Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Mummy on the Orient Express"

"There's no more bog roll."
Right. Let's do this. We begin with Capaldi's voice, even though he isn't there, while over the course of 66 surprisingly long seconds Mrs Bale from As Time Goes By gets menaced by a mummy that no one else can see. The word 'thing' rears its loathsome head here again when she refers to it as a 'mummy monster thing' because in Moffat land everyone shares identical verbal tics. The mummy places its hands on her head and she carks it, her distressed relative claiming rather clinically that "she just stopped." Outside we get our 'holy shit' special effects budget down the toilet moment when we discover that we're on a train going through space. After the titles, we find the Doctor and Clara arriving on the train taking a final trip together following Clara's explosion in 'Kill the Moon.' In the carriage we have some pop singer I'd never heard of prior to the show's promotional campaign on Facebook singing a swing version of classic overplayed Queen track 'Don't Stop Me Know,' although as an Old Who purist I was of course appalled to hear the phrase 'sex machine' being uttered in Doctor Who, when it should of course only ever be used in a scientific sense, or perhaps when a Victorian gentleman refers to 'the fair sex.' We've got the mummy, we've got the Orient Express, we've got the Doctor: now we need the last bit of the episode that isn't established in the title, which is to say our obligatory boring "emotional" crap, "emotional" in massive scare quotes where "emotional" means melodrama and tired dialogue clich├ęs. The Doctor acts as if he's all confused about Clara having a sad smile, which gets to completely overplay this ludicrous 'the Twelfth Doctor doesn't get emotions' garbage.
Don't get too excited, she doesn't actually leave.
While I thought Capaldi should have started necking the complimentary champagne like a seasoned campaigner, he and Clara instead settle down to some idle sips while the posh train voice provided by an unrecognisable (to me, at least) John Sessions points out a fancy black hole, about which the Doctor reminisces while Clara waffles about how she doesn't hate the Doctor despite not wanting to travel with him anymore. The Doctor tries to steer the conversation away towards interesting things in space - Clara is on an interbellum-themed space train but can't stop gasbagging about her feelings - but he's rudely interrupted by Miss Pitt whose elderly relative kicked the bucket in the opening. As she's ushered away to her padded cell we're introduced to train captain Quell, who asks what he's a Doctor of. An opportunity to respond with "practically everything" is missed and then despite having just arrived the Doctor and Clara decide to take to their respective beds. The Doctor busts out this episode's obligatory ageist comment, stating that old ladies dying is "practically their job description" and asks if Clara wants the death to be a "thing," of course. It's dreadful. Clara claims that she'll see the Doctor again, which he queries. Ugh, we're back on this again?
"Can you stop wiggling your middle finger against my palm?"
In their rooms - how do they have rooms on the train if they just showed up? we find out later they're not on the guest list - Clara and Danny bore each other to death on the phone while Peter Capaldi seemingly impersonates Tom Baker, presumably due to both Doctors' experience with mummies. He pisses off to investigate without his silk-pyjama-clad companion and runs into Perkins the chief engineer, played by comedian Frank Skinner. He's not much of an actor but he gets the job done in this one, and in playing a dry, sarcastic character he has a good rapport with Capaldi himself. Meanwhile Clara follows crazy Maisie, Miss Pitt, who smashes a locked door panel with a high heeled shoe. Back in the carriage everyone's still up, which makes it look even more odd than Clara and the Doctor retired, and the Doctor accosts a 'Professor Moorhouse' about a legendary alien mummy called The Foretold which takes sixty-six seconds to kill its victims. He also gives him a jelly baby as this episode's next piece of feeble lip service to real Doctor Who. Meanwhile said mummy kills a chef in the kitchen, proving that there's no escape and that he doesn't discriminate based on class. In the locked room crazy Maisie reveals that Mrs Bale was her grandmother and that she feels guilty because she used to picture her dying. But was she picturing her dying because she disliked her, or to soften the blow for when it actually happened? It's not clear. Clara makes it about her of course, before noticing a big sarcophagus in the room.
"How dare you impugn my moustache sir."
