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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DOCTOR WHO Taking "Express" Ride to Bad Season

Article first published as TV Review: 'Doctor Who' - 'Mummy on the Orient Express' on Blogcritics.


When last we left BBC’s Doctor Who, Clara (Jenna Coleman) tells off The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in what looks like an end to their partnership. Viewers are further led to believe this because promos for the latest installment, “Mummy on the Orient Express,” don’t include Clara, a wise decision, given the cliffhanger. However, this week the twosome is back together, traveling on the Orient Express in space, which is being haunted by a mummy, as the episode title suggests. Have they repaired their broken bond? Not quite; they are on one last adventure together before Clara hangs up her traveling shoes for good.

“Mummy on the Orient Express” is extremely disappointing in how it treats the relationship between The Doctor and Clara. It makes sense that her anger will ebb eventually, and that they could possibly remain friends, but since The Doctor’s last change, the two have not gotten along. Why is Clara being so nice to him now? Their issues cannot just be ignored, and last mission or no, they are far too chummy as the episode begins.

Clara thinks that once she retires, The Doctor will still pop ’round to visit. She ought to know better. He lies and says he will, but longtime viewers of the show are smart enough not to believe him. That’s not to say The Doctor will never see Clara again once she stops being his companion, but they certainly won’t be getting together on a regular basis. At most, their paths may cross a few times by chance. The Doctor doesn’t keep friends in the manner a typical human would.

“Mummy on the Orient Express” does give an explanation for Clara’s about-face. She is addicted to the rush of the adventure, lying to both The Doctor and Danny (Samuel Anderson) to cover her destructive actions. Once she stops traveling with The Doctor, that part of her life, the adrenaline-fueled danger, goes away. That’s not something Clara is capable of quitting at this point, and that’s why she changes her mind about leaving by the end of the hour. Her decision has nothing to do with The Doctor and everything about her own compulsions.

This would be fine if the tension between Clara and The Doctor remained. Clara’s eruption last week isn’t a one-time occurrence; it’s the release of some long building emotions. As I said, she and the Twelfth Doctor have not seen eye-to-eye since his existence started. Clara and the Eleventh (Matt Smith) are good friends, but this doesn’t extend to the newest Doctor. Unfortunately, “Mummy on the Orient Express” is a return to status quo, rather than an examination of a complex dynamic, and thus squanders a chance at a really good, character-driven story. Even if future episodes attempt to rectify this, it can’t negate what is done this week.

Keeping to the wasted characters theme, there’s a charming, intelligent engineer named Perkins (Frank Skinner, Shane) introduced whom The Doctor takes a shine to. The Doctor likes Perkins so much he invites the man to join the TARDIS crew, but Perkins declines. Unfortunately, aside from quick peeks at his personality we don’t see why Perkins would get such an offer, nor why he would turn it down. He could have been very interesting, but wasn’t.

DW2The case of the week is standard Doctor Who fare. The mummy is picking off passengers on the train one by one. Only the person about to die can see the monster, and they have only 66 seconds of life once they see it. The Doctor is dispassionate about losing victims, viewing their deaths primarily as a way to study the phenomena. (This is the exact thing Clara is frustrated with him about, by the way, making even less sense that they’re friends again). It’s sort of a murder mystery, and in the end, The Doctor saves the day, just as one expects him to.

There are some fun one-liners sprinkled throughout the hour. The Orient Express itself is pretty cool, inside and out. I like the futuristic setting mixed with a 1920s vibe, and the singer (experimental pop star Foxes) performing the Queen classic “Don’t Stop Me Now” in an older style is awesome. But these are not nearly enough to make up for a mediocre story and a lackluster handling of the main characters. In an uneven season, arguably the worst since the franchise’s reboot, “Mummy on the Orient Express” ranks low for what it lacks more than for what it presents.

Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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