Channel Surfing: Doctor Who – Mummy on the Orient Express

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What does the future hold for the Doctor and Clara’s friendship? It’s time to find out…

The episode opens in the dining car of an old-fashioned train. Everyone is dressed in upper-class attire, all tuxedos, and fancy dresses. It looks to be in the Edwardian period of English history, if my guess is right. Pre-Titanic, if that helps.

An older lady asks her daughter if it’s a fancy dress party, because there seems to be a man dressed as a mummy. She wants him thrown off the train, but no-one else seems to see him. I’m thinking that’s not a costume then. It shuffles slowly toward her, ratcheting up the creepy as it nears, making her more and more frantic. It grabs her head, causing her to shriek and go unconscious. At least, I hope she’s just unconscious. Her daughter frantically calls for a doctor. Ah-ha! If it’s a doctor you want, it’s a Doctor you’ll…wait, no, that’s just some guy. A medical doctor, probably. Not quite as exciting.

Don’t worry though, I’m sure the Doctor will turn up soon. The camera just pulled back to reveal the train is traveling not on rails, but through space! This seems like something he’d be interested in…

…And the TARDIS arrives in the baggage car! The Doctor steps out, followed by—Clara? Huh. I guess I was wrong when I said the Doctor would be traveling alone. Never trust a teaser trailer! Well, they certainly made up quickly. I thought Clara didn’t want anything to do with him? I am happy to see that they’ve dressed in period attire to blend in, though. They need to do that more often.

The Doctor explains to Clara that this train is an exact replica of the Orient Express, except for being slightly bigger, and in space. We need to work on your definition of exact, Doctor. The Doctor starts to explain why he picked it, but Clara interrupts him. It’ll be a good one to end on.

Oh. I guess everything isn’t back to normal. One last trip for old time’s sake, and then Clara is done. She doesn’t hate him like she thought, she just can’t handle adventures the way (ominous pause, there) the Doctor does it. I think she’s implying that adventuring with the Doctor isn’t as fun and wondrous as with his last incarnation. Ouch.

They bump into the daughter from earlier, who looks a bit unstable. She accuses the Doctor of being a liar (Which is true, just not in this instance, however. As River says: Rule One—The Doctor Lies), and the conductor has her gently escorted to her cabin, referring to her as Miss Pitt. Hooray! They gave a character a name early in the episode! Clara wants to know what’s wrong with Miss Pitt, to the conductor’s surprise.

The Doctor and Clara head to their respective sleeping compartments. Clara wants to know if he’s cursed. A body and a mummy? I guess Miss Pitt’s mom didn’t make it. The Doctor says it might be nothing. Old ladies die, and the mummy could be a hallucination. Clara seems unconvinced, and the Doctor wonders if she actually wants it to be a real thing. Clara says no, but I don’t believe her.

The Doctor mentions this will be their ‘last hurrah’, but Clara corrects him. It’s their last trip, but the Doctor will come to visit, right? The Doctor doesn’t seem sure. He’s probably remembering the times he’s been stuck in present-day Earth for long periods of time and ended up bouncing off the walls in boredom. When you have all of time and space that you can visit, present-day earth is probably dulls-ville in comparison.

Back in his compartment, the Doctor talks to himself. Apparently the Doctor has gotten so used to having someone to bounce ideas off that he needs someone to talk to even when there’s no-one else around! He’s debating how sure he is about something.

Meanwhile Clara is talking to Danny on her cell phone. The Doctor has altered a few of his previous Companions’ phones to be able to call anywhere in time and space, looks like Clara finally got the upgrade. Clara’s wondering if the Doctor brought her here so she won’t ‘dump’ him. Danny is a good sport about it, pointing out that she can’t dump the Doctor since he’s not her boyfriend. He tells her to just enjoy the space train. It’s not like it’s dangerous. She didn’t mention the mummy, did she?

