Mummy on the Orient Express

First Broadcast October 11th, 2014 @ 8.35pm (7.11m viewers)

Episode 8 of Peter Capaldi’s debut season as the Doctor takes us to the Orient Express. And it has a mummy on it. Talk about “does exactly what it says on the tin”. Writer Jamie Mathieson was approached with the idea for this story based on the strength of his work on ‘Flatline’. Drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie mysteries, the results clearly proved popular as ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ topped Doctor Who Magazine’s Season Survey. ‘Listen’ was only fifth! Perhaps in the tradition of Doctor Who stories past, the strength of the story is quantifiable by the central villainous monster. When they are utterly convincing the suspension of disbelief is far easier. When they fail the stories are often ridiculed and dismissed. See the Myrka in ‘Warriors of the Deep’ for example. However, this story has one of the most impressively convincing Doctor Who monsters ever.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
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Doctor Who Extra – Behind the Scenes with Mummy on the Orient Express

The Foretold. A simply phenomenal creation. It surely has to rank as one of the greatest mummies ever brought to the screen. Issue 4 of ‘Nothing at the End of the Lane’ magazine features a fascinating and thorough guide to how the monster was created. Creature supervisor Dave Bonneywell provides a series of interesting photographs which track the development of construction. Credit too must go to monster actor Jamie Hill, previously one of the Silents, who inhabited the costume and prosthetics. His peculiar movements, deliberate pace and reaching out for its victim make for a creature that must’ve been terrifying for younger viewers.

Style over substance

Such is the impressive visual of The Foretold, this episode was given a deliberately late time slot passed 8.30pm. It was the latest broadcast time for a premiere episode of Doctor Who ever. This is also one of the rare occasions when Doctor Who went over the 9pm watershed. Comfortably too. But other than the claustrophobic environment, dictated by the narrow railway carriages, and the creepy mummy there is little that is actually scary. Reminiscent of a number of Doctor Who stories during the 1980’s scenes are also quite brightly lit. For instance, in the climatic scene between the Doctor and the Foretold. When the monster first appears in the corridor it is lit very well. However, it emerges from those shadows and into a brightly lit set which jars and kills any atmospheric tension. This is consistent throughout the story and highlights an issue which I can only describe as ‘style over substance’.

Failed to live up to expectations
Perkins (FRANK SKINNER) - Doctor Who - Mummy on the Orient Express (c) BBC
Perkins (FRANK SKINNER) – Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express (c) BBC

The visual imprint of the story is stunning. Time and effort were afforded to making glamorous costumes and impressive sets befitting the name ‘The Orient Express’. There’s also a song from trendy songstress Foxes for no other reason than to add to the glamour. However, when the story itself is analysed it is a little weak. For a start, it is apparently necessary to have The Orient Express in space, just like ‘Voyage of the Damned did with the Titanic. Similarly, the resolution of the story is rushed and bland. The Doctor reveals the true nature of the Foretold as, “An ancient soldier being driven by malfunctioning tech”. Entertaining though it is to see Peter Capaldi’s Doctor thinking on his feet and out loud, simply shouting “We surrender” is akin to casting a magic spell. Convenient and all too simplistic. This is a shame because the Doctor and Clara relationship is at an interesting junction plus Frank Skinner is very entertaining as Perkins. For this viewer, therefore, ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ was highlighted by a superb monster but the rest failed to live up to expectations.

Cast:

The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Danny Pink – Samuel Anderson
Perkins – Frank Skinner
Captain Quell – David Bamber
Gus – John Sessions
Maisie – Daisy Beaumont
Mrs Pitt – Janet Henfrey
Prof Moorhouse – Christopher Villiers
Singer – Foxes
Foretold – Jamie Hill

Crew:

Executive Producer – Steven Moffat
Executive Producer – Brian Minchin
Producer – Peter Bennett
Director  – Paul Wilmshurst
Writer – Jamie Mathieson

Also First Aired On This Day…
  • Planet of Evil: Part Three
  • Meglos: Part Three
  • The Trial of a Time Lord (Mindwarp): Part Six
  • Ghost Light: Part Two
  • Sarah Jane Adventures: The Nightmare Man: Episode One
  • Sarah Jane Adventures: The Curse of Clyde Langer: Episode Two

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