‘Doctor Who’ Review: Using 66 Seconds Wisely on the ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

It feels like a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot mystery on this weekend’s installment of “Doctor Who.” Victims claim to see a mummy (that no one else can see) shortly before they die. Thankfully, Madame Vastra and Jenny are not on board the space version of the Orient Express. Also, if you’ve noticed a different sort of tone about the episode, it may have something to do with bringing in a new writer, Jamie Mathieson. His first foray into Who lore is quite welcome.

The TARDIS takes Clara (Jenna Coleman) and the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to the Orient Express for “one last hurrah.” The young schoolteacher was positively fuming last week on “Kill the Moon” and she seems ready to stop traveling with the Doctor. Or is she?

The mummy, also known as the Foretold, kills its victim by the end of 66 seconds. The egg timer effect at the lower left corner of the screen is a nice touch for building the tension and suspense. The mummy can teleport, so locking yourself in a room to get away from it won’t help at all. It’s a clever twist on the locked room, a frequent setting used in classic murder mysteries. The outstretched hands and silence of the monster seem to be a fun nod to the old Hammer films. Legend tells of a secret word you can employ to get the Foretold to stop pursuing you. So how does the Doctor figure it out?

Clara and the Doctor are separated for half of the episode, so he relies Perkins (Frank Skinner) as his Watson in the case. Halfway through, Gus the “friendly” voice on the train, lifts the holograms to reveal that the train is actually a scientific lab. All of the foremost scientific experts are on the train and they are charged with stopping the mummy before it kills all of them. It turns out Gus also has the Doctor’s number. Was the trap set up by Missy?

The Doctor figures out that Maisie is the next victim and asks Clara to bring her over. Clara is upset at being an accomplice in his “lies,” but she follows his instructions. There’s a stroke of brilliance here when the Foretold shows up, as the Doctor turns the tables and transfers aspects of Maisie’s thoughts to himself. The transfer tricks the mummy, which focuses its murderous inclinations on the Doctor.

As always, our favorite Time Lord positively scintillates when he reasons out problems aloud as time runs short. This week was no exception and still comes with the humor: “I’m your next victim. Are you my mummy?” Peter Capaldi is so good at keeping up with the different moods and bursts of energy from the Doctor. It’s nice to see a better script for him to work with here. Mathieson also wrote the script for next week’s episode, “Flatline.”

The Doctor saves everyone from the train as it explodes. Clara has a change of heart and says Danny is fine with her TARDIS adventures, which brings us back to the beginning of the Danny-Clara ship (which I still find tiresome). Clara is being dishonest with both her boyfriend and her “not-boyfriend,” which will could cause more antagonism between the two men.

The Doctor is not her boyfriend, yet sometimes the tension and the dialogue point to something else. The way Clara tries to reason things out to herself with the words “some man” and “dumping” make it sound like a hard break up. In any case, the question remains: will Clara be leaving the TARDIS for good?

“Doctor Who” airs Saturday evenings on BBC America at 9|8c.

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