Sunday, 12 October 2014

Doctor Who: 'Mummy on the Orient Express' review

‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ wasn’t just good ‘Doctor Who’, it was good television. That shouldn’t really be the opening statement of the review; it would probably make more sense at the end. The thing is, this series of ‘Doctor Who’ has been pretty rough for the most part. Not just in terms of scripting but technically also, with weird editing mistakes, odd sound mixing and barely finished visual effects.
I have a question that I ask of everything I watch.

“Did the people making this care about making it?”

Although I have a bit of a soft spot for ‘Time Heist’, ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is the first story of this series I feel truly confident in answering that question with a “yes”.

You can detect an immediate boost in quality from the pre titles teaser alone. I haven’t seen such a compelling opening for ‘Doctor Who’ in a very long time. The timer ticking down is a brilliant mechanic for pacing and tension. We are given everything we need to know in the opening. We see that the mummy can only be seen by the victim, we have the 66 second death rule established and we find out the train is in space. It’s nice to see such simple and economic writing being used so effectively.

The quality of the script is evident in the increase in acting performances. Peter Capaldi gives his best performance so far. It’s nice to see a writer that finally understands that there is a difference in character between being a mercurial genius and a complete arsehole. Maybe Jamie Mathieson can write some episodes of Sherlock and show Moffat how it’s done? The script is littered with nice character moments for The Doctor. Notable examples being Capaldi’s conversation with himself (his fourth self) and the mystery shopper jokes.

The guest characters were also very strong. We get Maisie, Professor Moorhouse the Egyptologist, Captain Quell and Frank Skinner’s engineer, Perkins. Each of them is given a personality and identity of their own. Perkins in particular was a nice character and I would have liked to have seen him join the Tardis as teased.

Despite a reasonable focus given to the guest characters it was in full service to the plot. The actual element of the mummy’s occasional killings was simple enough to allow depth to be added around it. I found myself having to make rushed notes for this review after the episode had finished as the last 20 minutes had me completely engaged and unsure of what the resolution would be. ‘Base under Siege’ and ‘Murder Mystery’ stories are synonymous with ‘Doctor Who’. That being said ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is up there with the best of them.

Now the problems in this episode are relatively minor in comparison to the strengths of it. Clara is back, having stormed out of the Tardis last week. The fallout of her falling out with The Doctor is a reasonably large part of the episode and she is characterised as wanting to have one last journey with him. Unfortunately this means she is now written as a teenager who broke up with their boyfriend but wants to sleep with him one last time. It’s annoying that the terrible scripting from ‘Kill the Moon’ is coming in to try and ruin this episode as well. That being said, Clara is locked in a cupboard for most of the episode so her damage to the story is severely limited.

Another issue is Perkins, or more precisely Frank Skinner. He’s a funny man but a brilliant actor he is not. I liked him in this episode, I really did and I’d love to see him come back again but it was fairly clear that this episode required more than he was able to deliver. He stuck out when compared to those who have clearly come from a primarily acting background. That being said this really wouldn’t have been an issue at all if not for the high quality of acting from those around him.

That’s really it though, there’s very little to criticise this one for really. The plot makes sense, the characters are compelling, the plot makes sense, the production is excellent and did I mention that the plot made sense?

I would be curious to see how this episode would have worked if we hadn’t seen the mummy until The Doctor did? So throughout we just had the victim’s descriptions to go on? Those kinds of questions only pop into my head when I find myself searching for ways to improve things. Improve being the optimum word, not fix. ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ wasn’t just good ‘Doctor Who’, it was good television.

No comments:

Post a Comment