Monday, 13 October 2014
Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express
Despite the naff title, this was an excellent episode. It contained just enough Agatha Christie hat-tips without resorting to overkill (the fatal mistake of 'The Unicorn and the Wasp'), the atmosphere and setting were effective without being corny, the central mystery was mostly consistent, and the last six minutes were thoroughly absorbing. To think, I thought last week's denouement was a surprise.
These past three episodes have formed a fascinating mini-arc highlighting the Doctor and Clara's relationship, but where last week's episode ended with Clara inhabiting the moral high-ground, tonight's episode saw a complete reversal of roles, with the Doctor vindicated, and Clara dipping her proverbial toe in the murky waters of deceit. Well, perhaps 'vindicated' is too strong a word, but at least the Doctor managed to shed some light on his bizarre behaviour. His recent obnoxiousness, rather than being some horrific character flaw, is simply the result of a liberal dose of honesty and efficiency. No wonder everyone hates him. An honest and efficient man? Ewwww... gross!
Although the Doctor's methodology remains controversial, this episode really made me wonder what lies at the Doctor's core. Does it essentially remain the same, and it's his willingness to adapt and learn which varies from regeneration to regeneration? Has his affability always been a façade designed to facilitate easier integration amongst alien species, or has he simply grown tired of trying to understand humans? He didn't let sentimentality eat into his thinking time tonight, he simply digested the information at his disposal, hypothesised, theorised, and succeeded. If ignoring the irrelevant details helps him keep focused on what's important, then does anyone have the right to complain—especially when he repeatedly puts his life on the line for humanity?
Clara blaming Danny for her decision to stop time-travelling, and then faking his approval of her return, was a big fat stinking lie, and I loved it. Now the Doctor's too honest and Clara's swimming in a sea of duplicity (with more top-notch fibbing likely to come). Clara questioning the Doctor about the addictability of making impossible choices was really just Clara talking about herself. Despite her heartfelt outburst last week, Clara can't seem to give the Doctor up. As long as he can keep her safe and sneak her home without Danny seeing, she seems happy to continue adventuring. It's like she's having an affair... with an asexual stick insect. How long before the seventy-hour days become too much? She's already had problems keeping her double life secret from Danny. She can't even say that she's doing it for the Doctor.
I'm actually rather pleased about this latest development. I thought Danny meeting the Doctor in 'The Caretaker' would be the catalyst which propelled him into a life of exciting space adventures; instead he's become something of a bore. It's like they stopped developing him. In retrospect, I don't think I ever warmed to the idea of Clara being a woman who needed saving. What makes Danny think he's capable of saving her anyway? He may be able to do flips over the heads of tantruming robots, but he's no Impossible Girl. He hasn't travelled through space and time repeatedly saving the Doctor's life. Although Clara's definitely fallen off the rails, she still strikes me as capable of self-correction.
Despite the Doctor and Clara spending the bulk of the episode apart, I thought did an excellent job of using the secondary characters to explore their dilemma. Clara's conversation with Maisie, although initially about Pitt's guilt, soon became about the Doctor. Why does Clara enjoy travelling with the Doctor so much? If it's all lies, danger and rudeness, then why did she view leaving him as 'the end of the good times'? Is it because she's more like the Doctor than she cares to admit? Is she addicted to the life? Despite complaining about the Doctor's incessant lying, she's ended up a liar herself. Now that she understands the Doctor sometimes uses lies to win (rule number one: the Doctor lies), is she simply taking a leaf out of his book?
I'm not sure the mummy justified the later start time, but the main story generally held up. I do wish they'd elaborated on a few points, but I'm not sure tonight's episode will be the last we see of Gus. The monster of the week was another semi-mechanised man—surely there has to be some future plot tie-in? I also didn't think much of Frank Skinner. I don't know why the show keeps hiring comedians, particularly comedians with little acting experience, but at least Perkins was no Victor Kennedy. Skinner just doesn't have the acting chops to pull off a character part, which meant I almost soiled myself when the Doctor suggested he travel with him. Imagine Clara leaving and being replaced by Perkins? Sod mummies—I can't think of anything scarier.
—Foxes' rendition of 'Don't Stop Me Now' felt a little lacklustre. Although lyrically apt, I'm not sure such a high impact song benefited from such low impact treatment. It was nice, but it was no Postmodern Jukebox.
—Loved the Doctor's posh Jelly Baby case. I'm sure Tom Baker would approve.
—I like to think the bubble wrap was an homage to Wirrn grubs.
—Gus reminded me a lot of the automated doors in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
—The whole episode had the air of a Christmas episode done right. It was big, bright, preposterously over-sized, and had a nice little sting in its tail.
—I haven't forgotten that Twelve looks suspiciously like Caecilius. They floated the idea, they're going to have to land it at some point.
—Tonight's monster wasn't quite the Egyptian goddess Gus promised in 'The Big Bang'.
Clara: 'I really thought I hated you, you know?'
Doctor: 'Well, thank God you kept that to yourself.'
Clara: 'I went to a concert once, I can't remember who it was, but do you know what the singer said? Doctor: 'Well, frankly, that would be an absolutely astonishing guess if I did know.'
Clara: 'She said, 'Hatred is too strong an emotion to waste on someone that you don't like.''
Quell: 'So, what are you a Doctor of?'
Doctor: 'Now there's a question which isn't asked often enough.'
Doctor: 'Are you my mummy?'
Clara: 'Look, as long as you get me home safe and on time, everything is great. I am so sorry. I've had a wobble. It's a big wobble, but it's fine. Forget about it. Now shut up and give me some planets!'