In a recent discussion with a friend about Series 8, he commented that not much has been going on but I think this is far from the case. We haven’t been delivered a gigantic mystery to solve that we can watch advance each week. We are, however, watching Doctor Who do what it did best during the Russell T. Davies era — dishing out character development while peppering the background with a clue wrapped in an enigma. Yes, the Missy and Promised Land storyline has remained rather mute for most of the season but it’s still there waiting to be revealed. The key here is watching Rhe Doctor and Clara’s relationship morph and mold into different forms usually spilling out new revelations in the process.
Last week “Kill the Moon” hit one out of the park ending on a sour and blunt moment that may forever alter the Doctor’s relationship with Clara but this week “Mummy on the Orient Express” shifts down a gear. Stories this season are no longer standalone they are simply new adventures each week with a little bit to prove each time and while not much develops here we were still greeted with a fun, spooky, and fast paced detective story.
The Doctor and Clara enjoy “one last hurrah” on board a luxurious space train dubbed The Orient Express before they decide to go their separate ways. While Clara’s choice to leave slowly begins to be reevaluated elsewhere the Doctor dawns his detective cap and delves deep into the mystery of The Foretold, a mummy like creature that only appears to its victims 66 seconds before they are killed. Right from the cold opening till the very last scene this is a fast paced adventure and for the second week in a row Paul Wilmhurst is behind the camera directing and boy does he deliver. The claustrophobic nature of all the dimly lit corridors of the train works perfectly against the confined dining car that most of the action takes place in and whoever designed the train must have had a lot of fun in doing so because it’s a luxurious and vibrant sight to see.
It’s easier just to spit out all the highlights rather than dissect them; The Foretold is a rather creepy monster even if it is not completely original and while effective the deaths as they happen become a bit repetitive. Elsewhere the guest stars are utilized very well with Frank Skinner’s Perkins being a swell highlight working very well alongside the Twelfth Doctor and while it’s not necessarily one that requires a lot of effort Foxes’ version of “Don’t Stop Me Now” was rather lovely (I bet it’s on itunes now). While discussing my favorite parts may seem rushed it’s because these aren’t necessarily the factors that are front and center the most important this week.
What is important is watching the Doctor in action this week as a first class sleuth. This week Capaldi played detective so damn well and I would even go as far to say that he delivered the most “Doctor” performance of the season. All the personality traits of both the Doctor of old and his current minimalist self are there. He is someone who doesn’t necessarily know the solution until he finishes what he is saying and he is often wrong before being completely right. The fact that he allows the passengers’ deaths as a means to solve the crime shows how this Doctor operates which is often with as little care as possible to one person and being more concerned about the big picture and even more people that need to be saved.
I have tried greatly to avoid comparing this current run to the classic series but I think it bares acknowledging here that this is basically a more sound version of what the show tried to produce with the Sixth Doctor back in the mid-eighties. The Doctor at his core does what is right but how he goes about it is bleaker and often unexpected. His actions at best are with good intentions seen and often dissected from a completely different perspective. As he says to Clara in the closing beach sequence, his main goal was ultimately to beat Gus but in turn it would save as many lives as possible. The straight line to The Doctor in solving an issue like this is to integrate into a system and agree to whatever possible in order to get to the heart of the situation. He has no time to be sympathetic and considerate to the lives around him and while this may seem mean-spirited it reminds the viewer that The Doctor is first and foremost an alien.
But how does acknowledging this play into the other half of the equation here with Clara? After last week’s whopper of an ending how does Clara basically accepting her friend’s errors and returning to her travels with him seem alright? Well, it probably isn’t. I think Clara and the Doctor both know deep down that there is a riff in their friendship and everything isn’t necessarily alright. Clara has shown to be a lot more clever than this and I think deep down there’s a bit of reluctance to her sticking around –especially when she is building her own life for herself. I don’t think The Doctor necessarily sees that either because he doesn’t truly get his companions’ feelings, even if he knows how to care.
While it may seem like smooth sailing for now let’s not forget the conversations in this episode or even the Doctor’s glum reaction to Clara saying she loves Danny over the phone. The Doctor may not express much with honesty these days but he isn’t emotionless. We have four weeks left in this series and I think the defining blow in this relationship has yet to come and in the end I think we are going to see something heartbreaking. No one will be stuck in another direction or trapped in a fixed point in time (still bullshit after two years), no, I think we will see a far worse scenario, we will see a companion leave the Doctor and never come back because she hates him for what he has done to her. Prove me wrong but this makes for a far more interesting development then any mystery riddled story arc could.
Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.