Critiquing Capaldi: “Mummy on the Orient Express”

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As I said in my Listen review, I don’t think Doctor Who is the best show on television. I think it can be, there are definitely instances where it is, but in general, it’s probably not. Doctor Who, as much as I love it, is quite a flawed show. It definitely has some issues, and it certainly isn’t perfect. So, why is it my favourite, when there are most likely better-produced shows out there?

The answer really is quite simple, there’s not really another show like it. A show which can practically adjust its genre every episode out and still allow its audience to tell they’re watching the same show they were last week. A show which is so inventive and creative that it can tell pretty much any story it wants to. A show which is so bizarre it becomes brilliant. I could go on.

There are many reasons why I love Doctor Who. One of the most important is its ability to surprise its audience. This is not just in plot points and twists (which I feel have been a tad predictable recently) but in expectations. When I first heard the title and the plot synopsis, I thought it was going to be a mediocre, throwaway, episode, with the potential of being okay, but nothing more. I wasn’t really looking forward to it when it aired. Little did I know on the evening it aired that I was about to watch my favourite episode of the series, one which I would keep coming back to time and time again, and one which would find it’s way into my top 20 of the revival. Mummy on the Orient Express is one of those stories which really shows Doctor Who at its best, why it’s my favourite show and has been since childhood, and why I come back each week to watch more.

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Mummy essentially has all of the ingredients to the recipe of ‘the great Doctor Who story’. In fairness, so did Kill the Moon. The main difference being is that Jamie Mathieson actually knows how to ‘cook’ using these ingredients, whereas Harness, bless him, is just shoving stuff into the oven and hoping it will turn out okay. Mathieson has a fantastic ability to use these ingredients and to get them to work together and not against each other. In a lot of ways, it’s Kill the Moon’s more talented twin sibling. Both do very similar things. Both have a very Hinchliffe era tone to them, the difference here is the tone is consistent. Both have moral dilemmas, the difference here being Mummy has the better grip of its moral dilemma, with the “sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones” scene being a highlight, if not the highlight, of the episode. Unlike Kill the Moon, both characters are written appropriately, with Twelve here coming across as still arrogant and blunt, but a likeable arrogant and blunt. This episode also has creepy monsters which are used to their effect, a phenomenal guest cast, a great score, and the pacing is remarkably good here. It ticks every box for the list of “things required to make a good Who episode”, what’s not to like?

Doctor Who has changed so much over the years, that it appeals to so many different types of people, and therefore everybody’s definition of the programme is slightly different. My own definition of Doctor Who is pretty much what you see here. It’s a very Classic inspired script, feeling like something out of the Hinchliffe era throughout. The monster is an original and terrifying concept, and the design is brilliant, hopefully scaring a few kids. But, it’s also quite obviously a new series story too. The adventure is equally as about the Doctor and Clara’s relationship as much as it is about the Mummy. Essentially, it’s a Classic Who story in a New Who setting, using what works about both eras of the show together to make a really strong episode of Who. It’s almost like a celebration of everything the show does right.

To such an extent that I really can’t find much to criticise it without serious nit-picking. I’m not too keen on Foxes’ version of Don’t Stop Me Now. Wilmshurst isn’t my favourite director. The lighting is just a tad too dark in places. But honestly, I am having far too much fun to really care.

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Of course, despite everything in this episode being pretty damn good, I do have some highlights. The first, being the guest cast. So far, I haven’t been too keen on the guest casts this series. I enjoyed the one in Robot of Sherwood, and Listen didn’t really have one, but a lot of guest characters these series have been either cream-cracker levels of bland or irritating beyond belief. Not in this story. They’re all written three-dimensionally, writing ‘real’ people is certainly one of Mathieson’s talents, and everybody adds something to the story for better. The guest cast also seems incredibly pleased to be there, in particular, Frank Skinner as Perkins, who you can tell is feeling like a kid at Christmas for being in Who.

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Mathieson also nails the Doctor and Clara relationship, while also getting them perfect as individuals. The relationship is definitely a key aspect of the story, and Mathieson’s choice of dialogue for the Doctor and Clara manages to be both poetic and realistic. The final five minutes are lovely. Peter and Jenna give a stunning performance, as usual, with Peter also particularly enjoying the hell out of the story in the previous scenes. It’s clear that Mathieson gets all of the traits we have seen from these characters so far, both the Doctor’s self-doubt and Clara’s controlling and increased recklessness are apparent here, and she’s also shown to be becoming more like the Doctor too, essentially having a sort of companion in Maisie.

This episode also scores really highly in how it looks. The set design and costumes are astounding (Jenna Coleman in a flapper dress looks lovely, as does Peter’s costume), and despite Wilmshurst not being my favourite director, the episode looks amazing.

Overall: Everything I love about Doctor Who in 45 minutes. A modern Classic, quite literally.

Previous Score: 10
New Score: 10

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