Elsewhere, it's time for a joke so the much-loathed psychic paper informs Captain Quell that the Doctor is a 'mystery shopper.' In his office he offers the Doctor a snifter of the neat stuff but, despite what happened in 'Deep Breath,' he turns him down. The Doctor gets fed up with him, however, and leaves when he refuses to take action. Fortunately trusty Perkins has been gathering info for a while and provides this to the Doctor. The two of them and Moorhouse discuss 'the Foretold' and its alleged invincibility but before we can go any further we cut back to Clara and crazy Maisie still waffling about Clara leaving the Doctor. Remember kids, men talk business while women sit around chatting about their feelings. Clara regurgitates the sentiment Danny Pink gave her, that "you can't end on a slammed door," which Maisie immediately contradicts. The award for nonsensical shoehorned Moffat-style bullshit line of the week, however, goes to Maisie's "life would be so much simpler if you liked the right people, the people you're supposed to like, but then I guess there'd be no fairy tales" What on earth is that supposed to mean? The premise has absolutely no relation whatsoever to the conclusion. It's contemptible pseudo-intellectual nonsense that sounds like it was precisely engineered to be quoted on tumblr.
"Good lord, we're on a train."
The windows become bright which I assume is meant to convey day on the train, the Doctor turns some communicator thing from the wall into a phone to call Clara, fails to get her out of the locked room, is caught by Quell and arrested. The sarcophagus opens on Clara and crazy Maisie but it's just full of, to quote Clara's intonation, "booble wrap." We get an old school moment when the Captain suggests that the Doctor's behind the killings, but changes his mind when one of the guards snuffs it in front of him. Why does he let the Doctor go as a result of that? It's not like the Doctor was there any of the other times, how does he know he's not a bit of an Eddie Mars - a killer by remote control? It's nice to see that everyone's changed out of evening dress for the 'morning' on the train. The Doctor susses that someone's gathered numerous experts to the train on purpose and Gus the computer reveals that everything's actually a lab, the other passengers and some of the crew being 'hard light holograms,' in another instance of this show owing a worrying large amount not to itself but to Red Dwarf, which despite being a sitcom is an infinitely better science fiction programme than New Who will ever be. Frank Skinner gets to deliver the line "the engines, they've stopped," in a way that shows off that he's not an actor, and Gus announces that "around the room you will find a variety of scientific equipment" although I believe going by the flasks and test tubes he forgot the words 'generic' and 'stereotypical' in there. The scientists are meant to figure out how to capture the Foretold mummy, which has been brought on board via an ancient scroll around which it typically manifests.
Let me play among the stars.
The mummy arrives to kill Moorhouse, who basically describes it as being a mummy to the Doctor before he panics and carks it. This establishes our new 'drama' of the Doctor spending people's lives in order to try to stop the mummy. He calls Clara for some info near the sarcophagus but Gus voids a bunch of the crew into space to try to keep him on task. Couldn't Gus recognise that he's actually getting information? They figure out that the Foretold picks off the weakest first: the old lady, the sick chef, the cyborg guard and the psychologically troubled Moorhouse. The part about psychological issues being an illness or weakness could be construed as a dicey claim, but my bigger issue is that it doesn't make sense. By the law of averages, the mummy is actually making its enemies collectively stronger by going for the weakest first. It should be picking off the strongest. Quell, being a sufferer of PTSD, is next, seeing the Mummy's hand pass through the Doctor's head. It struck me at this point that this episode would have been more effective if we, not being the mummy's victims, could also not see it. After Quell's death the Doctor begs the other scientists for assistance in figuring out how it works, but they're all extras and haven't been paid to speak, which borders on the utterly ridiculous as they stand there silently while being picked off one by one.
Don't get glue on your fingers.
