Doctor Who recap: 'Mummy on the Orient Express'
A classic train recreated in space and haunted by an even more classic monster. What could go wrong?
What happens when you combine a mummy, the Orient Express, a murder mystery, a time traveling crazy man, and some personal drama about the nature of friendship? A hell of an episode, evidently. “The Mummy on the Orient Express” took the best part about all the episodes before it and smashed it together into one rock solid episode that will go down as one of the best this season. But it also might be one of the darkest episodes of the show yet. It might just set the record for most onscreen deaths out of any episode so far, and has many heartwrenchingly disturbing moments crammed together.
In the cold open, a countdown starts. An old woman and her granddaughter sit having dinner in a train straight out of the early 1900s when the old woman sees a mummy coming right for her. But nobody else does—they can’t see it at all. The woman proceeds to get more and more panicked until the mummy causes her to slump over dead with her touch. Everyone else simply sees her die immediately from an apparent heart attack. Oh, and the train is in space!
After the theme song plays we watch, as the Doctor brings Clara on board the spacetrain. It’s a surprise that they seem so pleasant together after the meltdown that capped last week’s “Kill the Moon.” That is until their conversation goes into how this is their last hurrah together because Clara cannot deal with the Doctor as he is right now. So, basically, this is their breakup adventure.
The Doctor doesn’t want to think about that, he wants to enjoy his time with her by regaling her with tales of the stars outside the window. He is rudely interrupted by an agitated Maisie (Daisy Beaumont), the daughter from earlier. The strict and stiff-lipped conductor, Captain Quell (David Bamber), apologizes for her behavior.
Outside of their rooms, the Doctor and Clara speak about it being their last hurrah again. But, as any romantic would have seen coming, they’re talking about two different things. The Doctor is speaking of it as something final, as she wanted, while Clara thinks it just means an end to the constant adventuring, but that the Doctor would still “come around for dinner or something.” They give cheers to it being a last hurrah. (This is quickly becoming the most amicable breakup in TV history.)
Clara calls Danny to fill him in on what’s going on, disappointed that the adventure is relatively boring. The Doctor, meanwhile, channels his inner Gollum to unsuccessfully convince himself that there’s no danger at all on the Orient Express. But he gives in and goes to examine Maisie’s grandmother’s wheelchair. He does this alone because he does not want Clara involved if there is any danger.
He is caught in the act of inspection by Perkins (Frank Sinner), the chief engineer. The two men share their suspicions of each other openly, instantly becoming friends over it and Perkins fills the Doctor in on the Mummy rumor. Clara, meanwhile, runs into Maisie on her way to see her grandmother’s body and follows Maisie into the locked storage car, getting through the spacetrain’s AI, Gus (John Sessions), who sounds like John Cleese with the passive aggressiveness dialed up.
The Doctor goes to the dining lounge to speak to Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers), an expert on the Foretold—the mummy’s official name. The two men expose a few details about the Foretold, most notably it takes 66 seconds from start to finish to kill. During their conversation we see it take a young chef’s life by teleporting into a fridge to get at him while everyone around the chef looks on confusedly since they cannot see the Foretold. The Doctor notes that the professor is present to witness the Foretold in action.
The Doctor confronts Captain Quell, pretending to be a mystery shopper since that’s what Quell is worried about most, of all things. He blasts Quell for not recognizing the issue for what it is and leaves Quell’s office where Perkins comes to him with an armful of information such as passenger manifests and the train’s historical data. It’s a bit odd that the Doctor didn’t hold Quell’s military history against him like he did for so many others this season.
NEXT: Oh, Mummy fiercest, why do you lumber so?
Clara and Maisie, meanwhile, are trapped in the secure storage. The two women bond over the controlling influences in their lives: the Doctor and Maisie’s grandmother. Maisie is more than a little interested in Clara’s relationship with the Doctor and why Clara chooses to partake in adventures with him.
The Doctor calls Clara to check in and to inform her that there might be danger after all, being more upfront about the situation than we saw him being last week. Quell arrests the Doctor because he found out that the Doctor lied about his identity. On the way to the brig, everyone witnesses one of the spacetrain’s security guards fall victim to the Foretold, which, again, nobody but him can see. Quell lets the Doctor go, no longer able to admit that the deaths are coincidental.
The Doctor realizes something is very wrong with the whole situation. He speaks to all the main passengers, who are all scientists of some sort, and points out that there’s something suspicious about their all being in one place. It feels like the episode is going to turn into a spin on the Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but the early 1900s aesthetic of the train falls away to reveal a sterile white laboratory setting. So definitely not a murder mystery.
The spacetrain’s AI goes full GLaDOS and starts giving them their instructions: They are to discover the nature and methodology of the Foretold so that the AI (if it is one) or its controllers (if it has one) can harness its power. Just as everyone starts wondering how they could possibly do it, the Professor starts giving everyone the description of the Foretold. Because he can see it.
