Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express (2014)

Doctor Who Episode 8

Hello. I’m so pleased to finally see you. I’m the Doctor and I will be your victim this evening. Are you my mummy?”

One might get the impression that all I do each and every day is sit around watching British science fiction, but let’s get real here – I waste time with a lot of other stuff too! Pro Wrestling! TV! And Anime! All kidding aside, I wanted to start this review out talking about my love for space trains, you heard me right – trains all flying around in space for some reason or another. I chalk this all up to my love for the visionary Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto and his epic series of space opera works including one called Galaxy Express 999. Originally written in the late 70’s, Three-Nine introduced me to a fantastical world where space travel was made more comfortable by echoing the past and looking back at the golden age of travel. Of course Mr. Matsumoto’s works also contemplated what is really meant to be human, and what it means to be loved in a universe where people seem to be abandoning such concepts. It was a little more than just the concept of the space trains I went for. I’m not going to lie though, I cheered on the inside when I saw the trailer for this episode.

galaxy-express-999

I’m not writing here about Galaxy Express 999 specifically, but I wanted to briefly point out a few thematic similarities between it and a few episodes of Doctor Who, chiefly Voyage of the Damned and Mummy on the Orient Express. If you like these episodes, you might seek the show out on Hulu. My love for the similar material has made me love these episodes quite a bit, despite the fact that I know for sure VotD was pretty unpopular with most fans. That’s how I am though, if I feel inspired by certain things in an episode, I love them no matter what, case and point was my adoration for Rings of Akhaten. I think it all goes back to that feeling of comfort in keeping things simple. Perhaps, that’s a world I’d love to live in: just as modern but somehow not as plastic and disposable….comfortable. Many folks may be scared of the dreaded mechanization and inhumanity of our present technological progress, dressing it up like older more simpler times may be the way to go. That’s at least what Leiji Matsumoto saw, and coincidentally what it seems a few Doctor Who episodes echo.

It has been a few weeks since the complete meltdown by Clara directed towards The Doctor. She has come to realize that she doesn’t actually hate him, and that she wants to travel one last time with him – “The Last Hurrah!” if you will. They arrive sometime in the future aboard a space train that has been modeled after the legendary Orient Express, with many of its passengers in period outfits. The Doctor quips that “There were many trains to take the name Orient Express, but only one in space.” It seems that they have arrived right after a mysterious death, perhaps even murder, in which an older lady claimed she was being attacked by “a mummy”, as in Egyptian dead person style mummy. After The Doctor does some research, he discovers that there seems to be a pattern with these mummy attacks – everyone claims to be chased by a mummy, and they die exactly 66 seconds later after a flash of light. This also seems to correlate to a myth that another passenger, Prof. Moorhouse, reiterates about the legend of a supernatural being called the Foretold.

Doctor Who Episode 8

Suspicious of the ships computer system, Gus (voiced by John Sessions) and the fact that multiple people on the train seem to know a bit too much about the Foretold, The Doctor puts together that the train ride must not be a coincidence and that they have been brought there deliberately to solve the mystery. Suddenly everyone realizes that they have been duped by someone who is allowing Gus to force all of the various scientists, doctors, and engineers aboard to figure it out or die trying. Much to her fury, The Doctor even confesses to Clara that the mysterious figure that brought him to the Orient Express “even phoned the TARDIS once”. Astute fans might recall a line from The Big Bang, in which The Eleventh Doctor, answering the TARDIS phone, replies “an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express, in space? A bunch more people die, and eventually The Doctor figures it all out.

I noticed last week that The Doctor seemed to be outright channeling Tom Baker a few times, and it seems like this has been kept going for this episode. The most blatant use of this is the discovery that The Doctor now keeps Jelly Babies, the candy that The Fourth Doctor always carried around, in a silver cigarette case.

Doctor Who Episode 8

It is later explained that our nefarious mummy is actually an ancient warrior that has somehow been kept alive long past it’s own expiration. This is due to a faulty life support system that basically doomed the poor soul to warp around absorbing life force to keep fighting the long forgotten war that it was still fighting. In some ways, this almost makes The Foretold a creature not unlike a rogue cyberman – desperately trying to do what it can to survive in an almost mindless manner. The Foretold was pretty scary for a mummy considering we’ve all been around various mummy stories for upwards of 80-100 years. Usually these mindless beasts are nothing more than cursed specters that attack anyone in sight but are easy to foil. The Foretold, however, can teleport, change it’s dimensional phase to only appear to certain people, and ruthlessly kill just about anyone in under a minute. A far cry from the one Abbott and Costello fought. On a side note: I am glad that, upon the realization that The Foretold was actually a soldier, The Doctor didn’t slip into another anti-military rant as those are starting to get a bit forced.

