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Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express

Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling

Gavin says:

Mummy on the Orient Express was the title of Saturday’s Doctor Who, but "Breaking up is Hard to Do" would have been more appropriate. The Doctor and Clara Oswald landed in a gas-lamp-lit episode inspired by Agatha Christie in what quickly revealed itself as the pair’s last huzzah.

The Doctor and Clara in Mummy on the Orient Express

So... this is a bit awkward... The Doctor and Clara in Mummy on the Orient Express. Credit: Doctor Who/BBC

The excitement of being on the only Orient Express in space for Oswald – who is suddenly revealed as a Christie/trains/flapper romantic (who knew) – was rapidly bypassed by the drama of unravelling the riddle of a supernatural mummified killer on board.

Let’s tackle the Doctor and Oswald first.

These two are clearly not made for each other: saying the wrong things at the wrong time makes their personal situation that much more excruciating.

And this week it looked like the writers were finally going to put everybody out of their misery by ending this affair, only they baulked at the last second.

In doing so, they robbed Clara of her dignity and cast the “Impossible Girl” who was the inspired muse of Who past as the dependent in a destructive relationship.

Clara is rapidly turning into the opposite of a positive and strong female role model. Just as she sucked up her strength to walk of the TARDIS one last time to rising music, and with The Doctor staring at his console, she pulled back.

“You can’t tell if something is an addiction until you try to give it up,” Who said in response to her assertion that he loves making impossible choices.

A moment’s reflection and Clara falls into the arms of what she’s realised is her addiction – the Doctor – complete with the addict’s self-justification. Here follows Clara’s justification to the Doctor. Earlier in this episode she chatted to Danny on her phone while lounging in PJs in bed on the train as Danny went from boyf to full-on BFF. While initially it was all Danny’s idea that she and the Doctor stop seeing each other, suddenly he’s “fine” with them “knocking about” the Galaxy.

“It’s a big change of heart,” stammers a sideswiped Doctor, who seemed to think he was almost free.

“They happen… It was a wobble. A big wobble,” she replies.

Singer Foxes in Mummy on the Orient Express

Random singer cameo - check! Foxes in Mummy on the Orient Express.

Credit: Doctor Who/BBC

The Doctor’s not changed, Clara has – for the worse. Who viewers can now expect further excruciating discomfort as The Doctor struggles with his youthful sidekick’s optimism and need for feelings while Clara keeps up, puts up and tries to justify.

The Doctor has already moved on - casting about for a new companion: extending an oblique invitation to the Orient Express chief engineer Perkins (Frank Skinner), a co-nerd enamoured more with machines than people. Perkins has the Doctor’s number and politely turns him down just as Clara walks in on them. Talk about awkward.

As for the story: a mummy killing according to an ancient curse, passengers with a common connection - assembled Christie style - in some remote location to solve his riddle at the behest of an unseen, unidentified and cruel puppet master.

The Doctor chewed through the one-liners.

“You mean you can’t save me,” cries curse expert and fellow passenger Professor Morehouse as the mummy advances on him.

“Well that is implied, this is the end for you, but make it count – details, please,” the Doctor crisply replies.

There were some nice touches – an homage to Tom Baker’s Doctor, cracking open a silver cigarette case for Morehouse over conversation to reveal neat rows of jelly babies. A jelly baby last made its appearance in Who under a Thatcher Government.

Inevitably, the crew of assembled experts turn out to be flatfoots and the Doctor lives up to his promise that “one minute with me and this thing would be over”.

In 66 seconds he has, indeed, solved the riddle of the killer mummy, but not who was puppet master or how far he has to go to finally get Oswald to leave.

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