A superficial look at the title of this episode and the fact it features comedian Frank Skinner would make anyone think this is going to be one giant pisstake, but in fact, it ends up being probably the most classic Who of all of Peter Capaldi’s stories so far. It also has a bloody impressive looking mummy as well as Foxes doing a nice cover of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now.
The episode starts with the Doctor and Clara onboard the Orient Express, a spaceship based upon the train which allows the story to take place in a 1920’s setting without actually being set in the 1920’s. It’s a smart little trick as it could have very easily been set on the real Orient Express, but the space setting makes it very Doctor Who and it all feels very much like Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes/Tom Baker era of Who which is fantastic as it manages to pull it off.
This is also supposed to be the Doctor and Clara having one last fling before Clara goes off to live her life with teaching, and of course, Danny Pink. til then it’s this one last adventure which Clara thinks is just a visit to something amazing, though it quickly turns out that the Doctor has been invited there by Gus, the ship’s onboard computer to help solve the mystery of the Mummy that is killing people, except nobody apart from the victim can actually see the Mummy, also known as The Foretold. One thing though, once you see it you only have 66 seconds to live.
Eventually when the Doctor realises that all is not as it seems and Gus has brought a load of Mummy experts together in an attempt to solve this mystery, Clara sees the Doctor become the same callous bastard he’s been in much of this series, but unlike last week where the Doctor throws a horrible decision upon humanity, he’s the one making life or death decisions for people as the clock on their life is literally ticking down thanks to Frank Skinner’s character counting down the 66 seconds til their death.
Ultimately this episode is to justify Capaldi’s Doctor for acting like he does. Sometimes he has to be a bastard to make these decisions to save maybe not everyone, but most people. This entire story is basically to teach Clara that sometimes this Doctor has to take these decisions, even if they’re not especially heroic and his previous self in Matt Smith’s dashing young Doctor was the young hero compared to Capaldi’s bitter old realist. Yes, the Doctor does save most of the crew and passengers of the Orient Express but only after getting two of them to describe what they see as they’re waiting for their death in a very, very Tom Baker-esque pair of scenes.
The point of this is to show Clara a bit of reality about travelling with the Doctor. Yes, he’ll show you wonders but he needs to solve these problems and sometimes these adventures are lethal for people around them. He points out to Clara that she’s addicted to it all as he is to all the adventure, though Clara seems to want to leave and have a normal life with Danny, she decides against it to remain with the Doctor, Partly because she really can’t give it up, and also because she knows this man needs someone like her to give him a sense of perspective and humanity. She does this however by lying to the Doctor saying that Danny has said she needs to do this which is really her being a bit of a bastard to Danny, which is clearly something which will be brought up again in future episodes.
There’s also a return to the soldier theme which has trailed through this series which clearly looks as if it’s leading somewhere. I understand there’s still some American fans getting pissy with the Doctor’s prejudice against soldiers but it’s obviously part of the story and anyhow, it’s a sign that Stephen Moffat is actually politicising the programme again. The whole fetishisation of the armed forces is something this series is bringing up, though this is another episode where a former soldier with PTSD plays a major role. I only hope there’s a decent conclusion to where this is going though there’s a number of mysteries to be resolved including just who or what Gus actually is.
All in all this series is probably the best, most consistent since series three and has some of the best scripts since series five. The direction is of a incredibly high standard, though those Ben Wheatley episodes still stand out for some wonderful touches of flair, but overall there’s rarely a flat scene in this series. As for the acting everyone seems to be raising their game because of Capaldi, with even Frank Skinner putting over a nice little performance this week.Yes there’s sometimes a few dud minor roles but on the whole the acting has vastly improved, especially Jenna Coleman who really isn’t the same person making doe eyes at Matt Smith and just ran around crying in short skirts last year.
My only complaint is the scheduling of the programme now. 8.30 on a Saturday night for what is still a kids/family programme really is ridiculous and I do wonder what the BBC are playing at. Ok, this series is a bit more serious than previous ones, but it’s no less grimmer, and it still is enormous fun which is something some critics are missing with Capaldi. He’s clearly loving every second of playing The Doctor without pandering to fan wishes for more of the same sort of thing we’ve seen from Tennant and Smith. It’s a great central performance on display and one which is developing every week as we find out a little bit more about this most alien of Doctor’s since the new series began.
Next week looks to feature killer street art……..