Since I’m behind on my Doctor Who reviewing, I’m offering commentary on “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” in one post. It’s two posts for the price of one!
Mummy on the Orient Express
In the 80’s, the production team wanted to introduce audiences to a more alien, less likeable Doctor who would slowly mellow over time and become more and more liked by the audience. The result was the sixth Doctor and the plan didn’t exactly go, well, as planned. Colin Baker’s era was one of the most polarizing in the classic series run and led to the show becoming the target of a great deal in internal criticism at the BBC and the show going on hiatus for eighteen months.
With the Peter Capaldi era, I feel like that in addition to destructing the character of the Doctor, Steven Moffat has taken on that task of giving us a more alien, less likeable Doctor and is showing us how it could have and should have been done. With “Mummy” we look into the question of just how the Doctor goes about solving the problem or defeating the alien threat facing him in each story. Do the ends justify the means?
In this case, it’s a high body count (nothing new, just watch any story by Robert Holmes) that piles up before the Doctor can come up with a way to stop the Mummy from killing everyone on the train. Does the Doctor have the right to ask each of these various people to sacrifice themselves in the interest of obtaining data on how to defeat the Mummy and Gus, who has lured the Doctor into this particular trap (interestingly, the Doctor has turned down multiple invitations to come on board and solve this until Clara threatens to leave him. More on this later). The Doctor realizes there is a way to stop the Mummy, but it takes data (in this case the death of innocent people) to give him the pieces he needs to solve the puzzle.
Of the stories we’ve seen this year, this one feels like it comes closest to the classic Who model of the “base under siege” story. In fact, I’d say it felt a great deal like the Tom Baker era story “The Robots of Death” with people trapped in an isolated, locked-room location and a force coming to kill everyone on board. Having the Doctor chose to take Clara into what can be summed up as “the most typical of classic Who models” for what she wants to be her last hurrah in the TARDIS is interesting. The Doctor doesn’t give her a tour of the marvels of the universe and all the beauty within it, but instead a classic battle against the forces of evil that he faces. And in doing so, he gives her a bit of insight into who he is now and just how alien he truly he is. He also feeds her addiction to traveling with him — the excitement of the discovery and just how these various monsters are defeated.
It even goes so far that she’s willing to lie to Danny and the Doctor about her status as a companion. I have a feeling it’s setting up a lot of things that will play out in the next couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they payoff the season.
The aliens from “Flatline” stand out as some of the creepiest, most effective and truly alien aliens the series has given us — not just in a long time, but ever. This one was visually effective and had some intriguing ideas behind it — including aliens that don’t have a third dimension.
“Flatline” is an episode full of interesting concepts and ideas — among them is Clara finding out what it’s like to be the Doctor. And to see how much she’s become like the twelfth Doctor in this journey together. She can not only lie to Danny and the Doctor, but also to the various potential victims of the 2-D aliens. And she shows that she can and will manipulate them as the Doctor would in order to help defeat the bad guys.
And as modern as this story felt, I still got a classic Who vibe to this one — particularly the scenes in the subway which felt they could stand along side last year’s recovered “The Web of Fear.” The highlight of the story is the Doctor finally emerging from the TARDIS to deliver a speech to the monsters about how he’s the one who stands against them. Yes, it’s scenery chewing by Capaldi, but it’s effective and well done scenery chewing.
Continuing with the examination of who the Doctor is, this one allows us to see how Clara makes the same choices the Doctor would in the same situation. Having him trapped in the TARDIS offering commentary only highlights this. Again, I feel like there are elements being put in place for the upcoming season finale and a lot of interesting payoff to come. Also if the rumors that Jenna Coleman is departing later this year, I have a feeling we could be setting Clara up for her exit from the TARDIS. Whether or not she gets to live happily ever after with Danny Pink remains to be seen given how much of her life she’s keeping from him.
It’s been a solid run of episodes for this season and I only hope it continues.