Realizing that this is the only way that anyone will get good information out of it, the Doctor presses the Professor to give as much detail about what he sees as possible before his end—in what is probably one of the hardest and most tragic scenes in recent memory. Moorhouse tries vainly to placate the Foretold at the end since, according to the myth, saying the specific thing the Foretold needs to hear will stop it. But he is unable to guess and the Foretold takes him.
As everyone settles to work, Clara calls the Doctor. The two have a discussion about the situation while Gus keeps telling the Doctor to hang up, sounding angrier each time. Quell soon tells the Doctor that he should listen to Gus since the entire kitchen staff is now outside their spacecar’s window. You know, in space. Dead.
Because a room full of scientists is apparently so completely useless that they never utter a single word, the Doctor gets to work trying to figure out how the Foretold chooses its victims. Quell reveals that all the victims so far have been sick, physically and mentally, so the Foretold must be taking the weakest first. Quell reveals that he’s likely next due to his PTSD. And, right on time, the Foretold comes for him.
Quell goes down giving the best description he can before he dies and thanks the Doctor for “waking [him] up”. Perkins chastises the Doctor for acting so indifferent about yet another death. The Doctor reminds them all that there is no time to mourn when they have the proverbial guns to their heads.
The Doctor and Perkins (and not a single one of the other scientists) use what they know of the Foretold to figure out how it works: it sucks the energy out of its victims over the 66 seconds by taking them out of phase, which is why only its victims can see it. They realize that the next victim will be Maisie, so the Doctor calls Clara to tell her to bring Maisie to them. He tells Clara that it is so they can watch Maisie die and learn more. Clara is forced to lie to Maisie, because how can you tell someone they have to go and die for scientific purposes? On their way out, Clara notices that the TARDIS is behind a forcefield.
NEXT: Is this his Mummy?
When Clara and Maisie get to the lab compartment, Clara tells the Doctor about the forcefield. The Doctor confesses that he’s been getting invitations to the train for a while now. Clara gets upset with the Doctor for knowingly bringing her into potential danger and, thus, forcing her to be his accomplice in acts like lying to a doomed woman. She cites this as the reason that she’s leaving the Doctor. It’s worth remembering that the Doctor was trying to convince himself that this was a safe trip earlier and genuinely didn’t know there was danger. Unlike the last episode, it’s made clear that he wasn’t lying to Clara for kicks.
The Foretold comes for Maisie then, but the Doctor quickly scans Maisie and then blasts himself with the scanner. The Foretold disappears for Maisie and appears for the Doctor instead. The Doctor uses the remaining time to deduce that the Foretold is an ancient soldier following orders. The Doctor proclaims that he surrenders at the last second. The Foretold stops in its tracks and salutes, falling into dust. The theme of soldiering is at the root of a problem in yet another episode this season. Perhaps we know what the finale will center around. The Doctor pulls the real culprit out of the ashes: a self-healing device for soldiers that malfunctioned and turned what should have been a corpse into a shambling energy vampire.
Gus thanks the Doctor for the triumph, making a note of the huge success, and then attempts to kill everyone by sucking the air out of the car because Gus is a gigantic jerk. Clara wakes up on a strange, but civilized, planet to the Doctor playing around with a stick. The Doctor teleported everyone to the TARDIS just in time and accidentally set off the explosions when he tried to hack Gus to find out who was behind the Orient Express.
Clara asked if the Doctor was pretending to be heartless so that he could save the day but he doesn’t answer the question, instead responding by asking her if that’s what she wants to believe so that it will make leaving easier. The Doctor says that he didn’t know if he was capable of saving Maisie or anyone else, stating that you still have to choose even when every choice is bad. The implication is that the Doctor never means to cause any harm to people but sometimes has to do it because it’s all he can do. This is, of course, a reflection based on the fissure between Clara and the Doctor caused by his harsh actions in the previous episode.
Back on the TARDIS, Perkins displays great interest in the time machine but refuses the Doctor’s invitation to travel with him, saying that such a thing could “change a man.” Hopefully he returns for an episode or two in the future since he and the Doctor had a fun Sherlock and Watson vibe going on. After Perkins leaves, Clara asks if the Doctor is addicted to the danger and heroism in his life. The Doctor says “You can’t really tell if something is an addiction until you try giving it up.”
Clara takes a call from Danny, in front of the Doctor, where Danny asks if she has finished the process of leaving the Doctor. But Clara’s question about addiction wasn’t really about the Doctor. Clara lies to him and says it is. She recants her desires of leaving the Doctor, saying that Danny is totally fine with the idea of her and the Doctor knocking about. The Doctor happily takes Clara to their new adventure.