Thankfully this episode doesn’t end with a gigantic fight between Clara and The Doctor, as she finally seems to be certain that he is a good man – manipulative perhaps, but good at his core. She did promise her now boyfriend Danny Pink that she was done with her travels, so I can see some more Doctor vs Danny drama coming up. Since we’re past the halfway point, and it’s rumored that Jenna Coleman isn’t going to be on the show much after the Christmas special, I want to see a few episodes where there isn’t tons of tension between the characters. I always hated most of the Peter Davison era because characters like Tegan and Adric were constantly at his throat, and I really do not want a return to that tone.

doctor-who-mummy-on-the-orient-express-4

What can I say? Show me a space train, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of it. Yeah, the mummy was a bit silly in space, and we didn’t find out who the real villain was (hopefully it’s shown later) but it was a solid episode nonetheless. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the majority of the side-characters, and even that cool version of Queen’s Don’t stop me Now sung by pop singer Foxes. This was another almost legitimately scary episode, and the body count may prove that this was potentially a bit much for some kids. I’m glad the show is getting creepier, as the horror episodes are some of my favorites.

Jenna-Coleman-in-Mummy-on-the-Orient-Express

Doctor Who: Kill The Moon (2014)

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Oh, well you’re just going to have to shoot us, then. Shoot the little girl first. Yes, she doesn’t wanna stand there watch us getting shot, does she? She’d be terrified. Girl first, then her teacher, and then me. You’ll have to spend a lot of time shooting me because I will keep on regenerating. In fact, I’m not entirely sure if I won’t keep on regenerating forever.”

My apologies for being so behind on these reviews! My plan was to watch and review each of these on Sunday, but boy did that get away from me. Nonetheless, let’s get down to business. Season eight of Doctor Who continues to be pretty awesome, and while there have been a few merely average episodes this season, I’d say it has been the most consistent season since Matt Smith’s season five. So far, my favorite story has been Listen, which was a total surprise to me because I didn’t expect to enjoy it much. So, why am I mentioning this during my review of Kill The Moon? It’s because I didn’t think I’d enjoy Kill The Moon prior to the moment I started actually watching it. I thought something like: “Not only does it have a silly title, but what could the premise possibly be?” and “that child actor is in this…uh oh!” I should do this prior to everything I watch, because BOY was a mistaken.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Our episode begins with Clara speaking on behalf of Courtney Woods, the girl from the previous episode – The Caretaker, attempting to rejoin The Doctor within the Tardis, or to at least clean up the horrible mess she made when she was last there. The Doctor decides to take them up on the offer and go on a “field trip of sorts”. This trip lands them on a one-way suicide mission to The Moon via a re-purposed space shuttle filled to the brim with nuclear warheads. It seems that in 2049 tides got out of hand killing much of the Earth’s population. Not sure what was really going on, the earth somehow decided that it was a great idea to nuke the moon for a chance at survival. It is discovered that the moon is actually a huge egg that is about to hatch, and the moral implications of killing a huge “space baby” for no reason other than fear upsets Clara quite a bit. The Doctor is willing to let this transpire, but he wants no involvement in the decision – leaving it up to Clara, Courtney and The captain of the mission to figure out the fate of the moon – and possibly humanity.

The “monster of the week” for this episode is actually pretty horrifying and should play on anyone with any sort of arachnophobia. There are some truly unsettling things on the moon like the deaths of multiple supporting characters and web-covered corpses strewn about for quick jumps. I’d imagine that this is an episode that would freak little kids out pretty bad, because I recall being horrified by the titular hand in The Hand of Fear, and that was a cheap special effect in comparison to these guys. Not only are the “Spider-germs” pretty menacing in appearance, but their brutality is so inhumane that it’s unsettling. It was sort of silly that they were fought off using Windex and flashlights (it’s revealed that they are evolved bacteria essentially), but I guess other films have done stuff like that to critical success, so I’ll try not to be too cynical.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 7

Thankfully my fears about Ellis George reprising her role as Courtney Woods were not realized. I’m not going to say that she blew me away with her acting ability, or that she was the highlight of the episode, but she at least kept from annoying me. Sometimes it’s the small things that count! Child actors usually get placed in shows like this as the “moody genius kid” or “sassy street-wise kid” and become almost insufferable ten minutes into their first appearance. Courtney is no Wesley Crusher or Adric thankfully, as she doesn’t simply exist to be sassy and spout one-liners or try to make other characters look dumb.

