Doctor Who 'Mummy on the Orient Express' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

From being just a throwaway line in 'The Big Bang' to a fully fleshed 45 minute episode - 'Mummy on the Orient Express' is the 8th episode of series 8 (huehuehue) and it is written by another newcomer of the series - Jamie Mathieson. If you are a 'Doctor Who' fan who keep any attention to the writers behind the episodes and hang out on 'Doctor Who' related websites, you will know the popularity of this name among the fans. Are the praises warranted? Well there is only one way to find out.

For me, when I was looking over the three new writers for Series 8, Jamie Mathieson was the one I was always hoping for the most - simply because he wrote TWO episodes instead of one so it would be a bigger blow for the season if he ended up being a bad writer than if one of the other writers ended up being bad. Luckily, not only did Jamie Mathieson manage to write one of the best episodes in recent memory - he does it TWICE and could possibly be one of the best writers the new series has had overall (it all comes down to whether or not he delivers with 'The Girl Who Died' in Series 9). This episode however came as total surprise for me because the premise sounds like it could easily just end up being wasted potential and become a middle of the road "meh" episode of the season. Never did I imagine that it could turn out THIS good to the point that if this was made during the Hinchcliffe era (of course in the same way episodes were made back then) then this story could have been up there with the all-time classics. It is pretty safe to say though that this episode is brilliant television.

I always did have a thought in the back of my head that they should have used that throwaway line at the end of 'The Big Bang' as it could have been a pretty interesting story but when Series 6 never brought it up I thought it would just remain what it was. The final confirmation that it would never be used for a story came first when the Ponds left and then when Matt Smith left because too much time had passed and they had moved on. Lo and behold, only a couple of months later we see that one of the episodes of Series 8 is actually called 'Mummy on the Orient Express'... so we actually got it... and man was it worth it.

The screenplay here is surprisingly tight for an episode with a premise like this. I read Mathieson's blog posts after the episode aired and the way he came up with all the things in the episodes are really fascinating because he really comes across as a very smart guy who clearly knows what works and what does not. Seeing as all he really got from the showrunner Steven Moffat was the title - it is pretty safe to say that the story he came up with based on that could probably not have been done any better. A lot of complaints for Series 7 were focusing on the lack of 2-parters and that a lot of the episodes needed more time to tell the stories properly and I think it is pretty safe to say that Series 8 has done a fantastic job at making sure the episodes are paced properly and this is one of the best examples of that. While of course I would never complain if this episode was longer but the pacing is damn near perfect for this kind of story. Mathieson always finds away to shake things up and around the halfway point when the train pretty much changes to a lab - it was around the point were the regular train setting could have become a bit stale and boring.

Peter Capaldi naturally does wonders in this episode and I really like how he is really on his own for most of the episode. It has been a known fact that 'Doctor Who' does not really work without a companion by his side but if there was a Doctor that I think may be able to pull it off - it would be the twelfth. We also got a very cool moment were he channels Tom Baker and it sounds surprisingly good. Oh, and let us not forget the scene were he offers one of the passengers jelly babies in a cigarette case. Even though Jenna Coleman did not get a whole lot to do (this is what they call a "companion lite" episode), she did an excellent job because while you really feel like she loves traveling with the Doctor - you also understand exactly why she would want to quit.

Continuing with the outstanding guest characters, 'Mummy on the Orient Express' does not beat around the bush at all and immediately welcomes several new characters to the show. The main one being Perkins played by Frank Skinner. While he is not exactly any great Shakes - Perkins is a very likable person whom I would not mind seeing again on the show. I rarely want a guest character to become a companion but when the Doctor asked if he wanted to stay on board the TARDIS for a while I quietly screamed "YES!" even though I knew Perkins would not actually do it. But as I said, this episode has a lot of really good supporting characters other than Perkins too. None of them are exactly given major back stories but Mathieson is really good at making them likable people that you want to see more of. Captain Quell, Professor Moorhouse, Maisie etc... all of them are very fun to watch and really memorable characters.

Now to the actual mummy in the title, I have praised the heck out of the visual effects department this season but here we go again; this mummy (or as he is called; the foretold) looks terrific. I really like how they did not try to "dumb" it down and make look less terrifying for the kids watching the show, they went all out with the design to really make it look like there was a deceased person wrapped inside bandages and is now going after people on a train... in space. Have you ever explained the plot of a 'Doctor Who' episode to someone who does not watch the show? It sounds like the most ridiculous nonsense ever. But anyways, this creature gets me really excited for what we can possibly be seeing in the future for the show.

This episode sees  the return of Paul Wilmshurst who directed 'Kill The Moon' which was the episode that came before this one and once again, he nails it. Of course he was confined to a very small set but he finds a way to make each shot work and keep the audience engaged at all times. There is never really a moment were the setting becomes stale and dull (which again is also thanks to Mathieson's magnificent script). It cannot also be understated that having a monster that takes 66 seconds to kill you and also showing a little countdown on the bottom left corner could easily become annoying - but it somehow works and it adds quite a lot to the tension (especially of course by the end).

To conclude this review, I do not think I actually explained well enough why I loved this episode as much as I did but it is also quite hard to do so. Basically it is an episode that more than lives up to its fun title and for all it set out to do - it accomplished with such astonishing ease. It is one of the best episodes of Peter Capaldi's era thus far and I might even go so far as to call it one of the best in the new series overall. All the performances and characters are memorable, the direction is inspired, the screenplay is outstanding and the foretold is one of the best looking mummys I have ever seen. 'Mummy on the Orient Express' is a masterpiece.


- Lucas


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