Some scanner Perkins whips out from hammerspace reveals that Quell's body has no "energy" at a cellular level. They could have at least said something scientifically meaningful, like electrical charge. The Doctor and Perkins figure that the mummy moves its victims 'out of phase' which is why only they can see it. So how come everyone else can still see the victim? I guess they're in a half way house between normal phase and the mummy's phase, but it's not my job to explain this shit. The Doctor figures that crazy Maisie is next because of what happened to her grandmother, so he bluntly instructs Clara to lie to her to bring her along. Clara has no choice as the TARDIS is behind a force field, the Doctor revealing that Gus has tried to entice him there before. Clara starts complaining about the Doctor lying to her: now I see where we were going with all the 'egomaniac' stuff in 'Deep Breath.' The mummy appears to crazy Maisie but the Doctor somehow uses the scanner to suck all her negative energy or whatever out of her head and stick it in himself, which causes the mummy to come after him instead. "Are you my mummy," gets its obligatory appearance, but it's still lame. The Doctor notices a similar design to that on the scroll under the mummy's bandages, realises the scroll is a flag and that the mummy must be a soldier, and then stops it in its tracks by saying "We surrender." The mummy comes out of phase. Why is it accepting the Doctor's surrender? He tells it it's relieved, so it salutes him and then crumbles into dust. It looks kind of cool, but why is the mummy suddenly taking orders from and saluting the guy who just surrendered to it? It's also very similar to how they stopped that robot in 'The Caretaker.'
"I saved everyone and dropped them
off in the nearest inhabited Wales."
Gus tries to kill everyone on board because he's a dick, Frank Skinner immediately doing a turn with some horrendous 'choking' acting even though Gus only just started venting the air. The train blows up and Clara wakes up on a stony beach in Wales somewhere, which is to say an alien planet on which the Doctor has dropped off everyone from the train after teleporting them into the TARDIS. He tells Clara that it was his plan to steal all of Maisie's bad juju all along, but he "couldn't risk Gus finding out my plan." What would Gus have cared? What would it have mattered to him how he figured out how to stop the mummy? Maybe we're meant to figure that the Doctor's lying, although he gets to utter the trite remark "sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose." Pretty groundbreaking stuff. Perkins pisses off even though he probably could have worked as a companion back in the Eighties or something and Clara asks the Doctor if he "loovs" being "the man making the impossible choice." I think Moffat and Jamie Mathieson have been reading my forum posts. She asks "is it like an addiction?" For a moment I thought she was going to ask if it was like being god. Then Danny Pink calls her up and Clara decides to lie, blame Danny for her previous desire to leave, and in fact keep travelling. The Doctor swallows this hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of Angling Times, sir, and thus the episode ends.
They're coming to get you, Clara.
'Mummy on the Orient Express' should be an average episode of New Who. I should have watched it and thought "that was okay." Actually, although the review may not convey this, I thought it was the best episode of the series, and two episodes later I still do. I've mostly been negative here for a laugh, but I actually felt like this episode did one of the things that Doctor Who does best: a mystery in space. The Doctor's in good form, he solves the problem with the help of competent guest characters, of which Frank Skinner's Perkins, despite some questionable acting, is a particular highlight, it's reasonably atmospheric, the mummy looks pretty decent and it moves along at a decent clip. This is actually an episode of New Who that I would consider to be somewhat comparable to the real stuff. The fact that this was written by newcomer Jamie Mathieson shows how desperate this show is for some fresh blood in the writing department. Where it's let down, however, are with some typical New Who complaints. For a start, the rushed and convenient resolution is disappointing and doesn't make a terrific amount of sense. That's par for the course in New Who, but doesn't justify it. The lack of a real sub plot is as usual also a problem. The story could have easily been fleshed out to a greater degree and functioned as a two-parter. The episode's other biggest weakness, of course, is that it's still bogged down with boring, heavy-handed 'drama' which here is channelled almost exclusively through the companion in a way that borders on outright sexism. I don't care about how Clara feels about the Doctor or whatever. She's not a real person. Unless her conflict with him has something to say which isn't typical, routine mainstream-entertainment 'human interest' crap then I don't care. It's interesting to observe that many people considered this episode to be a real success by New Who's standards, while others have been more apathetic for the exact same reasons. Personally, however, I would not by any means object to more like this, or better and more developed. I think the people who are uninterested in this and prefer the 'drama' and the reverie-episodes which are basically just pure flights of fancy are after a very different Doctor Who than what I am. But bugger them, say I, and let's have more of this.

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