We once again are faced with the question as to whether The Doctor is a good man or not, and this seems like the ultimate iteration of this ongoing theme. Channeling his inner Seventh Doctor, The Doctor seemingly ends up abandoning everyone in order to force them to choose whether or not to blow up the moon. This is sort of similar to that time Sylvester McCoy‘ Doc treated Ace like garbage to get her to loose faith in him in order to defeat the monster in The Curse of Fenric. Peter Capaldi is once again very awesome, and usually straddles the line between being hilarious and terrifying at the drop of a hat.

Doctor-who-KIll-the-moon-5

Clara once again yells at the Doctor in this story, and while I like the character development I hope this begins to be the end of this theme. The Doctor is a jerk, yes, but we have seen him warming in the last few episodes to a degree that I just want them to be friends now.

I did get sort of irritated when I ventured online to gauge what the general fan consensus to this episode was like. Most seemed to enjoy it, but a loud minority seemed determined to hate it because of the scientific implausibility of the the whole thing. Sure, it’s weird that the moon was revealed to be a giant space egg, but it’s not like Doctor Who is particularly “hard” on the scale of what sort of science fiction it is, it’s always been more of a space opera. But there I was, knee-deep in annoying comments saying “the classic series was ONLY grounded in science!!”. This is laughable, because I can immediately think of TONS of older episodes with laughable science. Hell, my favorite Hartnell episode, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, centers on the premise that the Daleks have somehow made it to Earth because Earth is the only planet with a magnetic core. What followed was a plan that involved hollowing the earth out and flying it around like a spaceship. So any notion that, prior to 2005, Doctor Who was in a similar vein to something like Gravity is, quite frankly, laughable.

Doctor-who-KIll-the-moon-6

This episode is pretty notable for how amazing it looks, considering I’ve seen big budget films that do a worse job of conveying the lunar surface than this. The episode was under the helm of two newcomers to the show, as it was written by Peter Harness and directed by Paul Wilmshurst. They are both formerly BAFTA nominated industry veterans, so it seems like a great choice to bring them both on board. Many lunar shots were filmed around a volcanic area in Lanzarote, Spain, which seems like a great stand-in for the actual lunar surface. It’s at least a far cry from the “rock quarry” planets we get used to in many science fiction TV shows.

The story is also pretty intelligently written, seeing that it seems to be a commentary on our penchant to kill anything we don’t like, issues with funding for space travel, and to a lesser degree – abortion. These are all pretty mature themes for a show like this, and I felt that it was handled in such a way that adults can see these sorts of things, and kids will just enjoy the monsters. In the episode, The Doctor reveals that because of the brief re-interest in what happened with the Moon, humanity would be rekindled to travel to the stars, helping them to spread across the universe, and then assures Lundvik that she will now have a real space program to lead. With constant set-backs to manned space travel as of late, I can see Lundvik’s space travels in a very similar vein to how it is now – we don’t travel out of wonder or discovery, but because of the opposite. It’s a pretty epic ending to a Doctor Who episode, and makes me wish a similar thing would happen in real life – minus the apocalyptic tsunamis of course.

Doctor-who-KIll-the-moon-4

As you can see, I really enjoyed Kill the Moon. I think it’s another one of those episodes, like Listen, that seemed like it was going to be a totally different thing than what it ended up being, and it’s this playfulness with the format of the show that has made me love season 8. In fact, the few times I thought an episode was sort of lame, was when they followed older conventions to a fault. I loved all of the throwbacks to Tom Baker, especially small partial quotes that he was notable for like “Earth isn’t my home” and his use of a Yo-yo as a scientific experiment. The next episode looks amazing,so I’lll end my review here, and hopefully I’ll get caught up before this run of episodes stops!

Doctor-who-KIll-the-moon-3