The Doctor is still talking to himself. A mummy that only the victim can see? He’s pretty sure he’s got an idea as to what it is. He’s not telling, though. He heads out to explore, stopping in front of Clara’s door. He’s conflicted, but leaves without knocking. Clara did say she didn’t want it to turn into a monster hunt. As soon as he leaves, however, Clara pops out of her compartment in pajamas and a bathrobe. She knocks on his door, asking if he’s awake. When she doesn’t get an answer, one quick costume change, and she’s back in the dress and ready to go looking around.

The Doctor enters a room in the train and finds a chair-looking device wrapped in plastic. he scans it with the sonic screwdriver, and a man approaches out of the shadows, telling him about the device. It’s an Excelsior Life-extender, like a portable hospital. The Doctor remarks that it didn’t seem to do Mrs. Pitt any good, though the records show it did everything it could to save her. The man replied that it almost drained its battery doing so. He seems slightly menacing and creepy. He’s also suspicious of the Doctor. He introduces himself as Perkins, chief engineer. The Doctor introduces himself as a ‘nosy parker’. Well, that’s certainly true.

Clara bumps into Miss Pitt, who is walking the hallway of the train with a high-heeled shoe in her hand, like she’s going to use it as a weapon. That’s not something you ordinarily see. She asks if she’s all right, but Miss Pitt continues on her way as if she didn’t hear her. Clara follows her to a locked door, and Miss Pitt turns around to tell her that her name is Maisie, and she’s not mad. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Maisie turns back to the door, but the computer, who wants to be called Gus, tells her the door is locked by executive order. Maisie breaks into tears. They won’t let her see her mother’s body. Clara suggests that they find the Doctor. He’s good with locks. Maisie jams the heel of her shoe into the control panel instead, which short-circuits the lock and opens the door. Okay, whoever is designing these sci-fi locks really needs to rethink their design. Ruining a control panel should make the door more secure, not less. I’ll bet theft is a rampant problem in the future, but Big Locks is making too much money replacing them to care.

The Doctor walks into a train car and asks a random man about the Foretold, a mythical mummy that once you see it, you’re a dead man (or woman, in this case). Evidently, he didn’t pick the man at random, because he turns out to be Emil Moorehouse, professor of alien mythology. The Doctor quizzes him on the Foretold. What’s the most interesting thing about it?

Professor Moorehouse suggests that it could be the time limit: once you see the Foretold, you have 66 seconds to live. As they discuss, in another part of the train, a cook is panicking. The Foretold is walking towards him, hands outstretched, and none of the other cooks can see it. A timer begins counting down on-screen from 66 seconds. He locks himself in the meat freezer to get away, but the Foretold is suddenly in the room with him. It grabs his head, just like Mrs. Pitt, and the cook screams and when the timer hits zero, slumps to the floor.

The Professor also mentions that the myth’s say there might be a riddle or secret word to make the Foretold told, but no-one’s ever been able to figure it out. The Doctor tells the professor that the most interesting thing about the Foretold is that the professor was here to witness Mrs Pitt’s death. The Doctor gets up and leaves.

Clara is trying to rewire a lock. Apparently jamming a high-heeled shoe into a door control panel does fry the door shut, but only after you’ve already gone inside. There doesn’t seem to be any body in the car, just a futuristic-looking sarcophagus. Um, Clara? Sarcophagus? Mummy? Do you see the connection? Work faster! Maisie feels guilty for Mrs. Pitts death. She wasn’t her mother, but her grandmother, and Maisie hints that she wasn’t a nice woman. Maisie has been daydreaming of Grandma Pitt dying for years, and now she feels responsible. Clara consoles her, and tells her that difficult people make you feel all kinds of things. Clara is speaking from experience here, I’m thinking.

