At the tail end of Series 5, the Eleventh Doctor responded to a phoned-in SOS concerning an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express… IN SPACE. Used as we were back then to series-ending cliffhangers, many of us predicted that this premise would be explored in Matt Smith’s first Christmas special. Instead, we saw Dumbledore get eaten by sharks or something.
But now Steven Moffat has extracted this string from his Dangling Threads Grab Bag, mummified the Egyptian goddess and turned her into a soldier, and plucked the concept off to a first-time Who writer.
Being Human alum Jamie Mathieson is timid with the script at first, sprinkling a slow Agatha Christie murder spree around the Doctor and Clara’s continued Series 8 domestic clashes. The first half of the episode ponders how a companion would behave on her very last adventure with the Doctor. Even though the TARDIS has welcomed a new associate almost every series since Eccleston’s day, it’s not a concept we’ve really explored much up to now. Every new series companion except for Martha has departed from the show without necessarily planning to do so.
So how do the Doctor and Clara treat a mutual break-up? It’s an idea that perhaps would be better served in Clara’s actual last story. A great way to deal with the leftover Clara-hates-the-Doctor-now baggage from Kill the Moon would be to leave Miss Oswald out of this adventure entirely and give the Twelfth Doctor a chance to fly solo. Maybe even phone in a guest companion (Foxes?) to whom the Doctor can reveal the cosmos.
Mathieson noted in his Reddit AMA that early drafts of the script depicted the Orient Express touring ‘The Seven Wonders of the Universe’. Perhaps we lost some innovative adventure scenes and instead got to see Clara stuck in a box for half the show, moaning about how much the Doctor’s changed. It’s been eight episodes. Isn’t it time for some positive chemistry between the lead characters?
The pacing and mid-story science lab plot twist would not be out of place in John Nathan-Turner’s dynasty, but one might argue that Mathieson’s first outing has more in common with Russell T. Davies’ era.
But enough complaining. Other reviewers and the majority of you Kasterborous readers have declared Mummy to be a smash hit. By and large, you’re all correct to praise it. The episode is filled with amusing easter eggs including Jelly Babies, a well-timed Empty Child throwback (Are you my mummy?), and a short clip of Mr. Capaldi expertly channelling his inner Tom Baker.
Some have suggested that this tale would fit in well among some of Classic Who’s finest serials. It’s a reasonable theory. The pacing and mid-story science lab plot twist would not be out of place in John Nathan-Turner’s dynasty, and pre-90s Who has a rich history of mummies. But one might argue that Mathieson’s first outing has more in common with Russell T. Davies’ final years. There’s a fabled Earth transport rebuilt as a spaceship and harboring a 21st-century pop singer (Voyage of the Damned). Characters are picked off one-by-one in a Christie-esque murder caper (The Unicorn and the Wasp) before a small group of them are trapped in the claustrophobic cabin of a now-broken vehicle, armed with only their wits (Midnight, Planet of the Dead).
Daisy Beaumont, David Bamber, and Christopher Villiers all provide commendable performances as Maisie, Captain Quell, and Professor Moorhouse respectively, digging multidimensional personae out of Agatha Christie caricatures. Many accolades have been given to Frank Skinner’s Perkins. While it’s true that he was the most interesting guest star of the bunch, it’s difficult to pinpoint his reason for existing, aside from ‘Train Mummy’s Official Timekeeper’. You might say that he’s the One Who Questions the Doctor, except that Maisie, Quell, Moorhouse, and Clara already have that role thoroughly covered. That said, when Perkins was invited by the Doctor to a long-term post aboard the TARDIS, I secretly hoped he’d say yes. Wouldn’t it be cool if the TARDIS had an actual crew member or two, rather than just passengers?
John Sessions contributes his voice to the spooky GUS, a textbook example of the Rogue Computer sci-fi trope, but splendid nonetheless. It’s easy to assume that he has something to do with the Heaven arc. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon enough.
The most visually striking scene is set on the rock beach on which Clara wakes up to find the Doctor after the train explodes. It’s both tranquil and completely unexpected. One might be led to believe that the pair have died and landed in Heaven in the same vein as some of the minor characters from episodes past. This is perhaps a deliberate ruse on the writer’s part, but it also signals a possible return to form for the series’ tone. It’s here that Clara finally begins to understand why Capaldi’s Doctor approaches his choices with a Dr. House mindset.
Hopefully with Clara’s new acceptance of this Doctor, these last few episodes will hold back the bickering and throw down a straight-up fun party. That’s what we’re all watching this show for, right?