Mummy on the Orient Express Advance Review

Note: Doctor Who TV’s pre-air reviews aim to be as detail-free as we reasonably can while still offering a critique, but as everyone’s spoiler sensibilities are different, we advise you read on at your own discretion.

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This week’s story finally picks up where “The Big Bang” left off some four years ago. The Doctor has degenerated back into Eleven and the Ponds are back ready for another rollicking adventure… Okay, that’s a complete and utter lie. But for anyone at least wondering if that would ever be addressed, well here it is.

So the TARDIS arrives on the titular Orient Express train, only this one is inexplicably riding through space (enjoy that one science fans). More worrying is that there’s a Mummy aboard, known as the Foretold, and it’s killing off the passengers at an alarming rate. It’s up to the Doctor to discover the real truth and find out who is pulling the strings.

First of all the elephant in the room: after the events of “Kill the Moon” many fans will be wondering exactly where things stand with Clara seemingly calling it quits. The BBC has asked pre-broadcast reviews not to reveal details so basically you won’t be getting answers on that front here, despite what you may or may not have seen in the magazine previews and such. What we can say though is that it doesn’t completely ignore that storyline, even if at first it (quite frustratingly) appears that way and doesn’t quite address it in a way you’d expect.

But moving on, for the second week in a row we welcome a new writer, this time in the form of Jamie Mathieson. It’s a solid enough debut, something of a mix of “Voyage of the Damned” and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”. Indeed it plays out like a Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery with some sci-fi/horror trimmings. However unlike the aforementioned episodes, the story takes itself a lot more seriously.

You perhaps get a bigger dose of the Doctor than before. He is essentially in full on detective mode here, frantically working out the clues as the body count piles up. While the early previews claimed you see the Doctor is at his most ruthless, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, particularly given that we’ve already seen several cold and callous actions this year. At this point the shocks have become the norm. Perhaps the synopses got mixed up somewhere along the line.

There is a large guest cast this week making up the varied assortment of passengers aboard the train. However, the Mummy needs some victims so there’s little time to get attached to many of them. Similarly, the much-publicised appearance of singer Foxes only amounts to a small cameo and a cover tune. Comedian Frank Skinner at least does stand out as Perkins, the train’s chief engineer, taking on a bit more of a pronounced role and he makes a likeable enough addition.

The Mummy has been billed as a creature so scary it couldn’t go in the trailer. It’s undeniably one of the better designed monsters in the show’s history and has a creepy presence. However, by the time you’ve seen it do its 66-second business for the nth time, it does start to lose its impact somewhat. The choice to also show a clock onscreen when this happens, while quite stylish, does somewhat trivialise the deaths.

Kill the Moon director Paul Wilmshurst returns for his second episode of the series and it certainly looks fantastic and feels almost like a period piece. Murray Gold also gives the episode a suitably retro-flavoured score to match the mood.

To conclude, it’s a good instalment of Doctor Who, but it doesn’t quite reach greatness. There’s also a nagging sense that certain things were played up to be far bigger than they actually were once all is said and done.

Doctor Who TV Verdict: 8/10