The Doctor goes to see the conductor, using the psychic paper to reveal himself as the conductor’s worst nightmare: a mystery shopper! Even the Doctor is surprised by that one. He tries to get the conductor to help him, but to no avail. He leaves the conductor’s office and finds Perkins waiting for him with the passenger manifest, maps of the train, and a record of the places the train has stopped within the last six months. The Doctor finds his foresight a bit suspicious. Perkins says he’s already been looking into the situation.

Clara and Maisie are still trapped in the train car. Maisie wants to know about her and the Doctor. Clara explains that they used to be just friends, but now they’re not even that. This trip is a goodbye to the good times. Maisie looks around at the darkened train car, the gleaming black sarcophagus. The good times were like this? Clara laughs and agrees.

The Doctor, Perkins, and Professor Moorehouse are watching a security video of Mrs. Pitt during her attack. The Doctor times it on a stopwatch. Exactly 66 seconds from the time she mentioned seeing a mummy to her collapse. The Doctor points out that the lights flickered right at the beginning. Perkins realizes that the lights flickered right before the cook started yelling, too. Professor Morehouse is less helpful, telling them that the Foretold is immortal and unstoppable.

It sounds as if Clara has been telling Maisie about the events of the last episode. Maisie thinks the Doctor was arrogant and “high-handed beyond belief”, but she can’t believe that Clara still got on the train with him. Clara says this was saying good-bye, “You can’t end on a slammed door”. Maisie says everybody does it all the time.

Speaking of the Doctor, he rigs up a phone by using the sonic screwdriver from some equipment on the wall. He calls up Clara to tell her it’s time for breakfast, and that there’s been another mummy murder. Clara tries to get a word in edgewise, but the Doctor looooves to talk, doesn’t he? She’s finally able to get through to him: she’s trapped! The Doctor springs into action, and finds the locked compartment, but can’t get it open. Gus is still cheerily refusing to open the door without an executive order.

The sonic screwdriver isn’t working; the Doctor thinks it’s some kind of suppression field. Clara tells him about the sarcophagus, which beeps and begins to open. The lights flicker, and the Doctor tells her to get away from it, but Clara says not to worry, it appears to be filled with bubble wrap. True, there’s bubble-wrap looking stuff, but also two lines of glowing blood-red lights. It doesn’t look friendly.

To make matters, worse, the conductor shows up with guards. He called the home office, there’s no record of the Doctor as a mystery shopper, nor even as a passenger. The conductor takes him into custody; he thinks the Doctor might be the killer.

The Doctor asks him how many people must die before the conductor stops looking away. They enter a another train car, and find a guard shooting at empty space, screaming for ‘it’ to get away. The Foretold is back. The conductor commands him to get a hold of himself, but the guard screams, and slumps backwards. The doctor from before examines him and shakes his head. He’s dead. The conductor decides that only three people will have had to die before he stops looking the other way, and he frees the Doctor to help. Well, that plot point didn’t last long.

The Doctor explains to the people in the train car about the Foretold, but says it isn’t the strangest thing. What’s strange is that all of them are experts in aliens. If the Doctor was going to assemble a team to study the Foretold, they’d all be the people he’d pick. And someone has. That someone is most likely listening to them, so why not come out and introduce themselves? The train stops, and most of the passengers disappear. The opulent furnishings of the train car vanish, revealing a futuristic lab. It was all hard-light holograms, with fake passengers to pad out the numbers. Gus announces that they are there to study and capture the Foretold, and reverse-engineer its abilities. Gus may or may not actually be a computer, it’s hard to tell from the voice.

If they’re supposed to capture it, then that means that Gus has no control over it, so how did it get on board? Gus uses a spotlight to highlight a scroll on the wall. The Foretold appears near the scroll, so it was brought on board. The conductor tries to grab the scroll so he can throw it out an airlock, but its protected by a force-field

The Doctor has found a flaw in Gus’ logic. How can the scientists study the Foretold if they can’t even see it? Professor Moorehouse begins describing what it looks like. Uh-oh.

