunate misogyny prevalent in recent series the last thing that Doctor Who needs laid at its door are accusations of fostering racist and imperialistic attitudes. Scare the crap out of children by all means but don’t put unpleasant UKIP-style notions about race into their head

Though the Doctor seems to have conveniently forgotten that Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) took up teaching A-level mathematics after he retired from UNIT

Is another child really required aboard the TARDIS? Look how well it didn’t work out in Nightmare in Silver. Courtney Woods (Ellis George) being invited for a spin through space and time was based upon an incredibly flimsy pretext and clearly a set-up for her presence being required in the next episode Kill the Moon. But why does the Doctor so easily allow random people aboard the TARDIS these days? The First Doctor (William Hartnell) desperately prevented outsiders from entering his timeship for fear of them blurting out their discoveries of Time Lord technology. In the 1960s virtually no one entered the TARDIS unless they ended up as a companion.

And in the final seconds the mysterious Missy (Michelle Gomez) pops up once again, seemingly “God” in a gleaming white abode of the afterlife called the Nethersphere that’s reminiscent of the heavenly realm seen in A Matter of Life and Death.

The Caretaker is an amusing enough romp to pass 45 minutes with, and finally the Doctor and Danny know about each other, but it’s not going to be a contender for best story of Series 8. The darker Doctor of Deep Breath, Into the Dalek and Listen has been diluted by the frothy romps of Robot of Sherwood, Time Heist and The Caretaker. “His dangerous side is a bad place to be” was a tagline to describe Timothy Dalton’s 007 and is equally applicable to the Twelfth Doctor. So let’s see some more of his dangerous side again in the near future.

Anthony Horowitz commissioned to write new James Bond novel for release in 2015

Currently dubbed Project One, the new James Bond novel by Anthony Horowitz, creator of Foyle’s War and Alex Rider, will be published on 8 September 2015. The novel will be unique amongst the continuation novels in that it will be based on previously unseen material written by Ian Fleming. 

Set in the 1950s Project One will contain a section based upon a story treatment entitled Murder on Wheels that, along with material contained within the For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and The Living Daylights story collections, was originally developed by Fleming for a potential James Bond TV series before the film series was created.

Set at the Nurburgring in Germany, Murder on Wheels would have seen 007 thwart a Russian plot to cause racing legend Stirling Moss to crash. Series regulars M and Miss Moneypenny are also included in the treatment.

Previously responsible for brilliantly resurrecting Sherlock Holmes in 2011’s The House of Silk (with a followup of Moriarty due this month) Horowitz will be following in the steps of recent continuation authors Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and Wiliam Boyd. Of the novels penned by this trio only Faulks’ Devil May Care has come close to evoking the spirit of Fleming’s 007. Deaver’s modern day reboot Carte Blanche failed to impress and Boyd’s Solo felt like a novel about African civil wars with Bond shoehorned in.

With a truly impressive author on board and the spirit of Bond’s creator as a jumping off point the signs for Project One are extremely positive.

The full press release from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd and the Ian Fleming Estate can be read here.