He’s got 66 seconds to give as much detail as he can. Not surprisingly, it looks like a mummy. He tries to bargain with the Foretold, but it doesn’t seem to notice, killing the Professor at the end of the 66 seconds. Gus apologizes for their distress, but that they’ve collected lots of data. The computers have been recording the deaths. Well, that’s rather morbid.

Clara calls the Doctor. They’ve been looking into some documents they found in the train car. The sarcophagus is actually a Secure Stasis Unit. The Doctor says that’s what they’re supposed to put the Foretold in to capture it. Gus politely demands that the Doctor hang up and return to work. Clara and Maisie have also found some passenger manifests from missing ships. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Gus repeats his demand that the Doctor hang up and return to work, and begins depressurizing the kitchen. Pots, pans, and bodies begin floating by the windows of the train. Gus explains that if they don’t return to work, he’ll keep depressurizing compartments containing less-valuable passengers.

The Doctor hangs up, but begins to wonder how the Foretold chooses its victims. They thought it was random, but what if it’s not? They find a common link: All the victims were ill, either physically or mentally, in one way or another. Mrs. Pitt was frail and old, the chef had a rare blood disorder, and the Professor had panic attacks. The conductor is rather distraught by this. He suffers from post traumatic stress, and can’t sleep without pills. So of course, the lights begin to flicker.

He manages to give better information than the professor did. The Foretold is almost out of focus, looking at it gives him a headache. When he shoots it, bullets go right through it. When the Doctor stands in its path, it moves through him like a ghost. If the conductor moves, it teleports behind him. Even at the end he tells the others that its reaching for his head. Well done, sir! And then he dies.

The Doctor immediately starts trying to use the clues. The Foretold can teleport, that means technology. What technology takes 66 seconds to charge up or change state? The Doctor realizes that the Foretold has been around for centuries, the myths say so. So what’s keeping it alive? Energy. Energy from its victims. He does a deep tissue scan on the conductor and finds that he’s been drained of all energy on a cellular level. Perkins says it’s not just a mummy, it’s a vampire. A vampire mummy…great. A regular mummy just wasn’t good enough for you, was it, Doctor?

Perkins has a thought: Doesn’t it take about a minute to pull energy out of phase? The Doctor agrees. That’s why only the victims can see it: the Foretold is taking them out of phase to drain their energy!

And now we have new information: the scientists have figured out the next victim: Maisie.

So nobody else on this train has any sniffles, sneezes, or other afflictions? A slight nervous breakdown after the death of her grandmother pushes Maisie to the front of the line? That’s actually pretty diabolical on the Foretold’s part. If other people experience psychological distress after it kills someone, then sooner or later, everyone’s going to get drained. It’s a wonder the Doctor hasn’t been targeted yet.

The Doctor tells Clara that they need Maisie in the lab. Gus wants her there, too.

Wait, so you want the lady targeted by the Foretold to leave the area with the stasis unit? The stasis unit you’re supposed to capture the Foretold with? Nothing springs to mind?

They need information so they need to watch as she dies. You know, you’re REALLY not helping convince Clara that she should still travel with you. And now the Doctor is telling Clara to lie to Maisie and tell her he can save her. I can’t tell if he’s ruthless or sociopathic in this scene. Clara turns to Maisie and lies to her. The door opens, and they leave the sarcophagus room. Maisie is happy, she knew the Doctor was a good man. Clara sees the TARDIS, waiting where they parked it. There seems to be a rippling effect around it….strange.

Clara enters the lab with Maisie, telling the Doctor there was a force-field around the TARDIS. Well, I’m glad she knew what it was. The Doctor says Gus is probably trying to block their escape route. But if Gus knows what the TARDIS is, then he probably knows what the Doctor is! The Doctor admits that Gus has been trying to get him to come for a long time: free tickets, mysterious summons, even calling the TARDIS.

WHAT?!?

Clara is incensed. The Doctor knew it would be dangerous, and didn’t tell her. The Doctor corrects her. He didn’t know. He hoped. Clara is not amused. This is why she doesn’t want to travel with him anymore. He lies, and now he’s gotten her to lie for him!

Maisie is understandably upset that the Doctor can’t actually save her. Cue the lights flickering. The Foretold is here for Maisie. Good thing it waited until she was in the lab…would have been awkward for the Doctor if she’s been attacked in the hallway. Or in the sarcophagus car as they were leaving. The Doctor steps in front of Maisie and uses a device to copy all her fear, grief, and resentment into the device and transfer it into his head. The Foretold disappears from Maisie’s view. It’s not gone, now it’s coming for the Doctor. The Doctor runs to meet it. The Foretold can’t hurt him until the 66 seconds are up. He notices markings underneath the bandages, markings that match the scroll on the wall. The Doctor realizes its not a scroll, it’s a flag. He’d better hurry, he’s almost out of time. The Foretold is protecting the flag, why? He’s a soldier, left over from a long-forgotten war, but the tech he was given won’t let him die. The Doctor figures out the secret words to stop the Foretold: “We surrender!”

The Foretold steps back from the Doctor and salutes him before turning to dust. There’s a small piece of technology in the midst of the dust, presumably what Gus was after.

Gus congratulates them on their discovery, but says that survivors are not needed, and begins depressurizing the train.

The Doctor is fiddling with the Foretold’s piece of tech, trying to get the teleporter running so they can teleport into the TARDIS. Everyone is running out of air except for him.

And then the train explodes. Not sure why or how, but I’m inclined to blame a faulty door control panel. Never trust those things.

Clara wakes up on a blanket on a rocky beach. How did they get there? The Doctor was able to teleport everyone into the TARDIS with the teleporter, and then tried to hack Gus and find out who was behind everything. Gus triggered a fail-safe and blew up the train. Oh, that’s why it blew up. I guess Big Locks wasn’t to blame this time. The Doctor dropped everyone off at the nearest civilized planet, but let Clara sleep. He didn’t tell her of her plan to copy Maisie because he didn’t want Gus to find out. So he was pretending to be heartless? The Doctor wants to know if that would be easier for her. He says if Maisie had died, he would have gone on to the next victim, and the next until he figured out how to beat the Foretold. “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.”

Inside the TARDIS, Clara asks the Doctor what it’s like, having to make the impossible choices everyday. Is it like an addiction? The Doctor says he doesn’t know, you have to give up something to find out if you’re addicted. Clara gets a call from Danny, who wants to know if it’s over. She says yes, the mission is accomplished. They exchange ‘I love you’s’ and then Clara tells him she has to go. The Doctor asks what Danny thinks. Clara makes a decision and tells the Doctor that Danny is fine with them traveling together. What? Since when? I think the Doctor’s lies are rubbing off on you, Clara. Don’t lie to Danny! Why can’t you tell him what’s going on!

The Doctor is delighted. Clara tells him that as long as he gets her home safe and on time, everything will be fine. Yeah, about that? The Doctor can usually do one, but not the other. Just ask Rose or Amy.

The episode was interesting. The ticking clock made things quite tense, especially when you didn’t know when or where it would strike. The Foretold continued this season’s theme of monster’s not really being monsters, just misunderstood and in need of help. The sudden change of Clara’s character at the end, however, was abrupt and a little disheartening. I understand that she doesn’t want to lose the wonder of time-travel, but I wish she’d find a way to do it without creating a situation that will obviously lead to more drama and tears.

And why isn’t she trying to get Danny to travel with them on the TARDIS? The Doctor needs to get over his soldier blind spot.

Next week, looks like it’s back to the present, so maybe we’ll see Danny. If it is, the present. You never can tell. People are losing a dimension, stuck in only 2D. Aliens? Most likely…but we’ll have to find out next week!

~ K.L. Davis ~

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